At the beginning of amplified music, one of the first instruments to get a magnetic pickup was the Rickenbacker “frying pan” lap steel – the first of many electrified lap steels made at one time or another by guitar companies including Gibson, Fender, and, of course, Silvertone.
Attend a guitar show today, and you’re likely to see many vintage electrified lap steels. But, what about new ones? Well, Brown’s Guitar Factory might have exactly what you’re looking for – a professional, modern, electric lap steel.
In many ways, the BGF lap steel resembles those of old – its shape is very similar to that of some Silvertones, but with more modern curves. It even uses the same tuners as old Silvertones – Kluson Deluxe three-on-a-sides. But, once you get past the shape and the tuners, the BGF really shows its more modern design. Rather than a single-coil or horseshoe pickup the BGF features a “slow-wound TuckerBucker BGF pickup” with a higher output than most vintage single coils.
One of the nicest modern additions to the BGF is its handle – a leather dog-bone on the upper body. Another modern feature worth mention is a split-coil volume control. With a pull of the Volume knob, it’ll go from humbucker growl to clean single-coil sounds.
Fit and finish on the BGF are first-rate. The review model had a solid maple body finished in a color not unlike Shoreline Gold, along with a Macassar ebony fingerboard. It sported flush-mounted fret markers, two “speed knobs” below the pickup control Volume and Tone and can be reached easily while playing. It even has strap buttons so you can, if so inclined, play this lap steel standing up.
Brown’s Guitar Factory calls the tone of its lap steel “extremely swampy, bluesy and vicious sounding.” When using it in humbucker mode, it’s easy to drive an amplifier into distortion due to the TuckerBucker’s power. But the BGF can deliver a thick, rich, harmonically complex tone that works well for blues and rock. With the single-coil pickup, the sound is more like that of a traditional vintage lap steel – clean with some serious twang. If you need to go from traditional clean country sounds to dirty rock and roll with one instrument, the BGF will fill the bill nicely.
Brown’s Guitar Factory builds all of its lap steels to order, so each can be configured to a player’s precise specifications. The company also sent one of its custom creations featuring a set of skateboard trucks and wheels attached to its bottom and finished in a blue metalflake. The idea was pretty neat, but the hardware was heavy-duty real-world skateboard gear, making an already fairly weighty instrument into something most people would find too heavy to use onstage all night. If you have an equally unusual idea for your lap steel, Brown’s Guitar Factory is willing to try to make it a reality.
The bottom line is if you need professional lap steel that can go from nice and smooth to mean a nasty at the push of a button, the BGF is the ticket.
This article originally appeared in VG December 2015 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.