Country Lessons Pedal steel licks for guitar

Published on March 10th, 2014 | by Sam


Stealing Steel Licks – Pedal Steel Licks for Guitar

Let’s face it, guitarists are thieves.  We steal from other players, other styles, and even other instruments.  One of my favorite places to steal from is the pedal steel guitar.  It’s a lot of fun and always perks up a few ears in the audience.  Plus you can get instant cred with the Americana crowd.  Let’s check out ways we can arrange pedal steel licks for guitar.

Finding great pedal steel music is not all that difficult.  Listen to some of the Bakersfield sound artists (Merle Haggard, Buck Owens) for a goldmine of this stuff.  Let’s start the heist by grabbing a figure in the style of pedal steel player, Ralph Mooney, that could serve as an intro to “Mary’s Mine” by Merle Haggard.  Pull out your tele with 9’s on and let’s go.

 Misdemeanor – Pedal Steel Licks for Guitar

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First let’s ‘lightly’ borrow Ralph’s lick by recreating these pedal steel licks for guitar.  The opening is a scale run down to the tonic chord (ex 1).  It uses diatonic 6ths to suggest a IV-V-IV-I progression.  Other than the first bend, these are all pretty common guitar bends.  The difference here is that we are using them to imply a sound or chord instead of embellishing a note.  The opening note uses a tritone bent up to a perfect fifth, which can be a little strange for most.  The bend is pretty natural though, use your pinky finger on the “F” and tuning this bend is relatively easy.  The end of the lick uses common chord arpeggios to finish the intro.

pedal steel licks for guitar 1


ski mask

Unlike guitarists, steel players frequently bend the notes on the top of the chord instead of the bottom.  The guitar presents a problem here because you cannot hold lower notes while bending on the E or B strings (they’ll go off the neck!).  You also have to ‘pull’ instead of push for a bend.  This can be difficult at first and will challenge even the toughest callus.  Stick with it though, the rewards are worth it.

Now let’s get the ski masks on and really take Ralph Mooney’s intro style.  Harmonically this lick is the same as Ex 1, but using bends that more native to the pedal steel.  Really we’re just flipping the intervals from the earlier example, it just pushes you into new territory on the fingerboard.  Start with your first finger on the D string and your ring finger on G for the bend.  Pull the G string down towards the high E.  The second and third bends are achieved in the same way.  Hold the bend on beat four of the pickup measure and release the bend to give you an open fifth.

The second half of the lick gives us another look into a pedal steel technique-closely stacked chords.  Measure 3 features a G7 voicing that is pretty rare, but gives you a whole step and major third stacked to for a nice closed voicing.

pedal steel licks for guitar 2 Tone Theft

To get the sound of the pedal steel for guitar, make sure to use a clean sound.  Some reverb is helpful, but too much can muddy the sound and obscure the effect.  It’s also appropriate to use slapback delay, or a light longer delay.  Also make sure to use your volume pedal to get the luscious chord swells.

This lick is one you can plug in many keys and many situations.  Try moving it to other keys by simply moving the fingerings around.  This serves as a great intro, but could also be used as an opening to a solo or an ending.  Get creative with it as well, use the idea of bending the top notes of chords and using bends as destinations rather than embellishments.  Also start listening to some of that Bakersfield honky tonk to get even more ideas.  There are some great guitarists in those bands and the steel work is classic stuff that you can steal.

(Pedal Steel photo courtesy David Kidd)
(Ski Mask photo courtesy Tobias ToMar Maier)


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