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Lap steel guitar

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 11 years, 9 months ago


Lap steel guitars are the original steel guitars, and the term covers a wide range of instruments.


A guitar becomes a steel guitar when you:

  • Rotate it ninety degrees so that the belly is horizontal;
  • Play it with both hands reaching over the top, rather than having your fretboard hand come up from under the neck;
  • Use a slide called a steel in your left hand rather than the frets (do left-hand steel guitars exist? Never seen one...);
  • Set up the action and tuning for this sort of playing. Open tunings work best of course.


There are three main forms of lap steel guitar:

  • Acoustic lap steel guitars (confusingly called lap slide guitars) are steel-stringed acoustic guitars set up to be played steel guitar fashion. This can mean just changing the tuning to open, but more often it also means raising the action so you couldn't use the frets even if you tried, and in some cases the sound box is extended behind the neck so again conventional playing would be quite impossible. Two neck versions exist but are rare.
  • Resonator steel guitars are resonator guitars similarly set up for steel playing. Some have conventionsl necks, known as round necks, but others have reinforced necks to allow heavier stringing; These heavier necks are called square necks and make conventional playing impossible.
  • Electric steel guitars have no sound box but rely on magnetic pickups, one on each neck.


Electric pickups can also be built in to acoustic and resonator steel guitars, without changing the essential nature of the instrument.


Many but by no means all electric lap steel guitars have removable or more rarely folding legs to allow them to be set up in front of the player rather than on the player's lap, and even without these legs the instrument may sometimes be set up on a table in front of the player, either sitting or standing or occasionally kneeling. Again, this does not change the essential nature of the instrument, and these are still considered lap steel guitars for the purposes of this website.


However, if the instrument is built so as to make holding it on the player's lap impractical, for the purposes of this website it is regarded as a table steel guitar rather than a lap steel guitar. Tunings for lap steel guitars with two eight-string necks, the most common table steel configuration, are also found on the table steel guitar page.




E Major tuning:

  • E - B - e - g# - b - e'


E7 tunings:

  • B - d - e - g# - b - e'
  • B -  e - g# - b - d - e'





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