3/01/2013

c.1939 Oahu 229K Lap Steel Guitar




This is a great-sounding and beautiful 1939 Oahu 229K. These have a tone unlike any other period lap steel: they've got chime and brightness (something I associate more with 50s Fenders) mixed with sustain and a sweet airy Hawaiian tone. In many ways they handle more like the real acoustic Hawaiian guitars than other lap steels.

Part of that is the long 25" scale (2" longer than most lap steels) which puts nice tension on even a light set of electric strings. The other part is the good woods (solid mahogany throughout) and the big old single-coil pickup with its 6 individual big cylindrical poles.

This instrument was made by Kay (in Chicago) for Oahu.

You can look up this model in the first few pages of this Oahu catalog I just posted.


The mahogany body is built of one center section and two wings. It's bound in cream celluloid on the top and back edges which dresses it up a bit like Gibson EH-125s and the like. The pickup cover is also wood and looks grand, especially since all surfaces are lightly "shaded" in sunburst style.


Oahu decal at the headstock and a big honking original bone nut. Everything on this instrument is original as well, except for the black tuner buttons which I popped on, but they're "vintage style" so they're not obvious. Those "split shaft" tuners are SafeTiString tuners which load into the middle of the shaft like later Klusons.


Pearl-dot rosewood fretboard with real frets! Most lap steels had painted-on markers at best but many of the Oahus sport real frets which also echo the earlier acoustic Hawaiian guitars.



I love the bakelite radio knobs and aluminum dials plates!


The cast "pyramid bridges" on these look so friggin cool. No other lap steel bridge comes close to how nice-looking these are.









That crackle-finish metal backplate opens up to allow access to all the wiring (which is put into beautifully-routed chambers). All the electronics work great but the tone pot has a bit of crackle. Also, like other vintage tone pots, it rolls off very slowly until you get right to the "bottom" of it, at which point it gets dark pretty fast.

The little switch on the rear of the plate drops output of the instrument down for use with (over-loud) amplifiers. At the time this was made, many amps were simply "wide open" in terms of volume on the input, so you controlled amp volume via the volume knob on the guitar. This little switch gave you a bit more freedom in tweaking your volume knob so you could "step down" the output to begin with.


Did I mention the beautiful, plush-purple hard case? The original (destroyed) cable is still in the parts pocket and this guitar comes with a kick-butt celluloid-wrapped (I think) "bullet" steel of the type I treasure myself: they give a good, clean sound with a sweet tonality with almost zero effort vs. a regular chromed or nickel-plated metal type. It's like the ease of using flatwounds without using flatwounds!


The case exterior is definitely "used" but the case itself is good to go.

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