In the summer of 2021, Megan Lovell decided enough was enough of her vintage Rickenbacker Model B. While she loved the feel, sound, and vibe of the instrument dubbed “the Panda,” for years it had been taking a toll on her body during Larkin Poe’s high-energy live shows. Knowing something had to give (and preferring it not be her shoulders and back), Lovell began pondering options, and she recently revealed a new signature lap steel, built by Paul Beard and called the Electro-Liege. The name, she says, is “…a cheeky wink and nod to my fan-bestowed nickname, ‘SlideQueen,’ represented by the logo on the headstock – a crown adorned with lightning bolts.”
She dug into its story with VG.
It must’ve been difficult to set aside the Model B…
I absolutely adore the Panda, but because it’s made out of Bakelite, it’s extraordinarily heavy, and my back was starting to kill me after shows, so I had to figure something out. For years, I’ve struggled to stand up while playing it.
It was always in the back of my head to design my own instrument, and through our years on the road, I’ve acquired insight on what would make a great touring lap steel. I’d been talking about the idea, and was on the phone with Paul discussing a different project when he brought up the idea of collaborating. It’s like we came to the same idea simultaneously – how fortunate!
What were your thoughts in regard to its visual look?
The Panda has a very unique look; years ago, a family friend helped me build a holder that fit around it to allow me to stand and play more easily. In creating a new shape, I wanted it to mimic that layout – my signature look. So, I used the Panda as a starting point to draw up a full-size image of what I was wanting, and Paul then took the drawings and created a 3-D digital model that went through a few rounds of tweaking before the first prototype.
I played around with pickguard shapes and color palettes before sending the kit and caboodle to Paul; I’ve always loved the look of gold pickguards on a white guitar, and it’s not a combination you see all the time. Paul sent about a dozen samples of gold materials, and it was really fun to choose. Originally, I thought I was sold on a brass pickguard, but Paul nudged me to consider the raised-matte gold plastic with black edging, which was a clear winner because it added such beautiful dimension – it looked so right, immediately.
Which woods did you consider?
Weight being a very important consideration, Paul suggested American poplar because it’s lightweight and sounds great.
Did Paul build more than one prototype?
He knocked it out of the park – the first prototype was very close, so we didn’t have much tweaking to do for the second one; we moved the pickguards a little and changed the shape of the headstock.
What was your goal, tone-wise?
I love the sound of the Panda, so I knew I wanted a horseshoe pickup. Jason Lollar had already offered me his to try, so the pieces fell into place. The Electro-Liege is tonally very similar to my Rickenbacker, but has a hotter output, which is really ideal. Jason’s pickup was right, tonally, but too microphonic on a loud stage, so we asked him to create a custom version.
Where did you first plug it in, and what was your initial reaction?
I played the first prototype during a sound check in October, 2021, at The Recher, in Towson, Maryland. Paul drove to the show from his shop in Hagerstown with it, and I plugged it into my pedalboard and Fender Deluxe. I was immediately relieved by how comfortable it felt right off the bat. Even though we identified a few changes, I could have played it during that show. The tone was similar, switching between the prototype and the Panda.
I played the prototypes during sound checks for quite awhile, trying to identify changes to make, then received the second prototype from Paul just before leaving for our spring ’22 headline tour, and played it for a few sound checks.
When and where was its first gig?
It debuted at a show in Southampton, England, in April of ’22.
Do you have more than one on the road?
Right now, I have the second prototype and one Electro-Liege with me. I want more, though (laughs)! Paul and I have ideas cooking for more colors.
Do you still use the Model B live?
The Panda still travels with me and makes appearances on the stage, though I play most of the shows on the Electro-Liege, to be more active and save my back! I suspect the Panda will become my studio instrument, because it’s very dear to me.
This article originally appeared in VG’s January 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.