Emmons Q & A: Buddy
Emmons and Bobby Lee Quasar have graciously
given their permission to re-post selected Buddy
Emmons highlights from Bobby
Lee's Online Steel Guitar Forum. The questions
and answers selected are those limited to topics
regarding history, tone, technique, tuning, set-ups,
equipment and general playing advice. Postings
are in chronological order from the oldest to the
newest. Thanks Buddy and Bobby for this fabulous
For more Q & A with Buddy Emmons, visit Ernie
Buddy Emmons Web Page. You'll also find all
of Buddy's records, tapes, CDs and courses as well
as plenty of photos from Buddy's private collection
and other fun stuff.
What is your current E9th set-up?
Pedal #1 raises strings 5 & 10, 1 tone. Pedal #2
raises 3 & 6, 1/2 tone. Pedal #3 raises 4 & 5, 1
tone. Pedal 4 raises 1, 1 tone. LKL raises 4 & 8,
1/2. LKV lowers 5 & 10 1/2. LKR lowers 4 & 8, 1/2.
RKL lowers string 6, 1 tone and raises string 2,
1/2 tone. RKR lowers string 2, 1/2 tone and 1 tone
along with string 9, 1/2 tone. Split tuning is on
pedal 1 and LKV and pedal 2 and RKL.
I have always believed the strings and their
gauges to have a role in the overall tone of the
pedal steel. What gauges are you currently using
and what insight can you provide on this topic?
I'm not too fussy about the string gauges. If I
use a lighter gauge than whatever the standard is,
it's for longer wear or less travel on the string.
I like to keep breaking and changing strings at
a minimum. For the E9th I use:
I'd like to hear your thoughts on how strings
have changed since you started playing and if such
changes had an effect on how you played and what
you played. Was there anything in string manufacture
or quality that is different from your perspective?
What strings do you use now?
When I first started, Black Diamond was the only
brand available. I wasn't aware of differences in
strings until we sold strings under the Emmons label.
For the most part I've use nickel which may be what
black diamonds were. It has been so long since the
Black Diamond days I couldn't say much about the
differences I do remember not changing often and
not believing the difference in sound when I put
new ones on. That much hasn't changed. I use George
Over the many years of watching you play, I have
seen you do a 1-fret backward slant (E9th) on strings
5, 6 and 8. The question has been raised as to why
you didn't just use the F knee lever that raises
4 and 8. My feeling is you get a better diminished
chord by doing it the way you do it. Would you comment?
And since you now tune straight 440, does it negate
your having to do that now?
The slant creates a slightly different tonal characteristic
or timbre to the notes. The use of the knee lever,
which might be a bit truer, is kind of dull and
plain sounding by comparison. There is something
about the slant that creates overtones.
Tuning 440 doesn't make any change in the overall
effect. What I forgot to add was when I use that
particular slant and slide back in diminished positions
four frets apart, more overtones are added to the
sound. When I reach my destination, straighten the
bar and apply the 5th string raise, the sound seems
to spread in all directions.
In reading your E-9th changes I noticed that
you have split the change where both the second
string and the first string are raised (i.e. the
D# to E and the F# to G#). Is there an advantage
in isolating the D# to raise on one knee lever and
hanging the F# to G# on your 4th pedal?. To be honest
I have trouble with my right knee lever left because
I have three pulls on there already. The first string
to G# the lower G# to F# and the 4th string on the
back neck to B flat. Is that too much to ask of
one knee lever?
More often than not, there are advantages to having
independent pulling of the strings. If you're using
the lever for the two and three part harmony sounds
then the two strings are fine on one pedal. I like
to play around with the splitting harmonies and
that is where the isolation of each string has the
Another example is the lowering of the 5th and 6th
string one tone with one pedal. I've always had
these strings separate because of splitting the
unison of the two A notes when 5 is lowered and
6 is raised and then lowered against it. I could
probably live with either way but prefer the separated
Do you think it's a good idea to pull up and
stretch the strings when you are changing them before
tuning to pitch? Does stretching the strings in
this manner shorten the life of them?
I've never felt good about pulling on strings to
stretch them. It appears to me that they would stretch
slightly more at the point you are pulling from.
I like to keep an firm and even tension throughout
the winding of the string. Once I get them close
to pitch (except for the high G#) I step on the
pedals and tune the raises until they settle into
their proper pitch. That way the guitar stretches
each string uniformly or at least more uniformly
than pulling the strings from one point.
I met you at the 18th Steel Convention in St.
Louis. At that time, you told me you felt the original
Emmons was the best steel out there. Do you still
feel that way? I've got two originals I was thinking
of trading for a LeGrande, since the action seems
easier and I've been experiencing knee problems.
The Emmons original was the best for my ear but
until I get my Legrande lll with 20k single coils,
I won't be able to give a fair evaluation of the
sound comparison. I have a beautiful sounding black
push-pull, and if the sound of the Legrande lll
is not a clone of my push-pull, the split pedal
feature and anti detuner it will be worth what little
trade off is involved in sound. My studio Legrande
has humbucking pickups at 20k. From the sound of
it, I feel that the road guitar will be close enough
to make me happy.
When you played a show in Edmonton in '82, you
played one of the first Legrandes with the short
keyheads. Could you compare that guitar tonally
with the new III you just got- especially in the
studio? I have one of those early 80's guitars and
my original just smokes it in the studio. I'd like
to dump it and get an all-pull guitar that was closer
to the original in tone.
With so many years and so many changes in guitars
since then, I'd hate to steer you in the wrong direction,
especially with today's prices. All I have to compare
at the moment are two push-pulls and one Legrande
lll. One push-pull has 17.5k single coil pickups,
another has single coil 20k, and the Legrande has
humbucking 20k. All sound different as far as thickness
in the mid-range yet all are similar in timbre.
Each guitar has an Emmons guitar sound. They all
go on tape well but the Legrande seems to have more
warmth and body than the others, which is what I'm
looking for today.
Every guitar has a signature sound that's practically
next to impossible to change unless you work on
the physics of the design. In the last fifteen years
I've played four different brand guitars and heard
over two dozen different pickups and found that
nothing ever changes the actual sound of the "guitar."
Changing pickups does no more than enhance or degrade
the signature sound. Since all three of my guitars
are in that ballpark I love to play in, I choose
the Legrande for the split tuning feature and tuning
stability the anti de-tuner offers.
You have told us that Jerry Byrd was one of your
favorites. Three of Jerry's "signature" chords were:
you create any or all of the pedals on the C6th
tuning and if so were the 5th, 6th, and 8th pedals
a result of what Jerry Bird had done?
fret slant, strings 1, 2 and 4 (C6th) keeping
2 strings straight and one slanted creating
a 9th chord.
fret slant, strings 2, 3 and 5 keeping two strings
straight and one slanted creating a 7th chord.
his 6th string to C# on some tunes ("Coconut
Grove" for one) creating a 7th with the root
Jimmy Day's setup was the basis for today's C6th
setup. He had an 8 string Wright Custom with some
pedals lowering only and others raising only and
would use them in combinations to achieve what is
accepted as today's standard. I'm not 100% sure
about how today's setup evolved from his but I'll
ask him first chance I get.
I added the bass end when I went to ten strings,
which merely extended the bottom end of the eight
string chord. I will crow about the C to A note
on the eighth pedal though.
The 7#9 chord that results from raising the low
C to C# is certainly a identifiable characteristic
of the C6th tuning. I personally think that it is
overused by steel players.
often does the music actually contain a 7#9 chord?
Not very. Unless the whole band is doing it (as
in"Hold It"), it sounds pretty "hokey" to my ears.
Another use I have for the eighth pedal is when
I play turnaround chords from C to A7 to D7 to G7.
It requires holding the pedal down for the last
three chords. Start at fret twelve for the C chord,
stay at 12 and press pedal 8 for the A7 (A7#9),
slide back to 11 for D13, and back to 10 for the
G7#9. It's only two bars with the chords lasting
two beats each. The grip for the last three chords
is strings 3, 5, and 7. It's also a 13 b9 chord.
There has been some discussion recently on the
forum about the U-12 tuning, and your name came
up as one who had tried it and somehow found it
lacking something. As you are one of the prime developers
of the modern steel guitar tuning concepts, I am
asking I guess if this is true (that you found it
lacking something) and if so, what that something
When I first came to Nashville, the E9th was an
8 string tuning: E, B, G#, F#, D, B G#, E, with
both B and G# pulling with pedal one. My Bigsby
steel allowed me to split the B and G# strings to
pedals one and two which freed the triad sound up
and made it easier to play melodies. Jimmy Day dropped
the low E and put an E in the middle. Ralph Mooney
added the high G#. By 1962, Shot Jackson and I were
building 10 string Sho-Buds and I added the F# and
D# to strings 1 and 2. Because I grew up with the
E9th and C6th tunings, I do find the 12 string tuning
lacking. If I were starting out today and didn't
have those differences ingrained in me, I don't
know whether they would matter that much. There's
a lot of good music coming out of 12 strings these
days and I really haven't spent enough time on the
universal tuning to qualify as an expert opinion.
On the forum we have discussed tuning problems
for a long while. As a matter of fact it is an ongoing
topic. Would you care to share with us "How you
currently tune" with the band, especially where
keyboards are present. Lets look at E9th first:
Ideally I like to be 440 all the way or as close
as my guitar will permit. 438 to 440 on thirds is
acceptable for for me. Sometimes I'll tune the thirds
at around 438 to keep from snapping the high G#
if conditions are where I think the temperature
might get cooler. The length of a rod on an all
pull guitar and its expansion factor determines
the pitch of the note (blow dry your rods for 5
seconds and see how flat the pitch becomes when
you engage a raise pedal). From there, I tune with
harmonics which is my gauge for cabinet drop of
any guitar. That way I'm tuning to all the guitar's
you tune all strings, pedals straight up 440
you use a tuner or harmonic soundings?
I will be tuning my Legrande lll right at 440 under
average and controlled temperature conditions. I
know it's a bear to have to play 440 when you first
play by yourself but in time your ear gets used
to it and someone else's thirds start sounding flat.
Meanwhile you'll be in tune and will have made friends
with all the fixed pitch instrument players in the
band. Of course if you don't like anyone in the
band, tune any way you want.
Would tuning across the board to 440 make it
unnecessary to tune sharp to 442.50 the way Jeff
Newman and some others do or would that be too sharp
Sharp is sharp no matter how you slice it. I've
never understood the theory of being sharper than
the instruments you're playing with. Aside from
that, even tuning 440 as I do, the guitars I've
played throughout the years have never truly been
in tune. A problem in detuning that is rarely discussed
is lowering strings which releases tension on the
cabinet and raises the pitch of some strings. The
6th or G# is vulnerable which is another good reason
to tune it to 438. Problems can also come from other
sources. I've blown several accounts constantly
tuning my guitar only to find out the fretboard
had been photographed at an angle that threw the
scale off. Another guitar had a fretboard positioned
wrong. I had a Quadraverb that had a chorus on the
I've only been at the PSG for several months
now, and it seems like I'll never understand the
subtleties of tuning. I got hold of your "Harmonic
Tune-Up" tape recently, and in it you advocate RAISING
the G#s slightly above what the ear makes us think
is in tune. This contrasts with what you've been
saying in this forum and with other approaches.
Am I missing something here?
I used the slightly sharp to the ear idea at that
time as a compromise between true 440 and tuning
the pleasing sound to the ear. I too had a hard
time dealing with the 440 sound and tuned the compromised
way for several years. Although it worked, it still
left many pedal combinations that would not tune
up properly, especially on the C6 tuning. It was
an attempt to get a pleasing sound closer to standard
pitch for those like myself who couldn't stand the
straight 440 sound. Now that I tune 440, I feel
uncomfortable trying to convince others that it's
the only way. All I can say is that knowing each
note will on the money has made a big difference
in the way I use pedals.
Do the new guitars have different tuning quirks
than old faithful? Pushing to lower applies pressure
one way while lowering the string reduces the pressure
at the same time.
I've played three guitars outside of old faithful
and the one quality that all of them have improved
upon the most is cabinet stability. In answer to
your question, the quirks are still there but at
a much more tolerable level. My fourth and last
guitar, I hope, is the Lashley Legrande lll with
a counter force anti detuner. The detuner does what
it's supposed to do, which makes me one happy camper.
When were your first experiences with electronic
tuners and what type were they. Also, on the Decca
recording of Ernest Tubb, "Through that Door" is
that you and were you using a capo?
My first introduction to a tuner was a strobe tuner
with an external mic used by guitarist Harold Bradley.
Before that, everyone got their Ežs from the piano
and that was it. As the session progressed pride
and ego from studio musicians thinking they were
the only ones in tune created a lot of hassles.
Harold solved those arguments and embarrassment
by setting his tuner in view so everyone could use
it as a reference. My first tuner was a Korg tuner
which was only good for six notes.
Yes to the capo question.
What usages do you have for the C - C# knee lever
on the C6th. I only see one, that is a transitional
1 chord 3 frets up from home with the 5th pedal.
Another would be as an augmented for the 6th pedal.
If you raise your 4th, it could be used for a C#
Did you use a low D on the C6 when you recorded
the album Live at St. Louis? If not, have you ever
used this tuning on any instrumental recording?
Second question-have you ever considered doing tab
for the C6 instrumentals on the Black album? For
some reason I seem to have more trouble picking
out your single string solos on that album than
the later ones.
I did use the D in the middle of the tuning. I started
with the standard C6 tuning and pulled strings seven
through ten to the other tuning with the fourth
pedal. It obviously added a lot of stress to the
wound strings so I took it off. The standard C6
was used for the head of The Great Stream and the
other tuning was used for the single note solo.
I also used it on Mardi Gras, which is on the same
album. It's a much faster tuning on the bottom end
than the standard C6. Terry Crisp now uses that
tuning full time.
I've been using a one-inch thick bar for about
eight years and have been teased (all in good fun)
about it from time to time by other players. Yet,
no one has been able to give me a good reason why
it's a bad way to go. I find it much easier to control
versus the 7/8 and can definitely hear a difference
in tone. Have you had experience with this? Do you
know of any technical advantage for the 7/8 versus
It's not a bad way to go at all. In fact if you
want a better quality sustain, that's exactly the
way to go. My friend Ron Elliott uses one and after
using his, I got one. The only reason I don't still
use it is because the diameter blocked my normal
view of the frets on the upper part of the fretboard,
and made it harder to see if I was dead on. If you
don't have that problem, hang on to it.
in follow-up post-
I measured the bar I said Ron used and instead of
it being one inch in diameter, it's also 7/8, but
still sounds better than the 3/4 that I normally
A year or two ago I saw The Everly Brothers (incredible,
Buddy AND Albert Lee!-don't miss them if they come
around). What did you use to get the dobro sound
from your steel? This show was in "the round" and
of course I couldn't see what was going on.
you spent the first tune under the guitar fooling
with the pedal-rods.
I used a Match-Bro, a Dobro simulator I designed
which is available through the Goodrich Company.
As for the guitar, it's no longer with us.
I was curious on your opinion about amps vs.
rack gear. I personally use a Vegas 400 and I love
my tone. I have spent lots of money on rack gear
over the years for both my steel and Tele and always
come back to just an amp. I do use a lexicon reverb
but that's it. What do you record with now, and
what do you feel was your best recorded rig?
For direct recording I'm using a Digitech 2112 into
a Lexicon PCM80. I love the combination of both
units better than anything else to this point. At
$2,000.00 the Lexicon sounds steep, but if I had
bought it $6,000.00 ago it would have been a bargain.
For live situations I use one Peavey Session 400
and a Boss DD-3 digital delay pedal.
I have assumed that a delay was effective only
with two amps (ala Jeff Newman) where the second
amp has a millisecond delay behind the first amp.
What effect do you get with it using only one amp?
I think I understand what you're saying about the
two amps. My principle behind using it mono today
is the same as when I used the old EchoPlex in the
studio. I went mono into an amp for those recordings.
The purpose was for a broad and thicker sound and
not so much for the echo effect alone.
Does your Nashville 400 have either the Peavey
or LeMay tone mod?
I meant to post this earlier but no, it doesn't.
I have three Peavey amps and all of them have the
I just purchased a stomp box delay and wondered
whether you could give me a couple of fundamental
settings including the percentage of delay to use
in the dry signal. Is there a different setting
for fast and slow songs or does one setting cover
A good rule of thumb in either case is to make the
delay land on beat one and three. That's the reason
a tap feature is on some of the later delays. Once
you establish the tempo of the song, you tap a button
and the unit syncs the delay with the tempo.
For a mix, I usually set the unit for three delays,
with the third delay barely audible. In either case,
fast or slow, you want the delays slightly below
below your dry signal. It takes some hands on use
to establish the right level for your technique.
Some play softer and some harder, which affects
the level of the delay.
I was wondering about gauges for the low G#.
What do you feel are the benefits or disadvantages
of the .020 and the .022 plain or wound?
I normally use a .022 plain but I go along with
the wound being easier to tune. A wound string requires
slightly more travel which allows for finer tuning.
It's kind of like having a fine and course thread
on a tuning screw. It also matches the travel of
the high G# much better and takes the bumpy feel
out of your pedal. For ballads it's a good way to
go but I still like the snap you get from the plain
Q: I took this snapshot at the Country
Music Hall Of Fame a few years back. Can you tell
us the story behind this guitar? How was it set-up...
What's up with the "Buddie" spelling?
That guitar is one of the first four Sho-Buds Shot
and I built. Don Warden, Porter's steel player got
number one. Ben Keith got number two and I build
the third and fourth for Jimmy Day and myself.
I later sold it to Pete Drake and he put a cover
over the name and had it converted to ten strings.
There's no telling how many hits Pete played on
with that guitar. Pete took the cover off and gave
the guitar back to me saying he wanted to make sure
when he was gone it would end up where it belonged.
I received a call from the Country Music Hall Of
Fame asking for a derby for their musician's display.
I saw a chance to showcase the history of a Nashville
based steel guitar company and its contribution
to the evolution of the steel guitar as well as
donate a piece of Pete Drake's legacy so I gave
them the guitar. In that respect, the guitar is
truly where it belongs and Pete got more than his
The guitar has Pete's setup on it.
The name Buddie was carried over from an adolescent
idea I came up with to make six letters in my first
and last name.
I have a Sho-Bud cabinet with Jimmy's name on
it, you told me some time ago that you had built
it, was this guitar one of the original 4? Jimmy
still owns it, he would not part with it, wants
to rebuild and perhaps play it again- Lynn Owsley.
If it has his name on the front in handwriting like
mine, it would be the third one. Outside of tuning
setup I made our guitars identical. It would have
routed out shapes at both sides or ends of the guitar.
We stopped doing all that shortly after the first
How much hands-on did you have in the Sho-Bud
era? Were you able to do most of everything skill-wise?
And how about the early Emmons guitar era?
I built the cabinets, buffed parts and helped with
some of the construction of the Sho-Bud. Shot did
the welding and layout for the pedal setups.
The Emmons original design consists of approximately
75% of the changes I wanted on the Sho-Bud guitar.
Among those changes were a burn resistant finish,
pedal attached to the pedal bar, aluminum end plates,
and a slimmer cabinet. Shot didn't want to rock
the boat with design changes so I eventually had
enough ideas rejected to design another guitar.
The push-pull system is basically what Shot was
doing underneath the guitar integrated into the
fingers at the bridge. Some of the other input for
the Emmons came from Jimmy Crawford, and Hal Rugg.
The rest of the guitar design was fine-tuned by
If Shot hadn't been so set in his ways, there would
never have been an Emmons guitar.
I've watched several of the early Porter shows
this week and have seen a few close-ups of the first
Sho-Bud that you and Shot built for Don Warden.
That's a pretty rustic looking beast.
mentioned that you did the cabinet work on several
of the first Sho-Buds. How did you go about picking
and finding wood for them? I suspect that some of
the imported hardwoods, like Purple Heart, that
Sho-Bud used on some of the guitars before the Professional
series were pretty hard to come up with locally.
Was it an evolving process, or did you know to start
out with certain hardwoods?
We ordered our wood from a company in Chicago which
I believe was Craftsman Wood Company or something
like that. Their catalog had a variety of exotic
woods to choose from. I came close to making an
ebony wood guitar but the cost was so high and from
what we had heard, so hard to work with, Shot didn't
want me to let anyone know it was available. We
chose birdseye maple because it was being used on
the Bigsby guitar at the time.
What's the function of your RKL with the D#-E
It give a unison split-off of a tone and one half
when played with the 4th string and followed with
the lowering of the 2nd string a whole tone. You
can get the same unison effect by lowering the E's,
moving up one fret and playing the 2nd string with
it and then sliding back to the original position.
Have you ever used, or experimented with, a knee
lever for the E to F# raise instead of (or perhaps
in addition to) the standard C pedal raise, and
combining the KL with A & B? I feel there are some
pretty sounds available when all three strings can
be raised or lowered independently.
Yes I have tried the knee E to F# on a push-pull
model and was uncomfortable with the travel because
of the allowance I had to leave for the half tone
lower. The all pulls of course would not have this
problem. You are absolutely right. Any time you
have independent control of strings you'll have
It seems I saw one of your push-pulls several
years ago in St. Louis where you were raising the
4th string to an F# with your 8th pedal. It was
a nine pedal guitar.
I've had that change all over the place at one time
or another. Having it on pedal nine gave me the
independent use of it but the trade-off was loss
of expression by having to take my foot off the
What volume pedal are you currently using and
and do you set the degree of "swell" or leave it
as per factory settings.
I use the Goodrich L120 at its normal setting. They
refer to as low profile. It gives a little more
leg room underneath but I don't think it affects
the travel of the pedal.
Have you ever considered raising the 9th string
(E9th) from a D to a D# using the knee lever that
raises 4 and 8. It looks like it would open up some
real possibilities. Albeit you would lose the 4
note diminished chord.
It would open some possibilities but I sure would
hate losing the diminished. It's such a fine change
for ballads and western swing I think I would really
miss being able to use it.
You mentioned that you are using the Boss DD-3
delay. What settings do you normally use and do
you leave it on the majority of the time.
I usually set the delays in tempo with the song
I'm playing. On ballads the delay would land on
beats two and four. Medium tempos can be set like
ballads or on the and of the beats (between beats
1 & 2). Those settings are more critical in the
studio than for live playing. When I'm playing live
I usually keep a long and short delay that covers
most songs I play.
I understand Boss has a new pedal that lets you
tap the tempo and sync the delay. This would allow
you to lock every tempo in before you start. My
repeats are set to diminish after the third delay.
The dynamics of players differ so you'll have to
adjust the feedback according to your touch or attack.
That will also affect the mix level you use.
Yes, I do leave it on most of the time. Exceptions
would be on the faster songs.
In the studio, do you record dry and then come
back with the Lexicon?
did you use the "Blade" for most of the Swing series?
Swingin' by Request is one of my favorites.
BE: I use the Lexicon as I record.
I used the Blade on our first swing record: Swingin'
40s Thru The 80s. I also used a Fender triple neck
Custom on that album. There might have been a couple
other swing albums I used it on but the rest were
cut with an EMCI, Derby, and possibly a Sierra.
I've got an LP titled "Shot and Buddy Sho-Budding
Again." Can you tell us the story behind this recording?
What guitar and amp etc. The title indicates that
this was a reunion of some kind. Was this recorded
after the Emmons guitar was designed? If so, how
long were you back on the Sho-Bud and what happened
That album was originally called "Aces Back To Back"
and was recorded when I left the Emmons Guitar Company
around 1970. When I returned to Sho-Bud, Shot put
the album together in a hurry to alert the steel
public that he and I were reunited again.
The guitar was a Pro which I had problems keeping
in tune. The move and having to play the guitar
turned out to be a mistake that haunted me throughout
the entire album. My frustration hit a peak on a
song called "Hold It" when I played the last chord,
raked it back in anger and said, "That's it, I'm
through." Shot had promised me if I wasn't happy
with the move he would release me from our contract
and true to his word, he did. We remained good friends
up to the time of his death. I went back to the
Emmons company shortly after that.
My son and I are sitting here talking about the
forum and we were wondering how many steel guitars
you have. I know it would be impossible to say which
one you like best but maybe one came down the pike
at some given time that really caught your heart
I have an Emmons push-pull and a Lashley LeGrande
lll. I've had as many as five at one time. If I
had to choose a favorite, I would pick the one I
used on songs such as "Touch My Heart" when I was
with Ray Price.
I thought all Emmons guitars sounded the same at
the time so I sold it to Dickie Overby. Years later,
Dickie told me he sold it and when he tried to find
the owner to get it back, he traced it to a family
that had bored holes in the front and back of the
body, put axles and wheels on it, and used it for
a wagon. It is a true story according to Dickie.
What exercises do you like to do before you practice?
Play? Some detail about riffs, chords, finger exercises
would be great.
One I use is similar to a drummers warmup. Find
a string that you can play a unison with like strings
3 and 4 with your bar on the 3rd fret of the 4th
string and play T 2 TT 2 T 22 over and over. There
are others but this one is the easiest. After a
while, change to lower strings because the hand
position is different when not supported by the
wound strings. Also try the same thing with string
3 and 5 with the bar on fret 5 of the 5th string.
This widens your hand spread and gives it a workout
for licks you'll be using those spacings for. Then
on to the 6th string with string 3. Unisons are
all over the place.
After you have that down, use strings 3, 4, 5, and
6 on C6 with the thumb raking strings 5 and 6 and
fingers 1 & 2 on strings 3 & 4. This gets the first
finger involved. A more difficult example is TT
22 T 2 TT 22 TT 2 T 22 and so on.
If a person was just starting out with the steel
guitar and was truly interested in learning to play
(not be great, just be able to play), what equipment
would you recommend if they insisted on everything
being the BEST and how would you recommend having
it set up? Also, What amp would you suggest they
It would be hard for me not to suggest the equipment
I'm using. Lagrande lll, Digitech 2112, and Lexicon
PCM80. That's a combination I wouldn't be ashamed
to take anywhere.
If they weren't into changing the guitar, I would
recommend a used Emmons push-pull from someone like
Billy Cooper. In my opinion there's a magic in that
guitar that sets it apart from all others. And the
Legrande is the closest thing to it.
These are suggestions based on what I feel is best
and not what's best for someone who isn't hooked
on a particular sound.
I still haven't found a better match for my guitar
and my ear than the Peavey line of amps. Because
of the wonderful mid-range in my steels, I'm able
to set both the Para-Mid and Shift controls on the
amp flat, or straight up. But it's all in the eye
of the beholder.
Wes Montgomery's octave playing always sounds
so great to me because, in addition to his fantastic
phrasing, he used his thumb and muted the in-between
strings. It sounds lame to me when I play octaves
on steel picking each note. Do you have a technique
for strumming octaves or muting the middle strings?
I originally had a bar with a slot cut out so I
could block the exposed strings with my left palm
edge and flip it over for the steel bar. It worked
but I found it difficult to keep in line and hard
to keep it from dropping off the octave strings
so I went back to blocking the three strings between
the octaves with my bar thumb and raking the two
octave notes with the thumb pick.
I know that you played a role in the development
of the E9th tuning and I figure age wise we are
somewhere in the same ballpark (I was born in '42).
So what I am saying is I started out playing a 6-string
Multicord and at that time the birth stage of the
E9th (as best as I can remember) went something
don't even remember what the 6th was tuned to. If
I remember correctly, the 8 and 10 string guitars
came along and the 9th-D and the 10- B were added
and somewhere in all this commotion Ralph Mooney
added the high G# 3rd string. The first pedal steel
I had after the Multicord was an 8x4 built by John
Hughey in Memphis. Instead of the F# and Eb being
strings 1 and 2, they were 9 and 10. So I wondered
if you might comment a little bit on how this was
figured out and how the ABC pedal setup was developed
to pull what string? Also, could you comment on
how the modern C6th setup was structured and came
about? To make a long story short, I'm just glad
somebody in the bunch had enough sense to figure
this mess out!
The original Isaacs tuning had a D for the 5th,
B for 6, G# for 7, and E for the 8th string. Jimmy
day started the change by dropping the low E and
adding it in the middle. I split B & G# (2 & 3)
around 1956. Ralph added the high G# in the late
fifties and also came up with the E to F# pull,
but I don't believe he had it pulling with the C#.
I added the F# and D# in 1962 before my first session
with Ray Price.
I originally put the F# and D# on strings 9 & 10
because the Sho-Bud had a permanently welded pull
system and it was the only way I could get them
on the guitar before the session. I came close to
taking the strings back off because of the difficulty
of playing with them in that position. I didn't
know if rewelding my guitar underneath would be
worth risking keeping it on. It was only after seeing
a couple guitars strung up that way in the Opry
dressing rooms that I realized it was going to be
a keeper and if I took it off my guitar, I would
be dated by my own creation.
I have said Jimmy Day came up with most of the changes
but I called Speedy West yesterday to confirm a
thought I had regarding his input. Although Speedy's
C6th tuning was E he also had a few pedal similarities
to the tuning. So, I guess it was a collection of
different ideas form different directions that led
to the final tuning as it is today. After we went
to ten strings, I added most of the bass end additions.
You mentioned on posts yesterday that you could
not make some recording sessions due to other time
restraints with the EB etc. Can you just sit down
in the studio and record your parts on a Sunday
morning with the engineer like days gone by or has
the studio thing changed where they want the whole
band there for the "feeling" they might get.
this question comes across like it was meant to.
I record almost always by myself in the studios
here. Partly to cut down on errors that affect the
whole session and partly to be able to rework the
lick or passage to really enhance the song. I know
you have done both, just wondering what is happening
Over-dubbing or replacing prerecorded tracks is
common here but when it's someone like George Strait,
the sound should be there when he's there. The collective
input of a full team is very important for the final
arrangement. When you have other players like Paul
Franklin who can cut it equally well, it wouldn't
be wise for a producer to jeopardize George's music
by recording with less than a full band. Ray Pennington
has allowed me to overdub, but you must have a good
relationship with a producer along with his faith
in you to be able to pull it off.
Someone told me once that you use your ring finger
to block. That you follow yours 2nd finger blocking
with the third finger. Is this true, and if it is,
how often do you do it? Any help would be greatly
That's true. I use the ring finger to block all
2nd finger notes as far as I can tell. When I get
in the thick of things at tempos above average,
I don't know exactly what's going on because some
of my blocking is done by pulling the bar off a
note and letting the 2nd finger block as I move
from the top to bottom strings.
Depending on the pattern, in addition to the ring
finger, I will use the thumb of the bar hand, second
finger of the bar hand, and the palm of the right
hand. Most palm blocks follow a thumb pick or 1st
At the end of the turn around on the song "The
Day You Left Me" (Goin' Out Swingin') you did a
harmonic phrase that gives me goose bumps. Would
you please dissect and explain it?
On the C6th in the key of G (fret 7) there are four
sets of harmonics in the effect:
1st harmonics would be on 19.
the bar to fret 8 and play the 2nd set of harmonics
on fret 15.
the bar on fret 8 and play the 3rd set on fret
the bar drop back to fret 7 as you play the
4th set of harmonics on fret 14.
it dies out, slowly press pedal 5 and the chord,
G major 7th will turn into a G7.
Is it possible to explain (in English) what you
did to wrap up "You Pushed Me To The Limit" (Swingin'
By Request )? Talk about monsters... that one is
Godzilla on a pac-a-seat.
That was the Pat Martino descending lick in three
parts. Gregg Galbraith played the same scale with
me a fifth position above what I played. During
the playback he asked if I wanted a third part on
it and I said it sounded pretty cool the way it
was but if he felt like doing it go ahead. If we
didn't like it we didn't have to use it. He did
it and we used it.
Since you are now tuning straight 440, would
you please tell us how you do it. Do you do it with
a tuner or by ear using a circle of fifth's or harmonics,
I start by tuning everything except the thirds straight
up. I tune the thirds at 439 just to keep them from
getting sharper in case of a temperature change
that might shorten the rod. It's a psychological
thing that probably doesn't amount to a hill of
beans, but that's common with me.
When I'm in good temperature controlled conditions
I'll normally touch it up through harmonics. I do
check the needle from time to time and if the E
drifted, I'll go back to the tuner.
This "straight up 440" tuning that's been discussed
I need some clarification on. I'm assuming what
you're talking about is:
the only true "440" is an A note, whatever the note
the tuner is recognizing, that the indicator needle
or lights or whatever should be dead on to the centerline,
as indicated by the finely honed electronics of
the tuning device. This should be in effect for
each note of the open tuning (no pedals ) and for
each pedal change, no matter how "wrong" it sounds
to an individual alone in a room with just the guitar
and once that guitar is playing in concert with
other well tuned instruments it will sound better
in tune than if we tune by our ear.
I correct in these assumptions of the details of
the tuning procedure under discussion?
That is correct. Another way of saying tuning 440
is "straight up," referring to the needle position
for all tuned notes.
Either method has it's pluses and minuses. You have
to take your pick and learn to live with whatever
problems either of them present.
Now this is sort of a loaded question so if you
choose not to respond it is understood.
of all I think your one of the greats on this instrument,
so my question to you is how did you get there?
When you started playing I think I read somewhere
you were 11 years old. I'm assuming the pedals we
have now you did not have at that time? It also
looks to me like you where also the one who had
a lot to do with the adding of pedals and tunings
that are standards today and probably will be for
a long time to come. So you are not only a great
player you are also an inventor of a lot of these
things that we take for granted or call the 'norm'
of the day.
comes the loaded question. What do you see when
you look down at the fret board? What or how do
you mentally prepare when you sit down behind your
guitar? Whatever it is, I'm not getting it because
my progress seems awful darn slow to me. I could
sit and practice tab and other source's of teaching
aids which I do, but I'm still sort of a trying
to catch up with the others approach. Seems to me
this is something you sorted out years ago.
an awful belabored question, but any input from
you would be greatly appreciated. Maybe my approach
to this could be changed, or should I just keep
I started playing at age eleven on a six string
Supro (mother-of-plastic finish), and sort of grew
with the evolution of the instrument. Because of
not having to divide playing with work, I had nothing
but time to devote to learning. I spent most of
it wearing a white groove in the middle of a black
vinyl record learning solos and turnarounds of my
favorite players. Although I never learned the theoretical
side of music, I developed an ear for intervals.
When I look at the strings on my guitar, I see intervals.
I see strings 1 and 2, 1 and 3, or 4 and 5 as whole
tones apart. I see major thirds, minor thirds, and
see which fret to put the bar for a certain note
between those intervals. I see fourths, fifths,
sixths, and octaves telling me what string to play
when I hear those notes in a melody. To make this
work, you must be able to recognize intervals when
you hear them.
I put as much emphasis on the mental part of practice
as the physical. If you don't keep your mind active
in certain areas, it gets rusty. When I haven't
practiced in a while and miss strings, it's not
only because my lack of use of certain areas of
the hands but because my mind has not walked those
paths with my hands for a while. Your hands don't
have a mind of their own, they only do what your
head tells them to do (with the possible exception
of steel guitar shows).
Lastly, I see what I call pockets, which are zones
where all strings will work within a given chord.
Sometimes I jump around, other times I use strings
between the pockets to get from one to the other
to better complete a musical thought. It's my road
atlas for getting me from point A to point B. Once
I'm in those zones, my co-pilot is the interval
knowledge I have to help keep me from getting lost.
What you must add to everything above is a lot of
listening to different kinds of music, but only
the kind you enjoy listening to and not just music
per se. You'll be so bored and disinterested in
listening to music you don't like that you'll be
wasting more time than its worth. If you want to
learn more about the steel, listen to country music.
If you want to find different licks and perhaps
cultivate a different style or approach, listen
to anything you enjoy outside of country music.
I just got a new Match-Bro and am experimenting
with it. Do you change your tone or reverb settings,
and do you use any delay? Any other suggestions
would b appreciated.
I set my Match-Bro where the tone is at 12 o'clock
and the Timbre control points at a corner. I keep
my echo on when I use it on the road because of
having to split a Dobro/steel solo back to back.
A word of caution regarding the Timbre control:
Some Match-Bros were made with controls that worked
right-to-left to increase Timbre. In that case,
the Timbre knob would point at the opposite corner
or position to that posted by those with the left
to right controls.
If a guy wanted to get his first Buddy Emmons
album, Which one would you recommend ? And where
could I order it?
There are three I can listen to all the way through
without flinching: Christmas Sounds Of The Steel
Guitar, a live album from a steel convention in
St. Louis, and a real old one called Emmons Guitar
I guess it would depend on the kind of music you
like to listen to. The Christmas album is obvious
in its content, but the second and third are a mixture
of different types of tunes and musical styles.
I got your amp settings from Ernie Renn's web
page a week or so ago and really had problems with
a "boxiness" in the sound. My usual settings are
Low-3pm., Mid-9am., shift-800, high-1pm., presence-
2pm. Should I try out your settings with a band
to see if they blend in better rather than judge
it in my bedroom? One thing I do notice, most sit-in
steelers turn my treble down, but when I hear them
out-front they are muffled. This is using my Legrande
going through a Steeldriver 2.
Tone is such an elusive dream and I guess that's
why practically everyone I know is still chasing
it. When I bought my push-pull a few months ago,
I was using the Blade with E66s. When I plugged
the new guitar in it sounded dark and muddy by comparison,
which is probably the key-word in describing tone.
Nevertheless, I set my rack and amp to where it
sounded best to me and after a few jobs, I fell
in love with it.
Once you're used to a sound, you compare all new
settings to it. Now that I'm used to it I wouldn't
want to return to the old one because by comparison,
it is brittle and thin.
I don't remember what settings Ernie posted but
I now use the bass at clock positions 3, Paramid
12 (variable), shift welded at 12, treble around
12, and Presence at 2 o'clock.
Give these settings a shot on the bandstand and
if it's still too boxy, and I have the feeling it
will be because of the drastic change, start moving
slowly back toward the sound you're used to. As
an experiment, try using only the bass, mid, treble,
and presence controls. Peavey claims the mid and
shift are flat at 12 o'clock and if that is true
then you can leave shift at 12 and think of it as
only having four controls to fool with. Good luck.
I have a Nashville 400 and I have #@*%ed the
settings and can't get them back to a smooth sound.
Can you help with where the settings should be?
First of all you're dealing with parametric EQ which
from a tech standpoint should be the best EQ you
could work with, but it's not; at least for a steel
guitar. I've had a Furman, Boss, and TC parametric
and for the most part, all they give you is a sound
that would look good on paper.
Try starting by playing a low open chord on your
guitar and move the bass back and forth around three
o'clock until the woofy sound disappears. Then set
the rest of your knobs straight up. Forget the shift
knob even exists.
Move your mid control in the 11 to 2 o'clock range
until you hit a sweet spot. Adjust your treble to
put a little grit into the mid sound but not a gritty
high. I actually set my treble more toward 11 than
2 o'clock, but it will depend on your guitar and
your playing environment. Treble should be called
upper mid, so think of it as that and work your
mid sound accordingly. Then turn the presence until
you get the highs filtering through the mids. Before
you go to the shift, move the mid again if you need
to regain some warmth. If it still lacks some of
the sweetness you started with, move the shift ever
so slightly in either direction and if that doesn't
do anything for it, take a hammer and break the
knob off at the 650 setting.
The parametric EQ was supposedly integrated into
the amp to give you more flexibility in choice of
sound but it has caused nothing but problems since
it came out. These setting problems were unheard
of in playing circles when the very first Sessions
came out. Everybody in Nashville wanted a Session
and once the magic setting was found on four simple
knobs, it was wonderful experience.
In spite of it all, it's still the best sounding
amp for my guitars. I just remember when it was
a lot better.
Do you mean you prefer the original Session 400's
over the Nashville? (I have a 70's with a BW and
Yes. There was a warmth in those amps I haven't
heard in a long time. And with the Bass, Mid, Treble
and Presence, it was so simple to set.
You mentioned that you just use your PCM80 and
Digitech 2112 direct in the studio. I assume that
you go through a similar EQ exercise there with
the 2112. I've been using one for the past 6 months
and I love everything BUT the EQ. Got any tips?
you use the tube or solid state preamp? Do you use
the in-line 10-band graphic or one of the fancier
use the tubes with the 10-band and keep trying to
boost the lows a bit and then get a little punch
out of the high-mids to highs but I seem to always
have problems dialing it in just like I want it.
I'm using the tube preamp and 10 band. My low end
is +1 at 140 and +2 at 250. 1.5k is +1, 5k is +2,
and 8k is +1. These work well with the Emmons humbucking
pickups. It has some grit in the high end with those
internal settings, but I can smooth it out with
the external Bass, Mid, and Treble controls when
Rick Nelson told me years ago that you played
on "Garden Party". I always thought it was Brumley
(only because he was w/The Stone Canyon Band). So
who was it.
It was Tom. I was on a few recordings of Rick's
just before Garden Party but I don't recall the
Buddy, one of Pat's approaches to a guitar fretboard
that blew me away was to play the diminished 6th
chord and then choose any one of the four notes
and lower it 1/2 tone, resulting in a dominant 7th,
also resulting in having all 12 dominant 7th chords
and their associated scales within a 3 fret spread.
I never had an opportunity to receive formal theory
instruction, so I had never seen that relationship
until studying Pat.
made an attempt (however feeble) over the years
to try to revisualize the C6th tuning in this way,
but my old habits (and my conventional pedals and
levers) "die hard," to the point that I'm not sure
the standard changes are a help or a hindrance.
were playing linear solos 100 years ahead of the
times long before you began listening to Pat. I
know it's a cliche to say that we can all learn
things from those around us, but:
I was very impressed with the diminished to 7th
changes. As neat as it is, I can't translate the
theory to the C6th.
Pat's approach to guitar let you see the 6th
tuning differently than before?
specifically, do you feel that Pat's approach
to the diminished chord improves continuity
in linear solo's? (of all the amazing things
you do, to me, your ability to tie your phrases
together at any speed is the essence of music
in it's purest form.)
Pat opened my eyes to the C6th tuning with the live
album he recorded years ago. I changed my C6th to
a D wound string between the C and E to get some
of the lower notes of his solos. The strange part
of learning Pat's solos was suddenly I found I could
play in minor keys, something I never could do well
before. When I met him and told him that he said,
"That's because I use minor scales for my solos."
As I gained knowledge of his approach to scales,
I put the old C6 tuning back on my guitar and concentrated
on using top notes of the tuning. I believe the
diminished approach does improve the continuity
by working in identical four note clusters, but
unless you are into it and understand it like Pat
does, it's tough to make it work. At this stage,
I can only admire it from a distance.
Pat opened my eyes to the C6th tuning with the live
album he recorded years ago. I changed my C6th to
a D wound string between the C and E to get some
of the lower notes of his solos. The strange part
of learning Pat's solos was that I found I could
play in minor keys, something I couldn't do well
When I met him and told him that he told me it was
because he used minor scales for his solos." As
I gained knowledge of his approach I put the old
C6 tuning back on my guitar and concentrated on
using on top notes of the tuning.
I believe the diminished theory does improve the
continuity by working in identical four note clusters,
but unless you are into it and understand it like
Pat does, it's tough to make it work. At this stage,
I can only admire it from a distance.
I have two questions:
the Charlie Rich tune "Every Time You Touch Me I
Get High," please tell us how you get that last
chord. Fret, stings pedal(s) etc.
notice you use strings 5 and 8 a lot instead of
5, 6 and 8. Is there a particular reason for this.
"Silent Night" is and example on your Christmas
I don't recall what key I played the song in but
I can tell you the last chord is strings 4, 5 and
6, pedals down and (e) lowered while rocking on
and off pedal (a).
As for the 5 and 8, it's just the way I hear harmony
for certain places I play. I try to steer clear
of full triads except for 3, 4, and 5, with pedals
down, probably as a result of being gun-shy from
the way I used to tune. I had the theory the less
harmonies involved the better control I had over
appearing in tune with everyone else.
Which would be the more suitable amp to buy for
a steel guitar, Nashville 400, session 400 or LTD
400? I am coming to Nashville next weekend to purchase
an amp. Also, any accessories you would recommend
to a "sub novice" player with determination?
I prefer the Session but when buying an amp you
have to consider what kind of sound you're sending
to it. Brand of guitar, pickups, and the tone you
get with your hands are all considerations. I guess
it wouldn't be a fair comparison unless you had
them all in front of you. I've played through all
three models and don't consider any of them a bad
choice. My LTD had a 12 inch speaker which was a
bit shy on the bottom end but a pedal graphic EQ
took care of that.
As for accessories, for live playing I use only
one amp with a Boss DD-3 digital delay pedal or
a ProFex in the case of the Everly shows. If I were
to use two amps I'd use a TubeFex or something similar.
You could send the delay from the DD-3 to a second
amp also, but when I get into stereo situations,
I prefer an offset ping delay.
Another thing I might add that might make me a lesser
choice for asking about amps is that outside of
the Everly job, which I'm miked and monitored to
where I really don't know how I'm sounding, 99%
of my other work is going direct into a studio console.
The newest Peavey I have is about four, maybe five
When I play at the house, I'm go through a mixer
powered by a Peavey preamp and power amp and two
Peavey monitor speakers. I feed an FM tuner and
CD player to the mixer so when I play I'm a part
of the total mix of whatever I'm listening to. That's
why today I'm more inclined to talk in terms of
a direct sound than that of a stage amplifier.
Whenever I play something like the Ernest Tubb record
shop with Darrell, I pick the lightest amp, throw
it in the car and that's it. Nothin' fancy, no doodads,
no frills, just get on with it.
What do you mean with the FM-Tuner and CD player?
I run a FM radio tuner and a CD player to the inputs
of the mixer. Then I either play along with an FM
radio station or find a jazz or country CD, and
play along with it. With all the music coming from
the mixer, it sounds like I'm part of whatever music
I'm playing with.
It also helps me find a reference point where I
can set the tone of my steel in relationship to
the styles of music I play along with. That's one
way of finding out how different your guitar sounds
in different musical environments.
You once offered an instructional course called
"Blues To Use". Is that still available and where
I can I get it. Also, is the "Black Emmons" album
available on CD? I have the LP but would love to
have a CD to play in the car.
"Blues To Use" is no longer available. I've been
thinking about putting a "Four Burner Blues" course
out consisting of four different chord approaches
starting with the basic simple blues changes and
progressing to the outside changes you hear in some
of the more modern blues tunes. It would end up
being a study in minor sevenths, diminished, flat
nines, and a lot of other passing chords you could
relate to through a simple blues foundation.
I believe Ernie
Renn or the Emmons
Guitar Company has the CD Black Album available.
Do you have a 10th string lower on any push pull
guitar and do you still raise that string?
love the tone, but oh those splits are not fun to
I have the 10th string lower of 1/2 tone on E9th
with a whole tone raise, and a 1 1/2 tone lower
on C6th with a whole tone raise. It takes just the
right length spring in order to make the travel
smooth but it doesn't pose too much of a problem
leverage wise for me.
I guess the length of the pedal travel one prefers
would make the difference in whether its a major
Can you tell us who you feel among the major
artists you were around in the mid-fifties were
the most supportive of the pedal steel when it was
just beginning to be used? Was there resistance
to it? Does anyone stand out in your mind (major
artist) that was a proponent and supporter of steel
guitar players during that period? It seems like
it must have been a fascinating and really exiting
time in country music history.
In the mid fifties I can't think of anyone who was
not supportive of pedal steel. It added such a new
and different sound to country that most everybody
(with the obvious exceptions) wanted a piece of
it. As we explored and found new avenues, the artists
interest increased, especially when players like
Weldon, Hal Rugg, and others branched off into their
different styles. Competition was rampant but it
was the best thing that could have happened to pedals.
We hung out together like brothers and I must say
there has never been an era since then that can
compare with those discovery days.
Could you describe your approach to playing backup,
for pop songs versus country or swing? I'm interested
in how you approached integrating the sound of the
steel into the Everly Brothers' songs.
am the utility player in a band whose specialty
is 4-part harmonies. Unfortunately, we don't do
enough country or swing. I try to look for the missing
holes and fill them appropriately. I also try to
identify whether using steel is additive or subtractive
on a song. Unless the song demands something else,
I try to integrate the steel.
Backing the Everlys or any vocal group is more of
a challenge than a mono voice but the rules are
the same for most any style of music. I try to stay
away from their harmonies and vocal range. Also,
low pads work well when more than one voice is involved.
As far as different styles, waiting for the holes
and not swarming on top of the lyric is probably
the number one rule to go by.
When you talk about padding, are you talking
about doing a low volume rhythm behind the singer?
A pad is a chord played and sustained under a vocal.
It can sit in one spot or move to another inversion
of the same chord or from one chord to another.
It kind of "floats" under the lyric. A rhythmic
pad is more often referred to as "comping" under
I've reached the point in my swing and jazz playing
that I can play mostly inside with pentatonic, major,
blues and minor scale fragments but I have problems
integrating more outside licks into my playing.
Could you shed some light on whatever door you came
through in your jazz quest? I have also learned
whole tone and diminished and augmenteds but again
have problems integrating. Thanks from John in advance.
Up to the time I heard Pat Martino I was playing
more or less "the tuning," which sounds very much
like your reference to pentatonic, etc. I could
play inside as you say with speed and ease but never
with what I thought sounded like an intelligent
approach to solos. For some strange reason Pat's
scales seemed to open the door for me to a world
that was already there and I didn't know it. His
substitution of the G five minor seventh chord for
C seventh solos was a scale I had played before
but never associated it with a minor.
Now I use the Bb major 7th (5th fret, strings 1
through 9) and C9th position (10th fret, pedal 5
pattern) for both Gm7 and C7th solos.
Of course this is probably the tip of the iceberg
for what you were inquiring about, but it is a good
start on key substitutions. It allows you to sound
like you've learned something new when all you've
done is played an old pattern in a new location.
I don't want to distract from the GREAT technical
stuff you are posting, but a couple of questions
from the past. I saw you in 63' or 64' with Ray
Price when you and Jimmy were alternating on steel/bass.
Jimmy Belkins was playing one fiddle, Cotton? on
the other, was that Charlie Harris on guitar? Bush
on drums? A great band at the time, and for the
times. Also, the one and only time I ever heard
you play (live) four wheel drive, you used both
feet for the ending chord. What were you doing,
and what was that chord?
It was Charlie Harris and Johnny Bush.
As for the chord, unless I was in one of my "horsey"
moods, it should have been a C 13th with an augmented
11th, which translates to pedals 6 and 7. Why I
used both feet, I don't know.
I've got small mixer, CD, tape rig that I use
to practice on. Also, Band in a Box for something
specific. Often I will roll a tape during the practice
just to see how the guitar is coming across. For
me, the hardest thing to do is to play riffs that
are interesting to listen to, develop melodic tension
and release, have the right feeling...in other words,
something I could listen to and feel good about
you build a tune for yourself, how do you decide
what's on your mind that is good, and what is rejected
until another song.
I rarely ever create a song while I'm sitting at
my steel unless I accidentally run into an interesting
or melodic lick. Usually the song or idea pops into
my head first and then I sit down and work with
Once I get to the point where I want to construct
an instrumental, keys are important to me. What
unisons can be utilized? Can a note on the neck
be used that would serve as a counter-point to an
open string raise or lower? How would hammer effects
or harmonics fit in somewhere in the arrangement?,
or in the solo part?
All these and other things are what I try to utilize
in my thought process to keep a song interesting.
You co-wrote "Are You Sure" with Willie Nelson.
Did you contribute primarily to the music, and leave
the words to Willie? Or, did you did you take a
major part in both?
Heh heh! Now here's how to write a song. I was sitting
with Willie in a bar when a guy walked up to the
booth and plopped down next to me and forced me
over next to the wall. I thought it was Willie's
friend and he thought he was mine so neither of
us said anything. After we both realized he was
neither and he kept squirming for more space, I
looked at him and said, "Are you about where you
want to be?" He said yeah, and I said, "are you
sure?" When he said yeah again, I said, "good, now
get of here."
After he left Willie said, "that's a good title."
I asked him what he was talking about and he said,
"are you sure." He followed with, "I'll write it
and give you half." I told him no way but he insisted
saying an idea is as good as a song. So there you
A while back you wrote about the importance of
learning scales and intervals. That is, being able
to recognize them when heard, as well as to find
them on the fretboard.
suggestions do you all have for ear training and
other interval and scale learning?
The first ear training method I heard years ago
was the Rutgers University Music Dictation Series.
The instructor started by playing a C and D note
on a piano followed with the interval name, major
second. Then he continued to play the C along with
each following note in the scale and named the remaining
intervals. It was a five record set that covered
everything you'd care to know about music, but I
don't know if it's still available.
For starters, intervals in the E9th tuning, strings
8, 7, 6, 5, 4 and 2, in any key are broken down
Strings 8 and 7 = major 2nd.
Intervals are simply the space between notes in
a scale. In the key of C, the A note is the sixth
note or degree as it is commonly called, so a C
and A note together is called a 6th. In a theory
book you will hear names like perfect and dominant
with a few of the above intervals but for the sake
of simplicity and because they're rarely discussed
in those terms, I've left them out.
Strings 8 and 6 = major 3rd.
Strings 8 with 6 raised 1/2 tone = 4th.
Strings 8 and 5 = 5th.
Strings 8 with 5 raised 1 tone = 6th.
Strings 8 and 2 = major 7th
Strings 8 and 4 = an octave.
Harmonic intervals are two or more notes played
at the same time. Melodic intervals are two or more
notes played with one preceding the other.
It gets more complicated as you start flatting and
sharping notes but what Ižve explained above is
the basic foundation behind the overall theory of
intervals. I hope this gives you a kick start.
You recorded this "Nashville Bar Association"
album with Sonny Garrish, John Hughey, Jimmy Crawford,
and Russ Hicks. I heard it in the early 1980s and
could not believe my ears.
like a bunch of quality horns with no steel in sight!
I was/am amazed. Any comments on this recording
as to how this was done and how you chose that cast
of characters to play on it? The picture of you
all dressed up like judges is a killer too.
I believe The Nashville Bar Association was Jimmy
Crawford and Russ Hicks' idea and because of various
schedules of all the players, it took about a year
to finish. We just put the songs together, listened,
and added as we saw fit.
The was so much overdubbing we ran out of tracks
and ended with bits and pieces of everybody on the
other's tracks. It was a nightmare to mix but somehow
it came out.
Russ played the trumpet on "Horn On The Cob."
When you are recording with a artist (singer),
how is the decision made on just how the break,
kick-off, or even the ending will sound.? what I
mean is, do you give the people there a choice of
two or three to pick from, or do you put down what
you think sounds the best for that song and go with
that? I just wondered how that decision is made.
When I'm assigned an intro, solo, or turnaround,
it's up to me to come up with something. Several
things affect the outcome of either. I'm conscious
of the entire band, including drum and bass patterns.
I listen for melodic or rhythmic hooks that the
music or singer might trigger for an idea for an
The intro hook can happen in the melody or the extra
empty bar or two that follows the end of the melody.
Once I establish an intro and have to play the turnaround,
I try to keep an identifiable relationship to it,
not necessarily note for note but something eventually
relating to the hook. As for the ending, the ideal
situation is to integrate some if not all of the
hook in order to maintain the musical theme throughout
the framework of the song.
When did you first meet Lenny Breau? Is there
any live recordings of you and Lenny out there?
I'm asking because I've got a live recording of
you with Danny Gatton but not with Lenny. Also,
how many albums did you record with Ray Charles?
That must have been a treat!
I have been on four or possibly more albums with
Lenny. One of the titles I remember was Minors Aloud
on the Flying Fish label. Another was on a direct
to disk project with Buddy Spicher, and the name
of the last album had "Lighting" in the title; something
like "Lightning Strikes Again." To the best of my
recollection I met Lenny in the mid sixties. I have
recorded three albums with Ray Charles but can only
recall "Volcanic Action Of My Soul" as one of the
How many licks, songs, bands, etc. did you play
in that you heard this same complaining about that's
not "real country music." And then it turned out
that what you played over time became the standard
of we now consider country. What innovations that
you came up with got the most complaints at first?
I suppose most of the players I know from the early
days have played many slightly ahead-of-the-times
licks on records. They've all done as I have and
that's to keep it filed and wait for the appropriate
time to test it again.
The Cherokee Cowboys worked up the arrangement for
The Night Life on the road and I know from previous
experience if we hadn't had the intro nailed before
hand, we would have never been allowed to search
for it in the studio. Those chords were unheard
of for that period.
I don't remember getting too many complaints about
introducing new steel innovations. I did have a
midi setup that got a cold shoulder from most producers,
probably due more to letting them know I had it
to begin with. I had a swiveling volume pedal that
gave a full steel sound to the left, full midi to
the right, and mixture of midi and steel dead center.
The common response was, "If we wanted so-and-so
sound, we would have hired that instrument." Funny
though, Ižve never heard them say those words to
a keyboard player. Anyway, the demand for it wasn't
worth carrying eight spaces of rack mounted equipment.
Today might be different. . . but I'm tired and
I saw on the forum a few days ago where you said
that you tuned your steel totally to 440 pitch.
Am I to understand that with a tuner you tune each
string on the open E and C necks to exactly 440
pitch and then tune each raise and lower note also
to exactly 440 pitch? I have tried this and it really
sounds out of tune! Did it take you some getting
used to before you were comfortable with it?
It took a long time to make it to sessions tuning
that way, mostly because it sounded so strange when
I was playing by myself. It doesn't bother me now
because I've grown used to it. The day I decided
to go 440 was when I was playing with an FM station
and Bobby Garrett walked in. I asked him how the
tuning sounded to him and he said "fine." Of course
when the music stopped he couldn't believe the sound
of the thirds. Tuning that way also calls for extreme
accuracy with the bar. As Pablo Casals said, "tuning
is a matter of conscience." I find I'm more relaxed
now knowing my pedals are all equally tempered.
By the way, all the sound files I have in Ernie
Renn's site are 440 tempered. Anything harmonically
that catches the ear in those files disappears when
other instruments are added.
Do you think it is better for novice players
to stay at home and practice, practice, practice
or is it good to jump out there with the sharks
right on the bandstand and sweat it out.
It's a good idea to get a little at home experience
under your belt. The way I started was to either
have my friends come over to my house or gather
at theirs. We had a trio in school, so playing as
a group in private helped us when we decided we
were good enough to take a chance. Nothing beats
the actual experience of playing live in front of
an audience. As far as jumping into the shark pit,
it all depends on what condition their teeth are
in. Some sharks can be pretty fierce when they know
Have you ever adapted John Coltrane's Giant Steps
to the steel guitar? If so, how hard was it for
you to solo over those wicked changes?
I have been in and out of the tune for so many years
I can't remember. About six years ago I found somewhat
of a formula for getting from one change to another
but lack of keeping on top of it made me lose it
in a hurry.
This brings to mind a time when Hal Rugg was at
my house a couple months before the St Louis convention.
I said to Hal, "I think I'd like to play Giant Steps
at the convention this year. His only reply was,
"Why?" That was all I needed to trash the idea.
I'm sitting here listening to "Goin' Out Swingin'"
and wondering what guitar you used and how it was
recorded- great dynamics!
I used a Derby steel on the Goin' Out Swingin' album.Some
tracks are studio cuts while others were finished
at my home on an Alesis 8 track adat machine.
How do you create a Dim. chord on the E tuning
with the E to A pedals up (and down) ? does this
give you a four note chord and what are the string
Strings 9, 6, and 5 with pedals up. With pedals
down, strings 4, 5, and 7, with a forward bar slant
1/2 tone on string 7.
The knee lever that raises the two Es one half tone
in the open position gives you an F diminished with
strings 8, 6, and 5. Add the 9th string and you
have a D diminished 7th.
After playing for so many years, are you able
to listen to and average tune on today's current
crop of Country songs and know what each chord is
without sitting at your guitar? Assuming you knew
the key? I am having extreme difficulty even at
my guitar, determining some of the chords.
Most steel players I know in Nashville can listen
to a song and tell by the harmonies, pedal sounds,
and the timbre of both, what part of the neck the
song or fill is being played. It all goes back to
conditioning your ear to intervals associated with
the steel guitar.
I have always been intrigued by titles of instrumentals.
When a song contains lyrics, a title can be a lot
more obvious, but how do you come up with titles
for some of the instrumentals you've put together?
I've seen stories about "Highland Swing" and "Blue
Jade", but what about "Loose Tights," "Top Heavy"
and "Kicks to Boot?" Is there a story behind any
of these or any others?
There is no particular story behind them other than
an oddball sense of humor and somewhat of a knack
for catch-phrases. Sometimes I name instrumentals
after I've recorded them and heard the arrangement.
In that case I just keep listening until an unusual
name pops into my head.
There are many steelers it seems who prefer to not
use a double stop knee lever on the second string
of the E-9th. They say that the D note is out of
tune and that it comes out differently every time.
I remember going to a Newman seminar where he said
the function should be split into two separate knee
levers. Do you ever notice this or should we put
this into the category of "Don't sweat the small
I think it would be a matter of what you were raising
or lowering in addition to the split. I am lowering
the 9th string which is set to take off at the half
tone split. I also have a half tone raise on C6
with the same lever which is also makes contact
at the half tone stop. This reinforces the stop
and makes it more accurate than if other types of
raises or lowers were involved. In my case it stops
firmly but I have had problems when it was set otherwise.
I used to talk to Danny Gatton a good bit and
he said what kick it was for him to play with you.
I wonder what your feeling were about those jams
Playing with Danny was always a new experience for
me. He was the most unpredictable musician I have
ever worked with which once I realized that, became
something to look forward to each time.
If you've ever heard Danny play live you know he
could drop "Orange Blossom Special" in the middle
of "Harlem Nocturne" and then on to "Killer Joe."
As many times as I worked with him I found his choice
of scrambling tunes came off the top of his head
and never as a result of arrangements. He delighted
in throwing me curves and I was delighted as much
in trying to keep up with him. He was truly one
of a kind.
Did you do a show with Tal Farlow awhile back?
if so, any recordings of it, and what was that all
Dave Burley (last name?) put a show together at
the Longhorn Ranch in Dallas quite a while ago.
The guitarists were Tal Farlow, Herb Ellis, Les
Paul, and Bucky Pizzerelli. The rhythm section was
drummer Louie Bellson and bassist Slam Stewart.
It was recorded but I'm not sure if ever released.
Steel players were Curley Chalker, Doug Jernigan,
possibly Julian Tharpe, and myself.
What is your version of a "lick thief"? Do you
think that all of us are guilty of that to some
A lick thief is someone who draws from another player
to improve upon his playing, which includes myself
and just about any musician I've ever known with
the possible exception of Jerry Byrd. In all the
years I've known Jerry, I've never asked him about
a particular person or persons who may have influenced
him. My guess is it would have been someone from
In your course on E-9th Chords you mentioned
that you weren't fond of the A pedal F knee lever
position because of the out of tune nature of that
interval. I find myself having that same reaction
to flatting the G# string with the split tuning
feature. If I tune it to a perfect E minor the five
chord you can get one fret above the pedals down
position using the E to E flat knee lever,pedals
A and B and the G# knee lever split sounds a little
off. I realize this probably occurs because of flatted
notes combined with already pulled notes. Does this
position bother you or have you solved it with 440
all the way across?
I have solved it with the 440 or 438, whichever
suits my surroundings better. Once you tune a perfect
interval, it will affect anything else that is tuned
flat and used with it.
I am aware that you are using the 2112 in the
studio. Is it +4db output or the standard -20 and
if -20 do you ever have any complaints of not enough
signal. Some guys have suggested that I have my
More-Me modified to +4 output level.
I use the standard -20 output from the Digitech
into the More-Me which is also standard.
Are you going direct? And stereo? If so, how
are you splitting the signal to the console and
the More-Me? I use a pocket More-Me, and sometimes
derive a dry signal off the insert in the Evans
preamp, or use passive splits on the output of my
final effect, if I want to hear a lot of effects.
My rack chain is Digitech, Lexicon PCM 80, and More
Me. The stereo outs of the Digitech go to the stereo
ins of the Lexicon and the stereo outs of the Lexicon
go to stereo ins of the More-Me. From there I send
the XLR stereo outs from the More Me to the board.
What's a More-Me?
A More Me is one space rack mount piece that receives
the steel signal and as well as the output of the
board via the headphone box. You then plug headphones
into the More Me and control the level of your steel
with the track to suit yourself in your personal