Steel Guitar News October 4. 2012

Hello fellow players,

Today’s newsletter comes from Van Coffey.

For those of you who don’t know me, I started playing steel when I was fourteen years old so I’m going on four decades of steel playing. I’m currently playing steel for George Jones.

I came to Nashville in 1991 with Collin Raye and played with Collin for a number of years. Before that I worked the Nevada and California circuit for many years. I was raised in a family band.

I always played all pull steels until recently. Now I’m playing a push pull and learning it’s a whole different animal. The tuning is so different on it. It’s backwards from an all pull system which carries a bit of a learning curve with it. But there’s nothing like the sound of a push pull so it’s worth the headache to get the tone that comes with the push pull sound.

After playing everything from MSA, Sho-Bud and for many years Sierra guitars, I now play a ’68 Emmons. I played my Sierra on the first couple of shows with George and then the leg lock broke and I had to take my Emmons out on the road while waiting for a replacement part.

The entire band liked the sound of the Emmons so much better than the Sierra they said I had to leave the Sierra home and keep the Emmons on the road. It’s been that way ever since. I’m glad they did because it’s made me more comfortable with the Emmons.

Due to the Emmons, I’ve been reminded of why I got into steel guitar. It was for that great tone. Now I’m happy and everyone else seems to be happy with it too.

I started out a guitar player. I figured out that if you can do something on a guitar, you can also do it on a steel plus a whole lot more. Bottom line, a steel goes way beyond what a guitar can do.

I learned from playing in three piece groups that there’s a whole lot of space you’ve got to fill up. So I learned to play lead guitar, rhythm parts, slide guitar parts with distortion as well as steel parts. If you’re playing guitar in a small group and looking for a way to fill out the sound, steel is much more versatile than just a guitar.

Today’s country doesn’t really have a lot of steel in it, which I hear plenty of places the steel should be put in. I don’t know why and I don’t want to point any fingers, but producers and artists today just don’t seem to have the ear for steel.

Everything country seems to be going more to a rock sound, but steel guitar can be played in rock n roll. Proof of that is Paul Franklin in Dire Straits. Bruce Bouton just played on an English pop album and I heard the cuts and it sounds really good. The subtle little tasty fells he did made the songs come alive.

If you’re a young guitar player in a rock band, let me encourage you to explore what’s possible with a steel. There are really no limits to what we can do with any style of music. Look at Robert Randolph if you need inspiration. Even Jerry Garcia used steel guitar with The Grateful Dead.

I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing the next Rock N Roll steel guitar guru. I’m excited to see where the instrument is going to go in the next twenty years.

The one thing I love the most about the instrument is when I’m sitting at home and I still hear new ways to do different licks even after 39 years of playing. You’ll never get bored because the possibilities are endless.

For instance, my 17 year old son plays rock guitar and one of his favorite bands is a progressive metal band called Dream Theater. One their last album they had a ballad and as a joke to show him that steel guitar would fit with that type of music, I learned the chords and played some fills in the song where there were spaces and naturally he rolled his eyes at me, but had to admit that it would work and that it sounded good.

So don’t think of steel guitar as just a country instrument. Open your mind to all kinds of music and see where steel guitar takes you. Then see where you can take steel guitar.

Check out our monthly specials at

Steel Guitar Nashville
123 Mid Town Court
Hendersonville, TN. 37075
(615) 822-5555
Open 9AM – 4PM Monday – Friday
Closed Saturday and Sunday

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