If you were inspired by last month’s lap steel special and fancy having a go, why not build your own? It’s the perfect project for a budding luthier, and Huw Price can tell you exactly how it’s done
If you have ever fancied having a stab at guitar building, a lap steel is a brilliant place to start. There’s no awkward truss rod installation, no tricky neck carving and, best of all, you don’t even need frets. This month, we’re going to try to create our very own lap steel guitar in a single weekend.
First we need the wood for the body. Ever since I moved into my house, I’d been eyeing up the wooden mantelpiece, Brian May-fashion, but with a view to making a lap steel. The wood looked a lot like mahogany and it actually turned out to be African mahogany, or Khaya Ivorensis, to give it its posh name.
Next, the fingerboard. I checked in the Stewart-MacDonald catalogue and noticed that they sell flat, pre-slotted Dobro fingerboards in ebony and rosewood, 19″ long and 2 3/8″ wide with a scale length of 25″. Since I didn’t want to get into the tricky business of fret slotting, I designed my project around this board.
A bit of careful planning was needed. I didn’t really want to recreate a classic design, so instead I looked at loads of lap steels on the internet then made a sketch of my own.Next, I had to draw up scale plans. When I’m building guitars I prefer to work with Imperial measurements because the US parts suppliers do the same. When creating scale plans, I simply make 1cm equivalent to 1″, so the 25″ scale length became 25cm. Once I was happy with the shape and dimensions, I taped together six sheets of A4 paper and drew up the full-scale plans. This is a worthwhile exercise because it reveals errors, and you can even physically arrange parts like tuners on the drawing to make sure that everything fits.
Since I don’t have any specialist timber-cutting equipment, I took my plank up to my local joinery firm and they cut it into three strips – 3″ wide for the centre block and 1″ and 1 1/2″ strips for the wings. They also planed the front and back surfaces prior to cutting so I had everything smooth and squared up. At home I sawed the wing strips to length, cut the angles using a mitre saw, and carefully marked out the centre block.