6-string lap steel - Projects - Audio Artillery

6-string lap steel

  1. Intro
  2. Design
  3. Laminating the body
  4. Cutting the body profile
  5. Headstock details
  6. Bridge details
  7. Electronics
  8. Pickup + wiring cavities
  9. Nearly complete
  10. Fretboard
  11. Freboard inlays
  12. Final pics

1: Intro

I've wanted to build one of these for a while. Lap steels can be as simple as a 2x4 with some strings and a pickup. This one got a little more complicated than that.


2: Design

This is the shape I came up with. Almost any shape will do for a lap steel as long as it sits on your lap comfortably. You only really ever contact the strings. Here is a PDF if you want to use mine as a template.

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As drawn it has a 23" scale. I am leaning towards doing a 24" scale instead. There is plenty of room in the tail end to do a longer scale.

I originally planned to use a SG junior-style bridge (where the strings terminate on the bridge itself) but instead I'm going to use a standard tune-o-matic bridge and some ferrules to do a string-thru termination. I have a hunch that will have better sustain.

The pickup may sit on top of the guitar or be routed in from below. Haven't finalized that yet. I'm intending to use a tele neck pickup that I have lying around unless it sounds bad.


3: Laminating the body

I originally planed to cut the body out of a solid block of maple. But my uncle scored some wood at a local cabinet shop that was closing and gave me a bunch of machiche planks. Machiche looks like a cross between mahogany and rosewood. Here are some pictures of some machiche samples. I really like the look of the end-grain so I laminated them with the maple:

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The planks were jointed with a hand plane and glued together with Titebond II wood glue. There was a lot of clamping involved. One of the machiche strips shifted a little bit from the clamping force so there was a lot of flattening done afterwards. Thank God for hand planes.

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The above picture shows where I hogged out about 1" x 15" of the center machiche plank and a little bit of one of the big maple planks to create an internal chamber. My hope was this will do something interesting for the sound. Rapping on the center of this chamber makes a slightly different sound than the rest of the body so maybe it will actually do something. The chamber could have been larger but I was having a hard time routing these out by hand and wussed out. Now I have a router table so it would be easier - maybe for the next build.


4: Cutting the body profile

Next I band sawed the basic profile and belt sanded it to shape:

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There are a few goofs where the neck meets the body but it will still work fine.

Sanding maple is really a pain, I had a lot of trouble with it burning. I'm not quite sure how but I think a better result would be achiever with a template and a router than a band saw.


5: Headstock details

I did this with a little Bosch Colt palm router and the template shown in the picture. It worked ok. You have to cut the slot in shallow passes since maple is very opposed to going anywhere fast.

I don't have a template bushing for my router so I just made use of the geometry of the sub-base and make a rectangular template out of some thin MDF and some pieces of flooring samples.

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Next I cut the back of the headstock off with the bandsaw and drilled the 3/8" holes for the tuners.

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The tuners are a tad bigger than the 3/8" holes so there will be a lot of fighting with opening those holes up a bit. You can't just press tuners into tight holes in maple, you'll never get them out.

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There it is with the tuners installed and all strung up. I ran into an issue at this point. The tuners were set up to mount on a headstock no thinner than .55" and I ended up with .45". The solution was to dremel the hex nuts on the tuners shorter by about .20".

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