Jon Rauhouse Shares How He Makes His Pedal Steel Magic

Jon RauhouseEXPAND
Jon Rauhouse
Schulyer Grace

In Pound For The Sound, we get technical with local musicians about what gear they use to create their signature tones.

Jon Rauhouse, a.k.a. "Mr. Orchid Fingers," is a veteran multi-instrumentalist who resides here in the Valley of the Sun. His career spans over several decades and continents. Every time I listen to his playing, I am immediately drawn in by his graceful entrances and exits, always making his presence known, but subtly spreading it on smoothly and evenly like warm butter on hot toast.

Rauhouse is extremely versatile and confidently plays lead parts and solos when it is his time to shine. However, I feel like his amazing tone and unmatched technique really come to the forefront when he is quietly crawling all over the songs he is playing, adding subtleties the listener may not even realize, ones that set the tone for an entire song. That's what he does, and he is one of the best at it.

There is no doubting the fact that Rauhouse is tops when it comes to Phoenix pedal steel players. In fact, he is tops when it comes to stringed instruments in general, and not just locally. Just look at the list of people he is currently working with: Neko Case, Jakob Dylan, Billy Bob Thornton (the Boxmasters), Iron and Wine, Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses), the SunPunchers, Jon Rauhouse Orchestra, and Harry Luge. He even recently toured on his most recent collaboration with Eric Bachmann, with the duo providing the opening set for Neko Case.

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When not on the road,  Rauhouse is either always doing session work in the studio or working with his wife, Jennifer, and her nonprofit, Peer Solutions.

New Times got a chance to sit down with Mr. Orchid Fingers and find out the secrets to his sound before he gears up for another tour with Neko Case in March.

New Times: What's the secret weapon of your sound? And how did that help you find your "signature" tone?
Pedal steel guitar. I started playing pedal steel in 1978, and at that time (no internet) it was very hard to find one. And even harder to find lessons. I had to fend for myself and spend time figuring things out for myself. Consequently, I developed my own sound and way of playing.

What's your favorite piece of gear in your collection and why?
It’s hard to pick one, but I will say my Reuter Hawaiian guitar. Hand-built by Luthier John Reuter in 1993, [it] is one of the best-sounding instruments on the planet. Fashioned after Weissenborn-style guitars, it continues to serve me well live and on recordings.

Any special pieces of gear acquired over the years? Any special story, or stories, behind your collection of tools?
For years, while touring with Neko Case, I used my circa 1930s Slingerland Songster archtop acoustic guitar. I was touring Canada with Neko when we just popped into HEL Music in Saskatoon and they had this guitar. I played it and loved it and was considering buying it, and the owner just realized that he had promised it to a regular customer ... so it wasn’t for sale. That was all right, because it didn't have a case and I was worried about getting it home anyway. A week later, unbeknownst to me, my wife, Jennifer, called Neko and asked if there was anything I was looking at or wanted for my birthday, which was after the tour. She gave Jen the number of the music store, and when I got off tour that guitar was waiting for me. I do have the greatest wife in the world. I have since retired that guitar because of its sentimental value, and I don’t want it lost or broken.

Jon Rauhouse Shares How He Makes His Pedal Steel MagicEXPAND
Jon Rauhouse

On “JoJo Blanco,” from your most recently released collaborations with Eric Bachmann, how did you go about getting that pedal steel guitar tone that just swirls throughout the entire song? First, the original pickup on my mid-'70s MSA Classic pedal steel is killer. Next into an MXR Carbon Copy delay pedal, used sparingly. [Then it goes] into a Boss RT-20 Rotary Ensemble rotary speaker emulator, once again used sparingly. Then into a '65 Reissue Fender Deluxe Reverb.  

What are your thoughts on the B-Bender invented by Gene Parsons and Clarence White?
Okay, as a steel player I guess I am supposed to hate them, but I love them. I actually got to play the original Clarence White guitar backstage at the Ryman Auditorium [in Nashville].

How did the nickname “Mr. Orchid Fingers” come about?
For my first record, I had written a Hawaiian guitar song called "Million Dollar Mermaid." Kathleen Judge, who was doing the artwork for the disc, wanted me to send her tracks she could listen to, to help her with the art. She was listening to that track in her car with her father when he started doing an "old time" radio announcer [voice] over the music. Kathleen had enough sense to record him and we added it to the track. He references me as Jon "Orchid Fingers" Rauhouse. After that, it just stuck, and I am proud to wear it.


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