A guitar broken down to its most basic elements is no more than wood and strings. Worland Guitars’ Live Edge lap steel is just that: a slab of walnut, bark and all, and six strings. The Live Edge series is intended more as wall art or functional sculpture, however these are fully functional electric guitars with pickups and can be plugged in and played just like a Dobro. You might be tempted to think that Jim Worland is more of an esoteric builder, but he’s very rooted in the history of handmade acoustics and archtops. He ascribes his influences to Martin and Gibson, while looking to contemporaries like Grit Laskin when implementing the “Griskin-style” beveled armrest on his OM model.
Worland began as a hobbyist 20 years ago with little more than a passion for guitars and a background in design engineering. He says the hobby “got out of control,” and in 1997 he became a full-time luthier, creating Worland Guitars in Rockford, Illinois. He started building acoustic and archtop guitars, and slowly broke the mold, using different tonewoods like walnut, redwood and amboyna burl, as well as exploring new shapes, string configurations and instruments. By building both traditional and exotic instruments, his two different styles of guitars work like a ying and yang for his creative motivation.
Worland’s guitars start at around $1000 for the Worlatone hollowbody electric baritone and go up to $5700 for the Archtop model. He allows customers to customize any of his models and welcomes any crazy or outrageous instrument ideas to help feed his passion.
Live Edge Lap Steel
In woodworking circles, the term live edge refers to lumber that is milled straight from the log and includes the outside surface of the tree. This lap steel is a slab of milled walnut with a single-coil pickup, a top-mounted output jack, and six strings. The Live Edge series will include an electric guitar, a bass, and even an electric harp guitar or two.
Worland designed and built this OM-style guitar with Gary Phillips, owner of Paradise Guitars. Phillips purchased the wood and other components and helped determine various design elements. It features a curly redwood top with abalone purfling, a “Griskin-style” armrest, ziricote back and sides, bound ebony fingerboard, and amboyna burl headstock and rosette.
The HarpaStar is built from a solid piece of mahogany and has an ebony fingerboard and a 24.9" scale. It features 20 strings—six standard, six bass and eight “super-treble”—and three single-coils. Worland says the singlecoils work best for the HarpaStar because they provide high output with a clean sound. Surprisingly, the HarpaStar fits in a standard Strat-size guitar case or gig bag.
This Archtop is Worland’s take on jazz guitars from the ‘30s and ‘40s. The model shown here features tiger-striped maple back, sides and neck, as well as a flat Sitka spruce top finished in black lacquer. The top is formed into an arch with internal bracing. The hardware includes an adjustable ebony bridge, chrome trapeze-style tailpiece, and white pearloid pickguard. Worland describes the wood combinations and oval soundhole as “more open and mellow than a typical carved archtop guitar, although not as bright and percussive.”