Convert an acoustic or electric 6-string into a soulful tone machine for just a few bucks.
If you have a flattop acoustic or an electric 6-string gathering dust under the bed, here’s a thought: Why not convert it into a lap slide guitar? The project is simple and you can pull it off for about $25, including a fresh set of strings. Best of all, it’s completely reversible, so if you decide lap slide isn’t for you, no worries—you can return your instrument to its original state in a matter of minutes. But once you start exploring swampy lap slide licks and grooves—as well as the open tunings that make them possible—you may not want to turn back. And instead of acquiring yet another overdrive pedal, you might start collecting tone bars. (They’re very addictive, so don’t say we didn’t warn you.) We’ll dive deeper into bars in a moment.
Here’s a bit of background info, in case you’re new to the world of lap slide. This form of slide differs from bottleneck guitar in several important ways. For starters, the hand position for bottleneck resembles standard guitar—your thumb rests behind the neck and your fingers curl up over the strings from the treble side. And most guitarists are familiar with the hollow slide or bottleneck that encircles one of your fretting fingers.
Photo 1 — Photo by Andy Ellis
To play lap style, however, you lay the guitar flat and engage the strings from above using a solid cylindrical bar (sometimes called a “steel”) that’s gripped with what we’re used to thinking of as the fretting hand (Photo 1). Because the bar is heavier than a bottleneck slide, the strings are raised high off the neck—too high to allow any fretwork.
This overhand approach offers several benefits, including the ability to slant the bar to hit intervals that are impossible to reach with standard bottleneck slide. For example, with practice you’ll be able to use a slanted bar to play fluid major and minor sixths—a staple of Memphis soul, country, and blues. You’ll also be able to play blazing licks by rapidly alternating between “bar notes” and open strings, à la bluegrass Dobro. Here, speed comes from your wrist, not your fingers, and this opens up a host of possibilities for rapid riffage.
Almost all lap slide guitarists play fingerstyle—some with bare fingertips, some with fingerpicks—and like skilled bottleneck players, they use the picking hand for both plucking and muting the strings.
Photo 2 — Photo by Andy Ellis
We’ll draft two guitars to demonstrate the conversion process: a Fender Telecoustic with a wood top and one-piece fiberglass body, and an early-’80s Kramer electric with an aluminum neck and Gibson 490T humbucker. Photo 2 gives you an idea of what your guitar will look like after it’s transformed. Notice how high the strings are raised off the fretboard, and also how widely the strings are spaced at the nut. In fact, string spacing is virtually uniform from bridge to headstock.
Photo 3 — Photo by Andy Ellis
Flattop conversion. We’ll start with the acoustic guitar, which is a bit trickier than an electric. You’ll need two items for this project—an arched metal extension nut and a bone saddle blank (Photo 3). The extension nut sits atop the regular nut and jacks the strings up off the fretboard, and the tall bone saddle accomplishes the same task at the bridge. Your local music store might stock extension nuts, and they’re also available online. You can pick up the type shown here for as little as $4, and Grover makes a deluxe model for around $9.
Photo 4 — Photo by Andy Ellis
Taking stock. Before you buy a bone blank, you’ll need to do a little homework. Saddle slots are typically 1/8" (almost 3.5 mm) or 3/32" wide, and blanks are cut accordingly, so you’ll need to determine which size is right for your guitar.
First remove the strings and stash the bridge pins where they won’t get lost. Next, carefully lift the original saddle from the slot. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to coax it out with your fingers, but if the saddle won’t budge, pad your guitar top with a few hand towels and use a small pair of pliers to gently rock the saddle out of its slot. Go slowly and carefully. If the fit is really snug, use an object with a narrow, pointed metal tip (a dental tool works well) to gradually pry the saddle up from one end of the slot. From there, use the pliers to complete the job. Save the original saddle so you can quickly reconfigure your guitar for fretting again in the future.
Now measure the saddle slot width (Photo 4). If the gap falls between 1/8" and 3/32", buy the thicker 1/8" saddle and plan to shave off a little width by rubbing the blank lengthwise along a piece of fine sandpaper or against a large flat file. Most saddle blanks are purposely oversized, so expect to sand down the width a little to fit the slot. A saddle blank will set you back less than $10 and is available from eBay vendors and luthier-supply outfits.
Note: Some blanks are curved on top to match the fretboard radius, but that’s not what we’re after here. Be sure to get a blank with a level top because you want the strings to rest in a flat plane and correctly match the playing surface of your bar.
Photo 5 — Photo by Andy Ellis
Shaping the saddle. Once you’ve got your saddle blank, you’ll need to trim it lengthwise. Measure the saddle slot (Photo 5), mark the saddle, and use a small hobby saw (Photo 6) to remove the excess length. Take your time and watch your fingers.
Photo 6 — Photo by Andy Ellis
To prevent the string windings from separating and the plain strings from snapping as they emerge from the bridge-pin holes, put a gentle slope in the saddle’s rear side with a small flat file (Photo 7). Easy does it—you don’t have to remove much. Keep the saddle’s top surface level and maintain a crisp right angle on the leading edge where the strings head toward the soundhole.
Photo 7 — Photo by Andy Ellis
Protect your picking hand from any sharp edges by rounding off the two corners that will be exposed when the saddle sits in its slot. When you’re done, polish the saddle with 1500 grit micro-fine sandpaper and slip it into the bridge.
Stringing up. Lap slide guitarists often play in open G or open D (check out this story’s sidebar, which lists major and minor forms of both tunings). Because they’re pitched lower than standard tuning, you can slap a burly set of strings on your acoustic without fear of damaging it. A set of medium-gauge (.013-.056) acoustic strings sound great for these dropped tunings, and mediums do a better job of supporting the bar than a light set—another advantage of going up a gauge.
Photo 8 — Photo by Andy Ellis
Before you install the extension nut, put all six strings on the guitar. Tighten them enough so they align, yet leave some slack so you can lift the strings and slide the arched nut over the original nut. Photo 8 shows a finished saddle installed in the bridge. Notice how the strings hug the rounded back of the saddle as they rise through the top, and how they leave the saddle precisely at its perpendicular front edge.
Photo 9 — Photo by Andy Ellis
Installing the extension nut. Slip the extension nut in place and center it, drop the strings into their respective slots, and then add tension to both outside strings to hold the new nut in place. It will extend over each side of the fretboard—that’s okay (Photo 9).
Now choose an open tuning and bring the strings to pitch. Don’t worry if string tension shifts the arched nut slightly to one side or the other, that’s normal. Gently tap the sides of the extension nut so the strings run parallel to the fretboard.
Lap slide tunings abound, but a solid place to start is with open D and open G—the classic blues and rock slide tunings—referenced here to standard. It’s easy to transform both these major tunings to their respective minor versions: To turn open D into open Dm, simply drop the 3rd string a half-step from F# to F. Likewise for open Gm, drop the 2nd string from B to Bb.
Yay, we’re done—it’s time to play! For inspiration, check out “The Slide Guitar of Kelly Joe Phelps.” This short video offers highlights from a superb HomeSpun instructional DVD, and it’s a great way to glimpse the potential of lap slide and see how it differs from bottleneck.
Once your guitar settles in for a few days and you sense it can handle a little extra tension, try increasing the gauges of the 1st and 2nd strings—the two plain ones—to .014 and .018, respectively. This increased girth helps support the bar and adds more booty to your melody notes.
Photo 10 — Photo by Andy Ellis
Electric conversion. This is easy, and all you need is the metal extension nut and a tool to adjust your saddles if they offer individual height adjustment. We’ll start by restringing with heavier strings—a .012 or .013 set is ideal. As before with the acoustic, put on all six strings and add enough tension to align them, but leave enough slack so you can slip the arched nut over the original one. Follow the previous instructions for installing the nut. After it’s in place (Photo 10), tighten all the strings to eliminate any slack, but don’t bring them to pitch quite yet.
Photo 11 — Photo by Andy Ellis
Once the extension nut is secured by string tension, it’s time to focus on the bridge. Like a Strat, our project Kramer has individual height adjustment for each saddle. If your electric has a similar bridge, raise the saddles as high as they can go while still remaining stable. Keep the strings on a flat plane and use a ruler to check your work (Photo 11). As with the bone acoustic saddle, we want to create a level playing surface for the bar.
If you have a Tune-o-matic bridge or a similar unit with fixed saddle height, raise the entire bridge about 1/2" off the body. Keep an eye on the posts—they need to penetrate the bridge enough to keep it stable, so don’t crank it too high. Tune-o-matic bridges are curved to allow their saddles to follow the fretboard radius, and while this is great for fretting, it isn’t ideal for lap slide. However, it won’t be a deal-breaker because the strings will begin to flatten out as they head toward the extension nut.
Tip: If you decide you really love playing lap slide, you can carefully lower the center strings on a TOM bridge to put them on the same plane as the 1st and 6th strings. Using nut slot files, simply deepen the notches holding the center strings. Again, use a ruler to gauge your progress.
After raising the saddles or bridge, you’re ready to tune up and center the extension nut. Finally, raise your pickups a bit to bring them closer to the strings. Choose an open tuning, plug into a grinding amp, and let those licks flow. If you have adjustable pickup pole pieces, listen to the string-to-string balance and tweak accordingly. To see just how gnarly you can get on electric lap slide, watch Ben Harper destroy “Voodoo Chile” before a frenzied festival crowd.
Photo 12 — Photo by Andy Ellis
Bar mania! Tone bars come in different shapes, weights, and materials, including chrome-plated brass, stainless steel, glass, ceramic, polished stone, and anodized aluminum, and Photo 12 illustrates some of the many available options. At the center, surrounded by its modern variants, is the venerable Stevens bar. Preferred by most bluegrass Dobro players and many Weissenborn guitarists, it has a rounded playing surface and grooved sides (or “rails”) to facilitate gripping. The back row includes two bullet-nose chromed cylinders favored by pedal steel guitarists. To their right is a vintage Bakelite beauty dating from the Hawaiian guitar craze of the 1920s. Part of the joy of lap slide lies in experimenting with alternative materials, such as the polished agate bar on the left and the massive-yet-lightweight aircraft aluminum bar on the right.
A rule of thumb: The heavier the bar, the more bass and midrange you’ll get from your strings, but you lose agility with increased weight. Glass, ceramic, and polished stone bars are often lighter than their big stainless-steel counterparts, so they can be easier to move quickly along the strings. Glass may not sound as punchy as steel or brass, but it produces singing highs that work particularly well with distortion.
As with strings and picks, settling on a favorite bar requires a lot of trial and error and many hours of playing. But that’s the whole point, right? Just grab one and see where it leads you. A new sonic world awaits.
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Looking for a compact, “noiseless” way to plug in and play guitar? Check out the brand-new Gibson Digital Amp, available only in the Gibson App.
The new Gibson App simplifies the learning process and brings guitar playing to life for the current and next generation of guitarists in a modern, comprehensive, and intuitive way. The Gibson App is the place to take your guitar playing to the next level. New to the Gibson App is the Gibson Digital Amp, the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediate players and pros to get their sound anywhere. The Gibson Digital Amp is an accessible amplifier for both acoustic and electric guitars, and is currently available for Apple/iOS users--an Android version will debut next year.
Use the Gibson Digital Amp’s jamming guide to get started and transform your sound with built-in effects and pedals, jam to backing tracks, or use it in lessons and songs. The Gibson Digital Amp only requires your phone, and wired headphones for the best playing experience, no cables are needed. The amp features 3 acoustic mic presets, 4 electric amp presets, and 6 effects pedals.
The Gibson Digital Amp is the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediates and pros.
The Gibson App uses a unique two-way, interactive platform to teach guitar students how to do everything from playing their first note to shredding loads of songs. The Gibson App features interactive lessons with thousands of lessons and songs. Learn the songs step-by-step with video tutorials from superstar artists and pro guitarists in the “Gibson App Guide.” The Gibson App also includes the new Digital Amp, a built-in tuner, a metronome, Gibson TV, and new songs are added every week. New Gibson App Guides are added regularly and include Tommy “Spaceman” Thayer’s favorite iconic KISS guitar solos, Richie Faulkner’s (Judas Priest) “Guide to Metal,” Jared James Nichols’ “Guide to Blues,” CELISSE’s “Guide to Songwriting,” and more.
The Gibson App uses “audio augmented reality” to provide dynamic feedback to students as they learn and play. As you pluck a note or strum a chord, the Gibson App listens to your guitar and gives you real-time feedback on your playing. It also gives students a more contextual learning experience: Instead of learning chords and scales in a vacuum, you’re able to practice on a scrolling tablature that lets you hear how you sound with the backing of a virtual band. That means you can load up “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “American Girl" by Tom Petty, “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, “Where is My Mind" by Pixies, “Country Roads” by John Denver, “I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett, “Heaven” by Kane Brown, “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran, “Killer Queen” by Queen,“ Sweet Child O’ Mine,” by Guns ‘N Roses, “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden, “Roxanne” by The Police, and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, and “Don't Look Back In Anger” by Oasis and hundreds more songs in a wide range of genres, to see how your play matches up with such seminal tracks.
As you’re playing, the Gibson App gives you feedback on timing and tone, ensuring that students are getting active input on how their play is developing. The Gibson App appeals to players of all levels, it’s not just for beginners looking to learn a few chords; the app can assist seasoned guitarists who are working their way through difficult riffs, want to learn their favorite songs, or polish their advanced techniques.
Players can also challenge themselves by speeding up or slowing the tabs. Like having a full-time guitar teacher, the Gibson App keeps track of all your progress and adjusts lesson plans accordingly. The Gibson App released a “backing track mode” which supports both lesson and song playback without headphones, so users can self-select what works best for their current environment. And that’s not all: the Gibson App also packs in a fully-featured digital tuner for guitar first-timers, there’s even a detailed lesson on how to tune your instrument, a multi-function metronome, players can connect to free one-on-one consultations with Gibson’s Virtual Guitar Tech team, and to direct links to the Gibson, Epiphone, and Kramer online stores for easy shopping for guitars, gear, apparel, and accessories.
Learn Guitar With The Gibson App
The Gibson App is more than a pocket-sized guitar teacher, it’s loaded with an archive of exclusive content and original programming from its premium and accessible award-winning online network, Gibson TV, featuring music icons telling their best guitar stories, with more episodes and installments added regularly. Users can watch Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi share insights and tales from his decades-long career on the series “Icons,” dive into Joe Bonamassa’s assortment of legendary Les Paul guitars on “The Collection,” or see how Gibson’s iconic instruments are made in their Nashville factory from body to binding on “The Process.” There’s even a series called “The Scene” that focuses on backstage stories from hallowed music venues from coast to coast like The Troubadour and Grand Ole Opry.
The Gibson App free version features a few lessons a day; the premium version of the Gibson App offers full access and a 14-day free trial, then costs $19.99/£16.49 monthly or $119.99/£98.99 yearly.
For more information, please visit gibson.com.
This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
Belltone Guitars, as part of their Custom-Select System curated offering of pickups, has partnered McNelly pickups to create a one-of-a-kind retro-vibe P-90 pickup in the standard Filtertron size format. This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl, and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
The McNelly P-90 Foil-Coil comes housed in a ‘raw’ nickel outer casing with a dull nickel foil face with metal mount screw gromets to complete the ‘new-vintage’ aesthetic, making it a perfect choice for your signature Belltone custom build. Available exclusively through Belltone Guitars.
Check out the Custom-Select System belltoneguitars.com to preview the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons and all our standard and selectable components available to create your own signature Belltone. Then visit the Dream Lab on our website and select either model B-Classic ONE with its top binding or B-Classic TWO with its arm and body contours select your body color from our wide range of offerings, select your neck profile of either standard ‘C’ or thicker ’59 Round Back and either Maple or Rosewood fingerboard followed by your tuners, pickguard, and strings. Finally, review our curated custom-designed, and unique pickup selection to locate the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons to complete your signature build.
Builds start at just over $2,300.00 with a custom case and shipping included.
For more information, please visit belltoneguitars.com.
McNelly P 90 Foil Tron video Sep27
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses.
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the release of the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses. The new Relentless P and Relentless J series pickups feature the Relentless cover designed in collaboration with Billy Sheehan.
As with the Relentless pickups, we removed all the hard edges from the standard P Bass and standard J Basspickups, and added an arch to the top of the pickups to bring the sensing coils and pole pieces closer to the strings. These improvements increase the dynamic range and make active circuitry unnecessary.
The Relentless P and Relentless J pickups incorporate Neodymium magnets and produce 70 percent more output than traditional passive pickups, and they’re dead quiet due to the incorporation of metal covers and foil-shielded cables. To dial in (or fine-tune) the individual string output, the Relentless P and Relentless J include eight adjustable pole pieces. These pickups also have a broad magnetic field so you can even bend notes without volume dropout.
DiMarzio’s extra shielding makes the Relentless P and Relentless J better for both recording and stage performances. We’ve mounted them onto robust .09375” thick circuit board base plates to eliminate the annoying protruding mounting screws — ultimately creating a more comfortable and consistent foundation to rest your fingers on.
The new Relentless P steps beyond the traditional P-Bass sound and can only be described as massive. It has more of everything: more volume, beefier lows, a growling midrange, and crispy highs with better individual string definition.
The Relentless J incorporates a new invention, (patent pending) parallelogram-shaped coils, offering an expanded mid-range punch, snappy highs, precise lows, and a new dimension to the sound of the Relentless series pickups.
Relentless P and Relentless J pickups will breathe new life into any bass, increase playability, and work well for any style of music from Motown to metal.
DiMarzio’s Relentless P, Relentless J Bridge, Relentless J Neck, and Relentless J pair are made in the U.S.A. and may now be ordered for immediate delivery.
Suggested List Price for the Relentless P is $169.00 (MAP $119.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Bridge and Relentless J neck is $155.00 (MAP $109.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Pair is $296.00 (MAP 209.99).
For more information, please visit our website at dimarzio.com.