10/25/2013

c.1935 Slingerland "MayBell" Lap Steel Electric Guitar




I've now (Mar 2015) entirely done-over this post both with photos and description as I've changed the instrument a bunch. This lap steel has been on consignment since 2013 and while it was very cool with the original pickup, I knew it could do better. It came to me with the original, 2-bar Regal type pickup which is very low-output and while rich in tonal character, all but useless for modern players as there was too much background noise on the pickup to make it compete at gained volume. Great for recording: not useful to a general player.

So, just recently, I bought this from the consignor and set about replacing the old pickup with a new Bill Lawrence 30s-looking blade pickup, new (side-mounted) jack, and replacement "mounting" assembly. I styled my job after the late-30s Gibson lap-steel aesthetic but used a cream housing plate because I've seen other MayBell lap steels that've used the same. I wanted to keep it "in the same vein" as what was possible at the time.

The end result is a practical, great-sounding and transparent (clip above is straight into my mixer bypassing any amp filters) lap steel with the "feel" of an older, early lap steel -- by which I mean the longer 24" scale, Hawaiian-stylized body with 11 1/4" width on the lower bout, and cool semi-rounded neck profile.


The whole instrument is dark-stained birch with a two-tone "sunburst" effect that gives a very convincing "subdued mahogany sunburst" look. There's weather-checking and various wear and tear throughout but it does look nice.


This still has its original metal extender nut and lower original bone nut. Isn't it weird that they doubled-up from the factory? It was the style, though. Often the squareneck acoustics came exactly the same way.

The tuners are not original but they're period strips and work well.


Cream celluloid dots are set in a dyed-maple fretboard with celluloid fret lines.


My cream housing is styled as close as I could get to a vintage-looking sort of housing. I have one volume pot on this so that the player can do "swells" if need be. The pickup itself is humbucking but sounds like a very clean, mellow single coil Strat pickup.


Please excuse the ground wire running from the tailpiece. This is another "modern" feature I added-in. and it's not too obvious The bridge is rosewood with a bone saddle and tacked in place with a few dots of glue but is otherwise "floating."

The tailpiece itself is actually just a cut-off end of a regular archtop guitar trapeze tail. Cute!




The large, Gibsonesque headstock is pretty cool.


I love the way the neck was smoothed into the body like this...




Originally the jack came out of the same housing that the pickup was mounted in. I drilled a new hole and sunk this flush-mount style jack in the side, just like on many other old lap steels. It's actually a really good placement for a lap player as it doesn't get in your way while playing.


The original, beat-up old chip case comes with it. It will be perfectly functional with a few choice strips of black duct-tape, if desired.

1 comment:

NannieB said...

What do you figure the value of this instrument is?