Updated: Aug 23
LOOK INTO THE FUTURE
The pedal steel guitar as we know it has been played in the “modern” manner ever since Bud Isaacs recorded his famous intro on Webb Pierce’s “Slowly” in 1953. That unique and familiar sound is still what most people reference when they think about the pedal steel guitar.
A NEW ERA IN PEDAL STEEL INSTRUCTION
More than 65 years later, the guitar has gone through many changes and improvements in design, construction, tuning and techniques. In the early 1960’s the pedal steel guitar enjoyed its first Golden Age thanks to the great and innovative players like Buddy Emmons, Jimmy Day, Pete Drake, Lloyd Green, Weldon Myrick, Hal Rugg and John Hughey to name just a few.
Country artists embraced the sound of the pedal steel and the early masters made their careers playing on countless Country sessions. A few of the more adventurous pursued a Jazz passion.
While the instrument and the genres into which it’s accepted have expanded, the available tuition has not. Based on my many conversations with players at gigs and appearances all over the world, there are wide gaps in the existing lesson materials that need to be addressed, filled in and connected.
The pedal steel guitar needs a complete Method that respects and encompasses everything that came before and dares to look into the future. A Method that is maintained with up-to-the-minute knowledge and info, available anywhere at any time – one where students can send in feedback and questions and get rapid responses from the teacher in return. Many instruments have had dedicated Methods for centuries (classical guitar and violin for example) and in the early days of steel guitar, teachers and schools also took that route.
The Early Years of Teaching Steel
Lap Steel/Hawaiian Guitar instruction was typically written in standard notation. Companies like Oahu and Smith’s took advantage of the Hawaiian music fad and sold them by mail order or even via door-to-door salesmen. At one point, Oahu had over 1,200 schools teaching the Hawaiian Steel Guitar. Many future Hall of Fame players (including Lloyd Green and Buddy Emmons) got their start learning steel with these type of mass-produced methods.
Foundational knowledge like proper bar technique, picking and blocking, chord theory and other essential musicianship skills were taught.
The Last 40 Years of Teaching Steel
As the instrument evolved and pedal steel guitars gained in popularity, Country music replaced Hawaiian as the venue for steel guitar. Several of the big names of the day like Buddy Emmons and Neil Flanz offered “Learn-To-Play” courses on LP in partnership with instrument manufacturers like Emmons and Sho-Bud.
Winnie Winston wrote one of the first widely-available books on the instrument. His “Pedal Steel Guitar” was published in 1975 and covered the basic grips, mechanics, an overview of the history of the pedal steel guitar and a look at the top players at the time. It is often cited as “The Beginner’s Bible” and many current players credit it as helping them get started. Being in a print format with limited space, it was necessarily a condensed version of a complete method and could not delve deep into the nuances.
Winston’s book originally shipped with a flexi-disc plastic record of the audio examples and eventually came with a CD. Mostly based on the Nashville Country sound, it touched upon the burgeoning Country Rock scene and players like Rusty Young, Lucky Oceans and Buddy Cage.
The C6 neck is briefly discussed in a chapter about “Other Tunings” .
Techniques like Pick Blocking, Bar Slants, using effects pedals, and expanding the guitar's presence in Rock/Blues/Gospel styles were not covered in depth in the book; they simply did not exist then or had to be left out due to publishing constraints. The book was never updated, so it remains a snapshot of the instrument in 1975.
The great Mel Bay publishing company released several books on pedal steel by DeWitt Scott that many players cite as the first book they learned from.
Jeff Newman held many seminars and workshops at his Jeffran College, offered courses on LP and cassette, and pioneered the video/booklet lessons format on VHS and eventually DVD. I helped Jeff teach some of his week-long seminars, and while they allowed some extended teaching over several days, once the week was over you were on your own and could not easily get further instruction or clarification of the concepts taught. Time and technology limitations caused this approach to focus on smaller subsets of the bigger picture out of necessity, and a complete method was just not feasible.
The Next Level of Instruction
Perhaps due to the constant changes in strings, tunings, pedals and levers, there has never been a modern method for the pedal steel that covers ALL aspects of this amazing instrument. The earlier and still-useful material is out there, but the guitar itself has progressed and is now accepted in nearly every style of music all over the world, from Gospel to Metal, Blues to Pop.
Each generation of players learned from the best info available at the time and worked the rest out on their own. The traditional tutorial references to the great 50’s, 60’s and 70’s players (and the classic Country standards they played on) are not going to be as relevant to future generations of players as they used to be.
For the next generation to discover what we pedal steelers have known for years – that this is one of the most expressive and versatile instruments ever devised for any style of music – we will not only need to embrace the history, but keep moving the instrument and the music created on it into the future. It is my dream to teach everything that I know (and am still learning) about the guitar, and that includes all of the styles I am asked to play in.
I was fortunate to be taught solid fundamentals by a Hawaiian guitar master. In my teens I was able to talk directly to the pedal steel legends in Nashville and helped teach seminars during the advent of a dedicated pedal steel college. Now I can use today’s technology to share my experience and perspective in a modern fashion.
In The Paul Franklin Method, I’ve made certain to include all of the relevant info that earlier instruction courses offered and filled in the gaps by updating and adding to it to cover the past 30 years of music… and I am adding new videos regularly. Included in the Course will be a complete method for the C6 neck, which has been under-served for many years.
Because I am treating the Method as an on-going project, I will continue to make videos, teach lessons and make the Course as comprehensive as I can. I’ll address every student request until there are searchable answers to every question…or until everyone is tired of me! I think it is important to get this info down permanently. We all wish we could have “downloaded” what was going on in the minds of the early masters of the pedal steel and saved it for posterity.
Full Stream Ahead
The music industry was changed forever when music could be sold online, and now music is increasingly being taught online. My Method is shot in HD video and recorded with top quality audio so you can hear and see everything clearly. I have the flexibility to quickly respond to changing styles, techniques student requests, gear innovations and more. I can respond to student demand immediately via the private Facebook Group, an invitation to which comes with enrollment. Students can form virtual Study Groups and help each other out unlike any other previous Courses.
It was the advent of streaming video and the ability to create online Courses that convinced me that the time had come to update the curriculum of pedal steel guitar beyond the 60’s-90’s timeframe. Online streaming courses are an effective blend of video instruction, printed materials and an up-close-and-in-person private lesson. The camera angles get you zoomed right in to the action, the ability to slow down and rewind the videos make each lesson as efficient as you need it to be, at whatever pace is best for you.
If I could some how juggle my touring and recording schedule to teach individual lessons, I could only reach a couple dozen students a month at my least busy time. There is no hourly clock running once you are enrolled in the Method, you can (and should) take as long as you need on any lesson. You’re not tied down to whatever devices you own that may have a DVD player, and with new laptops no longer including them, the DVD era is coming to a close. You can study in your car, on the bus, at the beach…anywhere you have an internet connection.
If you’re just getting started, have been playing for a while – even for decades – there’s something for you in The Paul Franklin Method. I invite you to join me and over a thousand other students on our journey to master this amazing instrument.
My Other Courses
Now in our third year (2020) of adding content regularly, we’ve addressed the need for a beginner or intermediate student to get started by offering three auxiliary courses, Foundations: E9 Pedal Steel Basics, Applications: E9 Pedal Steel Toolbox and C6 Essentials. All three courses are comprised of select lessons taken from the complete Method. Everything taught in Foundations, Applications and Essentials is also in the Method.
Foundations is designed to get players up-and-running on the E9 neck. Applications is the next-level intermediate course, and for those who have been playing half of their guitars and avoiding their C6 neck,
C6 Essentials explains the tuning and gets you familiar with “where things are found” on that classic and versatile tuning.
If you start with any of those three Courses, you can upgrade to the complete Method and get full credit for each of the $99 Foundations/Applications/Essentials enrollments at any time.
For advanced players who want to increase their E9 Vocabulary, I created a 50+ licks course just for them: Paul Franklin's E9 Pedal Steel Vocabulary.
I also joined the great Tommy White in a course called "Contemporary Pedal Steel Guitar Vol. 1" , where we explore the history and evolution of picking and blocking and the P4 pedal change.
'The Method' Course Syllabus
Click HERE to see the current Course Syllabus. Our Library of Lessons is continually growing!