PEDAL STEEL GUITAR,
BACK AND TO THE FUTURE!
by Maurice Anderson
There was a time before pedals, when three and four neck guitars were considered to be essential, and the “standard of the industry”! Different tuning intervals and root notes were used to create different chord possibilities and sounds.
The intent of the builders of the first pedal guitars was to create a totally different tuning with each pedal to best emulate the concept of multi neck guitars. The Multi-Chord and the Gibson Electroharp featured a changer system that would easily change ALL the strings with a single pedal, and was designed with the multi neck application in mind. This fact was validated by a dear friend (now deceased) whos name was Wilber Marker. Mr. Marker played steel guitar and actually worked for Gibson on the Electroharp design project.
Players soon began to realize it was of much greater value to install the tuning of their preference and apply music theory to the movements of the notes within the tuning, rather than think of totally different tunings for each pedal.
I have never found information which would directly point to the reason as to why the “E” and “C” pitched tunings were ultimately decided upon. I do however believe it to be highly probable the “E” pitch was decided upon because it is the pitch of the first string on a regular guitar, which some may consider to be the grandfather of the steel guitar. I further believe it to be probable, the “C” pitch was decided upon because middle “C” on a piano is the most widely known musical point of reference.
The 6th and 9th tones are pleasing to the ear and relative visual positioning adapts them perfectly to steel guitar. Consequently, tunings with those intervals included have become identifiable with the steel guitar sound. I believe it to possibly be a consideration from which the 6th and 9th tunings evolved.
Music theory begins with the major triad (root, third and fifth intervals) which is mostly what the 6th tuning is comprised. Seven of the strings on the first C6th 10 string guitars consisted of those three intervals, and each also had an octave lower. That tuning was G/E/C/A/G/E/C/A/F/C. As you can see, it had 2 G’s, 2 E’s, and 3 C’s.
The addition of the 6th interval (4th and 8th strings) had a dramatic impact on the steel guitar because it created numerous positions and playing pockets which were non accessible prior to the addition of the 6th interval.
The 9th string “F” note (4th interval) was also a wonderful musical application because it created the possibility of playing a root note in the bass at the 5 chord position. (C note in the bass on the 9th string at the 7th fret) This addition also had a great impact on sounds associated with the steel guitar and further increased the chord voicing capabilities.
I have no knowledge as who was first to add these intervals, but in reality it was a natural evolutionary process and a logical musical advantage to pursue. It is very probable many discovered the idea at about the same time.
When examining the E9th chromatic in the same manner we find six of the 10 strings to be root, third and fifth intervals. When the E9th first came into prominence, it is my understanding an 8 string guitar was being used, and if so, 6 of the 8 strings used were comprised of the major triad notes.
Later the two chromatic strings were added which enhanced the versatility of the tuning. I don’t know who first added the 2 chromatic strings, however that too appears to me to have been a logical evolutionary process relative to music principals and their application to pedal steel guitar.
Both the 6th and the 9th tunings which were comprised primarily with triad notes, became widely accepted because musical logic could easily be applied with the use of pedals in that the root, third and 5th notes were available as well as octaves of the same notes. At this point in time, although the musical logic was being applied, the mechanical applications were not yet available which would allow one to alter either the 6th or 9th tuning enough to provide the sounds heard on the other. It therefore became necessary to install preplanned musical logic on each neck relative to each specific tuning.
As a result of the mechanical deficiencies of that point in time, I believe “the double neck was born out of necessity” because to play both the sounds of the E9th and the C6th which was then closely associated with the steel guitar it required a double neck, and the mechanical applications were in existence at the time to accommodate that concept when divided between two necks. The addition of knee levers, as well as musically logical pedal and knee lever placements further pushed the envelope of musical possibilities. I believe history has documented, “the standard of the industry” was created in the late 1950’s.
Still today, the “standard of the industry” which was created almost half a century ago remains the choice of many of the well known players and their followers. Most of the great players of today started playing double necks many years ago because it provided them the “tools of the trade”. Their exceptional insight and musical knowledge allowed them to develop the ability to move from one neck to the other effortlessly because they understand the correlation’s, consistencies and relationship of music itself. Should they have explored the universal concept and considered creating an alternate “tool of the trade”………of course not! Why should they try to fix something when it’s not broken!
When musical consistencies are understood by great double neck players who have developed their identifiable musical signature and play in their mental comfort zone, it’s understandable why they prefer their double neck guitar.
Since the beginning of time there have been leaders and followers, but the leaders are the ones who shape history. The well known players of the past and today were leaders, or they would not have achieved their place in steel guitar history.
Is it highly probable many players have accepted “the standard of the industry” created in the late 1950’s as continuing to be the best for them because they have observed many “leaders” playing double necks. Options and choices are available to us in most everything, and steel guitar is no exception. What works best for one person is not a clear indication it is best for the other. To make this decision requires intelligent and logical information which points toward a conclusion based on an individuals perception.
The steel guitar is like many things, in that it has achieved a standard of tradition! History has proven, consideration and observation of tradition with an open mind receptive to change prepares the way of the future. The pedal steel has been in prominent existence for less than 50 years, so when compared to other instruments it is still in its infancy. As far as I know it’s the youngest instrument being widely used today! We are all fortunate the steel guitar achieved an accepted “standard in the industry”, and we all owe a debt of gratitude to those who have been the pioneers of our instrument.
Most of us have lived long enough to experience the fact that progress surpasses traditions in material things. Many times there are those who are reluctant or afraid of change because no one knows where it will lead. Some are also afraid of losing sight of tradition. I personally believe in observing the tradition of the past, with an open mind toward the future. It was after all, progress surpassing tradition which brought about the birth of the original steel guitar and then the pedal steel guitar!
Whether we want it to or not, the steel guitar will move forward. The speed in which it does so, depends on each of us as players. If most prefer to remain true to tradition, the progress will take longer, if we diligently pursue and embrace new ideas, the evolutionary process will accelerate. Either way evolution will continue because that’s the way of the universe.
I’m sure each of us share the common goal of perpetuating the steel guitar, and that in itself will help to insure its future. Our willingness to communicate and embrace new ideas, be it relative to either the single or double neck concept is part of my motivation for taking part in the concept discussion. I believe maintaining an open mind toward the future, while keeping a keen eye on the past tradition to preserve the heritage of the instrument assists the evolutionary process. With this thought in mind there is much to be done and many things to explore.
To best discuss this subject, I will discuss both concepts then comment while making a comparison. You of course are both judge and jury concerning which concept provides the most important advantages. For clarification purposes, I will herein address only the widely used E9th and C6th concept relative to the double neck while referring to the universal as being the E9th/B6th configuration.
DISCUSSION OF PRE-CONCEIVED IDEAS OF UNIVERSAL, RELATIVE TO DOUBLE NECK!
[It is possible to install all the changes on the universal which can be installed on the double neck!]
All the changes possible with the double neck are not likely possible with the universal, due in part to the larger number of strings on a double neck. IF however the criteria is going to be which guitar can get the most pulls, why wouldn’t a double 12 have been decided upon as the “standard of the industry” long ago? Adhering to this type logic while acknowledging the 12 string double neck has more pulling capabilities than a double 10 points toward the conclusion, simply having a guitar with the ability to accept more pulls, may not be the answer to an evolutionary direction.
If having two different tunings on a double neck is the primary musical focus, we should consider the fact we have 12 different notes (pitches) in music which we can alter, and the mathematical principals of musical movement to form either melody lines or chords are absolute. So, if the two neck concept is considered a better option than the universal because it has two different tunings, why then would not three necks provide even more advantages than the two necks?
My statements are most certainly not intended to be argumentative, condescending or facetious. I do however believe they confirm the possibility of conflicting theories while ultimately asking, when is the amount of strings or different tunings enough with which to utilize steel guitar to it’s greatest potential?
In my opinion, the answer is having a guitar which has the potential to provide the changes compatible and consistent with musical logic while utilizing a concept we each believe to be the best for us individually. This can be achieved with the double neck, and it can also be achieved with the universal concept and the mechanical applications available today.
Lets compare the double 10 standard setup of 8 pedals and 4 knee levers, with a universal equipped the same.
The double neck has 3 pedals and 4 knee levers connected to the E9th tuning. (one of the knee levers works both necks) The C6th tuning has 5 pedals and 1 knee lever……. The universal has 8 pedals and 4 knee levers on BOTH the E9th AND the B6th! Using this logic, one could say the universal has the equivalent of 16 pedals and 8 knee levers. Of course all the pedals and knee levers are not applicable to both concepts, but many have applications for both tuning concepts. Those that don’t, have the possibly of providing pulling options to increase speed when in the hands of a great player.
[The single neck does not sound as good as the double neck!]
What is considered to be a good sound (tone) is extremely difficult if not impossible to define. I’m not aware of any scientific scenerio that would define what is considered to be a good sound. To make such a conclusion, a good sound would have to be clearly defined, and everyone would never agree one sound was the best. So, we must conclude a good sound is subjective to the listener’s preference.
While MSA was in production we built a sound proof room for experimental purposes to help with the design of our guitar cabinets and pickups, and to make sound comparisons with competitors guitars. After using the room for that purpose it was decided we would also use the room by allowing players the opportunity to compare the sounds of all different brands of guitars.
Those who came to our facility who wanted to compare the MSA sound with any of our competitors at the time had the use of the room to do so. I believed the sound of MSA to be consistent and indistinguishable to all other brands of steel guitar at that time. This point was proved over and over because no one could consistently identify the MSA sound when compared with other brands. There are many players (and I am one) who firmly believe the sound of their MSA guitar, either with the original pickup, or a pickup utilizing today’s technology, is competitive with anything on the market yet today.
To prove this, we would ask any doubter or potential customer to sit facing the corner in the sound proof room with pad and pencil. I would then play different brands of guitars while each of us maintained a record of the choice of guitars and the sequence of selection. During these experiments we used the same amp, same volume pedal, same cords, same tuning and same string gauge. I used the pedals carefully during comparisons to be sure the mechanical pedal noises inherent to some guitars did not influence them in any way.
When finished we would then compare the guitar sequence just played, and I can assure you everyone who took the test was stunned with the results of the experiment. There were of course times when someone would correctly identify the guitar being played, however with their back still turned I could stand up, make the sound of moving guitars into position, sit back down to the very same guitar, and they would then tell me I was using another guitar. This procedure proved their identification of a specific guitar to be a “guess”. No one ever consistently proved conclusively they could identify any guitar, including an MSA. Sustain was another issue we diligently pursued within the specially designed room, but that is a subject for another discussion.
I believe the experiments we conducted at MSA played an important part in the design and marketing of MSA guitars while exposing the distinct possibility that the eyes influence the perception of sound! We conducted each experiment with numerous people present, and done so with total honesty and the intention of providing each one the opportunity to decide for themselves which they thought was best for them.
Bottom line then and now………all guitars of today still sound primarily the same, and in the hands of a gifted and respected player, the sound would be acceptable to all!
[The C6th is a higher pitch than the B6th, which makes it sound better!]
There may be those who can do so, but I have yet to find anyone who can consistently identify if I’m playing a Bb6th, B6th or C6th. IF such a person exists, a very slight tone adjustment on the amp would obscure their judgement. At the Texas Steel Guitar Convention in 1998 I put my theory to the ultimate test. I played my E9th/B6th universal rather than my Bb6th which I normally use. Although the hotel was wall to wall with exceptional and gifted players, NOT ONE PERSON HEARD ANY DIFFERENCE IN MY PLAYING, STYLE OR SOUND. VIRTUALLY EVERYONE THERE ASSUMED I WAS USING MY Bb6th!
[A double neck has the advantage of separate pickups for different sounds!]
Having two sounds on the double neck is an option many like. With the flip of a bank switch it allows one to go from the country sound to the other most commonly heard.
One of my Goodrich volume pedals has an easy to engage toe switch, which when pushed to the left activates a preset adjustable tone control for the 6th sounds. When pushed to the right it bypasses the tone circuit within the pedal, and the preset tone I require of the E9th is on the amp. This toe switch has the exact same function as a bank switch, and the sound variance of the E9th and C6th heard on a double neck is recreated. I have however found the sound to be what I most desire, when I set the tone of either concept and play the other without using my special pedal for the “bank switch” effect.
[Cabinet defection is less on a double neck than a single!]
The amount of cabinet deflection varies on different guitars, and sometimes varies between two of the same brand of guitar. It is my understanding some manufactures have addressed this problem, and if so this matter will be of no consequence in the very near future.
The small amount of cabinet deflection present on my MSA universals is of no concern to me. All musical instruments have their own unique characteristics each player must address, and steel guitar is no exception. Of course it would be great if no drop at all occurred, but the fact that it does is not a distraction or a musical limitation.
[The “D” note on the universal is missing!]
For many the “D” note on the 9th string is very important. To put the “D” note in the universal tuning you have the option of raising the 9th string “B” up to the “D”, or lowering the 8th string “E” down to “D”. Both options provide interval movement that is not normally duplicated on the standard E9th. Bending movements are consistent with the sound of pedal steel guitar, therefore the movement of either of these strings while achieving the “D” note should be considered an inherent advantage.
If there are those who consider it necessary to have the open “D” note on a universal, they might consider adding the note and leaving off the bottom string. Possibly this should be explored, or even consideration given to a 14 string guitar. In either case there is a solution available.
[Universals suggest primarily jazz or a low proficiency!]
This is a view which some might take who are uninformed. Misconceptions are to be expected concerning things that have not been explained, explored or understood. I believe the fact to be totally established, that the ability of the player is the deciding factor as to what kind of music is played and how well its played. Any deficiency in this instance concerning the universal, is not the fault of the guitar!
[The universal has not been the choice of the most recorded players in the past!]
History speaks for itself in this instance. However, considering possibly why this occurred warrants further investigation and considerations. I believe I eluded to the answer to this question earlier in this discussion when I mentioned the double 10 was considered the “tool of the trade” in the late 1950’s, and the same trend continues.
Had anyone decided to step into the competitive recording arena years ago with the expectation of being successful they would have selected the specific “tools of the trade” at the time. As for those successful players who played on most recordings with their tools of the trade (double neck guitars) it is totally obvious they attained a high proficiency level of musical consistency and comprehension while achieving a well deserved status in the industry. One can easily understand why they would not necessarily be receptive to change when they are already successful.
[Compensating tuning problems!]
The fact that the “E” is the root for the E9th universal, the “B” is the root for the B6th, and the “B” is the 5th interval of “E”, they are both to be tuned to the exact same place on the electronic tuner. This means the fretting is consistently accurate while playing either concept.
COMMENTS CONCERNING DOUBLE NECK CONCEPT!
[The double neck is too heavy!]
There are some lightweight double necks available today, but it would not be logical to conclude anyone could build a double neck that would weigh less than a single neck of the same design. For this reason the single neck will always remain lighter.
[Excessive cost of additional strings!]
This is a point which there could be little disagreement. 20 strings is going to cost more than 12.
[More strings to change, more strings to tune!]
This is another point about which there could be little disagreement. 20 strings is more to change than 12, which means more strings to tune. A universal and double neck have about the same amount of pulls, so one concept would not require more mechanical tuning than the other.
[A double neck provides the erroneous perception that each tuning implies a different musical application!]
Those who have not as yet reached a proficiency level relative to the understanding of musical movement and applications, perceive the musical implications of each neck as being totally different. Understanding the musical consistencies present on both necks is absolutely necessary. If this were accomplished we would find many double neck players using their bottom neck to great advantage much more often. After all, isn’t having the ability to play on the bottom neck one of the reasons a double neck was purchased in the first place!
[The double neck necessitates physical adjustments!]
The body positioning when playing each neck is not consistent when moving from one to the other because of the nature of the double neck configuration. When playing a piano for instance the posture and positioning of the player, as well as the distance away from the piano and the overall physical approach, is considered to be critical by some of the greatest players and teachers ever known in the history of music. I believe this presents serious implications to be considered relative to steel guitar because I believe the piano and steel guitar have important things in common which I will later discuss.
When the top neck is being played the arms are outstretched, and much of the time the back neck becomes an arm rest. This may possibly explain why some have claimed the double neck to be more comfortable to play.
You can experiment with the comfort issue by sitting behind your guitar, adjusting yourself perfectly to play the top neck, then without adjusting any part of your body, move your arms to the bottom neck and begin playing. IF you have to make another body adjustment to be comfortable or get easier access to knee levers or pedals, you have physically created an inconsistency relative to body positioning between the necks.
If you actually tried the experiment I suggested, I believe you discovered each neck does indeed require a physical adjustment of varying proportions. The implications are clear, when you’re playing the bottom neck the arms feel as though they are suspended and your feet are far in front of your hands. When playing the top neck, the arms must make a physical adjustment by moving forward which then creates a place for the arms to rest on the bottom neck.
When playing the top neck and using the bottom neck for support, additionally both feet are under the hands which possibly provides something more than the feeling of physical comfort. I believe part of the comfort perspective to be attributed to the creation of a mental picture of proximity relationship, in that the feet are directly under the hands.
It is my belief consistency is a very important part of the blueprint for success, and the physical adjustment requirements of playing a double neck conflicts with consistency.
Another situation to be addressed is the fact that while playing the top neck, in many instances the arms come in contact with the bottom neck of the guitar. I believe resting the arms on the bottom neck, or the right hand on either neck while playing, inhibits front to back movement and enhances the possibility of becoming a detriment to playing.
When the arms are resting on the bottom neck, or if the right hand is anchored (resting heavily in one place) on the strings of either neck, the finger pick angles become inconsistent. To play higher strings when the right hand is anchored the fingers must move away from the palm of the hand which decreases the pick angle of attack and dramatically effects the way the guitar sounds, the way it feels, and perpetuates the unintentional picking of the wrong strings.
Additionally it further proves an inconsistency exists because when the bottom neck is being played it creates the feeling the arms and hands are being suspended without support. When this uncomfortable feeling is realized, I believe most have the tendency to simply “flip the bank switch” and go back to the top neck where the focus is more on comfort than that of a consistent approach to learning. So in reality, the perceived comfort level of the top neck may actually inhibit many from expending the time necessary to learn the bottom neck.
Taking this logic a step further, I believe it to be a strong possibility that if the E9th and C6th necks were reversed most would believe the C6th to be more comfortable to play “physically”, and they would spend more time learning the 6th, although other inconsistencies previously pointed out would still be in conflict.
I believe having the feet under the neck being played provides a feeling of “oneness” with the instrument. When the feet are positioned under the strings being played, many have a feeling (which is possibly not a conscious thought) of their mind, hands and feet coming together as one entity and accomplishing the single intended goal of creating the best sound possible from the steel guitar. This could be yet another reason why some have the opinion the double neck is easier to play when playing on the top neck, in that it provides the mental picture the pedals are under the hands at that time.
[The musical association between the C6th and E9th are not mathematically related!]
I don’t look upon any of my universal guitars as having two different tunings because I continually weave in and out of both concepts while playing any kind of music. I visualize it much as a piano or a standard guitar in that it is capable of playing any kind of music. A piano has no specific tuning and a standard guitar does not necessarily have a tuning. It simply provides notes in an interval sequence allowing all notes to be altered over a reachable fret distance from the starting position. My personal universals use those same notes and applicable mathematical formulas. I simply look at my E9th/B6th and Bb6th as being a musical instrument with the musical/ mechanical capability of creating any kind of music instantly.
When relating to a double neck guitar, many cannot see a logical musical connection between the two necks because it does not provide an obvious or easily workable interval relationship. Of course “E” and “C” are related, but the relationship is far more obscured than that of an “E” and “B”. When playing the universal E9th the “B” chord (5) is always under the “E” chord (1) when the knee lever that lowers the “E’s” is engaged. That consistency is non existent on the E9th C6th double neck configuration.
[There are more than two kinds of music!]
Many double neck players have the perception that music is divided into two categories, music for E9th and music for C6th. The truth of the matter is, there are many styles of music and the steel guitar has the capability to play them all.
When playing any kind of music the universal makes no such tuning distinction, whereas a double neck player is faced with a fundamental choice for each song while being physically impaired by not having the ability to make the instant and necessary physical adjustments required by each neck. In contrast a universal player reaches for notes and chords which make up music itself, just as a pianist or guitarist does!
The negative implications of this relative to the double neck configuration when considering the overall musical spectrum, are enormous. I believe if steel guitar is to continue to successfully evolve, it must attain a level of consistency, standardization and be introduced into all kinds of music same as other well known instruments.
[It is not possible to immediately go from one concept to the other!]
Again, I don’t make a distinction between E9th or B6th when playing universal. When I play any style of music I have access to both concepts with an instant and direct musical relationship which the double neck configuration cannot offer. When playing different styles of music on the double neck two concepts must be considered, and all the mental and physical adjustments must be made when making the transition from one neck to the other as mentioned earlier.
There are those who have the mindset when playing the universal and the knee lever engaged which lowers the “E’s” they are in the 6th, and when it’s not, they are in the 9th. In other words they are making a mental distinction between the two. I make no such distinction. I have heard some say their leg gets tried holding the knee lever over, and that is a clear indication they are playing in one concept or the other and not necessarily considering the overall musical implications and options of both, which when doing so could benefit them greatly no matter what kind of music they are playing.
The mechanism which locks the lowered “E” notes is a viable and available option for those who wish to pursue the universal concept, as well as those who have been playing a double neck for quite some time. I believe it serves as a compromise for those who have been playing double necks and wish to go to a universal. Doing so would eliminate some of the physical considerations I have discussed. If however someone is just starting to play or have not been playing very long and agree with the universal concept, I would recommend they consider circumventing the locking mechanism and learn to take full advantage of what the universal has to offer from the very beginning.
The locking mechanism does provide a musical barrier similar to that of two necks when in the locked position. It is my understanding the locking mechanism can be disengaged, and if so this entire concept serves a valuable purpose by introducing double neck players to the universal. When they become comfortable playing the two tunings on the universal they have the ability to disengage the locking lever to take full advantage of the universals capability.
When a universal pulling setup is correctly installed it does not pose any more pulling or tuning problems than that of a double neck. Based on manufacturing experience with MSA, the double neck pulling system is much faster to install than that of a universal system. Setting up the universal pulling system requires experienced mechanical expertise and takes a lot more time for installation.
I’m sure any manufacturer would be happy to build what the players want but the extra time it takes to complete a universal, and when considering a universal sells for much less, it makes building double necks more profitable to the builder. This entire scenario would change were the demand for universal guitars to dramatically increase.
My entire perspective on this matter is comprised of three main category’s which I believe to be the summation/foundation for all my comments. Musical, mental and physical. The following is my overview of each.
Musical: Can a universal provide all the pulls of a loaded down double neck, probably not! Can a loaded down double neck provide all the pulls of a loaded down universal? Probably so, but it cannot be reached without changing necks back and fourth instantly which is not practical or likely to be done! Can a double neck provide the advantage of consistency which the universal offers, I think not! Is it possible to play things on a double neck that cannot be played on a universal, probably yes! Is it possible to play things on a universal not possible on a double neck, probably yes!
Hopefully in the future you will make your decision based on what you believe to be the best “tools of the trade” for you, without considering the choices other players have made for themselves in the past. If you are now more than ever convinced the guitar you’re playing is the best for you, then I have succeeded in my intentions.
Mental: If you believe playing two concepts (double neck) is not, nor will it be a detriment to you musically, mentally or physically, I respectfully suggest your decision to continue with a double neck should include a learning program that will clearly define the consistencies of music relative to each neck which the great players have discovered.
Failure to do so will result in highly probable failure to reach your potential as a musician, and many will continue simply laying on the back neck and seldom playing it. Of course the same musical applications should be studied when learning the universal. In my opinion when playing the universal, the musical, mental and physical consistency will be ever present.
Physical: The physical demands of the body to lift a double neck or universal are considerable. However, the lightest double neck in the world would weigh more than the same brand universal. The physical adjustments which must be made when switching necks conflicts with consistency. No physical inconsistency is present or necessary when playing a universal.
The relatively few great players who possess equally high proficiency on both necks could very well be exceptionally gifted and possibly have simply beat the odds by using the only approach available to them as “tools of the trade” years ago before the mechanical applications of today were in place. IF this is true, the vast majority of the followers could be working toward a time consuming end that ultimately will not allow them to reach their true musical potential. There have always been those who have and will “beat the odds” and win the lottery, but they are very rare indeed.
I believe it’s important to again mention the fact that some of the most renowned musicians and teachers consider the physical approach to playing relative to consistency, to be critical relative to body positioning with the instrument! Every instrument has logical playing procedures which when adhered too, provide the most effective and time considerate approaches to learning.
Does this imply every musician who is a great player uses those specific procedures? The answer of course is no. Is it to imply not using the specific procedures recommended by great musicians and teachers will surely result in failure, of course not! I am simply saying, if you defy consistency, your chances of success are greatly reduced! Could this be why the number of steel players who are equally proficient on both necks is the exception and not the normal?
All double neck players have intentions of playing the bottom neck, which one can assume was part of the reason for purchasing it in the first place. However in most instances, many years after purchase their proficiency level remains far greater on E9th than C6th, and although the financial commitment for the extra neck was considerable, it has proven to be contradictory to their purchase statement!
I readily admit part of this can be attributed to the fact that most everything heard on radio and television is played on E9th. However most every player has recordings of their favorite players, and most all play a lot of 6th on their recordings. In addition there is a lot of material available for the 6th tuning. So why after all these years, is the proficiency level so very much higher on the top neck than the bottom?
My personal conclusion is, playing a double neck configuration requires a physical change while a universal does not. In addition the universal more readily displays musical connections and consistencies through interval close proximity association, and provides absolute and consistent body positioning.
As proof of this, watch how a master pianist approaches sitting and how they measure distance to the piano itself when laying their hands on the keyboard. After they are seated observe their playing posture. They will have their back straight and elbows consistent to their body and keyboard, and their pedals are located comfortably and consistently “under” the keyboard. The universal and piano are two of the most visual instruments in existence because both single musical surfaces are in a position which provides total unobstructed viewing. I believe this gives the two instruments something very important in common relative to the musical, mental and physical approach to learning and successfully playing.
Finally, could the true reason for the difference in proficiency between the two necks be attributed to the false perception that the bottom neck is musically different? Could it be the bottom neck is avoided because no arm rest is available and is perceived as being uncomfortable in comparison to the top neck? Could it be the top neck feels more comfortable because an arm rest exists? Could it be that because the bottom neck is not as comfortable and therefore avoided is the reason the proficiency level is much lower in comparison to the top neck? Could it be they have not learned the musical consistencies that exist between the two necks? Or finally, could it be the players are influenced toward the double neck because they have simply followed the gifted leaders who started playing many years ago and utilized the tools of the trade of that time before mechanical applications had advanced.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH UNIVERSAL AND MULTIPLE NECKS!
My first pedal guitar was a triple neck 8 string Bigsby with 4 pedals. I then purchased a single neck 10 string Bigsby with 8 pedals which I played until 1963. The very first MSA I owned was a single 12 built in 1963, and the last was a single 12 completed a year or so before I closed MSA in 1984.
When my first MSA was completed I was playing with Bob Wills, and of course the 6th tuning was required in his music. After I left Bob I started playing mostly jazz and big band music at hotels and private country clubs, so I did not aggressively pursue the sounds related specifically toward the E9th tuning until about 1975 when MSA started making production guitars for a world wide distributor.
For marketing considerations I started playing seminars all over the world, and I soon recognized the need to play all styles of music in my performances. After exploring the universal concept and it’s applications in all styles of music it was not long before I recognized the musical need for additional pulling capability when considering the universal application. We soon started producing the triple raise and triple lower on all MSA guitars.
As the years have progressed I’ve continually examined the required musical considerations for both the 9th and 6th tunings necessary to allow either one the ability to recreate the sound of the other. I have had the privilege and opportunity to teach steel guitar very extensively for over 20 years, and my doing so has provided me the opportunity to very closely examine both concepts while playing both the double neck and universal. Many of my students have owned double neck guitars, and I also have an MSA SS double 10 which I use for teaching purposes only.
I feel it to be important relative to my comments herein contained, that everyone know I am very familiar with the double neck, consequently my comments are presented with an extensive experience level relative to the double neck concept in addition to the universal.
As I have said from the very beginning, I most sincerely hope everyone accepts my comments, opinions and philosophy in the positive spirit intended. Possibly I did not address something which you feel should be addressed, quite possibly I said some things about which you disagreed. If you would care to comment or present questions to me, I will be delighted to continue to offer my non-biased opinion with an open mind.
I hope my comments have been presented in such as way as not to appear argumentative, divisive or offensive to anyone. If anyone believes that occurred, I can only assure you I done so unknowingly and you have my most sincere apology. My intentions have been, and always will be, to never do anything offensive or distasteful while doing everything I possibly can to perpetuate the steel guitar by exploring and offering new ideas and new concepts for consideration.
I most sincerely hope you will understand I was well aware I was being redundant at times in my comments, but I have learned after years of experience of writing, business and teaching, that saying the same thing in different ways is necessary for me when presenting my point of view to a large number of people.
I also want it known, those who are convinced the double neck concept is the best for them, I most certainly respect their right to their opinion, and in no way would I, or should anyone else, ever consider it to be an ill advised decision. Those same rights and courtesies should be extended to universal players as well.
I’m sure most of us would agree, tradition can be deeply rooted and at times not only divisive but highly defended. Having an open mind toward change combined with a love for the instrument has made steel guitar what it is today, secured the future for the players of tomorrow, and insured it’s continued evolution. My intent is not now, nor has it ever been, to be divisive or try to convince anyone of what they should play, but respectfully offer suggestions for consideration that will assist everyone while making an important, valid and lasting decision concerning their musical direction for the future.
There is most certainly nothing wrong with appreciating, observing and admiring the talent of great players. However, concentrating on emulating others relative to specific musical content and style or choice of equipment, not only runs the risk of becoming a detriment to the learning process, it stifles one’s own God given creativity, and in the end suppresses the instrument we all love so much.
I’m privileged and honored to say I consider the great and gifted steel players of today (and many who have passed on) as dear friends. Its certainly not my intention to appear presumptuous, however I believe I know each of them well enough to say, “in my opinion”, although each one is privately realistic of their achievements and exceptional ability, not one of them has considered for a second they are playing as good as they are capable of playing, nor will they ever say, or even think they have learned all there is to be learned.
I firmly believe each of them to be open minded, interested in the future of steel guitar and receptive to new ideas and innovations, which is one reason why they have been successful and the pedal steel guitar has remained in prominence over the past half century. I have always respected and admired their musical intent and content, and never regarded their choice of guitar to be anything other than an extension of their musical soul.
In the not too distant future the most recognizable player of that day will make an evolutionary decision to totally commit to the universal concept. Their doing so will have a significant and sudden impact resulting in wider acceptance of the instrument while demonstrating the pedal steel guitars incredible capability to play all styles of music.
In addition it will revitalize and unite the steel guitar players of the world toward the common goals of consistency and standardization, thereby creating a new greatly accelerated and exciting direction for the pedal steel guitar of the future. Change is the only constant in the universe, and I will always envision the dreams of the future, while remembering the history of the past!
Copyright ©2000 by Maurice Anderson