Jon Jimmerson is an experienced pedal steel guitarist who has over decade of professional steel playing under his belt. If you are an artist looking to hire a steel guitar to record on your next album, track, demo, and song, let JJ know. Whether it be country, rock, americana, R&B, singersongwriter, jazz, classical, bluegrass, etc. Jon can record steel guitar for all different genres and sounds.
Steel guitar can be exactly what you need on your record. Most people are very familiar with the sound even if they don't know what a pedal steel is. Genre wise, you can fit it into any genre. Examples of some country players would be- Paul Franklin, Doug Jernigan, Tommy White, Loyd Green, Buddy Emmons, etc. Some great examples of rock and r &b players would be- Russ Pahl, Robert Randolph, Jerry Douglas, etc. Steel guitar is also widely used in Americana, Folk, Bluegrass, Singersongwriter, Jazz, and many more genres. Make sure that you have pedal steel on your next track/ album.
Ways to Use the Pedal Steel in a Track
1. Solos and Fills- The steel guitar is a lick machine. It sustains better than any instrument at clean levels and sounds the most like the human voice. It is a great instrument for leads.
2. Pads/ Ambient- Steel guitar is the best instrument for pads and ambient sounds. It takes pedals very well and because of the clean, sustainy sounds it goes well with delay and reverb.
3. Texture- There are a lot of notes in a pedal steel guitar. Possibly more than a piano. Therefore, the steel guitar can work around other players and find a sonic space that isn't being occupied. The role of the pedal steel in modern uses is best described as two female background singers.
4. B3/ Leslie/ Organ Sounds- Most organ pedals work better for steel than they do for guitar. JJ uses the B9 by Electroharmonix. Also, Leslie speakers work well for steel guitar. Jon frequently uses one of those for sessions. Rusty Young perfected this sound better than anyone.
5. Slide Guitar- Steel guitar can imitate slide guitar and in many ways, make a better sound. There's a lot more harmony options and more notes to choose from.
6. Overdrive/ Distortion- Pedal steel takes to overdrive, distortion, and fuzz very well. It can rock as hard as anything out there.
Recording a record online is one of the best things you can do for your track. First of all, remote session work is growing since technology for recording is becoming more accessible to the average person. Your remote recording journey will be a learning experience, but it will bring you more enjoyment and save you money in the long run. If you are a studio engineer or producer at a studio, even better.
It takes a lot of knowledge and experience to do recording sessions well. Having the right environment and room for it is very important. For the most part, JJ records his amps in rooms that have high ceilings and hard wood flooring. Jon likes to play steel through Fenders amps mostly. He loves using a Fender Twin Reverb and a Fender Deluxe Reverb. JJ also plays a Derby D10 and a MSA Classic as his pedal steels. As far as effects, he has a long list of pedals that he loves using. For sessions, Jon will send separate tracks for dry and dirty. His wet effects are usually plugins so he can send the artist/ producers a wet and dry version of the same track. He will take four passes at a song that have different layers of complexity. The first take is the basic pad pass which is mostly for texture and simplicity. Basically, if you need somethings that is simple but fills a space that is needed this is the pass for you. The second is what JJ thinks the track would need as far as what steel guitar can offer. The playing in this is still very simple but has more licks than the first. The last two are more overplayed takes that are used for cutting and pasting licks. Usually, producers will use take one or two as the foundation and then cut and paste sections of three and four to parts of the song that they feel are appropriate.
Country music means many different things now. Older country has a certain sound that is different from Modern Country. Either way, you are going to want a pedal steel that sounds fitting to the style of music that you are playing. In older country music the pedal steel was trying to make a statement and had more leeway to use a variety of licks. In modern country, the steel is used more for texture and pads. If you are interested or have questions contact JJ about what kind of approach you should have for your pedal steel sounds on the record.
If you are interested in getting a country sound for your songs contact Jon. He also plays dobro, lap steel, and guitar. Combined with pedal steel, making your song sound more country will be no problem. JJ knows a lot of session players in Nashville, TN so you need more instruments like fiddle, drums, etc. then he can help. He also knows plenty of mixing and mastering engineers to recommend.
Most guitarists at some point in their life want to take up pedal steel guitar. They usually ask what kind of steel guitars are avalible for purchase. Here are a few options-
1. Mullen- https://mullenguitars.com/
Notable Player- Tommy White and Robert Randolph
2. Show Pro- https://www.showprosteelguitars.com/
Notable Player- Russ Pahl (they have a Russ Pahl model that is absolutely amazing).
3. Sho Bud- http://www.sho-bud.com/ (they make a Loyd Green model).
Notable Players- Loyd Green and many players in history
4. Derby- no website since the owner has passed. These are wonderful pedal steel that stay in tune very well. They sound and feel like an Emmons pedal steel.
5. Zum- https://steelguitarforum.com/Forum5/HTML/008737.html
Notable Player- Doug Jernigan
6. Emmons- https://www.emmonsguitar.co/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwmZejBhC_ARIsAGhCqncHEo3AYUOwhVyQmJUXK0YsaV_QtM66xNHxV-SCUFMGcyEGYWGmgQ0aAmVbEALw_wcB
Notable Players- Buddy Emmons, Bruce Bouton, and many other steel players.
7. MSA- https://msapedalsteels.com/
Conclusion- Buying a used steel guitar can be ok but a new one will be a safer option. If you are going to be a used steel guitar you can find one in your area (that is what JJ would recommend) or you could go on the pedal steel forum. Most used steel guitars will need some sort of fix and a brand new one while more expensive, comes ready to be played. Shipping a steel is also a risky business and most players selling a used one will not pack it correctly. Buying from a dealer is a safer option. If however, if you want to save a few buck you could buy one used in your local area if you have a pedal steel repair expert around. If you don't and you are not handy, Jon would not recommend it. Avoid shipping pedal steel at all costs. JJ has an MSA Classic that he uses for fly dates but he keeps his nicer steels at home.
It is important to hire a real professional for your pedal steel sounds especially if it is an online session. Most steel players in the area you live in may not be the right fit for your steel guitar recording needs. Most musicians are not great recording professionals. That is why you want to make sure that you get the best session playing possible for your record.
Here is a list of equipment and skill sets that are needed to record great steel guitar tracks-
1. Tuning- steel guitars sound terrible if they are not in tune. There are many different components that go into playing in tune with a steel guitar. A few to mention are- bar placement, mechanical function of the guitar, corrosion, bar grip, tempered tuning, effects that are wet such as ones with modulation, strings, etc.
2. Timing- this is a musicians ability to play with good timing. There isn't much to say about this except year of practice will help.
3. Tone/ EQ- getting a good tone and sound for steel guitar can be tricky. Some steels are very midrangy and that works for a lot of tracks but not for all. Therefore, there's a great deal of thought that goes into getting good tone. First of all, it's mostly in the hands and how the player plays. Second, having a variety of amps to choose from helps. Also, having a good room with great acoustic contributes to great tone.
4. Gear- There's a lot of gear out there but in order to get a good recording here are a few basics that your steel professional should have- interface, variety of amps, great room preferably with high ceilings and hardwood floors, great steel that stays in tune, pedals for all of the necessary sounds, great accessories for steel such as finger picks/ bar...,reliable computer, great plugins, preamps, etc.
5. Discernment- most novice steel players play too much when they record. They do not know how to take up a sonic space without interfering with the song. A professional will be able to shred when the track allows but mostly serve the song. Pedal steel players tend to be bad at this in recording especially if they are used to playing in a country cover band. Finding your space is very important in a track. Watch this video of Bruce Bouton to get more information on that- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaD-4w6xbeg&t=772s
JJ owns several steels that he uses for live and session playin. His main steels are an MSA Classic and a Derby D10. The MSA is great for more of the modern steel sounds such as Ryan Adams, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, Riders of the Purple Sage, etc. This is because it is a little more treble with a dipped mid range. The Derby is great for the sounds that most people would associate with country music since it has more mid range and sounds warmer. The Derby is also a double neck. Most steel players use the second neck on the steel for a C6 tuning. This tuning is great for western swing and jazz. Jon likes using his E9th neck for that. Instead, Jon uses the second neck for open D. This gives him more sounds for rock and r&b. These sound would be like Robert Randolph and Derek Trucks. It can also do harder rock since the lowest notes are like a drop d on a guitar for power chords.
The pedal steel guitar is similar to the piano in that it has quite a bit more notes at its disposal than most instruments. This means that whatever kind of needs you have in your track can be met by the sonic diversity of the steel guitar. Pedal steel can even emulate a B3 organ if desired. It is great for ambient playing and most anything else you need.