EQ Tips & Tricks for Pedal Steel

Ahhh…the pedal steel. Sometimes there’s nothing more delectable than the sound of a well-mixed, sonically pleasing pedal steel in a recording. Add some tasteful playing, good tonality, and a hip song, and listeners are in for a treat. But besides flavorful playing by a solid player, what can make the pedal steel sound even more wonderful on record? Equalize it.

Equalization involves boosting or cutting volume levels at certain frequencies to alter the sound of a signal. Different frequencies affect the sonic space of a recording in their own way, and influencing them with EQ can improve the sound of a recorded instrument or song. With a distinctive timbre and broad frequency range, the pedal steel can often benefit from some EQ in the pre or post-production stages.

EQing during Mixing

Let’s assume the pedal steel player, engineers, and producers did their best to capture a good sound out of the pedal steel during a session…they may have had ideas on what amps to use, mics, tones they were seeking, etc. (Or if recording one’s self at home, a pedal steel player may have similar ideas for capturing the instrument’s sounds.) After the pedal steel has been recorded, the mixing process will begin to look at how the pedal steel sounds by itself, how it sounds in relation to other instruments, and how it will sound in the overall recording. This is a good time to look at how EQ can affect the pedal steel’s sound.


There are no set rules for mixing pedal steel or EQing it, so these EQ tips contain advice to help a person calibrate and experiment with sounds they want to achieve in the recording. Often, less is more with EQ or other effects, so I usually find myself using EQ as a way to compliment and enhance what already sounds good with the recorded signal. For instance, if the high frequencies of the pedal steel sound great already, then I won’t mess with them (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it mentality). However, if the lower end frequencies of the pedal steel sound muddied, boomy, or weird, while the highs sound great, then EQing the low end can make the steel track sound much better – combine this with the already great sounding highs, and we now have a solidly pleasant pedal steel sound that we can move forward with.

EQ Tips & Tricks

After mixing pedal steel numerous times for recordings with bands, singer-songwriters, and solo playing, here are the most common and successful uses I have found for EQ on the pedal steel:

  • Cut between 300 and 400 Hz with a fairly wide Q – This is often a very boomy, muddy, and dense area of the frequency range that can hold a lot of unwanted energy and sound that a listener can live without. Cutting this area usually results in a cleaner steel sound, allowing the mids to sound clearer, and the highs to have more presence. Also, it will give the bass and drums more room to breathe and thrive in the lower end of the frequency spectrum – we don’t want to step on their toes too much, especially if the pedal steel is being utilized more for its higher frequencies in the recording.

Furthermore, if we are playing lower frequencies on our steel (C6 bass notes especially), cutting this 300-400 Hz range can help define and provide “oomph” to these lower notes, and give them more impact on the listener without bogging them down. I often cut the gain pretty aggressively on this adjustment…I’ve found myself cutting anywhere from 3 dB to 9 dB with a fairly wide Q. [Note: this cut works wonders when mixing a drum kit – it will usually clear up the sound of the overall drums in an amazing manner.]

  • Slightly boost 10 kHz and higher with a shelf – This will add more presence to the pedal steel, and allow the highs to “crystallize” and sparkle within the recording. The pedal steel is often known for its higher frequencies, and its ability to “cry” in the upper threshold of the sonic spectrum. This boost can magnify this characteristic of the pedal steel, and allow listeners to indulge in its highs. Don’t overdue it though: a 0.5 to 1.0 db boost is usually plenty with this shelf.
  • Cut 4 kHz with a sharp Q – I often find that when a recorded instrument sounds shrill or irritating in the mids to highs that it can really benefit from a 4K cut. The human ears are pretty sensitive around this frequency range; if a recording has too much going on in this frequency range, then it can often feel like someone is throwing a dart into your ear. That sounds pretty rough, and may be a little exaggerated, but it is often true. My guess is that if a person scrapes their nails on a chalkboard (are your ears hurting yet?), and it is recorded, this recording won’t sound nearly as bad if a 4K cut is added to it. Alright, you get the point.

But for real, with many recordings and recorded instruments, if there is some harshness in the mids to highs, it can often live in the 4 kHz area. This pertains to the pedal steel as well, so let’s fluff up this great sounding instrument and make it feel real comfortable to listeners’ ears by cutting 4K if there is some harshness. I do this with a fairly sharp Q, and usually cut between 1.0 dB to 3.5 dB depending on the severity. I use a sharp Q to be sure not to mess with other important harmonics, tones, or frequencies that are important to the overall sound of the instrument – I don’t want to step on any frequency’s toes if they are adding pleasantness to the sound, especially in the higher frequencies of the pedal steel.

  • Don’t give away your Grandma’s secret recipe, but boosting 20 kHz can really spice up the meal – So, you may be asking: “I thought humans can only hear sounds within the 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz range?” Well there is some truth to this, but that doesn’t mean sonic energy doesn’t live outside of this range…just ask dogs, many of them can hear well beyond 20,000 Hz. Well, besides that we want man’s best friend to enjoy the sound of our pedal steels, there is also another reason to boost here: it can really add some air, lucidity, and sparkle to the sound.

This boost is like adding presence to the sound, but at an even higher elevation, at a place where clouds mist into snow-capped peaks and angels wave huge feathers to provide a nice relaxing breeze for whomever finds themselves in this 20K and beyond oasis. OK, back to earth (can you tell I really like this EQ trick?). This tip was taught to me by a Grammy-winning mastering engineer, and I am forever grateful. It is very hard to hear the difference between before and after this boost, but it is there and with critical ears it can be found, just give it some time. I usually boost 0.5 dB here, and enjoy how fluffy it makes the instrument sound, especially since the pedal steel enjoys frolicking in the high frequencies.


A/B Testing: Reap your Rewards

A great way to see/hear these EQ tips in action is to use the bypass button on your EQ plug-in, and A/B (compare before and after) the added equalization. For instance, take the 4K cut mentioned earlier…listen to the pedal steel as it originally sounded. Next, add in the cut on your EQ. Now take a listen…notice any difference? Maybe, maybe not…well go ahead and hit the bypass button on your plug-in to see what it sounded like without EQ again. Now add the EQ into it again by releasing the bypass button. Try to listen for any subtle changes in the sound of the instrument with and without the EQ.

It may take a few or several comparisons, but chances are you’ll notice some differences and whether or not they improve the sound. Try closing your eyes, if you’re having trouble hearing the differences. Or try clicking the bypass button with your eyes closed a random amount of times, then click it again, and see what sounds better to your ears…then once you have which one you think sounds better, open your eyes and see if it’s the one with EQ on it. This may help you narrow down whether or not the EQ is actually helping the overall sound.

These EQ tips are just suggestions if one isn’t completely happy with the sound they’re hearing with the recording…there are often times when the recorded signal sounds great already and will hold up beautifully on its own. However, experimenting with these tips can be a great way to learn the effect different frequencies can have on the ears. It can also be a great way to better understand the sound of the pedal steel, and how EQing it can affect it. Also, these EQ tricks can be used on amplifiers and EQ pedals at a gig, in the practice room, or on that snow-capped oasis land mentioned earlier. Enjoy the experimenting, and I hope you get closer to the sound you desire!

Check out these tonal personalities for sonic inspiration…

Cindy Cashdollar

Greg Leisz

Buddy Emmons

Lloyd Green

Greg Leisz – Tonal Personality

Updated on 12/13/17

Greg Leisz is a puppeteer, behind-the-scenes, yet essential to the show.  He knows just what strings to pull, at just the right time.  His pedal steel playing is tasteful, not hasteful.  He has tone down to the bone.

Beautiful volume pedal swells, with sweet sustain, envelope listeners in an ethereal way.  He is the go-to-guy in the business for atmospheric/textural playing.  Not to mention he has chops and can throw in speedy runs with ease.  Although his ability to fit perfectly in a song, is what has made him have a long and successful career.

Smooth, timely, celestial, warm, and rounded are great adjectives to describe his tone.

Greg Leisz Pedal Steel Atmosphere

I still can’t believe how many sessions (great sessions with great artists I should add) Greg has been on throughout the years.  I have a theory that most people in America over the age of 18, have heard Greg’s pedal steel playing at some point in time.  He has been on so many cool, important recording sessions: most people have heard his playing on some song or recording, whether they know it or not.  Greg has also begun producing, and is certainly one of the coolest “studio cats” in the business.

Volume Pedal Swells - Greg Leisz

Albums or songs worth checking out w/ Greg Leisz…

(These are affiliate links)

Please Do Not Let Me Go – Ryan Adams

The Golden Age – Beck

Disfarmer – Bill Frisell

Guitar in the Space Age – Bill Frisell

Check out more Tonal Personalities!

Sonic Territory: The Volume and Delay Pedal

There are several distinguishable things that give the pedal steel its unique timbre and sonic voice: the volume pedal, the bar, and its hot signal are a few of them. Understanding how these elements work together really is the key to appreciating the voice of the instrument. Spice it up with a little delay and a good bit of reverb, and you’ve got a sound that is luscious, celestial, and intriguing.

One of the main things that originally drew me to the pedal steel guitar was its ability to produce ethereal, reverberant sounds. The sonic space it was occupying within recordings I listened to was a niche that not many instruments could fill. From my recording/mixing experience, I knew it was possible to cast recorded instruments into this sonic space with the use of EFX, but not many could produce that sound instantly from the playing of the instrument: the pedal steel has these sonic qualities in the pre-production stages.

Pedal Steel Reverb and Delay

Before I ever knew what a pedal steel was, I understood the power of how a volume pedal and delay pedal could work together; guitarist Tim Reynolds blew my mind with his approach to using these pedals on the live album Live at Luther College by Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds. He was running a volume pedal into a delay pedal, with the delay set for feeding back and repeating at least a few times. By swelling into the notes with the volume pedal, and taking away the pick attack of them, the delay pedal would take over and send the sounds soaring into the atmosphere. I had never heard anything like it, and it was a new sonic territory that I had never noticed before.

I was a beginning guitar player at the time, in high school, and eager to learn this new trick. The first step was to purchase a volume pedal and delay pedal: of course I ended up choosing the volume pedal and delay pedal that I believe Tim Reynolds used in his rig on that recording. It was an Ernie Ball volume pedal, and a Boss DD6 digital delay pedal. The next step was dialing in some settings on the delay pedal, experimenting with the volume pedal’s action when playing, and trying to use my ear to mimic his sound effects. With curiosity and intrigue, it didn’t take long to find my voice with this technique.

Once in college, and jamming with any musicians I could find, I wasn’t shy of employing this technique. It became a staple of my playing, and I loved adding the sound to my first recordings and mixes that I was involved with. I listen back to demos and EPs I collaborated on, and it is interesting to hear the creative sparks flowing through the volume and delay pedals.

Rock and Roll Lap Steel on a Pedal Steel Amp

Around this time, I started hearing sounds in recordings I admired that were strangely familiar and intriguing to me. I was drawn to these new sounds, and how they impacted the song and recording, even if it was in the subtlest of ways. I was hearing them in Ryan Adams’s material (who I had just discovered), as well as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. On a whim, I did a little digging and discovered the pedal steel guitar was the culprit in these recordings…I decided to purchase my first pedal steel at this time, right when I graduated college.

I quickly learned how challenging playing the instrument is: anyone who has sat behind a pedal steel for the first time knows this feeling. However, I felt an odd sense of comfort playing it, even though I had no idea what I was doing initially. It was comforting because I had my handy volume pedal that I had already used many times before, and with some reverb thrown in, I essentially had my delay sound. I was able to jump right in, with less fear, because it was a vehicle that could deliver the sonic characteristics I knew and loved. I immediately started playing it within a band of friends, and adding whatever I could to the music, despite having a lack of technique and understanding of the tuning.

Oddly enough, a musician I was playing with at the time, who knew I was fresh on pedal steel, listened to an old recording of mine that I played guitar on. He said, “I thought you weren’t playing pedal steel on this recording.” I replied, “I’m not, I played guitar on it.” He looked perplexed, but then we both looked at each other bewildered and understood: I had been creating the sounds of the pedal steel for years before I ever knew what one was – just by manipulating the volume and delay pedals for my guitar.


Eventually, I learned that to become proficient on the pedal steel, I would have to truly learn the playing techniques involved with it, as well as the theory and history behind the instrument. This took years and a lot of practice, but it was eased by the knowledge of how a volume pedal can affect the sound of notes played, especially with some reverberation and delay.

Anyone who has lost themselves in the opening tracks of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon knows the power of the volume pedal and its ability to push into the swamps of celestial reverberation. Especially when used with a pedal steel, whose bar can slide in and out of notes and provide vibrato like the human voice. When utilized, the pedal steel guitar truly can scream and cry.

Listen to these albums for sonic ideas that stem from the volume pedal and the use of reverb and/or delay:

Live at Luther College – Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds

Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd

Cold Roses – Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

Love is Hell – Ryan Adams

Guitar in the Space Age! – Bill Frisell

For more on delay, reverb, and EFX click below:

Gear and EFX – Pedal Steel

Blank Fretboard Diagram for E9 or C6 Necks

When practicing, it can be useful to have visual tools to use as aids. The following is a blank fretboard diagram for the E9 or C6 neck that can be used to create scale patterns, chord shapes, riffs, and more.

Feel free to print this out, and use a pencil/pen to mark in whatever you’d like!  Click on the image for an enlarged view, then the magnifying glass for a zoomed-in view.


Refer to the following posts for ideas on how to use this diagram…

C6 Note Chart

E9 Neck – Major Thirds and Perfect Fourths – 4th & 5th Strings

Bluesy Chord Voicings for the C6 Neck

C6 Neck – A Aeolian Scale – 8th String Root Position (Vertical)

Right Hand Technique: Using the Ring Finger as an Anchor

Having a comfortable, confident right hand picking technique can go a long ways for a pedal steel player. Right hand picking and string blocking are perhaps the most elusive techniques to new and seasoned players alike. However, by using the ring finger as an anchor, a player can overcome many picking obstacles and become triumphant in the choppy seas of right hand technique.

Most players use a thumb pick, and fingerpicks for the index and middle fingers, leaving the ring and pinky fingers free to roam. Many players extend their pinky out when picking, while others tuck it under their ring finger…there is no right or wrong way; whatever is comfortable and works best for the player. This leaves the ring finger: and using this finger as a positional anchor can tie everything together for the right hand.

Check out the photo gallery at the bottom of the page to see photos of the ring finger anchor in action.

Pedal Steel Pick Art - Smiley Face

What is meant by positional anchor, when referring to the ring finger? This means resting it in between two strings, or on top of a string, so that the picking fingers below are in the correct position to pick their intended strings in a comfortable manner.

Accurately switching between string grips, and picking the intended notes can be challenging. However, if we train our ring finger to land on top of the strings we want it to, while keeping the thumb, index, and middle fingers in a consistent position relative to the ring finger, we can confidently attack the strings with accuracy.

Here the ring finger rests on string 3, while the thumb and middle fingers pick strings 5 & 4.

For example, if we are going to play strings 6 & 5 with our index and middle fingers, then resting the ring finger on string 4 (and it may touch string 3 too – it can comfortably rest between strings 3 & 4) can provide a foundation for the picking fingers. These fingers should now be in the proper position and angle, huddled over the strings ready to pick, dampen, or release from the strings. Basically, they will be in a position to attack the strings, mute them (pick blocking), or release from them after they’ve been picked or muted.

If a player wants to do the same thing, but on a different string grouping, then it is just a matter of shifting the foundation forward or backward to different string numbers. For instance, if a player wants to pick strings 6, 5, & 4 on the E9 neck (a classic grip indeed), then they can rest their ring finger on the 3rd string. Again, resting it on this 3rd string implies that it may touch the 2nd string too, or can be thought of as resting in between the 3rd and 2nd strings.

Using the ring finger as an anchor can really allow the thumb, index, and middle fingers to relax when picking. In this picture, the thumb and middle finger are picking adjacent strings, while still allowing the index finger to relax comfortably as well. Notice how similar the index and middle fingers are in stature.

A major benefit of the ring finger anchor is that it will mute whatever string(s) it rests upon, providing aid to the blocking process. If the pinky finger is extended as well, then most of the higher strings will be blocked. For blocking, this leaves the player free to focus on properly muting the lower strings that aren’t being picked: often by using the palm, or the side of the hand.

Buddy Emmons was an advocate of using the ring finger to mute string(s): knowing that it could rest on the string, and mute the string at the same time.

If a player can train the ring finger to land in the correct spot each time, and train the other fingers to remain in the same comfortable position/shape relative to the ring finger, then they have a reliable system for placing the fingers in any position they want to pick and block the strings. There is more consistency, and less trial-and-error for moving between picking positions and string groupings.


There can be many advantages to using the ring finger as an anchor:

-It allows the overall hand to relax more, which can make it easier to pick comfortably, faster, and more accurately.

-It helps mute more strings for blocking.

-It allows the thumb, index, and middle fingers to position more consistently with each other…they will be more “tight-knit” as a group and will move and work better together. Better yet, they won’t roam as much from each other, and will be more accurate and consistent in picking their intended strings.

-It can help with speed picking, chord grips, and many other picking options.

-It can save time and energy when practicing right hand technique, and allow a player more time to focus on other aspects of playing like bar control, scale routines, or learning tunes.

So as a player embarks on the seas of pedal steel discovery, they should keep in mind that a strong anchor is always nice to have: to keep from drifting into the rough seas of abysmal right hand technique.

Photo Gallery of the Ring Finger Anchor (click to enlarge):

For more on right hand technique visit the following page:

Right Hand Blocking

Big Sounding Chords for the C6 Neck

There’s nothing like a nice, full, big-sounding chord that is played on the C6 neck:  Combine with sustain from the volume pedal, some reverb, and a touch of vibrato and you’ve got the ingredients for some killer chordal recipes.

Below is a diagram for some big sounding chords on the C6 neck…


These all have their root notes on the 10th string (7th string as well), allowing a player to move up and down the fretboard to change chords within a progression.  I have included the Nashville numbering system for these chords to help a player better understand how these chords relate to each other.

To pick these, I suggest using the thumb for the 10th string, and the index and middle fingers to grab notes on the other strings: better yet, hit the 10th string note first, then use the thumb to pick strings 7-5, and the index and middle fingers for strings 4&3.

Experiment with these chord voicings, and enjoy the benefits of the C6’s frequency range.  These voicings can sound like an organ or keyboard, and can really add some sizzle to a tune!

Happy Halloween!
Happy Halloween!

For more on C6 chord voicings, or how to pick these chords, visit these pages:

Bluesy Chord Voicings for the C6 Neck

Thumb Strum – Chordal Picking Technique

Thumb Strum – Chordal Picking Technique

This is one of my favorite picking techniques, and is wondrous on the C6 neck. Its main function is to use the thumb to quickly strum multiple notes and provide a thicker chordal sound. When done correctly, the group of notes should sound similar to a guitar player strumming a chord with their pick.

This technique is best utilized with a note played on top with the middle finger, or the middle and index fingers. The combination of the thumb and other fingers allows a large chord voicing that can really expand a player’s chord arsenal.

The thumb will begin on the lowest string, and then will pick the group of notes simultaneously by strumming forward. At the same time this done, the other finger(s) will pluck its appropriate note.

Here is a diagram that displays a few chord voicings on the C6 neck with this technique:


Further enjoy the benefits of this picking style by letting the thumb’s notes sustain, and using the middle finger and knee levers to add melodic texture for higher notes above this, in the same position. This concept can be a gateway into the world of chord-melodies on the pedal steel!

For more on picking and blocking, visit these pages…

How to Practice Right Hand Blocking on Pedal Steel Guitar

What is Right Hand Blocking on Pedal Steel Guitar?

Picking (or Right Hand Blocking) for Six-String Guitar Players

Practice Strategies

Learning how to play the pedal steel guitar can be fun, rewarding, and worthwhile. The process of learning, and the challenges involved with this intricate instrument, are part the journey. Using strategies that can make practicing more efficient and beneficial, a player can improve their playing with enjoyable outcomes.

Here are some practice strategies that I have found useful when learning this instrument:


There is so much involved with learning to play music and an instrument that it can feel like climbing a mountain…but mountains are climbed one step at a time. The same idea can be applied to practicing pedal steel. Breaking down the material and techniques that need to be learned into “chunks” can provide more focus to attain important goals.

If a player’s goal is to spend a little time each day working on technique, scales, and tunes, then finding a good exercise to work on for each of these categories is important. There are multiple aspects of technique that are important to learn, plenty of scales, and thousands of tunes. It can feel overwhelming to think about how much there is to learn, so choosing one area out of each category to focus on for practice sessions can provide direction, focus, and the time necessary to truly learn: after all, the key to learning is repetition.

Practicing Pedal Steel and Rediscovering Songs

I recommend choosing an exercise for each category and working on it for a few weeks before moving on to the next goal. For technique, this may mean focusing on bar control by doing a 15 minute exercise centered around this each day. For scales, working on the major scale and the Mixolydian scale each practice session may be more beneficial than trying to learn every scale/mode at once. For tunes, working on the verse over and over again until you have it down may be more beneficial than noodling between every section without truly getting them down.

After three weeks of practicing one particular thing each day, a player will see significant gains in that area. This is a good time to move on to another exercise, and begin building a new foundation. These foundations can provide good leverage for climbing the pedal steel mountain.


The more a player can successfully complete their playing objective (i.e. hitting a right note, or playing a lick accurately up-to-speed) the easier it will be to repeat this. So when practicing it is important to try to repeat successful results more often than unsuccessful ones.

If a player completes a picking exercise successfully three out of four times, then they are building a habit of playing it accurately more often than not. Doing this more and more often, until it can be done successfully 9 out of 10 times, will build consistency of success.

If they are only completing it successfully one out of five times, then they may find it beneficial to alter their practice routine so that more successes can be made more of the time. This may mean slowing the metronome down a bit until one can play it successfully more often, then speed it up slowly until the same can be done at the next speed.


Once a player can successfully repeat something over and over again accurately, it is a good time to move on to something more challenging and push for growth instead of being stagnant. If a player can’t repeat something successfully more often than not, then it is a good time to change some variables to make it easier to. After all, you have to crawl before you can walk.


It is important to practice smart, not harder. A player may be able to make just as many gains from practicing efficiently for 10 minutes, than inefficiently for 2 hours. During your practice session, ask yourself: am I focused enough right now to truly be productive on the task at hand? If not, is it because your fingers are tired, or are you distracted by your friend’s text messages, or maybe you’re hungry cause you haven’t eaten yet today?

Know your limits, and if you begin making more mistakes than earlier in the practice session, then it may be a good idea to take a break. (Mistakes are OK!, but just make sure you aren’t making more of them because your practice session has lost its steam.) When you notice you need a break, here are some things that can help refresh you: go for a walk, do a quick stretch, eat a granola bar, listen to a couple of inspiring songs, or maybe just take some deep breaths. Effective practice builds good playing habits, and getting in the habit of practicing effectively is making the best of both worlds.

Remember that practicing and learning requires making mistakes, so make the most of learning from them and have fun! Understanding how to practice effectively, and how to improve one’s playing, can be rewarding and can yield significant gains. Using these strategies can give a player more ideas on how to do this.

For more practice strategies click below:

Practicing Pedal Steel Guitar

Bluesy Chord Voicings for the C6 Neck

Everyone loves the sound of a nice, thick, warm-sounding chord voicing…whether they know it or not.  Luckily for us pedal steel players, the C6 neck can provide ample amounts of these chordal sounds.

The C6 neck, with its beefy low end – and intuitive, intervallic layout – is a perfect vehicle for voicing chords that can make ears tingle.  The 10th string rivals a bass guitar’s frequencies…and when combined with some higher end, it can really bring out a chord that sounds like a plethora of keyboard, bass, guitar, and pedal steel.  Not many instruments have the sonic and frequency capabilities of the pedal steel.


Below are three different voicings for a Dominant 7 chord, which can be used in many blues, jazz, and rock n’ roll settings.  They are best used interchangeably, and a player can quickly switch between the three to produce nice harmonic variety — the highest notes will provide some listening variety.  They are in the same position, so practicing/switching the grips is the key to playing these.  (Click on the diagrams for a larger image).

Voicing #1


They are relatively straightforward: all have a constant use of the 10th string to provide our root note (these are for an F chord), and all of them use three fingers.  Not all of these voicings contain the b7th note of the chord, but they imply this type of tonality, and when played in a band or musical setting they are often enough to get this sound across to the listener.

Voicing #2


If you are playing some blues in the key of F, then moving this position to the 10th fret can provide the IV7 chord, and playing it at the 12th fret can provide the V7 chord.  Experiment with these grips/voicings, between the three positions, for some hip chordal sounds!

Voicing #3


Click below for more practice tips and ideas…

Practicing Pedal Steel

Buddy Emmons’ Characteristics: How They Can Improve your Playing

Updated on 9/27/17

Buddy Emmons has left a deep impression on the musical world, as well as the steel guitar community. He was an amazing player, with chops and ideas that we all wish we had. His playing seemed perfect, and it usually was. But he too was human, and we can all relate to that. Here are some characteristics of Buddy that we can all connect to, and use to improve our selves and our pedal steel playing.


Buddy Emmons had impeccable chops, incredible tone, and ingenuity when it came to the pedal steel guitar; add a smile and laugh to this, and you have “The Big E”. We all admire Buddy’s playing, and consider it to be nearly flawless, but he also made mistakes every once in awhile. That is how we learn and grow as people, and begin to push boundaries in a beneficial way: we make mistakes and learn from them. It seemed that whenever he did this (made a mistake), he accepted this and tried to shake it off quickly and move on: he did this by smiling or laughing at the mistake. To error is human, so when he made an error, he did something every human can enjoy: a good smile and laugh. He also did this when his playing was “on fire” too!

Try it sometime on the bandstand, or in the practice room. Look lively and excited once in a while, and your steel playing may just sound the same. There is current evidence in science that suggests if a person makes their body react in a certain way, it sends signals to the brain to act in the same way: for instance, if you make yourself smile, then your brain will sense this and make you feel happier. Seems like Buddy was onto something there.

Use Your Intuition

Buddy seemed to be an intuitive individual, as we can tell from many of his inventive contributions to the pedal steel guitar. He had a knack for following his instinct, or doing what felt right at that moment, many times with an improvisational approach. His intuitive addition and use of the strings D# and F# (strings 2 & 1) on the E9 neck is now a modern day staple of the 10-string E9 neck tuning. He came up with the three pedal configuration that we now consider standard on any E9 neck pedal steel. Also, did I mention the Emmons and Sho-Bud brand pedal steels that he helped develop, which are still sought after for their ingenious design, taste, and tone?

His intuition is also evident in his creative, improvisational approach to many of his studio sessions, and own personal work. Coming from a jazz background, and favoring the improvisational approach in this regard, Buddy liked to follow his instincts in the music too, and follow it wherever it took him. That’s one reason we love his playing; we never knew where it would take us.

To better follow your intuition at the pedal steel guitar, try not to play licks, songs, or riffs that you have memorized, and can already play over and over. Try to improvise. Step out onto the plank, and dive into the deep waters…try something new – you don’t know where it will take you, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s like life, sometimes you just have to improvise, and that can be the fun in it.

Be A Bookworm

Buddy liked to read, and he was a very thoughtful person. He used to go to libraries just to study jazz-related material and music. Ever wonder how he had such a solid sense of music and the theory behind it? Besides practice, he soaked up literature that he could translate into ideas on his instrument. He studied approaches to music through books, not just listening. He used to read about Einstein, and astronomy too…those atomic particles on Emmons fretboards are a part of his character/signature because he was interested in them. He wanted to know more about many things, as any great inventor does. He gained inspiration not just by listening to music, but also by reading literature, which he translated into inspirational music on the pedal steel.

Buddy Emmons Music Thoery Books

Read more about things that interest you. How can they be applied to your instrument, or playing the pedal steel guitar? Also, be sure to read a music theory book once in a while…they’re not that boring if you relate it to pedal steel playing!

Have Hobbies/Interests

Buddy was interested in boxing, photography, physics, astronomy, music history, and much more. He related to these things personally, and he let these things impact him because they meant something to him. We can see and hear this impact through his pedal steel playing…he made notes punch you in the face like boxing gloves; and used his love of physics to help in the design of a signature fretboard.   Life is music, and music is life: if these are interchangeable, then why not let life’s influences on you show in your music.

Buddy Emmons - Einstein and Astrology Books

Try to think of something you are passionate about besides music and pedal steel, and see how you can apply it to your instrument and playing it. Do you enjoy restoring old cars? Then chances are you’d be great at restoring a vintage pedal steel. Do you enjoy playing golf? How can the physics and technique behind that sport relate to the technical aspects of playing the pedal steel guitar. Put a golf ball on your practice stand for inspiration and ideas.

Buddy was a star, a genius, and an icon to pedal steel players all over the world. He still is. Let’s let his character and human traits influence us to be better players. His playing was inspirational, and so was his spirited character. Keep on picking and smiling everyone!

Read more about Buddy Emmons below…

Buddy Emmons – Tonal Personality

Keep that Emmons mindset and practice…more tips and techniques here:     Practice Tips and Techniques