Wednesday, October 22, 2014


These are the words my co-workers thought I might hear from my wife when she found out I had obtained a pedal steel guitar from a friend and was going to begin to learn to play it.

But I've got a great wife, an epic-ly great wife, and she has been nothing but supportive of my pedal steel guitar plans.

For the past few months, I've ruminated upon taking up the cello. There's a great blog, by the way, called Mid Life Cello, where the blogger discusses his efforts to take up the cello in mid life.

So that's where I'm at. I've been a drummer and percussionist since I was 11 years old, and have played semi-professionally with some regionally famous acts and have fallen into some great playing situations over the years. To help my tuned percussion abilities, I took lots of piano lessons in junior high and high school and I've kept up with perhaps an intermediate ability on the keys. With a few months of regular exercises and scales, I could be a strong intermediate or more on the keys.

Likewise, in junior high, I took lessons on bass and on both electric and acoustic guitars. I'm not a barn burner in the guitar department, but have a low intermediate ability on both, with a weak area in leads. I'm a better rhythm guitar player but constantly do try to improve my lead playing.

Bass has always come easier to me, perhaps due to my drumming and the drum and bass musical relationship. They drive the band. The last four years, I've more or less relaxed by doing some playing on a nice Fender jazz copy fretless bass with a real rosewood fretboard, not the composite fretboards used on some low end clones. 

I've enjoyed playing the fretless bass immensely. I'll never play like Tony Franklin, but that playing led me to want to take some cello lessons, and perhaps even some upright bass lessons and acquire one or both of those instruments.

I do home recording, and as I'll soon post, I'm upgrading my home studio. I've been using garageband the past five years, but want to upgrade to a platform that has more options for editing and more channels. My upcoming system will be ipad based, and I've found a DAW that has 16 channels so even recording live drums with plenty of mikes could be a viable option. Primarily, I've got a songwriting outfit with my old friends Billy Ray and Ricky Ray, and having more channels available for simultaneous recording would be a boon.

Back in the mid-eighties, I got into midi based recording and performing instrumentation big time. Midi drums. Midi drum programmers. Midi keyboards and samplers. 

So maybe now I'm taking a step back. I've long wanted to play the pedal steel guitar, particularly in the context of rock and blues bands. For instance, on Jackson Browne's "Running on Empty", David Lindley's solo on the pedal steel just rocks. 

So I've got to get a volume pedal, and I'll do that in the next couple of days. I've got a friend with one that is supposed to work well with pedal steel, so I'm getting into this low budget. 

I've got several amps to choose from. In reading extensively about both performance and practice amps for pedal steel, there's a split between Fender and other tube amps and solid state amps.

I've got a Fender Super Champ XD, which gives both a tube sound and some modeled versions of different amps, including clean Fender amps. I've also got a large Roland Keyboard mixing amp that I use for electronic drums, and that's a fairly wide range solid state amp with a 15" speaker. 

Oddly enough, my favorite practice amp for bass is a tube guitar amp, a cheap Epiphone model with 5 watts. This same amp is recommended by many as a practice amp for pedal steel. My Roland micro-cube is not recommended, but the similar Vox model is.

Finally, I've got a small Ampeg bass practice amp that gets a nice sound, so I'll have my choice of amps, but my guess is the Epiphone for quieter practice and the Fender for when I'm home alone.

I'll put it together tomorrow evening. It came in a nice old school heavy duty case. It's a Sho-Bud model, and I have not bothered to research the year but it's decades old. It's in great shape. The fretboard has some really cool insets of hearts, diamonds, spades and clovers. So it's gotta be 60's or 70's when that was cool to have on your axe.

I have a lot more research to do. My friend sent a basic steel and some finger and thumb picks, and I've gotten a few instructional dvd's off ebay. I also ordered some tab for more modern music with instructions. I'm sure there are instructional videos for pedal steel on youtube, but I haven't looked yet.
It's an incredibly hard instrument to play, the pedal steel, by all accounts. We'll see how this goes. I'll let you know.

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