Other Guitars

Lap Steel Recommendation

1

Recently I have been thinking about getting a lap steel. I tested out a Rogue at GC that cost about $120 and came with a bar. I couldn't tune it to open D I think because the strings were too light. I then tried a Recording King for $220 and it was actually pretty good. What they did not have there was A Gretsch model, which seems to go for about $400. Wondering if anyone has experience with the Gretsch model, and if it is worth the extra cash. I noticed the scale length of the Rogue was 21". The Recording King was 23.5". It made me wonder if the longer scale length made it able to be in tune. The Gretsch is 22.5, so the recording King has a full inch on the Gretsch. I looked up an Asher which was much more expensive, and it had a 25" scale length. Hmmmm....

2

I have the Gretsch, as well as an early-50s Supro. I like the tone of both equally well, and it's pointless to talk about playability on a lap steel.

I like the designs of both of mine, but of the new examples you mention, the Gretsch is the snazziest-looking.

I also had a Duesenberg Fairytale for a while, which looked killer and was beautifully made. It also sounded some different than the Supros (I've actually had two, kept one) or the Gretsch - mostly because it had two pickups. But I can't say its tone was better than either of the others, and since I realized I'd never get competent with the palm pedals, I sold it on.

It's hard to determine what contributes to the tone of a lap steel. Having played many over a period of almost 40 years, my theory is that it's the density of the body (heavier is better) and the quality of the pickup. (Really hot yields a dark, thick tone, a less overwound pickup a brighter, thinner tone.)

My Supros have had big single-coil pickups - great combination of bite and fat - and the Gretsch has a mini-humbucker, also a decent combination of bite and fat (but noise-free). The Gretsch doesn't have a particularly heavy body (by comparison to the Supros' wood composite), but it's large enough with its art deco body design to have some mass.

I've never thought scale length mattered much, other than that longer ones have an inherently brighter tone. In any case, I've never played a lap steel that won't get bright enough. Usually I'm dialing the tone back a bit.

3

I have a couple of Epiphone Electar Century reissues and an 80s cast Aluminium Jerry Byrd/ Sho Bud Frypan. The Epiphone in standard trim is a pretty good option and fairly cheap. It has a humbucker built into a J Bass form factor. It's not bad sounding but it sounds quite "polite" and modern. It is humbucking though.

My second Epiphone is currently on the workbench as I've fitted a Pete Biltoff CCRider pickup. I've yet to string it up and finish the wiring. I’m looking forward to playing/hearing this!

The cast aluminium Sho Bud Frypan is amazing. It's a bit of a mongrel as it has a Bill Lawrence 705 pedal steel pickup and is strung as a 7 String. It sounds fantastic. The amp you use makes a big difference.

I play C6 so I like a fairly clean tone.

Mine are all 22.5 inch scale or thereabouts. It makes bar slants that little bit easier. Longer scale steels are supposed to be easier to get harmonics and chimes from but I don’t have too many problems with short scales.

It really depends on what kind of tone you are after...I personally really don’t like distorted “prison movie” style slide guitar....so I like a clean very slightly overdriven sound and I use a polymer bar to cut down on string noise. I love Hawaiian steel and Western swing so that’s what i’m after in a Lapsteel.

As with Proteus's experience i'm never wishing that any of them sounded any brighter!

The thing with lapsteels though is that you can pickup amazing sounding vintage examples for roughly the same price as modern instruments.

If you can try out a Gretsch I think it would be well worth it, much nicer than the Rogue....of course you can make great music on any instrument.

4

Mine are all 22.5 inch scale or thereabouts. It makes bar slants that little bit easier.

VERY good point. I hadn't thought of that. I have a hard time with bar slants, and have pretty much built my middle-Tennessee style on avoiding them.

(And by that I mean, something between dirty Delta and cleaner Appalachian approaches, usually in open E or Em. I love the sound of C6 when I hear it well played...but I don't I hear it well played when I'm the operator.)

I picked up a National triple-8 last year, with three different tunings (G13, E13, and C6), and I'm making little progress with it. While more strings make for more complex harmonies, I just haven't adapted to the intervals between the strings being so close. I realize that it lays scales and even chromatics easier at hand, especially if you pay attention to string skip combinations in static positions, but I'm not picking it up.

The thing with lapsteels though is that you can pickup amazing sounding vintage examples for roughly the same price as modern instruments.

And yessir, Amen to that. You should be able to find old Supros, Nationals, and Oahus under 400.00. Fenders, Gibsons, and old Gretschs are waaay less than their fretted brethren. Best of all, there's just not much to go wrong with a lapsteel. They're simple and stable instruments. Tuners and pickups, and pots are all that can fail.

5

Prote is right. Seems like there are a lot of cool vintage lap steels going for very little since they aren't generally appreciated or used that much.

6

Mine are all 22.5 inch scale or thereabouts. It makes bar slants that little bit easier.

VERY good point. I hadn't thought of that. I have a hard time with bar slants, and have pretty much built my middle-Tennessee style on avoiding them.

(And by that I mean, something between dirty Delta and cleaner Appalachian approaches, usually in open E or Em. I love the sound of C6 when I hear it well played...but I don't I hear it well played when I'm the operator.)

I picked up a National triple-8 last year, with three different tunings (G13, E13, and C6), and I'm making little progress with it. While more strings make for more complex harmonies, I just haven't adapted to the intervals between the strings being so close. I realize that it lays scales and even chromatics easier at hand, especially if you pay attention to string skip combinations in static positions, but I'm not picking it up.

The thing with lapsteels though is that you can pickup amazing sounding vintage examples for roughly the same price as modern instruments.

And yessir, Amen to that. You should be able to find old Supros, Nationals, and Oahus under 400.00. Fenders, Gibsons, and old Gretschs are waaay less than their fretted brethren. Best of all, there's just not much to go wrong with a lapsteel. They're simple and stable instruments. Tuners and pickups, and pots are all that can fail.

– Proteus

Is your National one of those with the “totem pole” fret board markers? Those are pretty cool. I quite like having the intervals between strings so close. But that’s all I’ve known. I’ve not been playing long and only then in C6 and A6. I’m starting to get interested in C# minor and F#9 as this seems to be what a lot of early electric Hawaiian players used. It’s great to feel stimulated by music theory again.

I actually find that approaching lapsteel from a piano theory point of view helps me more than from a guitar theory point of view... but that's probably because I've been playing piano most of my life.

There are tonnes of reasonably priced vintage (and usually great sounding) lapsteels in the states. If I was in the USA I’d Be buying stuff like this Supro all the time.

7

People forget that Fender started with these little lap steels.. .then took the pickup, controls string-thru concept, did up a neck and string thru body with almost same electronics and thus was the first commercially produced/sold solid body electric.


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