Steel guitars are interesting and beloved string instruments capable of superb portamento and vibrato. Their sound is popular in Hawaiian music (where the steel guitar originated) and blues, rock, honky-tonk, gospel and bluegrass.
When it comes to choosing the best steel guitar, there are plenty of options, namely in the categories of lap and pedal steel. In this article, we’ll consider the top 11 best steel guitar brands in the world today.
Though obviously subjective and prone to biases, I’ve done my best to list out these brands based on the following metrics (in no particular order):
- Company reputation
- Variety of steel guitars
- Performance of the steel guitars
- Longevity of the steel guitars
- Accessibility of the steel guitars (how easy they are to find/buy)
- The company/brand must currently be in operation
With all that being said, let’s list out the brands.
The top 11 best steel guitar brands in the world are:
Let’s get into each of these brands in greater detail and explain why they belong in the top 11 best steel guitar brands for music and audio production. I’ll share their country of origin, a bit of history, examples of lap and pedal steel guitars, and a link to their official website.
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Although he started his company in 1989, Gene Fields's curriculum in musical instrument making was already superb. For starters, he designed the Fender Starcaster and, together with Leo Fender, the Mustang Bass, Marauder, and Bronco Guitars. After those successful endeavours, he moved on to work at the Research & Development department for strings. That was where he fell in love with pedal steel and lap steel guitars.
As you would expect, every pedal steel made at the GFI factory is a piece of history in the making since it carries in its design the leverage of one of the biggest names in the industry.
Gene has been gone since 2014, but his bold, innovative spirit and commitment to excellence still fuel every decision made by GFI.
Notable steel guitar: GFI Ultra S-10 PU (link to check the price at GFI Musical Products)
GFI's single-neck version of the top-of-the-line model features everything you need to play effortlessly and tone to shine in any scenario. To begin with, the instrument’s clean and modern styling features a brushed aluminum frame with a clear coating for enhanced durability. Also, the pad and laminated maple make it comfortable and great-looking. Finally, with 3 pedals and 4 knee levers, there’s nothing you can’t play with this instrument. If you haven’t already, give GFI a try before buying anything else.
Official website: gfimusicalproducts.com
Gene Fields founded GFI in 1989. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Marshfield, Missouri, USA.
To say that Bill Asher is the go-to builder for legends like Ben Harper, Fleetwood Mac, or Paul Simon is to say that he is a legend himself. Indeed, he has built unique instruments for unique musicians all his life with outstanding results.
To maintain his guru status in terms of attention to detail and instrument quality, Bill runs a boutique shop with his partner, Jessica Asher. Every instrument is handmade and hand-finished and carries all the Asher mojo you need to sound amazing on any stage.
Notable steel guitar: Asher Guitars Ben Harper Signature Lap Steel (link to check the price at Asher Guitars)
Blending the vibe, tone, and sustain of a ’59 Les Paul with the feel of a vintage Weissenborn is not an easy endeavour. Moreover, creating an instrument that oozes playability while expanding the tonal palette for the player can be thought of as mission impossible for most brands but not for Asher Guitars. This is a 25”-scale instrument made of Okoume with a flame maple top and Indian rosewood fretboard that roars through a pair of Seymour Duncan ’59-style humbuckers.
If it is good enough for Ben to play it in front of crowds worldwide, it can be good enough for you.
Official website: asher-guitars-lap-steels-store.myshopify.com
Bill Asher founded the company in 1982. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Venice, California, USA.
The first lap steel guitar ever built by the legendary Chuck Wright was in 1948. Friends and colleagues received it with great surprise since it already featured novel ways of solving old problems.
Nowadays, Sierra is in the hands of Don Christensen, a passionate man who has expanded and improved on the original designs Chuck Wright left. For example, the Sierra Crown lap steel features a 25” scale making it easy to transport and play with.
Sierra is the legacy of a legend that only got better with time. Try one today and hear the difference.
Notable steel guitar: Sierra 8 String Lap Top (link to check it out at Sierra Steels)
Perhaps, the secret to this guitar’s seemingly infinite sustain is the aluminum bar that goes through the entire neck. Underneath that piece of aluminum, there is another piece of wood to enhance tone and vibration to get ultimate sustain from every note. Moreover, the guitar’s strings attach to the aluminum, increasing sustain even further.
For those chasing the holy grail of lap steel guitars to play riffs with near-perfect sustain, this is the perfect model.
Official website: sierrasteels.com
Sierra was founded by Chuck Wright in 1960. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Molalla, Oregon, USA.
Legends such as Adrian Belew, PJ Harvey, Jack Johnson, Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth), and Nick Valensi (The Strokes) are just a few outstanding artists who choose Eastwood guitars to shine on every stage.
What started with Michael buying rare, old, odd-looking guitars from the 50s and 60s that looked futuristic and retro but played poorly ended up in a company that offers the same mojo those guitars did in a modern, playable, reliable, and affordable version.
If you love bizarre and retro guitars and want to play them live or in the studio, you have to give Eastwood guitars a chance.
Notable steel guitar: Eastwood Airline Lap Steel Pro (link to check the price at Eastwood Guitars)
Perhaps, the most important part of this lap steel guitar and what sets it apart from Airline’s regular model is its pickup. It features a replica of the unique 50s Valco lap steel string-through pickup made famous by Ry Cooder. This pickup offers the player the tone of a single-coil pickup in the shape of a humbucker with no hum and tons of natural sustain. Also, the Alnico 3 magnets feature adjustable individual pole pieces to tailor sounds exactly as you want them. Finally, it features a rosewood fingerboard and ships with a hardshell case.
Official website: eastwoodguitars.com
Eastwood was founded by Michael Robinson in 2001. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
Mitsuo Fuji, a master builder, born in Fukushima, Japan, started making state-of-the-art lap steel guitars in the early 1960s. By 1971 he had already designed the first headless model for Fuzzy, which he named Excel. The critical acclaim it received took the company to export them around the world and open the US branch office in Cheney, Washington.
Due to the success of Fuzzy models in the US market, by 1983, the second US branch opened in St. Louis, and the first student models were sold.
Nowadays, Fuzzy and its Excel model are the go-to around the world for talented players needing an outstanding instrument to shape their inspiration into music hits. If you haven’t already, try a Fuzzy today and learn what Japanese precision is capable of.
Notable steel guitar: Jerry Byrd Hawaiian Lap Steel Guitar (link to check it out at Fuzzy PSG)
Made entirely with an aluminum neck and available in single or double-neck designs with 6 or 8 strings, this lap steel guitar is created to shine on any stage. Indeed, the 24.5” scale allows any lap steel player to play whatever musical style he or she wants since the instrument covers a very vast sonic ground. In the same vein, the original pickups tend to sound open and musical, retaining the sustain qualities of the aluminum neck. Finally, it ships with a tailor-made hardshell case to protect it for years of great music.
Official website: fuzzypsg.com
Fuzzy was founded in 1967 by Mitsuo Fuji. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Tokyo, Japan.
MSA is the combined effort of master builders Reece Anderson, Travis Toy, and Jody Cameron. They combined their talent and effort to create the ultimate instrument at a time when pedal steel guitars sounded on the radio. This was way before the brand was founded in the 1970s.
Not only did they build state-of-the-art designs, but they were also making 2626 pedal steel guitars a year when the factory was working full steam. In the same vein, the legendary meetings they organized served to put Dallas on the music map of the country for the quality of the players and the instruments.
Nowadays, MSA continues the same legacy selling instruments that only make the legend bigger.
Notable steel guitar: MSA Studio Pro (link to check the price at MSA)
The MSA Studio Pro is the jewel in the crown. Indeed, it is an innovative pedal steel guitar ready to take the world like a storm. The quick-change pickups broaden the instrument’s tonal palette drastically. Also, the adjustable, on-the-fly pedal rods help players adjust the pedal’s height instantly. Moreover, all the hardware in the instrument is completely made of stainless steel, which can surely outlive the 5-year warranty. Finally, it ships with titanium pedals, so you don’t have to worry about them ever breaking before a show.
Official website: msapedalsteels.com
MSA was founded in 2010 by Reece Anderson, Travis Toy, and Jody Cameron. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Dallas, Texas, USA.
Before being a master builder of lap steel and pedal steel guitars, Del Mullen was a professional musician playing with some of the biggest names in his time like Reba McIntyre, Wanda Jackson, Kenny Price, Leona Williamson, and plenty more. During those foundational years, Del learned the gaps in the lap steel models he was playing from a player's perspective.
Therefore, every Mullen lap steel guitar is the result of an elite-level player’s vision trying to make the kind of lap steel guitar he would have liked to play in his days. If you haven’t already, give them a try, they might surprise you.
Notable steel guitar: Mullen G2 (link to check the price at Mullen)
The Mullen G2 is one of the most advanced guitars on this list. The brand new changer design makes string change, tuning, and set up a much easier endeavour than ever before. In the same vein, the newly-designed undercarriage for ultimate mechanics and the utterly precise changer assembly make it a modern instrument with many possibilities. Also, the custom-wound single-coil Mullen pickups come as a factory standard. Finally, each G2 lap steel ships with a leg bag, case, owner’s manual, warranty, and the complete set of wrenches needed for setup and playing.
Official website: mullenguitars.com
Mullen Guitars was founded by Del Mullen in 1983. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Flagler, Colorado, USA.
Wayne and Robyn were folk musicians in the 1970s trying to make a living with their music. By 1978, they opened their Strings N’ Things music centre, where they sold thousands of instruments to avid players and beginners. From that period, the couple got the finesse in ears and hands to distinguish a well-made, great-sounding instrument from one that didn’t get the job done.
That was their competitive advantage and the reason why, after the company created the first travelling banjo, the sales grew astronomically. If you are after a lap steel guitar that sounds amazing, is handcrafted by experts, and won’t break the bank, Gold Tone needs to be on your list.
Notable steel guitar: Gold Tone SM-Weissenborn+ (link to check the price at Gold Tone)
With mahogany back, sides, neck, and solid top, this Hawaiian-style lap steel guitar is a serious player with tone and sustain for days. In the same vein, the snappy treble of the ebony fingerboard and the tone of the bone add their part to a balanced, great-sounding lap steel guitar that can cut through any mix. Finally, the included hardshell case and goldplated hardware add the protection and style needed for the gigging musician.
Official website: goldtonemusicgroup.com/goldtone
Wayne and Robyn Rogers founded Gold Tone in 1993. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Titusville, Florida, USA.
Bill Rudolph started making pedal steel guitars in a small basement shop over 45 years ago. During the first era, he was able to master the building aspect of pedal steel guitars and found out that what really made the difference in construction was hand-picking the woods and mixing old-school hand-tool construction with modern CNC machines to obtain pieces of precise, artisan work.
Nowadays, the company functions in a large modern shop above the ground, creating masterpieces for lucky buyers and going the extra mile to ensure the instrument and the buying experience are exceptional.
Notable steel guitar: Williams 700 Series (link to check the price at Willams Guitar Company)
Made with the latest technology in precision CNC machines, the 700 series by Williams represents the company’s pinnacle. Likewise, it can be considered among the best pedal steel guitars available on the market today. The curly or birdseye maple bodies are hand-selected from the company’s slow-growth private collection. Also, the one-piece key heads (or headless at your request) and patented Williams Changer are standard in every model. Finally, the guitar ships with a legs’ bag and a hardshell case so you can carry it to every gig keeping it safe and sound.
Official website: williamsguitarcompany.com
Bill Rudolph founded Williams guitars over 45 years ago. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Oak Grove, Minnesota, USA.
Opening a shop in Tennessee in 1960 was a great choice by Joe Morrell since Elvis and The Beatles were topping charts, and the interest in folk music and guitars was sky-high. Taking advantage of that phenomenon and of the fact that he was in the epicentre of the folk culture in the US, Joe Morrell’s company grew non-stop.
After seeing countless guitars and selling to musicians in all tiers, Joe decided to manufacture instruments under his name, pouring all he had learned being a wholesaler and retailer into the construction of lap steel guitars that could outdo all competition. The impeccable results kept the brand as the go-to option for musicians in the area until this day.
Notable steel guitar: Joe Morrell Custom Series (link to check the price at Morrell)
If you can allow 4 to 6 weeks for construction and delivery, the Custom Series by Morrell is an affordable, great-sounding guitar for serious players. To begin with, the contoured all-maple body with rosewood fingerboard provides the perfect mix of snap and sweetness needed to excel in any scenario. Also, the Kent Armstrong humbucker pickups (Alnico V for the neck and Ceramic for the bridge) provide punchy bass, string definition, and higher gain without any loss in warmth. The string-through-body construction adds to the instrument’s sustain. Finally, the heavy-duty chrome bridge features individual saddles to make height adjustments and intonation tweaks per string.
Official website: morrellmusic.com
Joe Morrell founded the company in 1960. Currently, the headquarters are in Bristol, Tennessee, USA.
Montgomery Ward started this brand during the golden era of instrument manufacturing in the USA by building instruments from his house. These guitars, banjos, lap steels, and more went on to serve one of the most talented generations of musicians in US history. Indeed, Elvis Presley was a Recording King user during his glory days.
After being discontinued in the 1940s, the brand was brought back to life in 2007 by The Music Link, respecting the original designs. Moreover, the company went the extra mile by creating replicas of pre-WWII parts to use on handmade instruments.
Recording King’s motto is building instruments that can be passed on from one generation to the next. Try one today and test their endurance with your hands.
Notable steel guitar: Recording King RG-31-NA (link to check the price at Recording King)
This lap steel guitar, made entirely of mahogany, represents the golden age of guitar manufacturing in the USA to the last detail. Indeed, the pearloid fingerboard, P-90 pickup, simple volume and tone controls, and natural satin finish are part of the no-frills approach so popular in the 30s and 40s. Finally, the string-through-body construction offers the player increased sustain and tone that can be passed from your generation to the next.
Official website: recordingking.com
Parent company: The Music Link
Montgomery Ward founded Recording King in 1930. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Hayward, California, USA.