Lap steel guitar

Lap steel guitar

The lap steel guitar is a type of steel guitar, from which other types developed.

There are three main types of lap steel guitar:

* Lap slide guitars, the first developed, which use a similar sound box to a Spanish guitar.
* Resonator guitars, particularly those with square necks.
* Electric lap steel guitars, which include the first commercially successful solid body instruments.

Lap slide and resonator guitars may also be fitted with pickups, but do not depend on electrical amplification to produce their sound.


The distinguishing feature of a lap steel guitar is that the strings are raised at both the nut and bridge ends of the fingerboard, typically to about half an inch. This makes the frets unusable, and they may be replaced by markers on some guitars. Other lap steel guitars are designed to be adapted between lap and conventional playing, or are modified versions of conventional guitars, and the only difference may be the action height. Round-necked resonator guitars set up for steel playing fall into this category.

Guitars designed exclusively for lap playing typically have modified necks that make conventional playing impossible. The "hollow neck" acoustic lap steel, developed by Chris Knutsen and popularized by Hermann C. Weissenborn, extends the body cavity behind the neck all the way to the head. The square-necked resonator guitar has a strengthened square profile neck, allowing heavier string gauges and/or higher tunings that would normally be considered impossible (or certainly ill-advised) on a conventional guitar. The electric lap steel guitar typically incorporates the entire neck into the solid body of the guitar, again providing extra strength to allow a greater variety of string gauges and tunings.

Steel guitars with more than six strings and/or with multiple necks are rarely played in lap steel fashion, but are also referred to as "lap steel guitars" by many makers and authorities. See "table steel guitar".


The lap steel guitar is typically placed on the player's lap, or on a stool in front of seated player.

Unlike a conventional guitar, the strings are not pressed to a fret when sounding a note; rather, the player holds a metal slide called a "steel" in the left hand, which is moved along the strings to change the instrument's pitch while the right hand plucks or picks the strings. This method of playing greatly restricts the number of chords available, so lap steel music often features melodies, a restricted set of harmonies (such as in blues), or another single part.

The steel guitar, when played in Hawaiian, Country, Bluegrass, or Western Swing styles, is almost always plucked using a plastic thumbpick affixed to the right hand's thumb, and metal or plastic "fingerpicks" fitted to the first 2, 3, or even all 4 fingers of the right hand. This allows the player greater control when picking sets of notes on non-adjacent strings. Some Blues players, especially those who use a round-neck resonator guitar played upright, conventional-guitar-style, with a bottleneck or hollow metal slide on one left-hand finger, forgo the fingerpicks and thumbpicks, and use their bare fingers and thumb instead. On the other hand, a minority of Blues players, and many Rock players, use a conventional flatpick. Tut Taylor is one of the extremely few Dobro players that uses a flatpick.


It is widely reported that The Lap Steel Guitar was invented by a man named Joseph Kekuku in 1885. It is said, at the age of 7, Joseph was walking along a railroad track and picked up a metal bolt, slid the metal along the strings of his guitar and was intrigued by the sound. From there he taught himself to play using this method with the back of a knife blade. Still various other people have been credited with the innovation. [] . The instrument was hugely popular - a major fad - in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s.It was electrified in the early Thirties by Bob Dunn, a musician in Houston,Texas (who played in the Western swing band Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies; Dunn had his own self-titled music store in the Houston area.) This made the so-called "Hawaiian" guitar the first electricinstrument (just a few years before Les Paul and Charlie Christian modified their instruments).

The lap steel, dobro and pedal steel guitar are associated most closely with Hawaiian music, country music and bluegrass, though some players have used them in rock music, jazz, blues, and other musical genres. The round neck, metal-bodied resonator guitar, on the other hand, is used almost exclusively by Blues, Rock, or Blues-Rock musicians.

Notable lap steel/table steel/Hawaiian steel guitar players

*Ken Lopaka Emerson
*Al Perkins
*Sonny Rhodes
*Ben Harper
*Bob Brozman
*Cindy Cashdollar
*Daniel Lanois
*Darick Campbell
*David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)
*David Lindley
*Derek Trucks (Derek Trucks Band)
* Eddie Alkire
*Freddie Roulette
* Glenn Kaiser (Resurrection Band, Glenn Kaiser Band)
*Junior Brown
*John Butler
*John Fahey
*Jerry Byrd
*Jerry Douglas
*John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin)
*John Rickard
*Jeff Lang Fact|date=February 2007
*James Michael Thompson
*Jeff Peterson (Clint Black)
*Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater)
*Kaki King
*Kelly Joe Phelps
*King Ben Nawahi
*LS Coker
*Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes)
*Marc Ford (The Black Crowes) (Ben Harper)
* Marc James (Verra Cruz)
* Muddy Manninen (Gringos Locos, Wishbone Ash)
* Heather Leigh Murray (Charalambides)
*Myk Freedman
*Nels Cline (Wilco)
*Robert Randolph
*Rich Robinson (The Black Crowes)
*Rick Steward
*Robert Rich
*Chris Sachtleben of Augustana
* Roger Filgate (Wishbone Ash)
*Rou Reynolds (Enter Shikari)
*Rusty Young
*The Six Parts Seven
*Sunil Ganguly
*Sol Hoopii
*Steve Howe (Yes)
*Troy Van Leeuwen (Queens of the Stone Age, A Perfect Circle)
*Tom Guerra (Mambo Sons)
*Vishwa Mohan Bhatt
*Xavier Rudd
*George Harrison
*Ron Wood (Faces, The Rolling Stones)


The Lap steel guitar is not tuned in standard guitar tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E, low to high). Rather, it is usually tuned to an open chord, often an extended chord like a 6th, 7th, or 9th.

There are nearly as many tunings for the Lap steel guitar as there are players, but a few are more common [all tunings are shown low-to-high; that is, thickest string to thinnest, or 6th string to 1st string] .

Blues and Rock players tend to favor one of two tuning families: open G/open A, or open D/open E.

Open G is tuned D-G-D-G-B-D; open A raises each of those notes a whole-step (2 frets) to E-A-E-A-C#-E.

Open D is tuned D-A-D-F#-A-D, and open E is a whole-step higher: E-B-E-G#-B-E. Joe Perry of Aerosmith uses Open E on his electric lap steel. David Lindley is another player who uses enharmonic variations of these tunings.

Bluegrass and Country Dobro players using a square-neck instrument tend to favor an altered G tuning, often called "High-G", where the 6th string is tuned up to "G" instead of down to "D", and the 5th string is also tuned up, to B: G-B-D-G-B-D. They also sometimes raise it up to "High-A": A-C#-E-A-C#-E. These are examples of tunings possible on a lap steel that would cause serious damage if attempted on a round-neck resonator or standard guitar.

Dobro players also generally use a set of strings with different gauges than those used on standard electric or acoustic guitars to help them to project more sound and to achieve their higher tunings.

Many Western Swing steel players, and some Old-Time Country steel players, use a C6 tuning. There is no "standard" C6 tuning; one popular one is C-E-G-A-C-E. This tuning is a good one for copping Don Helms' steel licks off old Hank Williams records, although Helms used a steel with legs (a "table steel"), with two necks having 8 strings each; Helms actually used an E13 tuning, which adds the Dominant 7th (D) and the 13th (C#) to the E tuning, making it B-D-E-G#-B-C#-E-G#, low to high. C6 is also used by Western Swing pedal steel guitarists on their 10-string pedal steels. This tuning is difficult to achieve on the 6-string steel. A6 is a commonly-used alternate for C6.

The E7 tuning is used by many players, especially those who cut their teeth on the "Mel Bay Steel Guitar Method" instructional books. The E7 tuning in those books is spelled either B-D-E-G#-B-E or with the 6th string lowered to the tonic "E": E-D-E-G#-B-E. Note the similarity of this second tuning to the open E tuning above: the only difference is the 5th string, which is lowered from the tonic E to the Dominant 7th note in the key of E, which is D.

There are many other tunings used by players. Pedal Steel guitarists switching over to lap steel often bring over a modified version of the 10-string E9 tuning that is the standard for Country pedal steel; pedal steels, and a few non-pedal "table steels" actually have multiple necks, each in a different tuning, and very often on a pedal steel the 2 main necks will be in E9 and C6 tunings. As noted under the C6 tuning, an A6 tuning is also used.

See the Links below for a list of additional tunings.


"This list is incomplete. Please add to it."
* [ Bear Creek Guitar]
* Asher Guitars & Lap Steels
* Breedlove Guitar Company
* Cole Clark
* Weissenborn (also under Gold Tone)
* Rickenbacker
* National String Instrument Corporation
* Dobro
* Regal
* Cougar, went out of business when owner died
* Electro Master, no longer in business
* Epiphone
* Fender
* Gibson (also under Kalamazoo, Mastertone, and Recording King brands)
* Gretsch
* Harmony
* Russo Music Company
* Blue Moon
* Chandler
* Harmos
* Sierra
* Industrial Guitars
* Morrell Music
* Magnatone
* Canopus, Japan
* Guyatone, Japan
* [ Fuzzy]
* [ Melobar]
* Ellis Guitars
* Jupiter Creek, Australia
* Silvertone
* Framus, Germany
* Tim Kill, Australia

ee also

*Steel guitar
*Lap slide guitar
*Lap steel ukulele
*Table steel guitar
*Pedal steel guitar

External links

* [ Brad's Page of Steel] - Discusses lap steel guitars in more detail
* [ Scotty's tunings] - Scotty's has a list of non-pedal steel guitar tunings, for 6, 7, and 8-string steels.
* [ Weissenborn Guitars] - Brief history of the lap and Weissenborn steel guitars.
* [ Steel Guitar Forum] - A discussion board for steel guitarists.
* [ Hawaiian Steel Guitar Association] - An organisation which promotes the development of lap steel guitar with worldwide membership.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lap steel guitar — Guitariste jouant en lap steel sur une « steel » guitar à caisse en bois, modèle acoustique couramment utilisé à cet effet. L expression anglophone Lap steel guitar (traduisible littéralement par « guitare en acier à [poser sur… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • lap steel guitar — Hawaiian lap held guitar that is played by plucking the strings with an upward motion …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Lap slide guitar — A lap slide guitar is a conventional (non resonator) acoustic guitar that is played in lap steel guitar fashion. As with steel guitar, the term can be applied to either the style of playing or to the instruments designed or adapted for this style …   Wikipedia

  • Steel guitar — is:* A method of playing slide guitar using a steel. Resonator guitars, including round necked varieties, are particularly suitable for this style, but other types are also used, usually with modified high actions, as well as instruments produced …   Wikipedia

  • Lap Steel — guitar Guitariste jouant en lap steel sur une « steel » guitar à caisse en bois, modèle acoustique couramment utilisé à cet effet. L expression anglophone Lap steel guitar (traduisible littéralement par « guitare en acier à [poser… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Steel guitar — La steel guitar es un tipo de guitarra eléctrica, perteneciente por tanto a la familia de los instrumentos electrófonos. Contenido 1 Descripción 2 Historia 3 Tipos de steel guitars 3.1 …   Wikipedia Español

  • Lap steel ukulele — Infobox instrument name = Lap Steel Ukulele names = image capt = color = #FFEC8B classification = String instrument (plucked) range = related = ukulele, guitar musicians = builders = articles =The lap steel ukulele is a type of and method of… …   Wikipedia

  • Steel Guitar — Als Steelguitar oder Steel Guitar werden folgende Arten von Gitarren bezeichnet: Die Hawaii Gitarre (engl. lap steel guitar) Die Pedal Steel Guitar, ein auf Beinen stehendes Instrument ähnlich der Lap Steel Gitarre, bei dem zusätzlich die Tonhöhe …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Lap-Steel — Une guitare lap steel est une guitare steel de type hawaïenne dont on joue à plat, instrument posé sur les cuisses (lap en anglais), et donc dépourvue des pédales qu on trouve sur le type pedal. Le mot s applique aussi au même instrument soutenu… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • steel guitar — n. a type of guitar, now esp. an electric guitar, with raised metal strings, held on the lap or mounted on legs and played by plucking while sliding a steel bar across the strings to change the pitch …   English World dictionary

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