Friday, April 24, 2009

Do You See What I See?

This is a 1950 Fender Champion lap steel. Thank you to the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign and the Physics of Electronic instruments course for these pictures.

I look at these to try to see the essence of a lap steel. I have a dedicated lap steel, but as it works and it's a little over-engineered, and I don't feel like tearing it apart to understand it. By tearing through these pictures, I can begin to understand what is adaptable.

The headstock is raised up from the body, enough that you can set this down on a table and it will not knock the tuners around. I have some wood, roughly the width of a headstock, that can be stacked up and glued. Don't have clamps, but I have weights. I can do this.

This is the part that made me think "Hey, I can do this." What we see is a Champion lap steel pickup. What that is very much like is a Broadcaster pickup. Don't listen to me, listen to G.E. Smith,, who used this as the basis of his signature Telecaster.

So, that's a Tele pickup. A Tele pickup mounted into wood. The different mounting screw alignment is not a point of obsession to me. That's also an awful lot of metal that I'd have to replace. I have a Telecaster bridge floating around, a top-loader at that, but A) There is no real need for an intonated bridge on a lap steel and B) I would feel so much cooler if I did as much as I could myself. I am sure that bridge is rolled steel with holes drilled for the strings and other holes drilled for the mounting screws. It would be cool to have a drill press to countersink the screws, but not too important.

A more purist person might insist on having the metal cover, too. I have found that I do gobs of right-hand muting, that I do it when playing lap steel, and I REALLY. DON'T. LIKE even a really nice lap steel like my horseshoe-and-handrest-having Supro with legs.

(I'll point out that this has no legs. And it is unlikely that I'll add legs to the new one I'm planning.)

My issue here is, I spent a little while walking around Menards, and I'm not seeing the steel. I don't know where to get it. Four inches is all I need. Or maybe eight. More on that later.

Like my Supro, and unlike the PeeWee, this has some sort of fabric on the back. Bottom. Whatever. Good for keeping the instrument sliding off your lap. A bigger thing is the ferrules. Should I go with the old bridge, I won't have this issue, but if I make one, I will have to stop it on the other end. We have ferrules because, really, the string heads will cut into the wood.

The previously-mentioned Supro has six little holes, looking like Qs with elongated tails run parallel to the string direction. The ball end pops in, the string runs into the tail and holds it in place. Clever, really.

The Supro has Klusons. Not feeling the love. Been considering getting a replacement set, replacing the gummy, not happy set. But I would not willingly put those in a guitar I'm not wanting to make exactly like Leo Fender made in 1952. And that's OK. I can get a set for $25 from Guitar Fetish.

More ... interesting, I guess, is the nut. The saddle was just an edge. This has specifically rounded corners. Which makes sense. Think about string movement over the saddles. Not much. Much more over the nut. So, you round out the nut and add grooves. And somehow, cutting a bone nut seems so much easier.

I have a circular saw. I have wood. I have wood glue. I have weights. I can get started on this. Won't necessarily look like a Champion, but it will be something.

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