Bob Hempker on Bar Slants and Reverses

Hello fellow players,

This is Bob Hempker filling in for Bobbe Seymour today.

With all the knee levers and floor pedals on a steel guitar, why should we take the time to learn slants and reverses?

One answer would be, there can be times when we want to play something to get a certain interval between two or more notes that we don’t have a knee lever or pedal hooked up to that particular string for and thus we can’t get that note unless we slant the bar.

Another reason is we sometimes choose to use a reverse bar or slant instead of a knee lever because it may sound a little more soulful than a pedal, somewhat like a guitar player bending a string with his left hand.

Furthermore, we may have a pedal or knee lever that raises a string only a half tone and we may want to raise or lower the string a whole note or even further, therefore we would use a knee lever or pedal with a slant or reverse.

There are many ways we can increase our creativity by being conversant in slants and reverses as it opens up all the options we have in order to play what we want to play. This makes us a more interesting player to the listener which is our goal and also to maybe play it a little different than the next guy plays it.

If you have a six string or eight string lapsteel or a dobro and a smaller bar, you can practice bar slants and reverses and they’ll be easier because of the wider string spacing and the smaller bar. Work on that until you get real comfortable and then go to your normal pedal guitar, still use the small bar until you get comfortable with that and then go up to your normal bar that you use.

Slants and reverses take lots of practice like anything else.

Since I’ve been helping Bobbe out in the store, I’ve seen a lot of players come in looking for some gadget they think will make them sound better. In my opinion, the road to better tone is practice and there is no shortcut to practicing. If you hit ruts in the road, there’s a multitude of instructional material to choose from.

When I was a young guy trying to learn to play, which I’m still trying to learn to play, there were no instructional materials for pedal steel guitar at that time. You were totally on your own. Before buying the next gadget to make you sound better, may I suggest that you consider some of the instructional material available today and block out a small time each day to practice.

Practice with a written out practice plan. That will keep you focused. I suggest single note scales, arpeggios, harmonized scales with two notes, harmonized scales with three notes, even four notes. And you want to do them in every key.

When you learn a new song, learn it in at least three or four different keys. This helps you learn the positions on the instrument and better prepares you for playing professionally. I would add too, any passage of a song, intro, turnaround, ending that you normally play, try playing it with a bar slant or reverse bar where you normally use a pedal or knee lever. Whether or not you end up playing it that way out on a gig, it’s still good practice.

Drag out some old Jerry Byrd albums and listen to them. Even in his Hawaiian songs, some of his ideas can be incorporated into country music or any other style of music for that matter. It doesn’t really matter where you pull ideas from as long as they’re usable.

I’ll steal a lick from somebody in a heartbeat. That’s how we learn from each other. We’re all going to play the same passage a little bit differently. By adding fluency in slants and reverses to your arsenal, you are setting yourself up as a unique player and stylist. When you get to that level, that’s when people start copying you.

If you don’t already have it, you should check out Bobbe’s Slants and Reverses DVD. It really helps you incorporate your ears, hands, knees and feet into your overall playing. If you think about it, our ears and our brain are the two most important factors in what and how we play.

Take a serious look at the videos at and see if they don’t make you the best gadget you can invest in. Like I said, I absolutely wish we had this stuff when I was a kid.

Check out our monthly specials at and we’ll try to save you a lot of money.

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