Lap Steel Guitar: Faking your way through the 12 Bar Blues

Episode Transcript

Thanks for checking out sub150.  I recently uploaded a video to my channel called Getting Started on Lap Steel Guitar.  In the video, I provided you with info on purchasing a cheap lap steel, tuning the instrument, important accessories, and basic playing tips.  I have received a great deal of positive feedback from that video and several requests to dive deeper into playing tips.  While I’m not an expert player by any means, I am going to share with you what I have learned in my time playing the instrument.

In this video, I’m going to show you how to fake your way through a 12 bar blues progression.  I will also provide you with a simple backing track video so that you can practice what you have learned.

We are going to be playing in the key of G.  My lap steel is tuned D-G-D-G-B-D, and I have removed the sixth string, or the lowest D, as I rarely use it.  This is a personal preference.  You may want to keep yours in tact until you have a better grasp on how you will personally play the instrument.

For more information on tuning check out my previous video “Getting Started on Lap Steel Guitar”.

To start, I will show you the three chords that you will be playing.  They will be G at the 12th fret, C at the 5th fret, and D at the 7th.  Now let’s chord through the basic progression:

Now that you know the basic chord structure, let’s try playing individual notes in the chord structure.  We’re not going to do any sliding just yet.  You will see that you can play some basic lead lines just by playing individual notes in each chord.  You can improvise and play the notes in any order like this.  

To make it easier try playing the same pattern as you slide to each new chord.  Like this:

Now let’s add the backing track and try that.  Also, remember that I have uploaded a looped backing track to my channel so that you can practice this after you complete this lesson.  I will link to it at the end of this video.

Not too bad right?  Once you’ve mastered that, we can try adding some slides in to make it more interesting.  You can make dramatic slides down the neck but for now let’s try sticking in what I like to think of as the safe zone.  Try sliding in or out of the notes from one step lower or two frets above like this:

You will also have to practice muting the strings after you have played individual notes to provide some clarity to your leads.

Let’s play through with the backing track now implementing our slide technique.

To add a little more variety to your lead lines, you can also slide up the neck three frets higher from each chord position like so:

To wrap up, I will demonstrate the final lead with all of the tips that I have shown you.  Once you’ve watched this, click through to the next video to play along on your own with my looped backing track.

Getting Started with Lap Steel Guitar

Episode Transcript

Today I am going to provide you with some information on how to get started with electric lap steel guitar.  I’m no expert lap steel player by any means, but I picked up the instrument about a year ago to use for a few songs that I play in my classic rock cover band, the Milk Fed Turkeys.  In trying to learn how to play this thing, I had to dig through a lot of videos and websites to figure out tuning, string gauges, and so on.  I’ve compiled all the basics here to get you started.

If you don’t already have one, you’re going to need a lap steel guitar to start.  I didn’t want to put a lot of money into this so on a whim, I ordered Rogue RLS-1 from Musician’s Friend.   It usually retails under $100 US.

I have to say, I was quite surprised as I really wasn’t expecting much from an instrument this cheap.  Once I restrung it properly, the guitar stayed in tune and the sound coming from the single coil pickups sounded just fine through my amps.  A lap steel isn’t as complicated as an electric guitar.  Essentially you have a solid block of wood with strings passing from your bridge to the nut of the instrument.  Intonation is a non-issue due to the fact that you are not fretting notes and the string saddle height can be adjusted easily to suit your playing style.

A set of thread-in legs come with this lap steel.  They are very cheap and poorly made.  It’s also inconvenient to take the legs out at the end of the evening.  I scrapped mine and bought a cheap $30 keyboard stand.  Alternately, you could bring a drum stool or sit on the edge of the stage and play it on your lap as it was originally intended.

You will want to restring your lap steel.  I tune mine in Open G.  The recommended gauges are 15 to 58.  Strings in this gauge set are difficult to come by.  My local music store didn’t carry them, so I ended up piecing them together from several sets of strings.  I have found a set of D'Addario's that will get you close to the recommended gauges. (see sidebar)

Recommended lap steel string gauge for open G:  .015p, .018p, .028w, .038w, .048w, .058w

You will also require a stainless steel slide bar.  There are a variety of these available and they range in price from $20 to $75.  When you buy one, make sure it has enough weight to it as this will make a difference in your playing.

As for the amp, that is a personal choice.  Lap steels sound great though a Fender Twin Reverb and awesome through a Marshall stack.  It really depends on what you are going for.  Mine is played through a PodHD500 into a Line 6 Bogner DT25.  If you browse the discussion forums, many people recommend a 15” speaker.  I haven’t tried that yet, but I’m willing to give it a go when I have a chance. 

Open G tuning = D-G-D-G-B-D

If you’re choosing to play in open G, the instrument is tuned.  D-G-D-G-B-D.  I removed my low D string as I found I wasn’t using it and it was getting in my way.  Keith Richards plays his open G guitars like this with the sixth string removed.  Now my lowest string is the bass note of my chord which is useful for guitar players when learning to play the instrument.

In order to identify the chords on this open G tuned instrument, I cheated by labelling the fret positions with masking tape.  Just remember that your open chord is G and it moves up half steps from there. 

Screen Shot 2016-12-05 at 3.05.48 PM.png

Major Chord Positions in Open G

  1. G#
  2. A
  3. Bb
  4. B
  5. C
  6. C#
  7. D
  8. Eb
  9. E
  10. F
  11. F#
  12. G
The Hal Leonard Lap Steel Guitar Method
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By Johnie Helms

To play a C major chord for example, position your slide roughly in front of the fret.  Use your ear to determine whether it is sharp or flat and adjust accordingly.  To play a minor chord such as E minor, position your slide at the bass note for the chord and play the bottom four strings.  Then slide down three half steps and play the highest two strings.

Now I’m no expert on how to play this thing, so I won’t go too far into technique.  There are tons of videos on Youtube to get you playing. But I will show you that it’s not too hard to get started.  When you position your slide over a fret, you are voicing individual notes in a chord.  You can easily riff by sliding into the notes from a step lower like this.

And that is your intro to lap steel guitar.  If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section and I will get back to you.  If you found this video useful, please subscribe and check back often as I will be adding more guitar related content including a deep dive into the Pod HD500 edit program and tutorials related to the setup of James Tyler Variax guitars.  Thanks for watching, and enjoy that lap steel!