Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by trisonic, Jan 3, 2008.
I've got the urge.......
Fill me in on these things, please!
Lapsteels are a blast to play and are very versatile too.
Of course, they do the traditional Hawaiian or country, but are also fantastic for rock, blues, ambient, or just about any tune running through your head.
Here is a nice cover of Modern Love done on steel
And here is a thread with a couple of the steels I've built.
What is vital to have in a Lap Steel? Is 24" a viable scale length? Are they generally 6 string, if not what advice do you give?
I really don't know what questions to ask, even.
Ah, lap steels! The thousands of subtle variations, the surprising range of tones available, the fact that you used to be able to pick them up for $50 every day of the week...
I've been into lap steels for a while, and have found that the only really necessary components are strings, tuners, and a pickup. And the only really bad-sounding ones are those little pearloid jobs with the concealed pickups, althought even they have a certain funky charm.
You can pretty much use any lap steel for any musical purpose. The purists, however, might argue that if you want to play honky-tonk country you'll want a Fender, preferably a Stringmaster-style double pickup. (I like the earlier, trapezoidal pickups, too.) Hawaiian music fans follow Jerry Byrd's lead and go for Rickenbackers, or for the really hard-core, Rickenbachers. If you're after a raw, bluesy sound, you can't beat the Valco-made Supro/National/Airline string-through pickups. Early Gibson laps with Charlie Christian pickups have a hollow, almost acoustic-electric tone. And a Gibson lap steel with a P-90 pickup sounds like, well, a Gibson with a P-90. We all know about those.
Sleepers on the market at the moment include Magnatone lap steels from the 50s, especially the ones with the metal-covered, six-pole pickups, which may or may not have a Paul Bigsby connection. To my ears they have some of that Fender-style SoCal twang, with a bit more warmth. And my favourite gigging steel used to be available pretty cheaply, but judging by eBay people are catching on: the long-scale English Electronics Tonemaster, a Valco product that cuts particularly well in a rock-band situation.
The hardest thing about lap steel, though, is getting beyond the basics. IIf you already play some slide, you'll be able to perform almost immediately...but playing like Sol Hoopii or Jerry Byrd or Freddie Roulette or Speedy West? That's hard work. Trying to get there is fun, though...and i'm still trying.
My lap steel:
It is a Bill Asher Electro Hawaiian Junior. This one was made in the US, but they replaced this model with a Chinese built version with some design changes. Mine has a 25" scale, Duncan pickups, mahogany body.
Shorter scales work well for more advanced techniques (slants, for example), but longer scales allow for more precise intonation and give more clarity.
People use all different sorts of tunings on lap steels. I tend to use major and minor tunings, but I've been doing a lot with a Gsus2 tuning. For more traditional Hawaiian and western swing sounds, you might want to try one of the 6 tunings, like C6. Those give you more chordal choices, but they'll be a bit tougher to relate back to standard tuning.
Check out www.steelguitarforum.com
I've been playing lap steel for just a few years, and it's huge fun. There are a lot of tones and textures you can create, and people are doing all kinds of music with them, from the aforementioned Hawaiian, western swing, and blues to atmospheric looping. I play in an Americana band (link below).
I have both a 22.5" scale lap and a 24" -- I don't really feel much difference due to the scale, but the string spacing is different on each, and that takes a little adjusting. Depending on the instrument, it can go from guitar-like spacing to 3/8" spacing. If you have one instrument, you get used to it very quickly.
Tunings are all over the place -- a lot of guitarists moving to steel use open D or E; I use Gsus4.
Remember, you'll need a tone bar (that's the "steel" part) -- there are bullet bars, which are cylinders with rounded ends, and bars with grooves in the sides to help you grip them (Dobro players usually use these, so do I). I prefer the Shubb SP-2, but it's what feels good to you. You may want to use fingerpicks -- again, it's a personal choice. Sicne I switch between lap steel and banjo, my picks are always on.
People you might want to listen to:
David Lindley -- unreal taste and tone -- his solo on "Running on Empty got a lot of people started playing steel
Freddie Roulette - blues slide player extraordinaire
Ben Harper - Rock madman
Kaki King - innovative approach, uses loops to build cool sounds
There's video of all these folks on YouTube -- search for lapsteel as well as lap steel.
Don't just think about it - do it!
www.myspace.com/splinterville (w/video clips)
My main lap squeeze is a '39 Gibson EH-185, looks like this one only in much better condition:
It is hard indeed to get past the basics. I can't seem to do it, but keep hacking just so I can hear this pretty thing go.
Thanks for all the info.
Why Gsus2 and 6 tunings? How do you play different chords? Are the short scales easier to pick up on than the long or vice versa or no difference?
You'll have to excuse me - I've been playing guitar since 1965 but have real shortcomings on theory to say the least!
I use a late 30s Gibson EH-150 with it's original Charlie Christian pickup, I don't do twang, but this steel can go from a glorious rock scream to a nice mellow woody tone with the twist of the volume and tone controls. Anyway, as to string number, I prefer 7 or 8 strings (my gibson has 7) and I play using a C6 tuning or sometimes a C7 tuning (there are a few variations here that I use including from low to high C-E-G-A-C-E-G, which like most 6 tunings has both a major and minor chord positions with no bar slanting, Bb-E-G-A-C-E-G, which includes the low 7th in C allowing for a growling sort of no root 7th chord, C-E-G-Bb-C-E-G, which adds the 7 in the middle but loses the 6th and flat 3rd for straight bar full minor chords, or C-E-G-A-Bb-E-G, which puts the 7th on the top but loses the root for the second octave).
Anyway, to answer your questions Pete, on a 6 string steel most chording is done with partial chords using only 2 tones, like a 3 and flat 7 for a 7th chord with no root or fifth, or a root and flat 3 or flat 3 and fifth for a minor chord. Other instruments in the mix can usually supply the missing ingredients if needed. To make chords that aren't available with the bar straight, you slant it, for example in a tuning spelled G-B-D-G-B-D (which is a major G chord) you would get a minor chord by using the slanting the bar and playing G-Bb or Bb-G (or whatever root you wanted, you probably get the picture).
With an 8 string steel you can have all 3 major chord tones (the 1-3-5) twice, and the 6th and flat 7th once. The Junior Brown steel tuning is Bb-C-E-G-A-C-E-G. So at the 12th fret you can play a C major chord in 2 octaves (C-E-G) on either set of the outside 3 strings, then move the bar up 5 frets (or down 7 frets) and play an A minor chord (A-C-E) on the 4th, 5th, and 6th strings. Are you starting to see this, on a steel the important thing to understand is the interval between the various strings.
I hope that helps, sorry it's a bit long.
Quarter, those are by far the coolest lap steels I have ever seen. :BEER
Thanks ... I really enjoy designing and building them
Here is a new mahogany / quilt maple deco style one I'm finishng up, inlay is Wooly Mammoth ivory.
The pic is after a couple wash coats of amber shellac for a sealer.
Thanks, Brandon - you made it understandable. I just have to get my brain around it.
Quarter: Is that one above for sale?
I play the lap steel too! I play one of these:
Heh, heh! Tasty!!!
As long as we'e having an Asher fest
Lots of lap steel info here http://www.well.com/user/wellvis/steel.html
Thanks for all the links you posted, guys!
Another beauty...I may have to commission one of these babies...:BEER
Don't forget Harry Manx! A wonderfully tasteful slide player. http://www.harrymanx.com/
I use Gsus2 for a few reasons. The tuning is DGDGAD. I play a lot of melodies on the top three strings and find having that second between the G and A opens up a lot of cross-string possibilities. For chordal work, I do a lot of 'behind the bar bending' of the A string. I can bend it up a half step and get a minor chord, a whole step for a major chord, or a step and a half for a sus4 chord - all off of the root on the G string, of course. The tuning also opens up a lot of modal options when using the open strings as drones.
I use standard, good old fashion Dobro tuning (g-b-d-g-b-d)on my Asher (mainly because it is easy to learn and there are a lot of good tabs for this tuning) and play C6 (C-E-G-A-C-E) tuning on my converted Esquire Lap steel because it hard to not sound good in this tuning and it is so Hawaiian.