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The DIY Musician: The 2x4 Lap Steel, Part 2 — Cool Mods

Last week, I showed you how to take a common 2x4 plank and easily turn it into a playable lap steel guitar. (You can see those plans right here.)

For this week, I've built a second 2x4 lap steel and improved its sound and setup; I even gave it a hobo-art look. I’ve listed links to the parts at the very bottom of this story, where you'll also find a new demo video.

Here’s a rundown of the mods and how I did them:

Humbucker Pickup: Hardwired to Backward Strat Jack

The original lap steel had a simple sound hole pickup that was easy to install, but it gave me a bit of buzzing sound in concert due to lack of grounding. For this second guitar, I opted for a cheap and gnarly $20 dual-rail humbucker from C. B. Gitty and hardwired it to the guitar jack.

In true Eddie Van Halen fashion, I screwed the pickup directly to the wood. Since I’m technically stupid when it comes to wiring, and because this pickup had so many wires, I went to Seymour Duncan’s wiring guide page and got the PDF diagram for a humbucker pickup and one volume knob. I didn’t have a volume pot; I just disregarded that part and sent the hot and ground wires straight to the jack.

I used a Strat-style jackplate and turned it backwards for ease of mounting. It sits next to the pickup cavity. I had to remove a little bit of wood underneath to make room for the jack.

I also added a ground wire and placed it in the groove where the bridge bolt sits. It was a simple solution and works just fine. A couple of staples from a staple gun keep everything in place.
Woodburned Fret Markers and Tack Fret Dots

Instead of just drawing the fret markers on with a Sharpie like I did with the first lap steel, I used a common wood-burning pen and burned the fret lines into the wood. I had some decorative furniture tacks in my shop, so I used them as my fret dots. When the tacks ran out, I continued with some industrial screws. Finishing it off was some smashed beer caps on the 3, 5, 7, 9 and 12 frets. Because…why not?
Old "Church Key" Bottle Opener String Retainer

I improved upon the string tree screw idea from the first lap steel by using an old Schmidt’s beer bottle opener to hold the strings down at the headstock. I just drilled two holes in it and used two long screws to keep it in place. I left about ¼ inch between the bottle opener and the wood to give the strings room to run underneath. It works great!
String Ferrules In the Back

I was originally going to drill small holes for the strings to run through the body at the butt end of the instrument, but I discovered a bunch of Gitty string ferrules in my cabinet. These were simple to use. I drilled the original string holes with a 3/32-inch bit and then used a 5/16-inch bit to drill about 1/3 inch in from the back. The ferrules are lightly tapped in with a hammer. Now I won’t have to worry about the ball end of the guitar strings getting embedded in the wood from tension.
Beer Caps and Brass Corners

What better decoration for a hobo instrument than a bunch of old beer caps! I use beer caps in a lot of my art and always keep a box in the woodshop. I collect them from bars where I play and have been known to buy them in bulk on eBay, too. I also added some brass corners to add some class. Topping it all off is an emblem from a York air conditioner, because I’m proud to live and play in York, Pennsylvania. (We’ve got one of the most vibrant music and art scenes in this little town.)

If you build your own 2x4 lap steel, email me pictures at I might use them in an upcoming column.

Links to parts used:
Dual Rail Humbucker Pickup
Guitar Jack
Jack Plate
String Ferrules
Brass Corners.

Well, I’m off to a gig-packed weekend. I’ve got shows Friday and Saturday nights and a free seminar on cigar box guitars Saturday morning. Check out my calendar and come out to see these homemade instruments in action!

Shane Speal is the "King of the Cigar Box Guitar" and the creator of the modern cigar box guitar movement. Hear the music, see the instruments and read about his Cigar Box Guitar Museum at Speal's latest album, Holler! is on C. B. Gitty Records.

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