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"Roger" Lap Steel Gitarre

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. These were originally called Hawaiian guitars and included versions that had a factory raised nut, but also included Spanish guitars with a nut extender.
  • Resonator guitars, particularly those with square necks, but would include round neck versions with a raised nut.
  • Electric lap steel guitars, which include the first commercially successful solid body instruments. These were originally marketed as Electric Hawaiian guitars. There are two types: one that sits on the musician's lap and a second version that has legs and was called a console version, but did not include pedals or knee levers. Electric lap steels are typically made with six to ten strings.

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 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 the 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 steel (or tone bar) 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 chord 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. [58174]. The instrument was hugely popular - a major fad - in the United Statesmarker during the 1920s and 1930s.It was electrified in the early Thirties. In 1932, the first production electric guitar was introduced, the aluminum Ro-Pat-In (later Rickenbacker) A22 "Frying Pan" lap steel. This made the so-called "Hawaiian" guitar the first electric stringed instrument (just a few years before Les Paul and Charlie Christian modified their instruments and after the theramin was patented in 1928). The first electric instrument on a commercial recording was made and played in 1935 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.

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 players

Ben Keith playing lap steel guitar + pedal steel guitar


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. During the 1920s and 1930s, much of the sheet music written for lap steel utilized open A tuning as the de facto standard tuning for the instrument.

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 "console steel"), with two necks having 8 strings each; Helms actually used an E13 tuning, which adds the 7th (D) and the 13th (C#) to the E tuning, making it B-D-E-G#-B-C#-E-G#, low to high. An extended C6/FMaj7 is used by Western Swing pedal steel guitarists on their 10-string pedal steels. This tuning, "C-F-A-C-E-G-A-C-E-G", is difficult to achieve on the 6-string steel but a subset thereof is achieved as previously mentioned. A6 is a commonly-used alternate for C6.

The E7 tuning is used by many players, especially those who starting learning with 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 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 "console 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.


See also

External links

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