Word of the Day

steel guitar


a guitar with ten strings that you play while pressing the strings with a metal bar

Origin and usage

The first form of steel guitar was played by Hawaiians in the 19th century: they used normal guitars but played them with a steel bar rather than their fingers to create different tones. By the 1920s the idea had become popular in the United States and horizontal versions on four legs were the first steel guitars produced. Today, the term steel guitar can refer to the technique of playing the guitar horizontally or an instrument which is designed to be played with a steel bar.


The word steel guitar can be used as a noun, to refer to a particular type of guitar that is often played horizontally with one hand plucking the strings and the other altering the sound produced using a steel bar or slide. However, steel guitar can also describe this method of playing an instrument which is often associated with country, blues and Hawaiian music.

In 2006, a Rex steel guitar that Paul McCartney played on before becoming famous was sold for £330,000. Made in the 1950s, it has steel strings and a very thick neck. As the former Beatle could not afford an instrument as a child, he practised on this steel guitar belonging to his friend Ian James.


“In terms of pushing the boundaries of the steel guitar, [Buddy Emmons] was like Jimi Hendrix was to the electric guitar.”

(Dave Pomeroy)

“If they had a steel guitar they dropped it. The weepers and slow country ballads pretty much went out of their repertoire. And what you had left was country-orientated boogie music.”

(Peter Guralnick)


slide guitar

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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