Reader Guitar of the Month: Scrap Steel

A sound designer decides to build an electric baritone lap steel out of discarded timber and leftover guitar parts.

 

Name: Paul Ridout

Location: Falmouth, Cornwall, United Kingdom
Guitar: Scrap Steel

I’ve spent almost a lifetime failing to play an instrument, and the guitar has mainly been my unfortunate target, despite spending most of the ’80s and early ’90s earning my crust as a synth programmer (sound designer in modern parlance). However, I’ve enjoyed building “sound-producing things.” At art college in the ’60s, I adapted various junk-shop acoustic guitars after reading about old bluesmen using 9-strings. Adding extra machine heads and experimenting with string combinations (octave pairs on the bottom three or unison pairs on the top) and string heights. Lap steel and an open tuning seemed, incorrectly, to be a possible direction for an incapable guitarist.

My interest in attempting to play waned until recently, when I discovered an article on the joys of building a lap steel from a scrap 2x4. Before I knew it, the world of self-build and all its variants had rekindled my desire. I wasn’t alone: There were other seemingly crazy individuals out there hacking all manner of unlikely objects into strange and beautiful instruments.

I decided to try my hand at a “scrap steel,” which led to a collection of adapted instruments, including 1/2- and 3/4-size electric “strats” converted to electric baritone ukulele and tenor guitars. One special conversion is a Washburn (Oscar Schmidt) steel-strung kid’s acoustic revamped as an electro-acoustic baritone ukulele with under-saddle and soundhole pickups wired to a stereo jack to give two separately controllable outputs.

During all of this, I was intrigued by the concept of an electric baritone lap steel, given that most of my creations lacked any bottom. Through research, I found such a thing didn’t exist commercially. So, I set about building one from scrap timbers and various electrical bits that were left over from earlier experiments. Some timber from a demolition dumpster, a Telecaster pickup switch, a Fender bass bridge cover, some leftover white-pearl scratchplate, a B.C. Rich humbucker, and a generic single-coil were just about all I needed. Tuned A–E–A–E–A–C# with a 27"-scale, she makes a wonderful racket. Needless to say, I still can’t play (solo or with others), but I do enjoy my noise.

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