Concerning Steel Guitar Tone

Concerning “tone,” there are many things to consider. I recently read an awesome interview of Lloyd Green that really got me thinking about my overall tone on steel guitar...

Awesome Lloyd Green Interview

I've been experimenting with my tone since and making improvements. There are so many factors involved in good tone. Here's an excellent Lloyd Green quote from the above interview...

“I could draw you a list of maybe fifty ingredients that go into getting tone. To me, it’s just simply the most important part of playing. Without tone, it’s all irrelevant...

The reason tone is so important is because I think ultimately that’s what is the emotional connection when you’re playing music to what people are hearing. If they hear good tone, there is something that strikes a resonant note in the soul. You can be playing the greatest stuff in the world, but if it doesn’t have good tone, there’s something that’s not making a connection.”

I love Lloyd's tone. His tone is always bright, sharp, crisp, clear; not muddied or drowned out with effects. I've learned a lot about tone over the years through trial and error (and by accident), and I've just begun to discover what I've been missing.

First, I'm cranking up my amp more lately when playing. I used to wonder how Jimmy Day got such a wonderful tone on “Golden Steel Guitar.” Jimmy is playing live and loud. You can feel the crisp bite of strings 6,8 and 10 when he plays them on the E9th pedal steel, pressing pedals A and B, and he lays into the volume pedal. That's tone that you cannot get going directly into a sound board. You need to hear the amp's speaker working. You can hear what I mean in my video of Jimmy Day's song, “Please Help Me I'm Falling.” I played at a louder volume than usual and you can actually “FEEL” the amp. I think this is a critical key to tone, that is, playing loud enough to “feel” the music coming out of the amp.


A lot of players put their amp on 2 or 3, or play with a headphone amp, because they can't really crank-it-up at home in many cases; but if you ever get the chance to really turn your volume up and not have to worry about loudness, you'll discover a whole new meaning of tone. It's amazing when you really crank up an amp and can “feel” the chords. You don't have to blow out the neighbour's windows, but just set your volume higher and press into the volume pedal until you can "feel" the chord coming out of the speaker.

This defined Jimmy's playing on “Golden Steel Guitar” in my opinion. Jimmy Day's style was defined much by his mastery of the volume pedal, pressing the pedal down just right until you could “feel” the chord. Try it and you'll see what I mean. It will completely change the way you play steel guitar. The rule of thumb is to play loud enough to where you can “feel” what is coming out of the speaker. I'm still learning tone myself, so I have some ideas I'm going to be tinkering with.

It is quite remarkable for the sound that is obtainable through a small built-in camcorder mic; still, it does not capture the true tone coming from the amp. Thus, I recently purchased an external microphone for the camcorder, which provides a better sounding recording. I haven't had a chance to record anything with it yet except one song (a Lloyd Green favorite)...


On “Little Bit More” I used my old Peavey Session 400 amp. I unplugged the 15" JBL and plugged into an external 15" Peavey 1501 Black Widow speaker in an external cabinet that Tim Cushionberry built for me several years ago (I hope I spelled his name right). Since the amp is over 50 lbs and my neck injury prohibits me from lifting heavy things, I use the external cabinet with a 12 foot “Monster” brand cable. This way I can position the 20 lb cabinet wherever I want to experiment with the best spot to record. I have some ideas that I want to try. My videos have been picking up pedal noise from the steel guitar, because my guitar is in the forefront. I want to bring the speaker closer to the mic and see what happens on my next recording. I hope with the new microphone and bringing the speaker cabinet closer to the mic that perhaps I can get a much better tone on the steel guitar. But I have to make sure not to drown out my backing track. Balance is important. When I used to record live events with my tape recorder, I would place the recorder behind (or nearby) the steel guitar speakers because I wanted to hear the steel more than anything. It worked!

I was listening to Lloyd Green play “Cold, Cold Heart” from the 1976 ISGC and heard how little reverb he was using, which reminded me that less is usually better with effects...

Cold, Cold, Heart - 1976, Lloyd Green

Here I'm using a Bill Lawrence pickup in the following video of Farewell Party...

Farewell Party

I know the BL705 has the long blade magnets and the BL710 has the double rows of magnets, but my pickup only has one row of magnets, so I'm not sure what model it is. Whatever it is, it sounds great!!! It's a hotter (louder) pickup, but more than that, it just has more life to it.

I just received a narrow-mount BL710 from Becky Lawrence. She wrote a nicely hand-written note thanking me for my order and letting me know that they've moved into their new factory. That made me feel appreciated as a customer and I highly recommend Bill Lawrence pickups. I spoke with Bill a long time ago for well over an hour and he expounded me on the science of pickups. All I can say is genius! I'm presently rebuilding the ShoBud with the white fretboard, because the fingers were catching while playing.

By the way, for those of you who own ShoBud, don't be afraid to take apart your changer, it's easy. After removing all your strings, you can use a wooden Chinese chopstick to gently tap out the cross-shaft. Then all your fingers can be removed after disconnecting the springs and pull rods underneath. A common problem with ShoBuds is that the bottom finger wears a grove into the seating area on the top finger. You simply "bend" the bottom finger a little bit (to get it out of the grooved area) and then you're good to go for 20 more years. Anyway, the narrow-mount BL710 is going into this guitar when I get it back together.

I am not sure, but I think Lloyd Green still uses a Bill Lawrence pickup. If anyone knows, I'd sure like to know. Here's some cool videos by Lloyd and Peter Cooper...

Cool Lloyd Green and Peter Cooper Videos

Tone is always something that needs to be experimented with, because as surroundings change, so does everything else. For example: When I play in a large room, I have to set all my amp settings different than if I play at home in a small room.

Tone is an amazing thing, that has dozens of factors. I recently replaced my old cables that kept coming unscrewed at the ends (all the time) with “Monster” high-quality cables.

I use a Goodrich low-profile volume pedal with the new 500k high-life (longer lasting) pot. I like it a lot. I finally got the bracket that sets over the guitar's pedal bar, so my volume pedal isn't moving all around and rubbing up against the pedal board (which was preventing my pedal from moving freely). I don't know why I waiting so many years to get a bracket, but it is worth the little bit of money for it. I really like the longer lasting 500k pots.

My little battery-powered “Roland MicroCube” amp has an incredible tone for it's size. For lap steel at the beach it is great, and I've even taken my ShoBud pedal steel to the beach and put it into the sand. Of course, such a small amp cannot provide the thundering low-end, nor the bite of mid-range, but you've got plenty of highs. There's nothing cooler than playing pedal steel at a beach (buy bring an umbrella). I have a 12x12 piece of plastic just in case to throw over everything.

TONE IS EVERYTHING!!! Tone is something that you're always working at improving. There's probably fifty ingredients to getting good tone like Lloyd Green said earlier in the interview quote. I hope some of this may be a blessing to others, it's just things I've learned here and there, and am learning. 


Take someone to the islands today with your music!

If all you have is music, you have nothing! You need Jesus Christ as your personal Savior to truly be prosperous in life. You may be the poorest man in the world materialistically, but if you have received Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God; believing on His name to forgive your sins, then you are a rich soul indeed!

John 20:31, “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”