In this video, Master Guitar Luthier and blues player, George Goumas gives us some tips on how to chose and modify a lap steel bar.
George explains that one of the essentials of playing a lap-steel guitar properly is being able to master the bar. He uses a Stevens steel bar from Stevens Corp which he bullnoses and, using a belt sander, polishes the little round nose instead of having both edges flat and short. George then shows a steel bar used primarily on resonator guitars, dobros and lapsteel guitars.
A lapsteel guitar is different than a pedal steel guitar as a lapsteel guitar has no pedals to change the pitch. If using a pedal steel, we would use a bullet steel, which is a lot different. It looks like a big tube. It is used predominantly by people who use lap guitars. The difference between the bullet steel and the pedal steel is that bullet steels have a finger groove. They are made with a semi-circular surface that will ride across the strings as you play. The differences are made for use on resonator and lap guitars but they have a sharp edge on both sides.
George shows a standard Stevens steel bar which he bullnosed, meaning that he put some tape on it, used a belt sander and a grinder to put a little bit of a round edge on it and then polished it on a buffer, as any scratches would catch on the strings. This helps it glide across the strings a lot better. George notes that there are copies of it being made today by various slide bar manufacturers. They are making them with a little bit of a rounded edge. It helps the bar glide along the strings a lot better because the round edge doesn’t catch on the strings. The sharp edge, on the other hand, catches. One has to use a lot more control using the sharp edge bar than one would have to with a bullnose. It works great.
They are a bit heavy – probably over a pound – but once you learn how to manipulate it properly, you’ll like it. If you’re a right-handed player, of course, you’ll be actuating the bar with your left hand. You put the finger groove on your index finger and cradle it. The other grooves on the middle finger and the thumb, and this will ride across the strings. His allows him to move across the strings without binding. With the sharp edges, there is binding. There are companies that make them with a bullnose, but he prefers to use the Stevens and do it himself. This allows him to navigate the neck better.