Q&A: Pedal History, Emmons vs Day Setup

Hello fellow players,

This week I’m going to answer some often asked questions. It may bore some of you producers and disc jockeys to tears, but I get these questions from so many steel players that I had better answer them now.

Here is an email I got from Bob Gondesen. I have answered the questions inside the text of the email so that the answers will be together with the questions.

Hi Bobbe,

I hope you are feeling and doing fine, I was hoping you could answer some of my questions.

Question: Did Bud Isaac put the A pedal pulling just the B string first?

Answer: No, he pulled his B’s and C#’s together with one pedal. He did not split the pedal the way it was done a few years later.

Question: Who then joined the B and G# strings on the A pedal?

Answer: The obvious answer to this question as I stated in answer number one was Bud Isaacs.

Question: Who added the B pedal on and what function did it serve?

Answer: The first people to pull the B pedal alone by itself were Jimmy Day and Buddy Emmons who both did it about the same time. Buddy Emmons and Jimmy Day were very close during this period of time and when one would get an idea about something, he would pass it on to the other.

These guys were so close, you had to use a crowbar to separate them. Much of the advancement of steel guitar could be laid directly in the laps of these two great players.

Question: Did Buddy Emmons split the A pedal pulling the B string to C# and B pedal and string G# To A?

Answer: Actually the very first split pedal was sort of an accident by Paul Bigsby on the Johnny Sibert Bigsby. When Sonny Burnett got the guitar from Johnny Sibert with no pedals on it, he sent the guitar back to Paul Bigsby to be modified to his specifications so he could play all the songs that Bud Isaacs had previously recorded with Webb Pierce.

We can all see now why this guitar was bought for Sonny by Webb Pierce. Webb needed a guitar behind him that was physically able to make the same sound and changes that Bud Isaacs had come up with for his song “Slowly”.

The guitar was finally received by Sonny from Paul Bigsby in California via Railway Express. When Sonny anxiously set the guitar up and tried to play it, the guitar had a E9th setup on it with the pedals split backwards. Sonny didn’t like it and asked Jimmy Day to try it and see what he could do with it. Jimmy played it for a couple weeks around Nashville and fell madly in love with the guitar and immediately tried to order one for himself.

Jimmy had to have the Bigsby with the pedals split this way, however Bigsby was three years behind in his order book at this time so Jimmy ordered a four neck Wright Custom guitar which he could get in a matter of weeks. This is the guitar you can see him playing on YouTube with Ray Price. This is also the guitar that he recorded Crazy Arms with, an incredible guitar with as unique a tone as you’ve ever heard.

Anyway, getting back to the original story, Jimmy let Buddy Emmons know by telephone what had transpired and how many new wonderful things he could play by dividing the duties between the A and B pedals.

Buddy immediately hooked his Bigsby guitar up to do the same thing, but by the time he got back off the road, the little jam session that Jimmy and Buddy had planned so that they could show each other the new things that they had learned was taking place before they realized that one of them had hooked their guitar up opposite from the other one.

Buddy’s first pedal farthest to the left from the players position, was pulling the B string and the second pedal pulled the G# string to A. Paul Bigsby had sent the guitar to Sonny Burnett hooked up the opposite way, so Jimmy naturally was already starting to learn things in reverse.

By the time all the dust settled there ended up what was to be called the Emmons setup and the Day setup which was opposite. When Sonny got his Bigsby back, he ended up sending it back to Paul Bigsby and had the split setup put back together where one pedal pulled both strings which he played like this for a couple of years until he realized that he was the first guy in the world to have a split setup on his first two pedals and the guitar was the inspiration to Jimmy and Buddy to make that setup famous.

That guitar ended up being a mainstay guitar for the great Lloyd Green. Of course, by this time Shot Jackson was the pedal guitar guru in Nashville and Shot did all the main repair work for not only this Bigsby but many other Bigsbys in town like putting the pedal on Walter Haines Bigsby guitar, Buddy’s, Jimmy Day’s along with building a new guitar called the Sho-Bud with these pedals on it from Shot’s little factory.

Shot would ask every new customer if they wanted the Buddy Emmons setup or the Jimmy Day setup. In the beginning it was divided about fifty-fifty. Now days the Buddy Emmons setup has turned out to be the standard from the factories with only a few of the old original players playing the Jimmy Day setup.

Question: If this is true, wouldn’t the Emmons be the first set up and not the Day set up?

Answer: No, the Emmons was not the first setup. Day was the first setup because of Paul Bigsby miscalculating in the beginning. Remember, the first pedal for several years was not split at all. If Paul Bigsby hadn’t sent Sonny Burnett his guitar with the pedals split by mistake, it may have been quite a while before this great idea would have surfaced.

Thanks again
Bob Gondesen
La Marque ,Texas

With these emailed questions answered, now back to the regular newsletter.

I know I’m going to get a million people email me asking me which setup is better, Day or Emmons. I’ll answer it the way Jimmy Crawford and Tom Morrell would have answered it. Jimmy Crawford would say it makes no difference at all, but if you want to stay on the side of numbers and have a standard setup like you should have, the Emmons is the way to do it because that’s the way all teaching methods are written.

Tom Morrell would answer it by saying what difference does it really make? You either play or you don’t.

I personally feel like many of the great players of the day in that all setups on steel guitar need to be standard the way piano keyboards are standard and guitar tunings are standard and all other musical instruments are standard. Steel guitar should not be setup just to play one lick easily.

By the way, if anybody comes by my store to visit and wants to see several of these Bigsbys that set the direction for steel guitar from the fifties on, just ask me when you come to my store about seeing these classic old guitars because they are not on public display.

Isn’t the world of steel guitar interesting? It’s full of twists and turns and naturally Buddy may remember this story differently as may other steel players. However being there at the time and knowing Sonny Burnette, Paul Bigsby, Johnny Sibert, Buddy Emmons and Jimmy Day, my account of this is probably as accurate as you’ll ever see.

I have heard other accounts in the past fifty years that were obviously very wrong, so I feel this is as close as you’re going to get to the true facts. Until next time, don’t be afraid to email me and remember I have free shipping on all guitars until the end of the month.

See our monthly specials at … www.steelguitar.net/monthlyspecials.html.

The friend to all bar holders,
Bobbe Seymour

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1 Response to Q&A: Pedal History, Emmons vs Day Setup

  1. Bobby Lee says:

    Here are a few facts I received from a very reliable source in Nashville:

    It is true regarding the Paul Bigsby accident. The rest is incorrect. Johnny Sibert told Buddy when Sonny got the guitar from him, the Bigsby had pedals on it. After Johnny sold it to Webb Pierce, Sonny had Shot Jackson change it to the Isaacs setup.

    Neither Jimmy or Buddy were living in Nashville at the time. The Bigsby sale to Webb Pierce was in 1954. Buddy moved to Nashville in July of 1955 and Jimmy followed approximately six months later. By that time Shot Jackson had long since changed Sonny’s Bigsby to the Isaacs setup.

    Jimmy was playing a Wright Custom guitar with the standard Isaacs setup before he moved to Nashville. He used the Wright guitar with the Isaacs sound on Ray Price’s Crazy Arms and never recorded anything with a split pedal sound until after he was playing a Sho-Bud guitar 3 years later. Country music recording history and an average ear will attest that.

    Buddy called Jimmy from the road when he put the split setup on his Bigsby guitar. There are a few YouTube clips are out there where Buddy is playing the Bigsby with the split change before he played a Sho-Bud. A Little Jimmy Dickens’ clip with the hymn, Just a Closer Walk With Thee, is one of them.

    Buddy’s first recording with split pedals was Ernest Tubb’s Half a Mind in 1958. Jimmy’s was Pick Me Up on Your Way Down by Charlie Walker, that same year.

    My source also says that the Sibert to Pierce sale happened more than ten years before Bobbe Seymour moved to Nashville, so Bobbe’s knowledge of what went on during historic pedal steel events during that period is less reliable.

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