Sitting V

An Experiment

May 2008

This is a prototype lap steel guitar.

On a “normal” guitar—or what a steel-playing friend of mine refers to as “armpit guitar”—you push the strings down against frets to shorten the vibrating portion and therefore change their pitch. On a steel guitar, a metal bar called a steel (hence the name) is placed against the strings to shorten them, kind of like slide guitar. There are often no frets, just lines to give the player a visual reference, and the strings are way above the fretboard. A steel guitar is any instrument made to played in this manner, and a lap steel is specifically one that sits on your lap, as opposed to a console steel or pedal steel, which usually have legs and you kind of sit at them like a piano.

Steel guitars are used in lots of music genres, and can obviously be used for anything a player wants, but in the Venn diagram of steel guitar music and music where a Flying V might make an appearance, there is little overlap.

This was mostly an experiment. I don’t actually know how to play steel guitar, and this is neither how a typical one would be made nor as metal-looking as it could be, but I built it with things that I had on hand. I figured I could always take the hardware off and reuse it elsewhere if needed, but it’s managed to stick around.


The Lap V is made of reclaimed redwood decking. It has a maple fretboard, but instead of frets, the fret slots are inlayed with purfling strips. The dots are 1/4″ aluminum rod and the nut is a small piece of angle iron. It’s bound, poorly, with the leftover binding from other projects. The pickup is a cheapo zebra humbucker stuck in a cheapo bridge, and the only control is volume. It has Grover tuners that were salvaged from an old broken acoustic. It’s finished in hardware store shellac, although “finished” may be overstating it.


I’m pretty sure that everything about this is wrong for what most people want in a lap steel, but it’s perfect for my purposes, which are “none.” I own a steel and a bunch of extremely painful finger picks, but I never really learned how to play it correctly. I mostly just sit on open chords and use it to make weird noises. In the following is a sample, it starts off straight into a Fender Deluxe and then I add in some Cutie Cutie Cupcake, delay, and when it gets really out of hand, a Typically Unfazed.