WHO: Pedal steel guitar player Noah Faulkner.
WHAT: This teenager inserts a country twang into eighties (and beyond) covers for his dog, Kara, and nearly 40,000 Instagram followers.
WHY IT’S SO GREAT: A staple of midcentury country and pop music, pedal steel guitar adds the texture to your dad’s favorite songs—from the twang of Neil Young’s “Out on the Weekend” to the beloved backdrop of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”—but it’s hard to think of an artist born after 1960 who plays it. That may be part of why fifteen-year-old Noah Faulkner, who goes by @pedalsteelnoah on Instagram, has amassed a major following of fans who tune in to watch him play cover songs with thirteen-year-old brother Nate on electric guitar while the family dog, Kara, stands in the foreground, all in front of a big old Texas flag.
Faulkner picked up pedal steel four years ago, meaning more than a quarter of his young life has been devoted to this console-type guitar. In an Austin revival of a traditionally Nashville sound, Faulkner brings the sliding notes and deep vibrato of pedal steel to his Gen Z peers on Instagram.
Faulkner started taking piano lessons at ten, and he first heard pedal steel a year later, when he sat in on a band practicing country music at a local art studio. The appeal of pedal steel, beyond its classic country twang, comes from the electronic sound that more traditional analog guitars can’t replicate. With a pedal steel’s multiple strings, foot pedals, and knee levers, the arduous playing process can at times require both hands, both feet, and, on occasion, both knees. “The steel player let me play his guitar and I thought it was cool,” Faulkner says. “I didn’t know how it worked, but it was inspiring. I went home and looked at videos on how to play.”
Videos from Buddy Emmons and Aaron Marshall on steel picking scratched this initial itch, but Faulkner later got his hands on the delicate instrument through Austin City Limits Hall of Famer Lloyd Maines, who also gave him his first lesson. Then, in early 2020, Faulkner started posting on Instagram, starting with piano videos with his teacher, Austin musician Bukka Allen. Now Faulkner posts a new video nearly every day, covering Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, U2, and more. (Faulkner said his mom recommends bands she likes for him to cover, hence the plethora of eighties rockers.) One of his most popular covers, with more than 1.3 million views, brings the softer, drawn-out sounds of pedal steel to Joy Division’s anthem “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
The most notable family member, though, might be family dog Kara. She sits in the foreground of each video, unmoving and seemingly entranced by the live melodies—pedal steel can have that effect on people (and dogs). “I ask her to stay still and reward her with treats,” Faulkner says. “She’s trained to sit, but sometimes she gets tired. I stay positive so she will stay happy. She’s a good girl. I think she likes the way my pedal steel sounds.”
Offline, Faulkner hauls the forty-pound instrument around Austin, where he gigs at venues such as Kinda Tropical and Empire Control Room. He’s also working on a studio album of covers and original songs, with plans to release it by Christmas.
There’s a certain charm to this teen in a cowboy hat, with backing guitar from his brother and his dog in the frame, playing eighties covers on an analog instrument associated with older country swing. But this scene—boy, brother, dog, Texas flag—still nods to the seventy-year-old country tradition that is pedal steel guitar.