Pedal Steel Guitars

Sierra Steel Guitars Pedal Steel 1

Sierra Steel Guitars Pedal Steel 2




Having been sketching out ideas and messing around with any pedal steel I could get my hands on just for fun, I was pretty dang excited when I was presented with this opportunity from Sierra. Of course I said yes.

Sierra’s assignment for me was simple. I was asked to design the very best pedal steel I could with no holds barred. It’s been a long, difficult and rewarding road. The new instruments Sierra now offers are the result.

Designing these has been one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever taken on. I feel privileged to have been asked to design Sierra’s new steel and want to thank Ed Littlefield and Tom Baker for their confidence and support.

Bobby Lee’s contribution to this project has been enormous. The vast amount of info provided by the pedal steel community he created with the Steel Guitar Forum has been invaluable. A big dose of gratitude goes to Bob and all SGF contributors for the info you’ve shared.

I’ve gained a ton of inspiration, ideas and encouragement from various steel builders and their products. I haven’t seen them all, but almost every steel I’ve seen has had some impact on this project. A huge thanks to all the steel builders who came before me! Lastly, thanks to Chuck Wright (RIP) one of pedal steel’s founding fathers and founder of Sierra Steel Guitars.

Construction: The new Sierra pedal steels are designed for optimum resonance. The top is attached to the stout aluminum frame in such a way as to allow minimal frame contact. For that same purpose, the underside of the neck is scalloped. This leaves the top as free as possible to resonate. Going further with the “minimal top contact” idea, the changer and tuner assemblies mount directly to the top. The front and rear panels, as well as the rest of the mechanics, bolt to the frame with no top contact. Careful design and craftsmanship, quality materials, precision machining and an eye towards elegance result in an instrument that is great sounding, smooth playing, durable and beautiful looking. 

Changer: The new Sierra 4 raise/3 lower changer offers splits on every string. It utilizes a virtual pivot design. The benefit of this simple, but rarely used, concept is less string fatigue and breakage. A “virtual pivot” is one that is created by the interaction of 2 or more actual pivots. On the Sierra changer the raise finger on which the string rests, pivots from a spot below the lower finger’s pivot. The string contact point moves concentrically around this pivot as is common in most changer designs. While the motion is common on most steels, on the Sierra the size of the radius that the string contact travels is much larger than is usual which results in less stress and fatigue on the string.

It’s on the lower that the “virtual pivot” comes into play. The lowering finger pivots in the changer body and is the finger assembly’s main connection to the guitar. As the lowering finger is engaged and pulled away from the stop bar, the raise finger’s pivot (located in the lower finger) moves forward with the lowering finger. This forward motion and its interaction with the lower pivot create a “virtual” pivot point that the string contact point moves around.  As with the raise finger design, this allows for near linear movement at the point of string contact, minimizing string bending and fatigue.

Prototyping and testing this changer design took several months. That E9, 3rd string lives a pretty tough life on a pedal steel. This string is the one that most often breaks because the poor little thing is running right up to its mechanical redline. To test how the Sierra changer design would impact string life, a simple testing machine was built in order to cycle the changer with the string on it being stretched as it would in actual use.

Testing a plethora of ideas, iterations and refinements on the changer design the string life, which started out embarrassingly poor, ended up very, very, good. 1 million cycles before failure was the goal, the longest test went about 10 days (running 24 hrs). The machine was stopped at 1,028,000 cycles with no string breakage…and that was on a 25” inch scale!

Serviceability is important on pedal steels. The Sierra changer is definitely one of the easiest ever to work on. Those who’ve performed changer overhauls or had to remove a single finger for repair will love this.

Other features include:

> Adjustable helper and return springs 

> Small diameter pivots are used for less friction

Tuner/Roller nut assembly: The compact keyless tuner design also benefitted from the use of Sierra’s super high tech testing machine (video link here). Again, a number of designs were prototyped and tested, including a couple of really fancy ideas. All that was learned led to a simple design inspired by excellent tuner designs found on other fine steels. As is common with keyless tuners, pre-tensioning the thinner strings is recommended. This is simplified due to the ample amount of travel the new design offers.

The nut rollers are precisely “gauged” to insure light, buzz free, bar action near the nut.

Undercarriage/Pedal train: Adjustability, serviceability, and smooth action are the focal points of the new Sierra undercarriage. The quietest and smoothest playing steels employ tight tolerances and friction free mechanisms. The new Sierra follows that necessary paradigm…and ups the ante!

The other part of the smoothness equation is pull timing. There’s no question that accurate timing is a big contributor to a steel’s playability. No longer limited to pre-determined bell crank positions, Sierra’s new micro-adjustable bell crank design allows for an infinite amount of settings within its range. Exact timing and compact enough for modern copedants.

Using displacement and force measurements it was determined that the extra rigidity stainless steel offers over aluminum of the same size was worth the extra weight. The Sierra cross shaft uses adjustable sliding pivot pins at both ends for easy installation and set-up.

The stainless steel pull rods are sheathed in Teflon for noise damping and low friction when things get crowded.

Further adjustability is found in the multiple mounting points on the frame and pedal bar, which offer many options when it comes to fitting the steel to the player’s ergonomic needs. Knee lever angle is easily at the pivot of each lever.

But wait, there’s more….Pedal and rear leg height/leveling adjustments have never been easier. The rear leg adjusters allow the player to angle the steel for optimum wrist position. They’re also spring loaded for the easiest one- handed leveling ever. The pedal height adjustment is also made with one hand from the driver’s seat. Simply reach under and through the guitar, then give the pedal rod a twist or two…all done.

The taper fit leg mount provides a super durable and firm connection offering improved and longer lasting stability. This design takes all the side loads off of the threads and requires less tightening force when installing the legs.

The pedal bar is firmly attached using tapered interfaces held tight by a simple threaded foot. Each pedal has its own independent mounting and has smooth surfaced, barefoot friendly shape.

Weight: A Single 10 with 4 pedals and 5 knee levers is around 25lbs. This varies a bit with wood choice.

Materials: Chosen for its musical qualities Honduran Rosewood (used for the best Marimba keys), is used for the neck. Frets and neck markers are inlaid Mother of Pearl. Neck and body binding and purfling are made of contrasting wood strips.

Maple tops are standard but other tone woods are possible. Front and back panels are typically the same as the top but other woods can be used.  Sierra logo inlay materials depend on wood/finish colors. Lacquer finish can be glossy or satin.

The entire changer and tuner assemblies use 7075 aluminum, one of the hardest aluminum alloys available. 6061 aluminum is used for the frame and most undercarriage parts.

The knee levers, changer and tuner parts have an easy to clean, corrosion resistant, clear anodized finish. No more aluminum marks on your stage chaps! The end plates and pedals have an easy to maintain satin finish.

The carbon fiber legs and pedal rods have an easily maintained flat finish which shows off the cool looking weave without being too flashy.

 

 Pedal Steel Customer Service: Please understand that Ross’ production of Sierra pedal steels is a one man operation and wearing all the hats keeps him mighty busy. In order to offer quality customer service and communications, Ross is establishing office hours. This way he can keep the wheels of industry rolling without interruption and still offer a service/communication schedule that folks can count on.

Office hours are Tuesday and Thursday from 12 to 3 pm PST. Calls will be answered and messages returned during these hours. This is also the time Ross will devote to responding to emails. When the opportunity strikes, he’ll do what he can to respond as quickly as possible regardless of office hours.

Ordering: The ordering process is easy. Each new Sierra will be custom tailored to the needs of the individual player. This includes, fit, copedant and aesthetic choices.  Contact Ross and he’ll work closely with you to dial in all the details needed to produce a steel guitar you’ll love. A $500 deposit reserves one of these first new Sierras’s. The deposit is refundable until work begins on the cabinet parts.

NOTE: Sierra’s pilot run will be limited to 10 instruments. These will all be single 10 models. 12 and 14 strings will be available in the future. Our initial offering of just ten instruments allows us to evaluate the market and hone the production process. Plans are to start shipping steels by the end of 2017.

Prices:  S10: $10,000

             S12 & S14: to be announced

Includes: 4 pedals/5 knees levers, 24.5” scale, figured wood, lacquer finish, inlaid markers and logo, hard shell case, leg bag and cover.

Options:

Pickup: Wallace TT is standard, others available at no extra charge

Additional pedals and knee levers: $225 each

Abalone or other shell frets/neck markers/purfling: request quote

Exotic woods: request quote

Custom inlay: request quote

ATA case: request quote