7/09/2016

1900s Unmarked Hollowbody Lap Steel Conversion





Update: Since originally posting I've converted this into a "hollowbody electric lap steel" with the help of a 1980s (early 80s) Fender alnico/plastic bobbin pickup, jack, and volume pot. It's got a classic Fender-y chime to it with a bit of "air" thrown in for good measure. I've updated the pictures and soundclip. And now back to the original post...

This was a customer's guitar (in a big batch of instruments I've been working-on for him) but after we talked-over its many structural issues, I took it in trade and converted it to a Hawaiian with a fresh bridge, funky flush-fret markers, a tall nut, and "flipped" tuners, among other repairs. I've been needing something for Hawaiian/Dobro-style play hanging around, anyhow.

The guitar itself has been played hard and began life as a tailpiece-style steel-string guitar from around 1900-1910 (I'd bet on the earlier range of that). I'm pretty sure this was made by Harmony in Chicago, but of course can't confirm that. It would've been lovely to set it up as a "regular guitar" again, where it would be able to saucily belt-out blues or gypsy-jazz licks (yes, that's sort of what they sound like), but suffice-to-say, the neck is shot.


Interestingly, this is a solid spruce over solid poplar guitar, and as you'd expect for the size (a little under "0" -- around size 2 at a hair over 12" on the lower bout), it's a dry and snappy-sounding instrument acoustically, being ladder-braced. Plugged-in it's an aggressive chime-monster well-suited to "mellowing-up" the amp and sing-songing Hawaiian sounds or turning-up and blasting some blues.

I have it strung with regular electric 10s and tuned to open E (EBEG#BE).




The fretboard is stained maple and has become quite "mealy" over time, especially with all the wear to it. You can also see that I've pulled the frets (they were all loose and falling-out) and simply shoved some thin veneer wood into the slots to act as markers.

I'm glad I didn't bother with resetting the neck and trying to fudge it out as a standard player -- the neck began to add a bit of relief when tuning-up, though it's holding station just fine. This has a short 24 1/8" scale length.




The pickup is off of a Musicmaster bass from the late 70s/early 80s but in actuality it's a Strat/Mustang-style 6-string unit with a solid cover. This is the earliest iteration of the plastic bobbin Fender pup used on 80s Strats and the poles are actually staggered to suit unwound-G stringing.


Because the top was "virgin," I could put whatever bridge I wanted on it. This is one someone included with a package to me a long time ago (Scott in Cali, was that you?) and I've been figuring I'd use it on a Hawaiian for a while (because of the straight saddle). I definitely do like the look!

To it I added-back the original tailpiece and used some leftover brass/bolt-mounted bridge pins (from my parts-bin) to make it a hybrid between pin/tailpiece load.



While the back/sides are colored to look like rosewood, they're actually poplar.


The neck is poplar, too, and the back of it has a ton of dings, nicks, and scratches.



The "backstrip" is a decal.







The original tuners were actually rusted to oblivion, but a set of old 50s Harmony-sourced units is doing the job just fine.


New screws for the tailpiece (it originally used nails), a new Switchcraft jack, and new ebony endpin finish-off this area.

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