1960s Harlin Multi-Kord Pedal Steel (Part 2)

I've just wrapped-up recording an album that features this instrument on every track and, considering that it will remain idle now for who-knows-how-long (I don't have band use for it at the moment), I'm thinking about letting it leave the nest if someone's so inclined. It's not a modern pedal steel in feel or sound and the way I've set it up is basically "lap steel with string-benders." That's how I think of it, anyhow.

Currently I have it strung for open D tuning (DADF#AD) and pedals each operate one string and in order front to back are: [1] F# to F for a minor chord, [2] F# to G, [3] A to B (that's the plain 2nd string), [4] D to E (that's the plain 1st string). Pedals 2 and 3 at the same time give you a 4-chord swell if you pick only on the higher strings. Leaving the three low strings a simple modal chord also makes blues or rock playing a little easier, too.

Since I originally posted it, I've gone farther-along with modifications to it and have fully-embraced its now-6-string format by installing a new, properly shielded, wiring harness and Guitar Fetish Goldfoil Humbucker. I also replaced the cable-style setup for the pedals with steel bars. This gives it a much more accurate feel under the foot and lets one play a lot faster. In the pictures, one of the bars is hooked-up backwards (it operates the same but looks different) but it's the right way around, now -- that's what I get for not paying attention when I broke it down to put in the case...!

Unfortunately, the change to these bars means that its case doesn't fit quite right anymore -- though I have to admit that when I've moved this place to place, I always just left it with its legs out. It's lightweight so it's not a hassle to move.

You can get a sense for it in the video clip above, but here's the album I used it on extensively:

Specs are: 23" scale, 2 1/8" string spacing nut and saddle (for 6 string) or 2 7/8" spacing (for 8 string), 36" overall length, 8" width, 2" depth, and 27" height with the legs installed.

It has its original hard case and comes with its original DeArmond pickup, wiring harness, extra original tuners, and plenty of adjustment set-screws and nuts for the pedal mechanism.

The wood body is wrapped in this wild, accordion-worthy gold-fleck, 50s/60s-tastic covering. Stage lights really catch that glitter.

That pickup certainly isn't original but it does sound great. These GFS goldfoil humbuckers have a jangly, bright, clean tone that suits the instrument really well. Adjustable poles help make string-to-string balance a non-issue, too.

As you can see, I've removed two of the original tuners for its 6-string setup. I've been playing this with that black tuner cover removed, too, as it gets in the way of palm-muting the strings if desired.

Each of the blocks manipulated by the pedals allows for changing pitch up or down on any or all strings at once. The "left" hole of each string's path on a block for the set-screw is for flattening the note while the "right" hole is for sharping it. I've got it setup really simply so the pedals just change one string each and I've found that to be the most comfortable feel, too. If you do two or more strings you have to apply that much more pressure on the pedals to bring them to pitch.

Because of the stagger of the pedals, too, it's easier to pitch-change strings closer to the body with the pedals closer to the body and vice-versa. It's a small shift in feel but it helps to think of doing it that way when setting it up so you're not fighting its inherent bias.

The jack comes out directly below the pickup.

Here are the original parts that come with it. The pickup works and sounds well -- though I liked having the adjustable poles to fine-tune string balance. The bright-sounding humbucker also cuts down on noise, too.

The hard case almost closes with the new pedal-pull setup but only 2 out of 3 latches are engaged at any one time. Sigh. Still, I'd rather fuss with that than go back to the sort-of slippery/drunken feel of the cable setup that was on this before.

When unpacking, first you put the legs up...

...then you put the pedals in place between the two legs...

...and tighten those bolts nice and snug. The nuts below the pedals allow fine-tuning of pedal height off the floor.

The "tuner" side legs just screw-in.

Here's the original instruction/leaflet sheet and the Multi-Kord label which was peeling off of the body when this arrived.


Joseph Kille said…
This set up is awesome. It's got me wondering about augmenting my lap steel playing with a multi-kord as you have.

Perhaps a dumb question...I see that there are some six string multi-kords with six instead of four pedals. Do you have any opinion on the six pedal set up? More cumbersome, more options, or both?

Anyway, thanks for your great posts and blog!