Video: How to Get Started on Lap Steel Guitar with Livingroom Gear Demos

Word on the power of the lap steel guitar has spread over the past few years. More and more players are adding the instrument to their collections, from home recordists looking to expand their sonic tool set to experimentally minded guitarists discovering just how well the steel's drones and swells can pair with their pedalboards.

To aid anyone who's interested in exploring the rich realm of the lap steel for the first time, we invited our Norwegian friend Eirik from Livingroom Gear Demos to put together a quick video overview of what any burgeoning steelist will need to get up and running with the instrument.

First things first: You need to buy a lap steel. Eirik points out that there are a number of affordable options being produced currently, like the Gretsch G5700.

For something with a little more character, there are also countless vintage options out there from Gibson, Supro, Harmony, and others, all of which can be found at relatively affordable prices. Since lap steels were more popular in the '40s and '50s than they are today, there's always a healthy supply of vintage options with relatively low demand. In short—there are deals to be found in the pages of Reverb.

To play the lap steel, you'll need a tone bar which functions the same way as a slide would on a standard issue electric. There are a variety of tone bars out there, but a basic option like this one from Dunlop is all any beginner needs. Many lap steel players also elect to you use thumb and finger picks, though just using your bare fingers will certainly work fine.

As for amps, most guitar amps will suffice, but Eirik recommends a high-powered transistor or solid-state amp like the Peavey Nashville series. The key thing to remember is that if you already have a regular guitar amp that sounds good, there's no reason to seek out a dedicated amp just for the steel guitar.

And finally, there are pedals. Of course, you don't need pedals to play your lap steel, but adding a volume pedal like the Ernie Ball 6180 is an easy way to add some expressive range to your setup—you can use it to roll off some pick attack or to create interesting swells similar to a pedal steel. A compressor placed before the volume pedal is also a common addition to any lap steel rig, as are reverb and overdrive pedals.

Once you have the gear you need, you'll need to choose a tuning which will determine much of your playing style and sound. There are a lot of options here, though many players default to C6 tuning, tuned as C-E-G-A-C-E on a 6-string instrument. New lap steelists will often opt for an open tuning such as open E (tuned bottom to top as E-B-E-G#-B-E).

The advantage of an open tuning is that you can play chords more or less instantly, making the leap from a regular guitar that much easier. Regardless of which tuning you start with, experimentation is key. Start by strumming some chords and then try your hand at picking some individual scales and lead lines.

Watch the video above for more on the ins and outs of the lap steel guitar, and click the links below to find the right instrument to get started you on your lap steel journey.


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