The next step in the learning curve after the first prototype:
A few years later, while still in highschool, a friend of mine introduced me to the music of a certain Ben Harper...Dude! Could the man play the guitar! How the hell on Earth could he play the slide like that? (remember, this was before the internet democratization and I hadn't seen any of Harper's videos or pictures showing him play the lapsteel...I thought the guy did his trick with an electric and a slide...)
Later still, Ben Harper came to play in Portugal, in a summer open air festival, and a few days after he was all over the music press available here. I remember like if it was today of a whole page picture featuring Ben playing one of his Cole Clark laps...and there was light...I had to have one of those...
I couldn't buy one (and even if I could I'm yet to see a lapsteel in an instrument store for sale in Portugal), let alone have one built or shipped from abroad, so I started thinking about building my own. After all, lapsteels don't need no freakin' frets and that was the only item I could't buy or build to have my DIY instrument project going!
I've made some lapsteel prototypes before this one (4 of them to be precise, including a 12 stringed bastard resembling a dried cod fish) and in each build I've learned something, either about scale lengths, pickup positioning, pros and cons of hollow or solid bodies, circuitry, the works...
Now I've decided to put everything together in one decent, practical and fully useable instrument and Pedro Cabral #5 was born. The next lines are sort of a diary of the process.
If you're interested in building your own lapsteel here's a great site to get you successfully (and as cheaply as reasonably possible) from start to finish. (#5 was based on this, minus my own tweaks): http://buildyourguitar.com/resources/lapsteel/
Requirements: One piece hardwood body/neck 6 string lapsteel, featuring a single humbucker with tone, volume and coil tap control circuit. Fixed bridge (although a vibrato equipped version might be worth considering). Simple shape. Simple to build with the tools I allready had available (from Fulô's maintenance).
The Wood: A 800x100x40 (mm) plank of fine, hard, heavy Afizélia wood.
Overall shape cut out and sanded down, pick-up cavity main drills done (waiting to be chisel finished), tuner holes drilled, headstock reinforcment epoxied in place.
At this stage I also made the scale. It was cut from a 3 by 45mm strip of mahogany. It was glued on the body of the guitar and the fret slots marked and cut with a hack saw. The frets themselves are strips of thin veneer glued in, plained and sanded down flush to the scale. The position markers are made of round wood pins, readily available at home&garden stores and also cut and sanded flush to the surface.
Decoration. Nothing much, really...Just some discrete veneer strip on the mahogany "fretboard" sides and my signature and date on the headstock (written right over the first layer of varnish. This adds some depth effect to the writing after all the other coats are apllied and insures that it won't go off without sanding) ...
A curious add-on were the cork feet. I found on my earlier projects that playing with the guitar standing with its bare wooden back on top of a hard surface (like a table) produces al sorts of nasty and unwanted resonances. The cork feet (wich I already tried in my Lenco turntable for the same reason) solved this problem, providing isulation with no noticeable adverse effects (like damping the guitar's dynamics). Probably a trio of 3M rubber feet would have done the same, but they woudn't look half as cool... ;)
Surface finish: 5 coats of synthetic varnish with wet&dry sandpaper smoothing between each one. This process took several weeks to complete, the problem being synthetic varnish painstakingly slow to harden enough to sand down and I had to wait 1 week between coats. While it has the advantage of a nice "aged" finish (due to its inherent "yellowness") I'm sure it was the last time I used synthetic varnish in such projects...I'll try polyurethane next time...
Gathering the hardware parts in Portugal (mission almost impossible)
Pickup: HotRails Double Rail BC: http://www.mrjackguitars.com/wlinepick.php
Machine Heads: http://www.sonigate.com/pt/product/show_details/40744/6-Carrilhoes-para-Electrica-GOTOH-SGM05-6L-Chrome
Bridge: Partsland http://www.sonigate.com/pt/product/show_details/46830/Ponte-PARTSLAND-para-Guitarra-Electrica-Cromado
Strings: Fender Stainless Flat: http://www.sonigate.com/pt/product/show_details/39405/Pack-Cordas-FENDER-Stainless-Flatwound-50XL-1150
Nut: DIY (aluminium corner cut to size)
Electronics: Any electronics store or, obviously, ebay...
You'd be fair in asking why did I go so cheap on components. Well, I'm not swimning in cash and I had to go for the listed solutions. Anyway, I took plenty of care in choosing standard sized parts, so upgrading is always on the "to do" list...This way I got my lapsteel in playable condition ASAP and I still have plenty of room to improve it as needed (and/or possible...).
Keep in mind that these rather cheap parts I chose don't mean crappy sound! Far from it! Later on you'll find an audio clip of #5 barking her guts out througth my beefed up Fender Champ.
Assembly, wiring and testing.
Here's the circuit I chose:
I played the first few chords last night, plugged into my 1/2 watt practice amp, and it does sound great! The improvements from my previous softwood built lapsteel are impressive and the 4 wire humbucker adds some versatility to the lot, also an upgrade from my previous prototypes which featured simple pickups (either single coils or humbuckers prewired in series) salvaged from other people's pickup upgrades.
To build something that works and has some sort of usefulness is always a very rewarding enterprise. Even more so when that build achieves the form of a fully functional item capable of performing without reservations side by side with expensive and well regarded commercially available items. This was the case with this project. #005 is born and able.
Keep tuned for further developments!