Hello fans and fellow players,
Let’s discuss the heart of steel guitars today. The heart is not the pickup because most pickups are the same technically. The heart is the mechanism that actually raises and lowers the strings.
They are pretty similar on most guitars in this day and time. Steel guitars have got about the same style of raise and lower parts. Things that are different in the mechanism are the ratios between the pulls.
The method of raising and lowering the string is done with a raise finger and a lowering finger that are both connected to a cam that pivots on a cross bar just behind the pickup. The Sho-Bud Professional uses a two-finger mechanism that works by pivoting right behind the pickup. Right behind the bridge it uses a system that pivots and does not rub against anything. It just uses rivets to pivot on to operate the raise and lower cam.
The advantage of this is that there is no finger rubbing against the cam to wear it out. The advantage of this method is that it works very well because of the method it uses to transfer vibration into the body into the pivot cam. However the new Mullen guitars are pretty astounding in being as precise as they are, even their newest steel guitars are pretty well on top of this situation.
Both Mullen and GFI use extremely hard material for the raise-lower cam.
Most steel guitars today have a cam that is pivoting on the lowering finger itself. Although this works very well, the life that it has to pivot is sort of short because the pivot itself cuts into the cam. Steel guitars like the Sho-Bud SuperPros can have a shorter life because of the soft material used in the finger cam. The lowering finger will actually cut into the cam itself in very little time because of the softness of this zinc material.
The tuning stays quite precise in these old Sho-Bud methods, however there is a problem with ratios and wear. The standard method that most manufacturers use today uses three fingers. Quite easy to understand and build, but they don’t really stay in tune the way you would expect a newer guitar to.
Great methods to use have a three-piece finger with the cam being made of a very hard material or a roller installed on the end of the cam finger on the shank of the roller cam assembly itself. New ways of doing these things that work extremely well are like the new Jackson method. It raises and lowers from both ends.
This is very easy to see because you’re not putting all the wear at the same place to raise and lower the string. You’re actually wearing the string at one end and not wearing it at the other end. This method has some very positive quirks. The older original Sho-Bud mechanism that uses a two-piece finger actually does not wear and sounds very good, but has trouble in getting the correct ratios to raise and lower the string.
Almost all the steel guitars being built today are using the three-piece finger method to raise and lower the string. Not real bad, but there has to be something better out there. David Jackson of Jackson Guitars is obviously working hard to try to develop something along these lines.
The guitars that pull from both ends that he builds and the Jackson single neck with the new broken finger style mechanism are both very inventive guitars and his work on the new cable guitar is showing great promise also.
As we all know, light aircraft of all kinds use cables to control the aerodynamic control surfaces. This has worked very good for many years in aircraft because it is light, very strong and only makes noise in some aircraft when you are nearing stall and getting into a buffet stage when aerodynamics slap the cable around inside the wings and fuselage.
Weight and ease of maintenance are both good reasons to look into cable for carrying the steel guitar design into the next level of evolution.
Saying that steel guitar has reached it’s peak in design is a long way from fact, however if built correctly with the right material, methods today do a very good job of delivering you much precision as most people require regardless of level of playing quality.
Steel guitar has come so far, but yet looks like it hasn’t even moved in the last twenty years. Methods of steel guitar manufacturing, types of silk screen, automatic machine work and builders using better materials for the wearing surfaces has taken us many steps ahead of where we started.
When I started out with steel guitar in the early fifties there were no mechanisms to raise strings. When this style of steel was invented and deemed feasible to play so much more on any neck or tuning, things moved forward quickly with Paul Bigsby taking the first little tiny step and then the great Wright Custom steel guitar raising and lowering any string and still building a guitar with good tone.
And then the next big step forward was the Fender 1000, a guitar that anybody could buy without waiting from your local music store. Then we had the Sho-Bud that everybody clamored for and things have branched out beautifully from this point.
We will be closed Monday for Memorial Day but there will be a newsletter and I’ll come up with a special.
Check out our monthly specials at www.steelguitar.net/monthlyspecials.html and we’ll try to save you a lot of money.
The friend of all bar holders,
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Steel Guitar Nashville
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Hendersonville, TN. 37075
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