Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Steel without wheels

So, after graduation, I of course needed something else to do immediately. As it so happens, I was in luck -- though I'd finished my monome project, (except for one led that went bad, and some screw-tightening) I had another project going. I'd decided to build myself a lap-steel guitar, basically from scratch.

I'd seen some plans here, where they claim that "Building a lap steel is easy," and also there is some good information at Brad's page of steel. On the recommendation of a TA at the PRL, I went to Southern Lumber in San Jose and picked out a nice piece of "Phillipine Mahogany." This is apparently not a true mahogany, coming from a different species, but it has a mahogany-like grain and looks darn good. Cost: around $35. Then, things got busy with school and the wood sat. Sometime in the second quarter, I decided to buy a pre-made pickup and aluminum wraparound bridge from Ryan Rukavina, who build lap-steels and parts in Missoula, Montana. Cost: around $155, but beautiful work, and actually a good price for the quality of the parts. Here's a picture that highlights his work:

That pickup is coverd in cocobolo wood with an extremely beautiful grain. It looks really, really nice and sounds quite good as well. 8-string pickups are hard to find at decent prices, and Rukavina came through for me on this one. Look him up on ebay to find his parts auctions.

Lastly, I needed tuning machines and wiring stuff. Tuning machine ended up costing about $48, plus a wiring kit for one-pickup guitars and some chickenhead knobs, from Stewart Macdonald. Cost: around $70, for a grand total of about $260. Not terrible. The cheapest 8-string lap-steel on the market is Morrell's at $265 from Elderly Instruments, and this has a better pickup and much nicer tuners. Plus I got the satisfaction of doing it myself. I'm fairly happy with the way it's turned out. (Oh, don't worry about the $15 or so I spent on finish, steel wool, and rubber gloves...or the hours of labor, hand-sawing, routing, sanding)

I'd be even happier if I hadn't found this a little while before I finished: the Dynalap kit, made by a guy in North Kingstown, RI. $230, including all hardware; just needs to be sanded. Note the art-deco design of kit #2, actually closer to my original intended design than what I achieved. I found this just after I'd made the big order.

But it's all good. I'm just excited that I made a working instrument, and I've been having fun trying to teach myself to play.
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