Dobro Vs Pedal Steel Vs Lap Steel – What’s the Difference?

pedal steel vs lap steel vs dobro

The dobro, pedal steel, and lap steel are all popular instruments in country, folk, rock and blues music. However, what are the differences between these different instruments? 

That’s exactly what we’ll explore in this article.

By looking at what each instrument is, we’ll be able to learn the important differences and similarities between the dobro, pedal steel, and lap steel.

Let’s start with the Dobro:

What is a Dobro?

A dobro is sometimes also called a resonator guitar. Dobro was actually a specific brand of guitar which specialized in making these types of guitars. 

Originally, the idea was to simply make a louder version of an acoustic guitar. Today, however, the dobro is often played completely differently than a standard acoustic guitar.

Most modern dobro players play the dobro atop their lap and using a slide, which has resulted in them being confused for lap steels. 

By the way, if you’re looking to listen to the best dobro players ever, I have a full list of all the dobro playing legends.

What is a Pedal Steel?

There are similarities and differences between the dobro and the pedal steel, but the most important is that the pedal steel has an electrified sound. 

The difference between a dobro and pedal steel, then, is sort of like the difference between an acoustric guitar and an electric guitar. Because the pedal steel is amplified/electrified, it lends more sustain to chords and notes. This can be helpful depending on the style of music being played.

Another advantage with the pedal steel, and electric instruments in general, is that the volume is more easily adjustable than with acoustic instruments (like the Dobro).

In terms of tone, the pedal steel is less bright and also sounds good with distortion – something that’s hard to get with an acoustic instrument. So for genres where volume is important and you need to cut through the rest of the band, a pedal steel may be preferable.

What is a Lap Steel?

The lap steel guitar actually preceded the pedal steel. This Hawaiian instrument actually dates back all the way to the early 1900s. 

The lap steel literally rests on a player’s lap, while most pedal steels nowadays are technically supported by legs, and don’t require resting atop a player’s lap. 

The lap steel is also more modest in both size and weight compared to the pedal steel.

The pedal steel has pedal rods and changing mechanisms attached to it, making a bit more complicated (but also more versatile) than the lap steel. 

Thus if you are a beginner just starting out, it may be better to first learn on the lap steel before moving on the pedal steel once you’re more comfortable. 

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Corbin Buff

Corbin has played guitar for over a decade, and started writing about it on Acoustic World in an effort to help others. He lives and writes in western Montana.

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