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Author Topic:  What types of lap steels best capture 1940s/1950s sound
David Famularo


From:
New Zealand
Post Posted 16 Mar 2017 8:25 pm     Reply with quote

Kia Ora

I live in New Zealand and two years ago bought my first lap steel - an SX model which I assume is a cheaply made Chinese product. I enjoy playing it but it has more of a Hawaiian sound and at some stage I would like to buy a lap steel (or non-pedal steel of another type?) that captures the tone of country music from Western Swing to Hank Williams circa 1940s/1950s. Since I would probably end up buying online what should I look for to get that sound? A particular make? A particular amp? A particular era of manufacture? Are there any modern manufacturers that make models that get that sound that anyone would recommend? Thanks in advance for any replies.
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David M Brown


From:
California, USA
Post Posted 16 Mar 2017 9:32 pm     Reply with quote

Does your SX have a p90-style pickup?

My 8 string SX does, and the tone benefited from raising the whole pickup closer to the strings.

However it is not going to get that Fender Stringmaster tone, although with clever amp settings you could get close.

Since I am trying to get a Hawaiian sound, it's OK for me...and I use my 8 string less than my 6 string steels, too.

Other popular steels were made by Bigsby and Gibson, among others.

I wonder how much is also in the playing style itself, too. I'm curious what the folks with more knowledge than I do have to say.
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Levi Gemmell


From:
New Zealand
Post Posted 16 Mar 2017 9:47 pm     Reply with quote

If you're trying to get something here in NZ, David, I know somebody looking to sell a '60s Guyatone D-8 (made in Japan), and I understand that they're pretty reputable simulations of the classic Stringmasters.

My teacher plays a blonde Guyatone D-8 just the same as the one I'm talking about on the market, and I'm personally convinced they have something of that sound. I believe in recent times I even saw someone post about them on here.

Anyway, I sent you a PM. Tēnā koe e hoa! Smile
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James Kerr


From:
Scotland, UK
Post Posted 17 Mar 2017 12:35 pm     Reply with quote

Here is the Guyatone D-8 mentioned, Single Coil PUs, no hum. Played in E7th Tuning.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWVll5SxZ7M

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmvyDhW1QD8

The sound you get depends upon the Amp used and its settings, its a Vox VT30 here, also your playing position along the fret board with the right hand matters too, down the middle like me gives a mellow tone, up near the PU gives a sharper tone.

James Kerr.
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David M Brown


From:
California, USA
Post Posted 17 Mar 2017 12:47 pm     Reply with quote

James Kerr wrote:

also your playing position along the fret board with the right hand matters too, down the middle like me gives a mellow tone, up near the PU gives a sharper tone.

James Kerr.


Great point, James!

Do we call it sul ponticello and sul tasto like the violinists do?
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Ron Ellison


From:
D.C.
Post Posted 17 Mar 2017 3:56 pm     Reply with quote

Order a Clinesmith Joaquin model with blade PU. The exact tone you're looking for!
Get it brand new from Todd. Send him a PM right through this forum..
Here's Mike,
https://youtu.be/UGTB9knbOVc
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Roman Sonnleitner


From:
Vienna, Austria
Post Posted 17 Mar 2017 4:36 pm     Reply with quote

As a guitar player I know the lust for new guitar - but that SX has a P90 - that pickup should be perfect for getting those 1940s/50s tones, on a lot of Hank Williams songs you can hear Don Helms on his Gibson steel that had rather similar pickups...
What kind of amp are you using? Personally, for those types of tones I'd use a not too powerful small tube amp that you can turn up a little - you don't want too clean, too pristine tones, a bit of natural tube compression and overdrive will help those tones; also turn up the mids and turn down the treble a bit (esp. if you use something like a BF or SF Fender).
And go easy on the reverb!
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Doug Beaumier


From:
Northampton, MA
Post Posted 17 Mar 2017 5:31 pm     Reply with quote

Yes, Roman is on the right track. If you want a 1940s-50s tone you need a small tube amp, low power. Little (or no) reverb. And you need a vintage steel with a single coil pickup, pre-1970s, in my opinion. Most modern steels with humbucking pickups don't sound "vintage". The earlier steels and amps sounded more raw.
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Ron Ellison


From:
D.C.
Post Posted 17 Mar 2017 7:36 pm     Reply with quote

Just to converse, David did ask about modern builders.
Todd's blade PU is a single coil based on Bigsby's design. Sounds very vintage depending on where your tone is set. I bought a Clinesmith just to get that old country tone, and is a very versatile PU.
7 years ago, when I was on Kauai, there was a student of Alan's who brought a SX 6 string to class and it sounded terrible. My opinion is that there is no definitive P90 really.
Seems there is a wide range of quality with PUs named p nine-0. maybe sx's have gotten better.
Those GeorgeBoards with the Fralin single coil can get that bright tight sound also.
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Tim Whitlock


From:
Colorado, USA
Post Posted 17 Mar 2017 8:15 pm     Reply with quote

I'm not sure what you mean when you say your guitar sounds Hawaiian. I don't know that any particular guitar could be said to be intrinsically Hawaiian or western swing. Both western swing and Hawaiian music were played on pretty much the same instruments in the 40s and 50s. In fact the western swing adopted the very popular Hawaiian steel guitar sound very early on. I think you would do well to upgrade to a nice older instrument, but western swing or Hawaiian music are more defined by the playing style and to some extent the tunings.
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Jack Hanson


From:
San Luis Valley, USA
Post Posted 17 Mar 2017 10:34 pm     Re: What types of lap steels best capture 1940s/1950s sound Reply with quote

David Famularo wrote:
Are there any modern manufacturers that make models that get that sound that anyone would recommend?

http://www.ramguitars.com/RAM_Guitars/SteelGuitars.html
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Stephen Baker


From:
Lancashire, UK
Post Posted 18 Mar 2017 5:26 am     Reply with quote

Although not steel guitar this video addresses the issues of how to get a vintage sound and how essential or not vintage gear is. If you don’t watch it all at least watch the first five minuetshttps://youtu.be/D1hYbd3ebPQ
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Lee Cecil


From:
North Carolina, USA
Post Posted 18 Mar 2017 6:07 am     tone Reply with quote

I watched it. That was pretty cool.
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James Hartman


From:
Pennsylvania, USA
Post Posted 18 Mar 2017 6:16 am     Reply with quote

Roman Sonnleitner wrote:
... that SX has a P90 - that pickup should be perfect for getting those 1940s/50s tones, on a lot of Hank Williams songs you can hear Don Helms on his Gibson steel that had rather similar pickups...


Doug Beaumier wrote:
Yes, Roman is on the right track. If you want a 1940s-50s tone you need a small tube amp, low power. Little (or no) reverb. And you need a vintage steel with a single coil pickup, pre-1970s, in my opinion. Most modern steels with humbucking pickups don't sound "vintage". The earlier steels and amps sounded more raw.


I believe the pickups on Don Helms Console Grande were not actually a P-90 variant but had alnico polepiece magnets - sort of like an oversized Fender Jazzmaster pickup. Also, didn't Jerry Byrd play steel on some of Hank's classic recordings? So, Bakelite Rick? But, no need to split hairs. Any decent P-90 pickup should be fine for those sounds. As Doug said: single coil pickup, low power tube amp.
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David M Brown


From:
California, USA
Post Posted 18 Mar 2017 6:51 am     Reply with quote

Ron Ellison wrote:

7 years ago, when I was on Kauai, there was a student of Alan's who brought a SX 6 string to class and it sounded terrible.....
Seems there is a wide range of quality with PUs named p nine-0. maybe sx's have gotten better.


Perhaps so - or the instrument in question needed adjustment. THe pickups are mounted a bit too low.

Also the 8 string SX has a simple metal bridge, not a repurposed guitar bridge.

Mine needed to have the pickup raised a good bit before the tone improved to my taste.

A better pickup may be in order.
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Doug Beaumier


From:
Northampton, MA
Post Posted 18 Mar 2017 1:24 pm     Reply with quote

Quote:
David did ask about modern builders.


True, and he also asked about guitars from any "particular era of manufacture". In my opinion, to get a vintage tone you need a vintage steel guitar. Just my opinion, based on playing hundreds of different steel guitars over the years, some new, some old. Modern steels with modern pickups sound clean and strong, but that's the problem. Vintage tones were more raw, and those tones are not found in modern steel guitars. Not the ones I've played anyway.

If you want a lap steel with a 1940s-50s sound, buy a 1940s-50s lap steel. Supro, Oahu, National, Guyatone, Teisco can all be had for a reasonable price. If you want to spend more, go for Fender, Gibson, or Rickenbacker. As always with old lap steels, check out the electronics and tuners before buying.
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Last edited by Doug Beaumier on 18 Mar 2017 1:37 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Terry VunCannon


From:
Greensboro, North Carolina, USA
Post Posted 18 Mar 2017 1:33 pm     Reply with quote

I am making a new lap steel line, and I went with a custom wound P90. I am very pleased with it.I am using a under wound pup...probably a little weaker than most P90s, but it works great with a lap.
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David Famularo


From:
New Zealand
Post Posted 18 Mar 2017 11:48 pm     Reply with quote

Kia Ora everyone

Thanks for all your replies which are really interesting. It's going take some time to investigate and digest all the replies. From a first glance they all seem to be quite true in their own way.
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David Famularo


From:
New Zealand
Post Posted 19 Mar 2017 12:31 am     Reply with quote

This site doesn't seem to have direct replies to each comment (am I wrong) so if you don't mind I will reply to all the comments in this post.

David M Brown - I don't know what sort of pick up it has so I can only assume so. It's a nice sound just doesn't capture the sort of tone I often hear in steel recordings that I like.

Levi and James - that's definitely closer to the sound I'm looking for.

Ron - that's a remarkably contemporary country sound and very interesting but I think I'm looking more for that older country sound

Roman - It's a Tanglewood T3. I doubt it's a tube amp. It's a nice little model. I no next to nothing about amps but am interested in how influence they have on the oveall sound

Doug - I've got your play along records (as you might remember) and still find them incredibly useful for learning. They go well with John Ely's Chord Locator site. I note your fingerings for particular chord and see they fit in with John's chord patterns.But apart from that I like the sort of sound your steel has. What do you use for a guitar and amp?


Tim - very true what you say but when I got my guitar I expected it to sound like other steels I heard but it never has. I thought at first it was the way I was playing it but only later came to the conclusion that it wasn't getting the sound I wanted. That said I enjoy playing on it and my playing is evolving into a western swing/old country style. So you are quite right - it's very much in how you play.

Stephen - thanks. I will definitely check it out

David M Brown - that's interesting about raising the pick up. "Also the 8 string SX has a simple metal bridge, not a repurposed guitar bridge." - what difference does a metal vs repurposed guitar bridge make to the sound?

Terry - thanks

PS I notice there are four boxes you can tick under the reply box. I don't understand the top two. Shall I just leave them unticked?
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Roman Sonnleitner


From:
Vienna, Austria
Post Posted 19 Mar 2017 2:40 am     Reply with quote

David Famularo wrote:

Roman - It's a Tanglewood T3. I doubt it's a tube amp. It's a nice little model. I no next to nothing about amps but am interested in how influence they have on the oveall sound



I had to google that amp - it's an ACOUSTIC amplifier, not an electric one, and as such, is the polar opposite of what you need for that tone you're looking for. An acoustic guitar amplifier will have a very clean tone, very clear treble and somewhat scooped mids, so that you can get a louder representation of what your unamplified acoustic guitar sounds like.

For electric guitar (lap steel or "regular"), the amp is a major sound-shaping component, it is not only there to make it louder; in fact, I would argue that the amp is more important for shaping your sound than the instrument itself (and if I had the choice between a bad electric guitar played through a great amp, or a great guitar played through a bad amp, I'd always take the former, as it will always sound better than the latter choice...)
You could get the tones you're looking for from almost any type of lap style (maybe not one with high output humbuckers), but I'd say that amp (which might be great for acoustic guitar) is not helping you here at all...

Lap steel (and regular electric guitar players) from the 30s to the mid-50s had to make do with amps that were almost impossible to get a really pristine clean tone out of, especially when played live - no matter whether they used small lap steel amps like Magnatones, or Gibson EH185s (state of the art for early 1940s amp design), or early 50s Fender tweed amps, all those amps had very mid-forward, slightly compressed tones on the edge of clean and distorted, and for that type of tone, you need to get either an amp or some effects pedal to simulate that, a new guitar through your acoustic amp won't be a big improvement.

From your statement I preclude you still play at home, at "bedroom volume levels", not with a band - that makes it a bit more difficult, since those tones come from tube amps turned up to "cooking" levels, and even a small 5W tube amp is going to be too loud then... If you do look for an amp, try to get a low watt tube amp, preferably with 6V6 or 6L6 output tubes (rather than the EL84 more commonly found in small amps), with a simple layout (volume & tone, no multiple channels and complicated controls), something in the Fender tweed-family...

In the meantime some kind of low-gain overdrive pedal might help you get the tone you are looking for from your amp - something where you can push the mids, cut back the treble, and get a bit of that cooking, sizzling tone of a tube amp at the edge between clean and dirty; look for the words "low gain" and "tweed style" in the description to put you on the right track!


Last edited by Roman Sonnleitner on 19 Mar 2017 2:36 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Doug Beaumier


From:
Northampton, MA
Post Posted 19 Mar 2017 5:57 am     Reply with quote

Quote:
...I like the sort of sound your steel has. What do you use for a guitar and amp?


Thanks, David. I play a 1956 Fender Stringmaster on the CDs that come with my song books 1 & 2. On my 16 song book I used several different lap steels, all vintage. I usually record direct (no amp). I have a couple of Fender tube amps for gigs: a 1967 Vibrolux Rev and a 1959 tweed Deluxe. I also have a Nashville 112 and a Quilter Steelaire for pedal steel.
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David Famularo


From:
New Zealand
Post Posted 20 Mar 2017 12:21 am     Reply with quote

Hi Doug and Roman - thanks for your feedback. What you say about the amp Roman makes perfect sense. I bought it in a small music store in Wellington that focuses more on acoustic type instruments and they happened to be in the shop and seemed suitable but I didn't have the first clue about amps or lap steels at that stage. It's a nice amp and I will keep it for my other instruments such as mandolin which it will suit but will start keeping my eye out for an amp along the lines of what you are talking about. Definitely a "bedroom" player at this stage for the most part.
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Roman Sonnleitner


From:
Vienna, Austria
Post Posted 20 Mar 2017 12:32 am     Reply with quote

May I suggest a VHT Special 6, if you're looking for a small amp? That one does get in the ballpark, tomally, esp. in low power mode. I use it as a practice amp myself, even works for small sessions, if there is no drummer involved.
I think production has been discontinued, you might have to look for a used one. They were inexpensive, but had great build quality and tone.
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David Famularo


From:
New Zealand
Post Posted 20 Mar 2017 12:42 am     Reply with quote

Thanks Roman
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David M Brown


From:
California, USA
Post Posted 20 Mar 2017 7:24 am     Reply with quote

David Famularo wrote:




David M Brown - that's interesting about raising the pick up. "Also the 8 string SX has a simple metal bridge, not a repurposed guitar bridge." - what difference does a metal vs repurposed guitar bridge make to the sound?

Terry - thanks


That's a good question - I just changed the modern guitar bridge on my Chinese cheapie doubleneck and it sounds a lot more "solid" without all the fine tuning bits used to intonate a fretted instrument.

But that's anecdotal evidence, I'd love to see some studies.
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