Steel Guitar T-Shirts

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As a graphic designer by profession for a large marketing and design firm I’m always on the lookout for great visual creative work. T-shirts are on my radar a lot and over the last few years I’ve been thinking about the lack of many smart steel guitar T-shirts for people like us. So, I’m trying to fix that.

The ideas are simple and straightforward – if you know steel culture. And a lot of credit goes to the lap steel community on the Steel Guitar Forum for helping me vet ideas and generate new ones.

A few years ago this would have been a lot less possible without start up costs to make any products. But more recently print-on-demand apparel, e-commerce and fulfillment have made it very simple to upload custom designs online with no investment upfront or back office work whatsoever. So, I’ve put up some starter designs at TeePublic and have plans for more.

So, if you are interested, check out my TeePublic store page and stay up-to-date with this effort on the Facebook page.

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Swing Rhythm Lap Steel 

We know a steel guitar can not be strummed like a guitar for consistent rhythm playing. However for certain types of music the steel can lend itself to a rhythm approach.

I’ve been interested in rhythm chord comping for lap steel for awhile and have come up with a technique for how I approach this in terms of both rhythm and chords (voicing and movement.)

This technique is particularly useful if I am in a situation without another musician to provide rhythm. I love to play in small combos and jam situations so this really has come out of necessity. And like Franky K, I too simply love playing chords.

Much influence for me has come from country and swing rhythm guitar. And in this way, this technique depends as much on string muting (palm muting) and syncopation as it does notes being played. Perhaps it’s not as versatile as standard guitar voicings but a steel guitar with an 8-string split-tuning does have enough options to hold down the meat and potato chords changes (and likely more) within a song.

I’ve demonstrated and tabbed out some specific executions of this in previous posts but here I’d like to focus more on the general approach. The chord vocabulary.

Like I mentioned, the tuning used is important: C6/A7 with a low F. (Very related to pedal steel.) The C# and F allow for more “straight bar” options.

E
C
A
G
E
C#
A
F

Currently I use about five different string grips that yield seven different chords. I try to keep my voicings on the thick strings  to help keep a consistent tonality to the rhythm.

Below are the grips I use to approach rhythm playing and how they can start to fit together.

rhythm-chords

In the video above I am using all but the diminished chords shown here. Blue Monk is a great example for how these chords can be used for back up rhythm as well as phrasing like in the head. (This video happens to only captured the later part of the tune.)

Now getting away from the video, below are a few ways these chords can be used together for very basic chord progressions. These two examples happen to be in the key of G but the same chord grips and moves can be used all over the neck in other keys. Tunes similar to Blue Monk uses the 1, 4, 5 changes shown below and the 2, 5, 1 changes demonstrate another very common chord progression.

rhythm-chords-example-voicing

As always, this is a work in progress for me and hopefully it might help others who are of a similar mind. Please let me know if you see errors in my thinking or execution. Going forward, my goal is to expand upon this and make it more versatile to other music styles.

And finally, I hope to hear feedback or input from others on this subject.

Basin Street Blues Solo for C6

One of my favorite Bob Wills cuts is this version of Basin Street Blues primarily for the vibe, but what I’m focusing on and semi-replicating here is the trumpet chorus on the intro (not sure of the musician!) This is a great example of Bob Wills and his band interpreting a pop favorite and Tommy Duncan‘s vocals have a lazy delivery that fits the slow blues nature of this song perfectly.

The big idea here was for me to find and interpret a solo (not necessarily a steel solo) and tab it out for steel. (95 percent accurately).

I use the C6/A7 low F tuning spelled low to high: F, A, C#, E, G, A, C, E

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Download entire tab (PDF) and/or TablEdit audio file.

Back to Pedals (For a Bit)

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Most all of my efforts here at this blog are for lap steel and jazz/swing arrangements. However, here I want to post a project I’ve been busy with recently which is recording and releasing a new album which includes my pedal steel work (and some Dobro) with my long-time band Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys. It’s a combination of E9 pedals, C6 not using the pedals, and standard Dobro.

I’m super-proud of what we did.

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Read a recent article about us.

 

Leon McAuliffe’s E13?

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E G# D F# G# B C# E (Low to high)

So I’ve been very curious about this tuning. And up to now I’ve been avoiding it (I’ve even tried it and abandoned it a few years ago) with the idea C6/A7 low F would be enough for me. And it is because there’s so much there to learn and use. Also because it’s not immediately approachable like a pure C6 tuning. It’s not strum-able in the way a C6 is when playing with a simple Hank William’s tune.

But the more I get into western swing and jazz the more I’m hearing things like dominant 7 chords and jazz phrasing that the E13 Leon tuning seems designed for.

And another challenge I’ve had up to recently was there was no instructional materials available online to get me going on this particular tuning.

So I started asking around on the Forum and the best solution became evident quickly. There’s a guy in my own backyard who I know but whom I didn’t realize specialized in this tuning: Bill Dye (seen above). So a couple messages and phone calls later, I get to sit down with Bill axe-to-axe. And it turned out he has a ton of self-penned tab for chords and arrangements! So, he demonstrates and walks me through some basic approaches for a couple of hours and my mind is blown! I came to the right place.

So now starts the homework. And below is a not-very-solid product of what is emerging from my early understanding of this tuning.  It’s basically me trying to figure out Miles Davis’s All Blues head and regressing into a simpler blues. But hey, I’m particularly excited to get this far!

A Visit With Frank Kuebelbeck

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This visit has been a long time coming. In the past I’ve talked with Frankie a little at local steel jams here in Kansas City. And we’ve planned for a while to get together and sit down and have him talk, show me his secrets, and tell me stories.

Why? Because Frankie comes right out of the western swing and jazz traditions of the midwest where he’s spent most of his life (outside of his stint in Nashville and touring with Cowboy Copas.) For a fantastic bio on Frank see Mike Neer’s article about him on his blog.

And notably he’s one of the few who stuck to his guns with fixed tunings despite the fact he witnessed the evolution and rise in popularity of the pedal steel. (Though he has tried pedals – in fact he was selling his pedal steel at the time we visited.)

So, I was stoked and showed up to his place with my single-8 C6/A7 low F axe. This tuning is the one I know best for lap steel and in my mind the best tuning there is. And so I’m ready to learn some lap steel tricks and stories. That’s basically how I thought this visit would go.

But, here’s what I learned in one sentence: Go get more familiar with Leon McAuliffe’s  E13 tuning because it’s jazzy as it gets. Frankie has used this tuning almost exclusively for decades. And does so because of his association with Leon McAuliffe. He knew him personally and Frankie’s band would fill in for Leon McAuliffe and His Cimarron Boys at the Cimarron Ballroom in Tulsa.

So, I left that day understanding I need to investigate Leon’s E13 tuning and come back.

And yeah, Frankie did tell me stories that made my head spin around like a top!

Edit: One more thing. I’m not the first guy to seek out Frankie because of his valuable connection to the past. Steel players with huge reputations for other tunings and approaches like Bill Dye, Russ Wever, (both of which are Kansas City guys), Lee Jeffries and Mike Neer have known this guy for a long time.

Sound Idea a Day

As of this month, I’m giving myself the new challenge of recording and posting some short musical idea everyday within the time limit of an hour. (So far I’ve been able to accomplish neither.) The point is to get back to seeing my progress or growth as a player and the products (good or bad) for my effort. Maybe these will be the seeds to other instrumentals or some other larger project.
Simplicity is the key which is also practical since I know next to nothing about actual recording.
Posted above are the first three.