How to Build a Lap Steel Guitar

By Carl Hose
Build a Lap Steel Guitar

The lap steel guitar is a popular instrument found in folk, country, bluegrass and even Hawaiian music. Playing a lap steel guitar can be quite fun, and building one for yourself can be an enjoyable, rewarding experience. A lap steel guitar is an easy instrument to make, since it requires none of the detailed shaping and fretwork required when building other types of guitars. All you need is a little patience, some supplies and a desire to craft your own instrument.

Start with a well-seasoned block of wood. The wood you choose is largely up to you, as long as you choose a hardwood. The dimensions of the wood need to be 32 by 4 inches, with a thickness of 1-9/16 inches. Maple is a nice choice.

Cut and shape the body and peghead of your lap steel guitar on a wood lathe, out of a solid piece of hardwood. The main part of the body will maintain the shape and thickness of the original wood, so you'll be concentrating on shaping the peg head. A band saw will do the trick. Clamp the wood in a vise and use a hand saw to cut a 1/4-inch notch out of the wood. This notch will run the full width of the wood block.

Use a bow saw or a band saw with a narrow blade to cut and shape the concave slope transitioning the peg head to the body. This will give the instrument definition. Sand the slope smooth with block sander.

Drill holes for tuning keys, then use a wood lathe equipped with a routing tool to make the seating for your electric pickup and wiring. You'll also want to drill the holes for the volume knob and cord jack during this step. You can use a hammer and chisel to cut the seating for your pickup, but if you have access to a routing tool and wood lathe, it will make the job easier.

Stain your guitar with whatever wood-stain coloring you like. You can use Danish oil for finishing as well. Let the guitar dry for at least 8 hours afterward. You can paint your lap steel guitar with acrylic paint. After staining and painting, apply a coat of glossy, water-resistant lacquer.

Glue the fretboard to the body. You can purchase a fretboard at many guitar shops, or at a luthier-supply shop. No special work will be needed. This fretboard will already have the frets marked and the inlays in place, saving you time and effort.

Drill holes for the bridge. You'll be using a metal bridge, so attach the bridge to the lap steel guitar with the screws provided in the bridge kit. Screw the bridge to the guitar body.

Install the pickup, volume knob and cord jack. Seat the pickup in the seating cavity, fix the volume knob into the hole you drilled for it, and push the cord jack into its hole. Wire together the pickup, volume knob and cord jack at this time, following the schematics included with the pickup kit you purchased.

String your lap steel guitar and tune it up using an electronic tuner. You can purchase a tuning chart at any music store, or find one online to help you choose one of the tuning variations. Tune the strings gradually, let them stretch, and then repeat the tuning process, gradually bringing the strings up to pitch.

About the Author

Carl Hose is the author of the anthology "Dead Horizon" and the the zombie novella "Dead Rising." His work has appeared in "Cold Storage," "Butcher Knives and Body Counts," "Writer's Journal," and "Lighthouse Digest.". He is editor of the "Dark Light" anthology to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities.