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Steel Guitar

Steel Guitar

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Published by angelronin
how to build a lap steel guitar
how to build a lap steel guitar

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: angelronin on Jan 19, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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a singingsteel guitar
Plug this multichord instrumentinto any good speakerand you'll make music likeyou never thought you could
it's not an authentic Ha-waiian guitar. But what is? That amplified vi-brato we associate with blood-stirring hulas andplaintive island tunes was really invented inCalifornia. At any rate, the sound has becomepart of American music—you hear it in hoote-nannies, dance bands and those weird soundeffects in science-fiction movies.That sound is yours for a couple weekends'work. This standing model perches on 24-in. legs,
leaving both hands free for playing. Since thestrings are "stopped" with a straight steel barinstead of the fingers, the choice of chords is lim-ited to those that can be covered with the steel—plus a few open-string-and-steel combinations.Early guitars were limited to major chords anda few bobtailed sevenths. Efforts to overcomethis resulted in guitars with several banks of strings, or with mechanical tone changers to alterthe tuning.In both cases, provision had to be made for"damping" unused strings, to prevent them fromvibrating sympathetically and producing un-wanted dissonances. This involved some sort of mechanical or electrical switching method to takethe unused strings out of play. Then, if yousuddenly wanted to include the dead stringswhile playing, you had to switch them back on.This meant kicking a foot or hand lever.Our model avoids all this by using just onebank of 12 strings, hardly wider than a simpleguitar. Thus, all damping can be performed as inclassical steel technique—with the edge of thehand. Strings are arranged in three groups: Thefirst five form the melody or major chords; thenext four, a diminished seventh; and the lastthree—farthest from the player—make up theless-frequently-used minor chords. The result isa close-knit fingering arrangement which makesplaying much easier and simplifies construction.
build the body first
Laminate the body from three pieces of ex-terior plywood or any %-in. kiln-dried stock. Cutout the recesses for volume and tone controls andphone jack.The headstock should be hardwood, preferablymaple. After it's cut, you'll have to make up ataper block to hold it in position on the drillpress while you bore clean, accurate holes for theshafts of the machine heads which are used fortuning the strings. When you've done the otherdrilling and slotting, check all parts for clearanceand glue and screw the head in place, with ascrap of 1/4-in. Plexiglas between it and the toplamination, so you'll be able to slip in the nutlater on. Finish and paint the guitar body now.Paint the hardboard fingerboard flat black andline off the fret positions with white ceiling-coatertype paint in a draftsman's ruling pen. Followthe spacing chart carefully—these positions gov-ern the pitch of the notes. Glue the fret board inplace.The bridge must be iron angle—not brass oraluminum—because of the heavy load on it whenthe strings are taut. The nut, on the other hand,can be Plexiglas. The grooves in the beveled topedge are just deep enough, for now, to catch thestrings. Push the nut into the slot between toplamination and headstock, using a paper shim fora tight fit, if necessary.The pickup core consists of two identically-drilled pieces of 3/32-in. plastic sheet (styrene oracrylic). Cement in the 12 alnico cylinder mag-nets with poles facing the same way, then takeone turn of electrical insulating tape around themagnets before winding on 1200 ohms' worth of No. 40 Nylclad magnet wire. A 1/4-lb. spoolshould do it, but you determine the amount withan ohmmeter, since the frequency responsechanges if you wind on too little or too much.For the winding, pin the assembly to a block of wood chucked in a lathe.Use short lengths of stranded hookup wirefor leads. Cement the wire's insulation into thepickup body so the leads won't pull out. Closein the pickup with thin phenolic covers and wrapthe whole unit in aluminum foil, rubber-cementedin place; leave a tab of foil to twist up in thewire that comes from the outside windings of thepickup. Cement the foil-covered pickup into arecess which you can now mark and cut to fit it—making it deep enough to provide the properclearance between the top of the pickup and thestrings. You can check this by laying a straight-edge across the bridge and nut.
the control panel
The control panel and end plate can be cutfrom 1/8-in. hardboard—or more elegant opaqueplastic, if you've some on hand. The plates aresimilar, except that there's only one 3/8-in. hole inthe end one.When you install the machine heads (availablefrom any musical supply house) in the head-stock, note the position of the worm drive. Meas-ure off the bridge location from the nut, asshown; this is a critical dimension for pitch—itshouldn't be over 22-3/4 in or under 22-11/16 inNote there's a grounding lug under one of thescrews; feed a bit of hook-up wire from it tothe outside braid of the pickup cable. Wire up thecontrol pots and the phone jack as shown in theschematic and screw their plates in place. Theguitar plays through any standard amplifier andspeaker system. In stringing and tuning it followthe diagram just below the wiring schematic,bearing in mind that in each group the lightest-weight string is located farthest from the player.After tuning, pull lightly on all strings, to take

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