My other post about building a lap steel seems to draw a lot of viewers, so I figured I’d write a little something up about this one too. If you’re looking for the post on building a lap steel guitar, you can find it here. This one is about a 3 string “lap steel” guitar I built from an old table leg.
This one got it start when I was coming home from a bicycle ride late one night, or early one morning actually. Someone in my neighborhood was throwing out a table. It drew my attention because my first banjo I partially built out of an old kitchen table. I stopped to take a look. I was still a few blocks from home and didn’t feel like trying to take the whole table home. As it was almost 3am, I didn’t really feel like making more than one trip either. However, those legs looked like they might be good for something. About 2 inches square and somewhere between 2 and 3 feet long. I seem to remember that I actually had to use my wrench to remove them from the table, then I laid one end on my handlebars while I held the other ends and rode home.
I can’t remember when the idea for a lap steel came to me. It might have been when I was removing the legs or it might have been staring at them in my garage at some later date. At any rate, I got the idea to do a quick job of turning one into a lap steel guitar. I got out a set of tuners that had 2 strips of 3 tuners, laid it on one end and marked where to drill holes. As I was looking to just do a quick build, I left at 3 tuning machines. With some more work I could have done six, but 3 seemed good enough for this experiment.
When I first envisioned this, I was going to screw a tuna can on top to use as a resonator and a place to put the electronics. Well I wasn’t sure that I liked that, and when the tuna can I prepped fell on the floor and got stepped on, that settled that. I had already cut an angle iron from a bed frame to use as the nut, I just cut another to use as the bridge. However, that made adding a pickup difficult. There wasn’t really a good place to put a piezo anymore. I couldn’t be under the bridge, because the bridge had to be screwed down. It could possibly go on the back of the angle iron, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about having it exposed. So I decided that it needed a magnetic pickup. I had picked some up for pretty cheap. However, they were all far too long. Even putting one at an angle didn’t seem like it would work all that well. So I decided that I would make my own pickup.
I cut a couple pieces of cedar from cigar box inserts to use as the top and bottom and got some little magnets from Radio Shack. The day I was working on it, I wasn’t really in any big hurry. I’d just gotten done with a month of long hours at work and I was just happy to be back out in the garage again. So once I got the magnets glued between the upper and lower pieces, I just set up a roll of magnet wire on a piece of metal clamped in the vice and started winding the wire around by hand. I was listening to some good music, the Muddy Roots Music Comp Vol 1 (which I think you can still find for free here) so what might otherwise seem like tedious work was rather enjoyable. I didn’t count windings or anything, I just wound until the “spool” was full. I actually made a slightly different pickup a couple days later. That one I took pictures of the process, so I’ll be posting that later.
Of course, now I needed a place to put my electronics. When I was thinking about a piezo pickup, I was just going to drill a hole in the end and use a square jack plate. However, now that I was winding a pickup it seemed like I should at least have a volume control. I looked around for something cool that I could use to cover up the cavity for the electronics, but was having trouble finding anything narrow enough. So I finally decided I’d just use a piece of a broken cigar box. So I suppose technically you could still call this a cigar box guitar, since the electrical cover AND pickup where both made out of cigar boxes. So I drilled out a cavity, wired up the jack and volume control in the cover and then put the whole thing together. A piece of a bicycle seat got pressed into service as the tailpiece. Once the strings were on and the pickup tested (one broken connection had to be fixed) the pickup was screwed in place and it was finished! My “quick build” ended up taking months after the interruptions of work and household electrical issues, but I’m pretty happy with it.
Anyway, here are a few pictures of the completed lap steel. I’m hoping to get some better pictures later (I always do better with natural light) but these will give you the idea anyway.