It’s In My Lap, It’s Steel, and It’s a Guitar

If you have ever been confused as to what the difference between a lap steel guitar and a resonator guitar is, you have come to the right place, because I am about to dive in and find out for myself. It is not that I do not know, it is just that sometimes a resonator guitar might end up being a lap steel guitar, but some people do not realize that there are many lap steel guitars that do not even resemble a resonator guitar. If you came here not knowing the many varieties of lap steel guitars in the world, it is ok. I am here to help you out. If you came here knowing everything there is to know about them, just jump ahead and take a look at the best lap steel guitars I have come upon. If you are an enthusiast or a musician, you might even find one you will love and that will not ruin your prospects of paying rent for the month. Whatever it is, the lap steel guitar is one of the more fascinating instruments of the world. Existing in different forms everywhere, the technique required for playing it is a little different from the guitars you are used to seeing. The sound of the lap steel guitar is varied over the type being played, but a lot of them borrow their structural details from already existing guitars. There are many types available beyond the resophonic guitar, such as the original Hawaiian lap steel guitar or the electric lap steel guitar. Choosing one is entirely up to you and your taste in the music you want to play.

Top 5 Best Lap Steel Guitars

#ImageLap Steel Guitar Model
Rating
Check Price
1Gold Tone SM Weissenborn Style Hawaiian Steel Guitar (4.9 / 5)Check on Amazon
2
Imperial Royal Hawaiian Classic-T Weissenborn Style Lap Steel Guitar (4.8 / 5)Check on Amazon
3Luna LS WEI SELECT Lap Steel Guitar, Weissenborn Style (4.8 / 5)Check on Amazon
4Vorson LT2308 TR 8-String Lap Steel Guitar (4.7 / 5)Check on Amazon
5Asher Electro Hawaiian Junior Lap Steel Guitar (4.6 / 5)Check on Amazon

Gold Tone SM Weissenborn Style Hawaiian Steel Guitar

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Gold Tone SM Weissenborn Style Hawaiian Steel Guitar

The very first lap steel guitar was made to perform Hawaiian music and is one of the best lap steel guitars on the list, which is also the most expensive, as is to be expected. The Gold Tone SM Weissenborn Style Hawaiian Steel Guitar is a beautiful instrument designed in the character of the traditional Hawaiian guitars. The full, flowing body with a thick neck fit perfectly onto your lap, making the playing easy and comfortable. The guitar is lightweight so that you do not end up being tired, or your legs don’t fall asleep, after long hours of performance and practice. The sound of the guitar is mesmerizing and will make you wonder why you have yet not purchased a Hawaiian lap steel guitar until the very point. If you already have one, you will love the sound this one produces. While this might not be a beginner’s instrument, it is definitely worth buying. The mahogany top, back and sides of the guitar are the primary reason, as the guitar sound amazing because of the tonewood.

Pros:

  • Rich sound
  • Quality construction and wood
  • Durable

Cons:

  • Not the best tuners
  • Price

Imperial Royal Hawaiian Classic-T Weissenborn Style Lap Steel Guitar

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Imperial Royal Hawaiian Classic-T Weissenborn Style Lap Steel Guitar

If you don’t want to bust your bank account for the next month, but still want a high quality lap steel guitar, you might want to consider buying a different Weissenborn model. Designed purely for the sake of producing music but with the fact that not everybody producing it has money, the Imperial Royal Hawaiian Classic T Weissenborn Style lap steel guitar is a good choice for one. The pricing of this instrument means that both beginners and professionals will be able to afford it, though beginners might hesitate before investing, which is a good thing. After all, the sophisticated sound this piece of equipment. The top is solid Sapele Mahogany, meaning a high quality, deep sound. The guitar is traditional in design and lightweight, making it a pleasure to play for hours at a time. The awesome thing is that this one comes with a nice preamp and pickup, which means you will be able to plug in and make large crowds dance to whatever pleasantness will be pouring out of the amp.

Pros:

  • Durable hardware and tonewood
  • Rich sound
  • Lightweight

Cons:

  • Pricey
  • Ok electronics

Luna LS WEI SELECT Lap Steel Guitar, Weissenborn Style

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Luna LS WEI SELECT Lap Steel Guitar, Weissenborn Style

Continuing with the tradition of talking about traditional Weissenborn style design, I would like to divert your attention towards an item that beginners will find to be appealing. This instrument is not much easier to play or worse sounding than the others on this list, instead it is much less of an investment, meaning it won’t be as daunting a responsibility as a beginner might have thought. The Luna LS WEI SELECT Weissenborn Style Lap steel guitar is one of the best affordable lap steel guitars out there. It is comfortable to keep on your lap for extended periods of time, as Weissenborns tend to be, and it has a solid sound. While the sound is not as good as that of the more expensive models, this one offers anyone looking to pick it up a great tone nonetheless. It is a powerful instrument that beginners will find fun to play and professionals will find useful no matter the situation they are in.

Pros:

  • Comfortable
  • Solid top helps produce good volume and resonance
  • Good price

Cons:

  • Tuners
  • Consistency in quality check

Vorson LT2308 TR 8-String Lap Steel Guitar

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Vorson LT2308 TR 8-String Lap Steel Guitar

Not all of the best lap steel guitars are traditionally designed. Some of the best instruments tend to leave the normal framework and go into something less expected of them. The Vorson LT2308 TR 8 String lap steel guitar is one of these instruments. The extra added strings are of course a challenge, but they are also a comfort and an opportunity to flex your musical muscles beyond what people usually expect of your. The electric part of the guitar is exceptional in its design, with the single pickup capable of picking up the full range of tones in high quality. The guitar also comes as part of a bundle, giving you a nice case to carry the instrument around in. All of this for an affordable price below 500 and for some reason you are still sitting here deliberating, instead of scrambling to pick up this electric lap steel guitar.

Pros:

  • Great design
  • Versatility
  • Quality electronics

Cons:

  • Pricey
  • Maybe don’t get it if you have never played lap steels

Asher Electro Hawaiian Junior Lap Steel Guitar

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Asher Electro Hawaiian Junior Lap Steel Guitar

So let us say you don’t want a traditional or even an acoustic lap steel guitar. What you want is an advanced level electric lap steel guitar with 6 strings and all of the best quality sound you can get. Where do you look for it? Not many people know, but you come here and ask me, and tell you to go look at the Asher Electro Hawaiian Junior Lap Steel guitar. This “Junior” guitar is extremely well made, with two humbucking pickups providing a beautiful, noiseless sound that can go much harder and heavier than you would expect of a lap steel. Still, the sound is clear as day if you want it to be. The solid mahogany has beautiful resonance that combines well with the two humbuckers. The price is not mind blowing, some of the more willing to invest in a good instrument will even find it low. Great for any level of player, this instrument will guarantee that you have tons of fun for a long time after buying it.

Pros:

  • Easy to use electronics
  • Rich sound
  • Extra accessories

Cons:

  • Tuners
  • Might seem a bit pricey for a beginner instrument

History

The history of the lap steel guitar is rather fascinating, especially since it is as much legend as it is history. I mean what other instrument can attribute its creation to a single 7 year old boy having fun. The story goes that once upon towards the end of the 1800s, somewhere in the year 1885, a young boy with the name Joseph Kekuku, was walking along the train tracks on his native island of O’ahu, Hawaii. The boy, as boys do, did not have much to do, so he was spending his day picking up random things and using them to play his guitar. Being 7 I am surprised he did not break his guitar walking, unattended, by railroad tracks, but then again I am not here to question the validity of the tale. The story goes that he picked up a loose bolt, at least I hope it was loose, from the ground by the train tracks and dragged it along the strings of his guitar. It happened to produce a sound, one that the 7 year old found rather interesting. The rest is history, or as I imagine it to be, a very annoying 10 years for the parents. Apparently over the next few years little Joseph started developing a technique were he used the blade of a knife (his parents must’ve hated the instrument at that point) to play the guitar. Eventually, the technique became more sophisticated and Joseph started using a slide to play the guitar, which at some point started being put in his lap while he played. The structure of the instrument changed and it finally became the lap steel guitar we know and love so much today.

Not as much as in the 1920s and 1930s in the United States of America though. The instrument blew up and became fad of the time, just like Gin and Tonic and Jazz Hands. People started buying it, playing it and blues, country and bluegrass started benefiting from the instrument. Hawaiian music did too, though it benefited more from the fact that it became popular together with the instrument, since it gained a lot simply by having the instrument be a part of it for a long time already. At the end of the 1930s the lap steel guitar became the first instrument in the world to be electronically amplified. The popularity had brought it into high demand and new people were looking at new ways to play it, making it the perfect instrument to put amps on. The experiment was a success and now we have a whole slew of electronic instruments thanks to the lap steel guitar.

What does a Lap Steel Guitar look like?

Good question, with an expansive answer. There are all kinds of lap steel guitars, ranging from the good old Resophonic guitars all the way to guitars that look like strings stretched across a box. The truth is that every lap steel guitar can be brought down to a very basic design, upon which some variations will be made by manufacturers, to produce a unique effect or look.

The basic lap steel guitar has a sound box reminiscent of the Spanish guitar. The soundbox amplifies the sound played by the musician, just like in any other acoustic guitar. The strings of the lap steel guitar are elevated both at the nut and the bridge ends of the instrument, so that the strings never touch the frets of the guitar. There can be any number of strings, but typically there are six or eight strings, with 10 being less common and any more than that being specialty instruments.

So how do you play it?

Playing a lap steel guitar is whole lot of different from what you are used to with the mainstream guitar. First of all, the strings never touch the fret – the change of pitch comes from bending them at certain points. Which is why the lap steel guitar will be fretless most of the time, having only marking for reference. It might take a few tries to master the technique, but the result is worth it. The guitar is also placed on your lap for the sake of making it easier to use the fretless technique.

Some lap guitars do use their frets, such as the resophonic guitar. Sometimes the average lap steel guitar does also give you the option of fretted playing, but the sound changes slightly as a result.

Conclusion

Joseph Kekuku is an interesting character in the history of music, as much as he is tragic. He was a man who was incredibly talented, experimenting with guitar playing technique for many years as a child. A man that invented an instrument and a new playing technique, he definitely deserves to be remembered and revered. In life he was extremely famous. When he was thirty years old, after perfecting his lap steel guitar technique, he set off the island to travel the world. He started with vaudeville theaters in the United States of America and traveled beyond, into fame in the US, to Europe and around the world. It is a shame that he lived only to the young age of 52 and it is a harsh reality that he never got to return to his small village in Hawaii. A man that brought the world the Hawaiian culture, that gifted the world so much, only to lose himself to the world, never to see his home again. Reading about the best lap steel guitars and playing them, it is appropriate to think of him. He is the one who gave us this gift. I just hope that sometimes, when the lap steel guitar is played in its homeland, on the island of O’ahu, the spirit of Joseph Kekuku gets to enjoy the beaches and the waves battering against the sands, his being projected through the sound waves produced by the instrument, brought once again to Hawaii. I hope that his spirit gets to enjoy the moments of nostalgia, remembering himself walking along the tracks of a railroad, or practicing his guitar techniques as a teenager. I hope you will be paying homage to him through your performance as well.

 

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