If you have ever been confused as to what the difference between a lap steel guitar and a resonator guitar is, you have come to the right place because I am about to dive in and find out for myself. It is not that I do not know, it is just that sometimes a resonator guitar might end up being a lap steel guitar, but some people do not realize that there are many lap steel guitars that do not even resemble a resonator guitar.
If you came here not knowing the many varieties of lap steel guitars in the world, it is ok. I am here to help you out. If you came here knowing everything there is to know about them, just jump ahead and take a look at the best lap steel guitars I have come upon. If you are an enthusiast or a musician, you might even find one you will love and that will not ruin your prospects of paying rent for the month. Whatever it is, the lap steel guitar is one of the more fascinating instruments in the world.
Existing in different forms everywhere, the technique required for playing it is a little different from the guitars you are used to seeing. The sound of the lap steel guitar is varied over the type being played, but a lot of them borrow their structural details from already existing guitars. There are many types available beyond the resophonic guitar, such as the original Hawaiian lap steel guitar or the electric lap steel guitar. Choosing one is entirely up to you and your taste in the music you want to play.
Table of Contents
- What’s The Best Lap Steel Guitar
- Lap Steel Guitar History
- What Does A Lap Steel Guitar Look Like?
- How Do You Play Lap Steel Guitar?
What’s The Best Lap Steel Guitar
|Image||Lap Steel Guitar Model|
|Gold Tone SM Weissenborn Style Hawaiian Steel Guitar||(4.9 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Imperial Royal Hawaiian Classic-T Weissenborn Style Lap Steel Guitar||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Gretsch Electromatic Lap Steel Guitar||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Vorson LT2308 TR 8-String Lap Steel Guitar||(4.7 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Asher Electro Hawaiian Junior Lap Steel Guitar||(4.6 / 5)||Check on Amazon
Lap Steel Guitar History
The history of the lap steel guitar is rather fascinating, especially since it is as much legend as it is history. I mean what other instrument can attribute its creation to a single 7-year-old boy having fun. The story goes that once towards the end of the 1800s, somewhere in the year 1885, a young boy with the name Joseph Kekuku was walking along the train tracks on his native island of O’ahu, Hawaii. The boy, as boys do, did not have much to do, so he was spending his day picking up random things and using them to play his guitar.
Being 7 I am surprised he did not break his guitar walking, unattended, by railroad tracks, but then again I am not here to question the validity of the tale. The story goes that he picked up a loose bolt, at least I hope it was loose, from the ground by the train tracks and dragged it along the strings of his guitar. It happened to produce a sound, one that the 7-year-old found rather interesting. The rest is history, or as I imagine it to be, a very annoying 10 years for the parents.
Apparently, over the next few years, little Joseph started developing a technique where he used the blade of a knife (his parents must’ve hated the instrument at that point) to play the guitar. Eventually, the technique became more sophisticated and Joseph started using a slide to play the guitar, which at some point started being put in his lap while he played. The structure of the instrument changed and it finally became the lap steel guitar we know and love so much today.
Not as much as in the 1920s and 1930s in the United States of America though. The instrument blew up and became the fad of the time, just like Gin and Tonic and Jazz Hands. People started buying it and playing it, and blues, country, and bluegrass started benefiting from the instrument. Hawaiian music did too, though it benefited more from the fact that it became popular together with the instrument since it gained a lot simply by having the instrument be a part of it for a long time already.
At the end of the 1930s, the lap steel guitar became the first instrument in the world to be electronically amplified. The popularity had brought it into high demand and new people were looking at new ways to play it, making it the perfect instrument to put amps on. The experiment was a success and now we have a whole slew of electronic instruments thanks to the lap steel guitar.
What Does A Lap Steel Guitar Look Like?
Good question, with an expansive answer. There are all kinds of lap steel guitars, ranging from the good old Resophonic guitars all the way to guitars that look like strings stretched across a box. The truth is that every lap steel guitar can be brought down to a very basic design, upon which some variations will be made by manufacturers, to produce a unique effect or look.
The basic lap steel guitar has a soundbox reminiscent of the Spanish guitar. The soundbox amplifies the sound played by the musician, just like in any other acoustic guitar. The strings of the lap steel guitar are elevated both at the nut and the bridge ends of the instrument so that the strings never touch the frets of the guitar. There can be any number of strings, but typically there are six or eight strings, with 10 being less common and any more than that being specialty instruments.
How Do You Play Lap Steel Guitar?
Playing a lap steel guitar is a whole lot different from what you are used to with the mainstream guitar. First of all, the strings never touch the fret – the change of pitch comes from bending them at certain points. This is why the lap steel guitar will be fretless most of the time, having only marking for reference. It might take a few tries to master the technique, but the result is worth it. The guitar is also placed on your lap for the sake of making it easier to use the fretless technique.
Some lap guitars do use their frets, such as the resophonic guitar. Sometimes the average lap steel guitar does also give you the option of fretted playing, but the sound changes slightly as a result.
Joseph Kekuku is an interesting character in the history of music, as much as he is tragic. He was a man who was incredibly talented, experimenting with guitar-playing techniques for many years as a child. A man that invented an instrument and a new playing technique, he definitely deserves to be remembered and revered. In life he was extremely famous. When he was thirty years old, after perfecting his lap steel guitar technique, he set off the island to travel the world.
He started with vaudeville theaters in the United States of America and traveled beyond, into fame in the US, to Europe, and around the world. It is a shame that he lived only to the young age of 52 and it is a harsh reality that he never got to return to his small village in Hawaii. A man that brought the world the Hawaiian culture, that gifted the world so much, only to lose himself to the world, never to see his home again.
Reading about the best lap steel guitars and playing them, it is appropriate to think of him. He is the one who gave us this gift. I just hope that sometimes, when the lap steel guitar is played in its homeland, on the island of O’ahu, the spirit of Joseph Kekuku gets to enjoy the beaches and the waves battering against the sands, his being projected through the sound waves produced by the instrument, brought once again to Hawaii.
I hope that his spirit gets to enjoy the moments of nostalgia, remembering himself walking along the tracks of a railroad, or practicing his guitar techniques as a teenager. I hope you will be paying homage to him through your performance as well.