Making The Pedal Steel Guitar Fit (For) A Volume Pedal
Donīt Compromise For Playability
last update: June 22, 2021

Copyright 2021 by H. Gragger. All Rights Reserved. All information provided herein is destined for educational and D.I.Y. purposes only. Commercial re-sale, distribution or usage of artwork without explicit written permission of the author is strictly prohibited. The original units  with their associated  trade-names are subject to the copyright of the individual copyright owner. The Author is by no means affiliated with any of those companies. References to trade names are made for educational purposes only. By reading the information provided here you agree to the Terms of Use.
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Index

Introduction
Plane Shifting
Setting Volume Pedal Equilibrium Point
Reference

Introduction

My recently acquired
pedal steel guitar (from hereon: PSG) was set up with a copedent  suiting the needs of the previous owner. I adapted all this to my needs, and alongside I installed a raiser kit to accommodate my leg size. All worked well - until I put my volume pedal beneath. Read on how I solved this elegantly...

Copyright Notice:
The  concepts depicted here, particularly the artwork, are the sole intellectual property of Helmut Gragger.
They are destined for personal use and for educational purposes.
Any commercial exploitation thereof is thus at least immoral.

At the time of writing it is not known to the Author, that a method like the one described already exists,
so if anybody feels that I violate their rights, please get in contact.
 Any re-hosting is prohibited. Any reference to the subject requires the mention of the Author.

standard PSG
                          without volume
Setting the "action" of the PSG
The PSG has limited mechanical headroom to accomodate your legs, plus you want to comfortably reach and operate your pedals and knee levers.

There is an optimal distance for this. The PSG is, so to speak, tailored to the size of a person, and if you are taller than this person, you wonīt be able to play the guitar well, or not at all as in my case. This headroom is crucial to playing in a relaxed position.

On a well done setup, everything is optimized, the levers are hit by the legs at the right point where distance vs. ease of activation is balanced.

Note that at this point you might have raisers installed that adapt the guitar to your bodyīs properties (- and shoes).
In my case, I needed 4cm raisers. (not shown here).

Since this very much affects the playability of the guitar, we can call this setting the action, although on
fretted instruments this term would mean something entirely different.

At this point, no other devices have been accounted for.
Weīll see next why this is problematic.

standard
                          PSG volume pedal without height adaptation
If you are playing a PSG you may want to use a volume pedal. But you donīt just slide this under the guitar like so.

Your knee (actually, upper leg) rises by the height of the volume pedal.

Unfortunately, the higher your knee, the harder the knee levers are operated due to the law of levers (pun intended), to a point where you neither can operate the volume pedal well nor the levers.


In the worst case, your (right) knee bumps into the undercarriage, where you cannot play the guitar at all.

So we need more overhead here. More raisers?





"The
 product of the weight and its distance from the hinge point
                                  should be equal to the
 product of the other weight and its distance from the hinge point."          
                                                            


- Physics law of levers

Or in less technical terms for the mere mortal:



"The closer your knee to the undercarriage the harder you have to press the knee levers.
And every centimeter matters..."


- The Pedal Steel Guitar Playerīs  law of levers

standard PSG volume pedal with height
                            adaptation
Spacers are inserted (commonly referred to as "raisers", "risers" or "extenders" to compensate for the volume pedal (letīs call them the action raisers).

However, those are meant to compensate for individual leg lengths, not for a volume pedal, because you might already have fine-tuned raisers there for this purpose.

(In my case this would have meant another 4cm raisers on top of the action raisers. My drum throne would have run out of adjustment travel besides resembling a bar stool...)

I was striking a half-way compromise, which was better, but the headroom was still too low, RK levers hard to operate, and LK levers increasingly hard to reach.

Next problem was that due to the imbalance of the leg heights the rim of the throne was creating discomfort on the left leg.



Obviously, the PSG was not originally designed to account for a bulky object like a volume pedal, and equally obvious, that issue has never been responded to on a broad scale, as little as an on-the-fly height adaptation without having to insert a raiser kit.

This is a ball and chain, and people live with it, thinking there is no cure.
But wait...

Pedal Steel Guitar players, fret not!
There is a cure, and a strikingly simple one too.

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Plane Shifting

I cursed the damned volume pedal that had blown all my beautiful setup sky high and wished it would disappear into a crevasse in the ground - stop! Thatīs it!

So the first thought that came to mind was that, with the guitar set up properly, the volume pedal should disappear into a cavity in the floor plane under the guitar more or less flush.

An intuitive approach would be making a pedestal that rises the floor inclusive guitar and chair, with a cutout for the volume pedal, so that the pedal disappears flush. Hmm, working but cumbersome.

But it so happens that the chairīs spindle (for at least the drum throne I use) is length adjustable, so are the steelīs legs. Perfect. This enables us to make the volume pedal relatively lower by raising the rest.
At this point I have to mention, that it is beyond my comprehension how people can put up with the otherwise very appealing dedicated steel guitar chairs, when they are not variable in height. Are all people made equal? You have to raise your guitar but sit too low?
Buyers, demand, manufacturers, react!


"A contributing factor to why I've remained at the beginner level for 20+ years is [wrong] guitar and seat
height.
"          
                                                            


- Ben Elder, Steel Guitar Forum on Seat Height, https://steelguitarforum.com/Forum5/HTML/009792.html


PSG
                          plane shifter
Guitar leg and floor pedal raisers (extenders) shown in place.
This is the solution.

Instead of lowering the volume pedal until it is out of the way (flush the floor) we raise the other elements by the same amount.

Superficially, this picture looks not much different than the ones before, but look close. The distance between the pedal bar plane and the floor plane has increased by the amount of the plane risers, which are chosen the same height as the volume pedal.

This moves the guitarīs pedals into a position that would be impossibly high, but a footrest the same height as the plane risers (i.e. the volume pedal) compensates for that.
Now, relatively speaking, both feet are again at the original and ideal height, but the volume pedal is removed from the equation.

Note that action raisers you may have installed  beforehand are untouched by this procedure. This guarantees optimum playability independent of the volume pedal.



The practical solution then is:
  1. Adapt the PSGīs height to your bodyīs demands. Ignore the volume pedal for the moment. A good rule of thumb often mentioned is that the arms should be in parallel with the string in a plane, but most important, the levers should be in a position where your legs can access and operate them effortlessly. This action frequently requires the addition of raisers on the legs above the pedal bracket, plus a comparable extension nut  for the pedal rods. Set up this way, things are automatically in balance for both legs.
  2. Next, measure your favorite volume pedalīs maximum height[1]. Find a suitable raiser of same size[2].  Mount this under your pedal bracket (see pictures). Now your pedals will stick out far too high, which looks weird at first sight.
  3. Find a piece of bug-infested plywood or mahogany of suitable size, a spare cooking plate or some weighty tome of the required height and use it as a rest for for left foot. Aim for a height comparable to the volume pedal.
  4. Adjust your stool so that your upper leg is approximately horizontal for a start and then ratchet up and down until it feels perfect. (At this point you may find, that your stool is less suitable than you thought.)
  5. Optional: Make the foot rest more perfect and stable, paint it together with your kids, add non-slip stuff to the floor side, secure it to the steelīs legs or whatever, add a tactile orientation point so that your foot finds the pedal, get creative! And, most important: let us know!

You probably used a computer or typewriter for years. Did you ever consciously notice that the "F" key and the "J" key have some feelable markings (a prominent dot or something) there that allows your fingers to find the starting position quickly without looking? More stuff to ponder...

Foto PSG plane shifter
Voilá, thereīs your plane shifter. Really elevates your playing too. And I mean it.

This works great! Conversion time: 10 minutes, live setup time: unchanged, cost: next to nothing, weight: little, D.I.Y. factor: very high, benediction: all-embracing, satisfaction: guaranteed. Try it!

The footrest is still "prototype". It probably needs to be attached to the PSG frame to stay in place.

But wait.... There is one thing we never addressed: your footwear. Either never play with high heel boots, or if, never play without! Another plea for on-the-fly height adjustment.

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Setting Volume Pedal Equilibrium Point

It turns out that the expression pedal on the MultiFX-device I use (technically a perfect volume pedal) is clearly designed for a person operating it from a position standing right behind the unit. The pedalīs equilibrium point  (full toe position) thus maintains a certain angle towards ground, which makes sense because the lower leg meets the pedal at this very angle.

But not for a seated player where the lower leg meets the pedal perpendicularly, such as under a PSG. This changes the useful pedal sweep and feeling substantially.

You get away with it well for a lap-steel guitar, because you have leeway towards the front. But you are limited on a PSG.
Your model might call for different measures or none at all.

By the way, such a device wonīt be suitable for everyone, particularly not for those who have a lot of floor pedals on their PSG.
However, the principle applies for all volume pedals.
Read more on this subject in a
steel guitar forum thread[3].
Again, the remedy is easy. A small spacer corrects the tilt to taste. I like it best when the full toe down position points a hair downwards, but I encourage you to play with that to find your own sweet spot. This also depends on the taper of the volume pedal.

tilt
                          correction on volume pedal
red line designates floor plane
arrow points to tilt spacer
tilt
                          correction on volume pedal
anti-tip flange
click on the images to enlarge
rear view
rear view

I also noticed, that when engaging the RKL lever I exert a sideways force onto the pedal it would not encounter under its destined purpose of usage, which gives it a tendency to make it tipping to the right. To counter this, I functionally broadened its base plate by extending the spacer plate to the right side. Done. You see, those changes can be done  optically unobtrusive and quickly undoable. The spacer plate can be attached with velcro or double-sided tape.

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Reference

[1] I generally advise against using vintage pedals. See here and here
[2] Some HDPE water pipe will do fine, this is what I had and used.
[3] Steel Guitar Forum: Volume Pedal - Choosing Between Standard and Low Profile,
      https://bb.steelguitarforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=215070


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Update History
  • June 18, 2021  initial release
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