Steel Guitar vs Slide Guitar: What’s The Difference? Lap Steel Guitar Explained

Although many people consider Steel Guitar and Slide Guitar to be almost the same, there are certain differences that make them unique in their own way. Depending on your preferences and view, you might choose Slide Guitar over Steel Guitar or vice-versa.

Slide Guitar is mainly played using a cylinder to slide over the strings in order to find the right notes. On the other hand, Steel Guitar can be played by creating pressure on the string using a metal bar. In both cases, they use something to pressurize the strings to find the selected notes. 

In this article, you will get to know about Slide guitar and Steel Guitar in detail. You will also learn various facts about Slide Guitar and Steel Guitar. I will also mention information on various types of Slide Guitar.

What is a lap steel guitar?

A lap steel guitar is a stringed instrument that is played by placing it flat on the player’s lap or a specially made stand. The instrument produces sound by plucking the strings with a slide bar or a steel. Lap steel guitar have an open tuning system, which means that the strings can be easily adjusted to produce different kinds of chords and notes. The sound of the instrument is unique, and it has been used in various music genres, including bluegrass, country, rock and jazz. The instrument can have anywhere from six to ten strings, and the tunings of the strings can vary depending on the style of music being played.

History of Lap Guitar:

The history of lap steel guitar is a fascinating one. The instrument’s roots can be traced back to the 1890s when Hawaiian musicians started using guitar-like instruments with metal strings and steel bars to create beautiful and unique sounds. The native Hawaiian residents called the instrument the ‘steel guitar.’ As the instrument became popular, it spread throughout the world and became particularly popular in the USA. By the 1920s and 1930s, the lap steel guitar had firmly made its mark as a popular instrument in country music, Hawaiian steel guitar, and Western Swing.

Slide Guitar Overview:

In Slide Guitar, a cylinder is used to slide over the strings in order to find the correct note. The cylinder of Slide Guitar can be made of metal, ceramic, plastic, or sometimes glass. The cylinder is put on one of the fretting hand’s fingers and then played on the guitar. 

Guitarists wear the cylinder on one finger and restrict the strings from moving until they find the perfect note they want. There is no rule for putting the cylinder on a definite finger. However, guitarists mainly put them on the pinky or ring finger. 

You can play a variety of songs there, for example, hard rock , blues, or even country songs. Slide guitar can come in a variety of materials, weights, and sizes. Most of the guitar slide are made of glass, Steel, and brass. In today music, this is very common to be use on rock guitar and electric jazz music.

Guitar Slide, Set of 1 Glass Slide, 1 Steel Slide and 1 Brass Guitar Slide, Bonus 6 Pcs Guitar Picks, and 4 Finger Picks
  • Solid brass slide: Provide treble and more stable bass, for longer stretches and full tone.
  • 304 stainless steel guitar slide: Made of 304 stainless steel, provide great resonance, good intonation, and a clear bright sound.
  • Borosilicate glass guitar slide feature: Made from high quality boron silicate, heat treated and annealed for smooth performance, smooth, sturdy and durable. Accentuate the middle harmonics of your sound, and provide warm, silky bluesy slide sounds, suitable for slide guitar, acoustic guitar and bass.
  • Glass/ steel/ brass slides diameter (approx.): Inner: 0.82 inch /2.1cm; Outer: 0.99 inch/2.5cm; length (approx.): 2.36 inch/ 6 cm.
  • Convenient to carry: Come with a gift box, you can just choose the combination you need to carry. Package included: 1 glass guitar slide, 1 steel slide and 1 brass slide, 6 pcs cool guitar picks, 3 celluloid finger picks, 1 celluloid thumb pick and 1 gift box.

Steel Guitar Overview:

Steel Guitars are guitars with ten strings that are played while pressing the string with a metal bar. Back in the 19th century, it was Hawaiians who played the first type of Steel Guitar. However, they did not use the metal bar. 

They did not use the specialized slide guitar; rather, they used the regular guitars and played them using a steel bar. Nowadays, people recognize these Steel Guitars as a technique of playing guitars or an instrument to be played with a steel bar. 

There are different types of Steel Guitar, such as Lap Steel Guitar, Console Steel Guitar, and Pedal Steel Guitar. Each comes with a different purpose and facilities. 

Differences Between Slide & Steel Guitars:

To be honest, both Slide Guitar and Steel Guitars have slight difference but trust me, and they are completely different instruments. Slide Guitars usually come with a cylinder, whereas Steel Guitars have a Steel bar with it. 

The purpose of using the cylinder and the steel bar is the same, which is to press the strings to resist the sound and find the exact notes. They even look different from any regular guitars. 

They have different sounding qualities; as a result, they can be easily recognized. Many guitarists can just listen to the song and recognize the type of guitar. When it comes to Steel Guitar, you can either buy Lap Steel and Pedal Steel Guitar. 

As the name suggests, Lap Steel Guitar are the ones that are kept on the lap and then played. On the flip side, the Steel Guitar come with pedals so that you can stand them. The pedal and levers can also be used to change the notes, cords, and other effects. 

Slide Guitar, on the other hand, have very similar tonality, and there are no options to modify the pitches mechanically. You need to rely on specific tunes, string combinations, and playing positions. 

Which One Is Actually Better?

The bars in Steel Guitars can be a cylindrical shape and are mostly made of Steel or metal vs Slide Guitar that come with cylindrical slides, but they are usually hollow inside. They can either be hollowed out all the way, or one side of the cylinder might be closed. 

Mostly the bar for Steel guitars is made of metal vs the cylinders of Slide guitar are made of glass, metal, plastic, ceramic, or other materials. 

Now which one will be comfortable for you completely depends on your preferences. So, you can try both of them and find out which one will be more comfortable. 

Related Questions

Can You Play Slide Guitar On Any Guitar?

Slide Guitar can be played on any guitar. You can use the cylindrical slide on any regular guitar and then search for the desired tone. However, you might feel some discomfort since the guitar will be in low action. 

The frets and the fretboard might come in contact with the slide and interfere with the playing process. This might affect your play and produce unwanted noise.  

Is A Steel Guitar The Same As A Dobro?

Steel Guitar can be considered the same as Dobro; however, there are some differences. Dobro is a resonator guitar and is an acoustics regular guitar by design but does not produce a traditional round acoustic sound. 

There are two types of this guitars which include Square Neck and Round Neck. Square Neck can be played keeping on your lap, and the round neck one can be played keeping on your lap or any other convenient manner. 

On the other hand, Steel Guitar is a guitar that comes with a steel bar. The bar is used to change the pitching note while holding it on top of the string. 

Then again, Steel Guitar comes in two types; Lap Steels Guitar and Pedal Steel Guitar. The initial one can be played by putting it on the lap, and the other one can be played by keeping on the pedal. 

Is A Metal Or Glass Slide Better?

When it comes to choosing the slide, metal slides are heavier and harder, which makes the sound brighter and sustains longer. On the other hand, the glass slide sounds a bit mellow. 

However, which one should be your preferable one completely depends on your personal preferences. 

What Is The Point Of A Guitar Slide?

Guitar slides are mainly used to manipulate the tone of the strings to achieve the perfect sound. You can find glass, metal, or ceramic slides, and choose the one you find more comfortable. 

Using the slide will make the sound different and gives you the privilege to mix two or more notes.  

Is Slide Guitar Easier Than Regular Guitar?

Slide guitar can be easier to play than regular guitar in some ways, as it eliminates the need to press down on frets or strings. However, learning how to properly use a slide and coordinating between your fretting hand and slide is more challenging than playing standard chords. It requires patience and practice to master the technique of playing slide guitar.

Final Thoughts

Slide Guitar and Steel guitar come with the same purpose, which is to resist the strings and find the desired sound. The slide guitar comes with a metal, plastic, or ceramic cylindrical slide, whereas the steel guitar comes with a metal bar.

Although people tend to think Slide Guitar and Steel guitar are almost identical, some core differences remain. They even have different sounds and deliver different notes. 

Both guitars come in two different kinds of guitars. They also have different kinds of purposes. You can play them and choose the one that fits your preferences for any show. 

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