Building a Lap Steel Guitar

Building a lap steel is easy

Making a lap steel guitar is a good way of starting to get into guitarbuilding. There are several factors that make building a lap steel easy. In fact, the most difficult part will be learning to play the instrument, but that's a different story.

Why building a lap steel is easy

No round-shaping of the neck required
A lap steel neck can be left square because the player doesn't have to grab around it to play the instrument.

No fretboard required
Although most lap steel guitars have an extra fretboard made of wood or metal the instrument can be played just as well without one. To help the player with orientation you can paint the fret markers directly onto the plank.

No fretboard radius required
If you make a fretboard, you can leave it flat. A fretboard radius is a matter of comfort on a normal guitar but wouldn't make sense on a lap steel.

No truss rod needed
The neck of a lap steel guitar doesn't have to be comfortable. Since the hands don't have to grab around it, the neck can be left quite thick and square. Such a thick neck will not bend under string load, so there's no need for a truss rod to correct any neck bow.

No frets required
There are no frets needed to define an exact vibrating length for the strings. Lap steel guitars owe their special sound to the fact that the slide can be placed anywhere between the nut and the end of the fretboard. The strings of a lap steel guitar run quite high above the fretboard and never touch it.

No fret leveling and crowning required
To help the player with orientation it is helpful to have fret markers on the fretboard or neck. Often the frets are just strips of wood that are inlaid flush with the fretboard. Although not necessary, a lot of lap steel guitars still have frets, but merely for reasons of appearance. Since the action is high, the strings won't touch the fretboard and no leveling and crowning of frets is required.

No setting of the action necessary
The strings usually run 13/32" (10mm) above the fretboard. There is no need for lengthy nut and saddle filing to achieve low string action. Fret buzzes are unknown to lap steel players.

No setting of the intonation
Because the strings are not pressed down on the fretboard when the guitar is played, there is no need for "setting the intonation". On conventional guitars, pressing down the strings results in a slight increase in pitch; to correct this effect, the scale length is increased by setting the string rests (saddles) on the bridge further back, a procedure commonly called "setting the intonation". On lap steel guitars all the saddles are placed at scale-length distance from the front of the nut.

Regardless of these numerous advantages, a lot of steps are the same as in building a conventional guitar.

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