The Techniques of Speedy West, the Father of Pedal Steel Guitar in Country Music

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To truly understand the impact that Speedy West had on country music, it’s important to delve into the techniques he utilized on the pedal steel guitar. Considered the father of the instrument, Speedy revolutionized the way it was played and paved the way for generations of musicians to come. Through his innovative techniques and influential collaborations, Speedy left an indelible mark on the genre. So let’s explore the techniques of this legendary musician and understand the evolution of pedal steel guitar in country music.

Who was Speedy West?

Speedy West was an American pedal steel guitarist who was born in 1924 in Springfield, Missouri. His real name was Wesley Webb West, a name which was given to him by his cousin, who felt that the original name was too long.
In his early years, Speedy‘s family moved to the western part of the country, where he was exposed to the western swing style of music. It wasn’t long before he became enamored with the sound of the steel guitar, and he started to learn how to play the instrument.
As he honed his skills, he started performing professionally, and eventually became known for his unique and innovative techniques on the pedal steel guitar. His contributions to country music were significant, and he is often referred to as the father of pedal steel guitar in country music.

Overall, Speedy West‘s contributions to the world of music were invaluable, particularly in the realm of the pedal steel guitar. He played an integral role in changing the sound of country music, inspiring countless musicians who followed in his footsteps, including Chet Atkins, Buddy Emmons, and Don Rich, among others.

The impact of his techniques on country music

Speedy West was responsible for revolutionizing the use of steel guitar in country music. His innovative techniques not only expanded the possibilities for the instrument but also helped create the signature sound of country music for decades to come.

Here are some of the ways that Speedy West’s techniques impacted country music:

  • Speedy’s use of the amplified steel guitar was a new sound that captivated audiences and quickly became a staple of country music.
  • He pioneered the use of the volume pedal, which allowed for much greater control over the dynamics of the steel guitar.
  • His creative use of harmonics and bending strings helped to further establish the unique sound of the steel guitar in country music.
  • Speedy also popularized the use of double-neck steel guitars, which made it possible to switch between different tunings and create even more diverse sounds.
  • His technical ability and willingness to experiment inspired countless musicians to push the boundaries of what the steel guitar could do.

The impact of Speedy West’s techniques can still be heard today in country music. Artists continue to utilize the amplified steel guitar and volume pedal, and the double-neck steel guitar has become a beloved instrument in the genre. Without Speedy’s contributions, this iconic sound may never have developed.

It’s worth noting that Speedy’s innovations were just one part of a larger movement in country music towards experimenting with new sounds and techniques. Other musicians, such as Jerry Reed or Clarence White, also made important contributions to the development of country music by experimenting with their respective instruments. However, there’s no denying that Speedy West played a crucial role in shaping the sound of country music and inspiring future generations of musicians.

Early Life and Musical Career

Early Life And Musical Career
As we delve into the life and career of Speedy West, we can gain insight into the early beginnings of this legendary musician. Born in 1924, West grew up in the state of Missouri, where he first developed a love for music as a young child. His natural talent eventually led him down a path that would revolutionize not only his own career, but also the sound of country music forever. In this section, we’ll explore how Speedy got his start in music and his journey to becoming a pioneering figure in the world of pedal steel guitar. There are no relevant anchors in this section to link to /jerry-reed-innovations-country-guitar/ or /importance-clarence-white-electric-guitar-innovations-bluegrass-music/.

Introduction to the steel guitar

When we think of country music, one of the first instruments that likely comes to mind is the steel guitar. This unique instrument produces its signature sound through the use of a series of pedals and levers that raise and lower the pitch of the strings, creating a distinctively twangy and resonant sound.

The steel guitar has a fascinating history, dating back to the early days of American country and blues music. It was first developed in Hawaii in the early 20th century, where it was known as the “Hawaiian guitar” or “lap steel guitar”. However, it wasn’t until the 1930s and 1940s that the instrument began to make its way onto the country music scene, thanks in no small part to pioneers like Speedy West.

Early Influences

West was fascinated by the steel guitar from a young age, and would often listen to recordings of Hawaiian musicians in his spare time. He was particularly taken with the work of Sol Hoʻopiʻi, a legendary Hawaiian musician who is widely credited with popularizing the steel guitar in the United States.

Learning the Instrument

Despite his fascination with the instrument, West didn’t actually start playing the steel guitar until he was in his early twenties. He took lessons from a local musician named Jimmie Widener, who quickly recognized West’s natural talent and encouraged him to pursue a career in music.

Early Performances

West soon began performing with a variety of local bands, showcasing his skills on the steel guitar to audiences across the country. He quickly built a reputation as one of the most talented and innovative steel guitarists of his generation, and was soon approached by a number of high-profile musicians who were eager to work with him.

Impact on Country Music

Thanks to the work of pioneers like West, the steel guitar has become an integral part of country music, helping to define the genre’s distinctive sound and tone. Today, the instrument is still widely used in a variety of musical genres, from traditional country and western swing to more contemporary styles like alt-country and Americana.

Starting out in music

Speedy West was born in Springfield, Missouri on January 25, 1924. He developed an interest in music at a young age and began playing guitar as a teenager. In the early 1940s, West decided to pursue a career in music and moved to Oklahoma City, where he began playing in local bands.

West’s early music career can be traced back to his teenage years, when he began playing guitar for local dance bands. He soon became proficient in various styles of music, including Western swing and jazz. However, it was his introduction to the steel guitar that would ultimately shape his career.

In the mid-1940s, while playing in a local band, West was introduced to the steel guitar by fellow musician Joaquin Murphy. He was immediately struck by the instrument’s unique sound and began incorporating it into his performances.

Upon discovering the steel guitar, West became determined to master the instrument. He spent hours practicing and experimenting with different techniques, striving to push the limits of what was possible. As he honed his skills, West began to develop his signature style, which combined the fluidity of jazz with the twang of country music.

Despite the challenges of mastering the steel guitar, West’s dedication and perseverance paid off. In 1948, he was invited to join Jimmy Wakely’s touring band, where he would gain invaluable experience performing and recording with some of the biggest names in country music.

West’s early music career was characterized by a relentless pursuit of excellence. His commitment to mastering the steel guitar and pushing the boundaries of what was possible helped to cement his place as one of the most innovative musicians of his time.

Speedy’s move to California

After spending several years touring and playing with various bands in the United States, Speedy West decided to move to California to pursue a career as a studio musician in the late 1940s. His move to the west coast was a significant turning point in his musical career, giving him the chance to work with some of the most influential musicians in the industry at the time.

Upon arriving in California, Speedy wasted no time in getting involved in the local music scene. He quickly established himself as one of the most talented steel guitarists in the area, earning a reputation for his technical proficiency and innovative techniques. It wasn’t long before he caught the attention of some of the top record producers in the business.

Speedy’s ability to play a wide range of musical styles made him particularly attractive to studio producers in California. He was equally proficient at playing traditional country music, as well as newer, more experimental genres like rockabilly and western swing. This versatility, combined with his exceptional talent, made him one of the most sought-after musicians in the industry.

Speedy West’s move to California was significant not only for his own musical career, but also for the development of the pedal steel guitar. The west coast music scene of the 1940s and 1950s was a hotbed of innovation and experimentation, and Speedy was at the forefront of this musical revolution.

Through his collaborations with other talented musicians in California, Speedy was able to push the envelope of what was possible with the pedal steel guitar. He developed new techniques and playing styles that would have a lasting impact on country music for decades to come. It was during this period that Speedy established himself as the “Father of Pedal Steel Guitar in Country Music,” a title that he would carry with him for the rest of his life.

Some of the most iconic recordings of this era featured Speedy on steel guitar, including his work with the famed guitarist Jimmy Bryant. Together, they created some of the most innovative and influential music of the time, influencing a generation of musicians who were drawn to the twangy, distinctive sound of the pedal steel guitar.

Speedy’s move to California was a pivotal moment in his musical career and in the development of country music as a whole. His contributions to the pedal steel guitar and the genre as a whole continue to be celebrated and emulated by musicians today, cementing his legacy as one of the most important figures in the history of country music.

The Evolution of Pedal Steel Guitar

The Evolution Of Pedal Steel Guitar
The pedal steel guitar has undergone a fascinating transformation over the years, and its evolution has been shaped by a number of talented musicians who pushed its boundaries and created new possibilities. From its humble beginnings as a simple lap steel guitar, to the complex instrument we know today, the pedal steel guitar has come a long way. Let’s delve into the remarkable history of this instrument and how it has been transformed by some of the most innovative and skilled musicians of all time.

The development of the pedal steel guitar

The evolution of the pedal steel guitar was marked by many important developments that helped transform the sound of country music. The pedal steel guitar originated in the early 20th century as a modified version of the Hawaiian lap steel guitar. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the instrument underwent significant changes, including the introduction of pedals that allowed players to change the pitch of the strings without using their hands.

Table 1: Pedal Steel Guitar Development Timeline

| Year | Development |
| — | — |
| 1910s | Introduction of lap steel guitar in country music |
| 1930s | Development of electrified lap steel guitar |
| 1940s | Bigsby introduces first pedal steel guitar |
| 1950s | Pettingill introduces first pedal steel guitar with pedals |
| 1960s | Sho~Bud introduces first double-neck pedal steel guitar |
| 1970s | Emmons introduces first fully functional 10-string pedal steel guitar |

The first pedal steel guitar was created by Paul Bigsby in the 1940s. However, it was Shorty Pettingill who is credited with introducing the first pedal steel guitar with pedals in 1950. This development revolutionized the instrument, allowing players to manipulate the pitch of individual strings with their feet while their hands continued to play other notes.

However, it was the innovations of Bud Isaacs and Buddy Emmons that truly transformed the pedal steel guitar. In the 1950s, Isaacs introduced the use of a volume pedal, which allowed for smoother transitions between notes. Emmons, who began his career playing with Little Jimmy Dickens, introduced the use of a double neck pedal steel guitar in the 1960s. This innovation allowed for even greater versatility and range for pedal steel guitar players.

Table 2: Pedal Steel Guitar Innovations

| Innovator | Development |
| — | — |
| Bud Isaacs | Introduction of volume pedal |
| Buddy Emmons | Introduction of double neck pedal steel guitar, fully functional 10-string pedal steel guitar |

The development of the pedal steel guitar was closely tied to the rise of country music as a popular genre. The innovations made by pioneers such as Pettingill, Isaacs, and Emmons allowed for greater expressiveness and complexity in country music. These developments also helped cement the pedal steel guitar as a signature instrument in the genre.

Speedy’s role in advancing the instrument

Speedy West’s influence on the advancement of the pedal steel guitar is undeniable. He was among the earliest and most accomplished musicians to use the new instrument, and he played a major role in its development and popularity. Here are some specific ways that Speedy advanced the pedal steel guitar:

Innovation Description
Combining Styles Speedy West was unique in that he combined the elements of country, jazz, and Hawaiian music into his playing. This resulted in a style of pedal steel guitar that was both smooth and swinging but also retained an element of country twang.
Introducing New Techniques Speedy West was constantly experimenting with his instrument and exploring new ways to produce sound. Some of the techniques he developed include using harmonics, slurs, and glissandos to create unique and memorable sounds on the pedal steel guitar.
Collaborations One of Speedy’s biggest contributions to the advancement of pedal steel guitar was his collaborations with other musicians. In particular, his partnership with guitarist Jimmy Bryant resulted in some of the most innovative and influential music of the time.
Popularizing the Instrument Through his recordings and performances, Speedy West helped popularize the pedal steel guitar and bring it into the mainstream of country music. His influence can be seen in the countless musicians who have followed in his footsteps and continued the legacy of the instrument.

Speedy West was a true pioneer of the pedal steel guitar, and his contributions to the instrument’s development and popularization cannot be overstated. Through his innovative techniques and collaborations with other musicians, he helped create a new style of music that has had a lasting impact on country and popular music.

Innovative techniques

Speedy West was a pioneer in the field of pedal steel guitar and introduced several innovative techniques that became defining aspects of country music. Some of the noteworthy techniques that he used are:

  • Volume Pedal – West was among the first musicians to use a volume pedal, which allowed him to control the loudness of the guitar. He used it to create a unique sound that shifted seamlessly between soft and loud.
  • Double Necked Guitar – West also used a double-necked guitar that allowed him to switch between two different tunings without changing instruments. He played the six-string and eight-string necks simultaneously, creating complex harmonies and chord progressions.
  • Chromaticism – Another technique that West used was chromaticism, which is the use of notes outside the key of a song. He would use this technique to add unexpected notes to his melodies, creating an interesting tension and release in his music.
  • Bending Strings – West was also known for his ability to bend guitar strings, giving his playing a distinctive vocal quality. He would bend strings up or down to create a vibrato effect that added depth and emotion to his melodies.
  • Use of Effects – West also experimented with different effects such as reverb and echo to enhance the sound of his instrument. He would use echo to create a haunting, atmospheric sound, and reverb to give his guitar more sustain and depth.

These techniques became hallmarks of pedal steel guitar playing and have influenced countless musicians in the genre. West’s innovative approach to playing the instrument helped to expand its range and versatility, making it a crucial component of country music.

Influences and Musical Collaborations

Influences And Musical Collaborations
As we continue to explore the life and contributions of Speedy West, it’s worth exploring the various influences and musical collaborations that helped shape his innovative sound. By working alongside other talented musicians, West was able to develop his own unique style and push the boundaries of what was possible on the pedal steel guitar. Let’s take a closer look at the partnerships and inspirations that played a key role in shaping his exceptional career.

Speedy’s influences in music

Speedy West was influenced by several renowned musicians, and his unique blend of these influences shaped his distinct style that continues to inspire many people today. Some of the most notable influences on Speedy West include:

Influence Contribution to Speedy’s Music
Jimmie Rodgers Speedy’s playing style was heavily influenced by Jimmie Rodgers’ early country music recordings, which he listened to while growing up in Oklahoma.
Bob Wills Speedy was drawn to the western swing genre, which was popularized by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. Speedy’s playing was heavily influenced by this genre, and he went on to collaborate with Wills later in his career.
Les Paul Speedy’s playing on the pedal steel guitar was influenced by the techniques used by Les Paul on the electric guitar. This included the use of harmonics, which Speedy incorporated into his own playing.
Charlie Christian Speedy was also influenced by the jazz guitar playing of Charlie Christian, who used amplified electric guitars to create a new sound in jazz music. Speedy incorporated this electric approach into his pedal steel guitar playing, which helped to shape the instrument’s future sound.

These diverse influences helped Speedy to develop a unique playing style that blended traditional country music with elements of western swing, jazz and amplified electric sounds. His use of these influences helped define the sound of the pedal steel guitar and set the stage for future generations of musicians to build upon his work.

Musical collaborations with Jimmy Bryant

Speedy West had a fruitful collaboration with guitarist Jimmy Bryant in the 1950s. Together, they became known as the “Hottest Guitar and the Coolest Steel in the World of Country Music.”

Their collaboration began when Bryant joined the band of Tennessee Ernie Ford, which West was a member of. Their musical chemistry was undeniable, and they soon began recording together as a duo. They released a series of albums on Capitol Records, including “Two Guitars Country Style,” which showcased their incredible instrumental virtuosity.

One of the highlights of their collaboration was their ability to seamlessly blend genres. They were equally comfortable playing country, jazz, and rockabilly, and their innovative fusion of these styles influenced countless musicians.

Their musical partnership was so successful that they were invited to perform at the White House for President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958. They went on to tour extensively together, performing at venues across the United States and around the world.

Together, Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant pushed the boundaries of what was possible on the steel guitar and electric guitar. They developed new techniques, such as double and triple stops, and created a unique sound that was both groundbreaking and highly influential.


Collaboration Highlights Influence on Music
Recorded several albums together Innovative fusion of country, jazz, and rockabilly
Performed at the White House for President Dwight D. Eisenhower Developed new techniques, such as double and triple stops
Toured extensively together Influential sound and playing style

Their collaboration is still celebrated by music enthusiasts and continues to inspire new generations of musicians.

Collaborations with other popular musicians

Throughout his career, Speedy West collaborated with numerous popular musicians and contributed his unique sound to many legendary recordings.

One of his most notable collaborations was with Tennessee Ernie Ford on his hit song “Sixteen Tons.” Speedy’s pedal steel guitar added a haunting quality to the song and helped make it a classic. He also worked with Dale Evans, the wife of Roy Rogers, on her album “Songs of the West.” Speedy’s playing on the album was praised for its virtuosity and helped establish him as one of the most talented steel guitarists in the country.

Additionally, Speedy collaborated with country music legends like Merle Travis, Tex Williams and Hank Thompson. He played on Thompson’s 1952 hit song “The Wild Side of Life,” which is widely considered one of the most important country songs of all time. Speedy’s contributions to that song helped give it an edgy sound that set it apart from other country tunes of the era.

Another noteworthy collaboration was with guitarist and composer Les Paul. Speedy and Les worked together on several recordings, showcasing their incredible musicianship and technical prowess. They created a sound that was pioneering and influential, pushing the boundaries of what was possible with the pedal steel guitar.


Collaboration Year
Tennessee Ernie Ford 1955
Dale Evans 1956
Merle Travis 1950s
Tex Williams 1950s
Hank Thompson 1952
Les Paul 1950s

Speedy West had a significant impact on the sound of country music during the mid-20th century. His collaborations with other popular musicians helped to shape the genre and solidify the pedal steel guitar as an essential component of country music.

Legacy and Impact on Country Music

As we reflect on the life and musical career of Speedy West, it’s impossible to overlook his significant legacy and impact on country music. From his early days mastering the steel guitar to his groundbreaking collaborations with other musicians, Speedy’s contributions to the genre continue to shape and inspire artists today. In this section, we’ll explore his lasting influence on subsequent generations of musicians and the evolution of pedal steel guitar in country music. Let’s dive in.

Speedy’s influence on subsequent generations of musicians

Speedy West’s contributions to the world of music didn’t end with the evolution of the pedal steel guitar. The techniques he pioneered and the sound he created continue to influence subsequent generations of musicians. Here are some ways in which Speedy’s influence has endured:

  • Innovation: Speedy was a true innovator, taking an instrument that was relatively unknown in country music and pushing it to new highs. His willingness to explore new techniques and sounds has inspired countless musicians to experiment with their instruments and to explore new possibilities in music.
  • Sonic experimentation: Speedy’s use of phasers, reverb, and other effects pedals opened up a world of sonic possibilities for the pedal steel guitar, and his willingness to incorporate these sounds into his music has inspired generations of guitarists to do the same.
  • Collaboration: Speedy’s partnerships with guitarists like Jimmy Bryant created a new sound that was greater than the sum of its parts. Speedy’s willingness to collaborate with other musicians showed subsequent generations that music is a collaborative medium, and that working with other talented musicians can lead to new, exciting sounds.
  • Adaptability: Speedy was never content to simply rest on his laurels. He was constantly exploring new techniques and sounds, and was always ready to adapt to new musical styles and trends. His ability to evolve and stay relevant has inspired countless musicians to do the same.

As can be seen, Speedy West’s influence on subsequent musicians is multifaceted and far-reaching. From innovation to collaboration to adaptability, his legacy is one that continues to inspire countless musicians to this day.

The lasting impact of pedal steel guitar on country music

The pedal steel guitar has had a profound impact on country music, and Speedy West played a pivotal role in popularizing and advancing the instrument. The following are some of the ways in which the pedal steel guitar has left a lasting impact on the genre:

  • Distinctive sound: The use of the pedal steel guitar added a unique and recognizable sound to country music, which helped to differentiate it from other genres.
  • New techniques: The use of pedals on the steel guitar allowed for new techniques such as bending and sliding notes, which greatly expanded the musical possibilities of the instrument.
  • Emotional expression: The pedal steel guitar is capable of producing emotive and expressive sounds, which proved to be particularly well-suited to country music and its themes of heartbreak, loss, and longing.
  • Cross-genre appeal: While the pedal steel guitar is synonymous with country music, its sound and techniques have also been incorporated into other genres such as rock, blues, and jazz, making it a versatile and influential instrument.
  • Sustained popularity: Despite the evolution of country music over the years, the pedal steel guitar has remained a fixture of the genre and continues to be used by many contemporary country musicians. Its enduring popularity speaks to its significance and impact on the history of country music.

The pedal steel guitar and its development by Speedy West has had a lasting impact on country music and beyond. Its distinctive sound and expressive capabilities have helped to define the genre and influenced countless musicians over the years.


After exploring the life, career, and techniques of Speedy West, it is clear that he made a significant impact on the country music genre. With his expert command of the pedal steel guitar and innovative playing techniques, he paved the way for future musicians to explore the possibilities of this instrument.

West’s early life and introduction to the steel guitar set the foundation for his career in music. His move to California allowed him to be part of the thriving country music scene there, and his collaborations with Jimmy Bryant and other musicians helped to push the pedal steel guitar to new heights.

As the pedal steel guitar continued to evolve, Speedy West played an important role in advancing the instrument’s capabilities. Some of his pioneering techniques included the use of complex chord structures and the integration of jazz-inspired elements into his playing style. These developments helped to expand the possibilities of the pedal steel guitar in ways that had never been seen before.

Despite his status as a trailblazer, Speedy West was also influenced by other musicians throughout his career. He drew inspiration from a wide range of genres, including jazz, blues, and western swing, and incorporated these influences into his playing style.

Overall, Speedy West’s lasting impact on country music cannot be overstated. His influence on subsequent generations of musicians continues to be felt to this day, and his pioneering work on the pedal steel guitar helped to establish this instrument as a key component of the country music sound.

In conclusion, the techniques of Speedy West have left an indelible mark on the country music genre. Through his mastery of the pedal steel guitar and innovative playing techniques, he helped to transform this instrument into a vital part of the country music landscape. His legacy continues to inspire musicians and fans alike, and his contributions to the genre will always be remembered.

Frequently Asked Questions

What made Speedy West’s techniques so revolutionary in country music?

Speedy’s use of the pedal steel guitar and his innovative techniques brought a new sound and style to country music, paving the way for its evolution into the modern era.

What inspired Speedy to pursue a career in music?

Speedy’s love for music and fascination with instruments led him to pursue a career in the industry. He began playing the steel guitar at a young age and quickly developed a passion for the instrument.

What led Speedy to move to California?

Speedy was drawn to the lively music scene in California and found numerous opportunities to perform and collaborate with other musicians in the area.

How did Speedy contribute to the development of the pedal steel guitar?

Speedy was a pioneer in advancing the instrument’s capabilities, working with manufacturers to design new models and develop innovative playing techniques that tipped the scales for the sound of country music.

Who were some of Speedy’s biggest musical influences?

Speedy was influenced by jazz, western swing, and Hawaiian music, which he tried to integrate into his own unique sound.

What was Speedy’s most famous collaboration with Jimmy Bryant?

The duo’s work on the album “Flaming Guitars” is widely regarded as their most famous collaboration, showcasing their incredible virtuosity and creating a new benchmark for pedal steel guitar performances.

How did Speedy’s collaborations with other popular musicians influence his work?

Speedy collaborated with many famous musicians over the course of his career, incorporating new styles and techniques into his music and helping him stay relevant in an ever-changing industry.

What was Speedy’s lasting impact on country music?

Speedy’s pioneering use of the pedal steel guitar, innovative playing techniques, and commitment to pushing the boundaries of the genre transformed country music and made him a legend in the industry.

What can aspiring musicians learn from Speedy West’s career?

Speedy’s dedication, passion, and innovative spirit are inspiring to aspiring musicians. His commitment to his craft and willingness to take risks are valuable lessons for anyone pursuing a career in music.

What is the best way to start exploring Speedy West’s music?

A great way to begin exploring Speedy’s music is to listen to some of his most famous performances with Jimmy Bryant, such as “Stratosphere Boogie” and “Pickin’ Peppers”.


About the author

Hi there! I’m Jack Little – an avid country music fan with tons of live country performances in the past. I used to play banjo in a country band with my best friend John Peters, who’s a true country harmonica master. Those were great years and I’m still mastering new banjo playing techniques, writing my own country songs and lyrics, and collecting banjos!

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