View Full Version : Pickups in a Lap Steel

06-02-2009, 02:32 AM
For a while now I've been wanting to buy a lap steel to learn on. I mostly want to learn how to play melodies on it like in hawaiian music-- playing over previously recorded ukulele tracks and stuff.

Now I'm open, possibly even leaning, toward building my own. The only piece I'm unsure of what to buy for the construction is the pickup. Most of the old school pickups for lapsteels aren't made anymore or are impossible to find. Plus I don't know what kind of pickup the different lapsteels employed.

So my question is about the particular qualities of a lapsteel pickup so I know what to look for in the pickups that are available. Which regular guitar pickups would be comparable for dropping into a lap steel? I'm looking for a smooth and mellow tone. I'm also guessing I should be putting it closer to the neck position to help this goal?

Thanks in advance if you have any input for me at all!

06-02-2009, 09:16 AM
You can drop a regular humbucker or pick up into a lap steel. Check out www.asherguitars.com, and look at some of his lap steels, especially the Ben Harper model. I'm no expert on this subject, but I did a quick google search on "lap steel pickups", and it brought some fruitful results. My Chandler lap steel (which I am looking to sell, by the way ;) ) has a hand wound single coil pickup, about the size of a P-90. You may be able to order a pick up from them, I'm not sure www.chandlerguitars.com. My advice to you would be to see what different builders are dropping into their steels, and go from there.

06-02-2009, 10:43 AM
First of all, thanks for the feedback. Asher was one of the ones I came across in my research as well. The problem I'm facing is a problem of adjectives. I'm looking for that mellow hawaiian guitar sound, and a lot of the lap steels are marketing country and blues players too. To me, those style sounds seem pretty edgy and tinny-- which is the opposite of what I want.

So my problem is that when I'm looking for the right pickup, I'm finding adjectives like bright, present, clean, hot... but those could describe both the mellow/warm sound I want, or the edgy/tinny sound I don't. Plus the samples available are sometimes overdriven and sometimes not, so it further complicates what I'm looking for-- especially since I don't have experience with the instrument.

I'm now at a point of just giving up and just asking people which ones they recommend and just taking a random guess at the results. And I can't even ask the question at lap steel specific forums right now because a) they're rare, and b) the only good one I found makes you send in an application through the mail with a five dollar check to join... ugh.

So anyway, which does your P-90 style pickup sound like? And is it places all the way at the bridge or closer to the neck?

06-03-2009, 10:56 AM
With a decent pickup, good tone pot, and amp, you can dial up the warm sound you crave. I would recommend that you stay away from the Rogue, Gretsch, and Fenders. The reviews I've read about them have been negative. As for the pickup on the Chandler, it is surprisingly versatile. When I first got it, I thought the sound was a bit hot and, as you say, "tinny". However, it has a good tone pot, and it was easy to dial in a warm tone. I played (or attempted to play) blues on it, so I can't really tell you how it handles Hawaiian. I gave up on playing the lap steel, and took up the uke. However, I was very pleased with my Chandler. It is American made, and constructed from solid mahogany. I would recommend looking at some lap steel reviews on www.harmony-central.com. Maybe someone there can be more informative than me.