A dodgy left hand which kept me off the bike for a while, has prompted me to do something I have been thinking about for a long time… making a guitar.
I have my Ibanez hollow body guitar plus my dad’s Spanish guitar which was made in the old Czechoslovakia over 50 years ago. It still sounds good, although not perfect, but then it has traveled a lot. Pride of place is a Ukulele that my grandfather gave me when I was nine years old, which makes it over 50 - I must be getting old....
My neighbour here in France has some timber in her barn cut by her late husband when Dutch Elm disease was rampant throughout Europe. She very kindly let me pick out some Elm for my latest project.
I decided to make a solid body electic, because I already had some extra bits and pieces accumulated over the years. You can see my first attempt in this picture.
With the Ibanez pickups, the sound is mellow without the ‘twang’ of a Strat, but it does sound nice playing country style.
Because by their nature, solid body guitars are heavy, so I needed a strap. I thought a Native American bead-work design was the way to go and made one up backed with ‘Denim’ and ends from second hand leather.
Now bitten by the bug, I decided to make another style of guitar that I had always fancied playing... a lap steel. Although simpler in design, was actually more difficult to build, but with a little bit of design cribbing, this was the out-come.
I am now waiting for a set of special lap steel strings, but it does play remarkably well with a sweet tone and feel, even with the heaviest strings I could find at home.
I can’t wait until the better strings arrive so I can get to grips with lap steel through the winter.
Both guitars are just oiled (Linseed and turpentine to my own mix) and will be re-oiled as the months or years progress.
That first lap steel in Elm was very successful but the 'shakes' in the wood started to open and close with the humidity altering the tone and tuning very slightly, but just enough for me to notice the difference. Plan 'B' was to build a twin necked lap steel from Walnut, but the elusive 'right' piece just never materialised. Then the furniture maker who supplied me with 'Hetre' (Beech) for the fret board, came up with some beautiful Merisier or Cherry, which he very kindly cut to size.
Now I thought the Elm was hard to work, but not being a wood worker, the hardness of the Cherry really surprised me. But the grain and colour have just blown me away.
I made the scale length longer this time, which has produced a more mellow tone than my first lap steel. The pickup and amp are the same as before, but the tone is subtly different and I don’t have to resort to the tone pot as much, although I have had to tweak just a couple of settings on the amp.
For aficionados: The fret board is beech with fret and surround being cut from elm. The machine heads are Wilkinson which makes for easier tuning. The machine head section is just routed out. The ‘nut’ is elm with a piece of bright steel cut and shaped to take the heavier strings. The humbucker pickup is the same as my first steel, but I have changed the bridge to a home brew fitting using the knurled adjuster fitted into the body of the guitar with the bridge sitting on its own adjusters.
The string tail piece is 'Gotoh' and gives a much better straight line pull for the strings, which makes for easier changing should I get ham fisted and break one. CTS volume and tone 500K pots are used as on all my guitars, giving a well balanced tone control.
The sound from the guitar? Well it is a revelation - a real hybrid sound, good for country, yet a slight tweak on the tone pot and I hear Hawaiian sounds. This lap steel guitar is tuned to G which most of the early Hawaiian music was written in, now all I have to do is get used to it and get some real country licks going. I’m getting there. It is a trifle slow, but I love it.
What next?........... a Banjo... Dobro style guitar... Mandolin... or even another Lap Steel and solid body. No idea yet, but I fancy keeping up my ‘Luthier’ skills - it’s fun and the end product is something I can make music with... although some might argue my use of the word ‘music’!
I contacted Alan Shelton, a first class Diarize agent who was a 'way out' guitar painter of some note before selling his painting business and web site. His speed of service was fantastic - just four days from ordering in the UK to receiving my package in France. For some reason, this usually takes a minimum of seven days and just to prove the point, a small item ordered from the UK before the pickup arrived two days after it!
So if anyone is interested in new pickups, get in touch with Alan. He knows his products and is a really friendly guy. Thanks Alan - my eight string lap steel now produces great sounds. You can reach Alan from this link: HERE
This new picture is of my new cedar surround hand cut and shaped to replace the rather tatty plastic original, also the new bridge is making a much needed improvement to the overall sound. Plus I can rest my little finger on the new surround, which has made it easier to pick.
Plans for my Lap Steel.....
Full plans for the lap steel above are available for 30.00 €. Just send an email to: email@example.com
Copyright © 2015 Maurice Carroll
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