Rating: **** 4/5 Stars
Pedal steel guitar players usually pluck the strings with their right hand while their left moves a slide across the fretboard and generates vibrato. At the same time, the musician makes key changes by pressing and releasing pedals with their feet and squeezing levers with their knees. So to create this virtual instrument, Impact Soundworks had to make it possible for users to trigger the characteristic sliding, key shifting and tremolo articulations of a real pedal steel using a standard controller keyboard.
Nearly 10,000 samples of a modern 10-string E9 pedal steel were taken, and they were mapped across four octaves of the keyboard with an average of nine round–robin variations per key. This note–playing section (identified by its pale blue colour) occupies the centre of the keyboard and is bookended by six keyswitch sections which enable the user to quickly perform mode, articulation, fret position and chord changes. The mod wheel is also brought into use for controlling tremolo depth and rate in manual mode, or as a threshold control when tremolo is set to Auto mode.
Any keyswitch changes that are made are reflected on the main control panel where there are a set of corresponding dials that can be altered directly, should the user prefer them to keys.
The lower half of the interface is home to a set of controls that enable the user to customise sample playback and triggering. For example, it is possible to change the volume of mechanical noises, such as pedal presses, picking and slide-bar friction, and to decide on the frequency that such articulations should occur. Other preferences include round-robin selection, sample offset, the tightness of timing and pitch, polyphonic legato threshold and direction, pick-blocking level and pitch-bend range.
More complicated still are the harmonisation options which reflect a frequently used dual plucking technique. When the Voice Mode is set to Harm Mono, a set of 11 keyswitches become active and these determine which harmony notes will sound alongside whatever tonic note is being played. A user is able to set up the intervals they want to use and assign them to the keyswitches, and it's even possible to change the relative volume of the harmony notes by drawing a graph.
For processing, Pedal Steel offers a console with two alternative amp channels and a DI feed. These can be mixed together in whatever configuration the user chooses and each one has nine effects slots with an impressive menu of 30 processors to pick from.
Despite considerable efforts by the designers to provide suitable controls for various articulations, I'm not sure that a keyboard is the ideal tool for emulating a pedal steel guitar. Realism can be maximised by playing the keyboard a certain way, fine-tuning the controls and mastering the mod wheel as a tremolo control and footpedal for swells, but for me, at least, the slides don't quite feel right.
The sampling itself is of a high quality, however, and the mixing and processing facilities are very good, so if you're prepared to work on your playing technique and master the tools provided, this instrument is certainly worth a try.