New lap steel
by on January 9, 2011 in Recent Activity

I have a new custom lap steel currently under construction. If you’re interested in its progress you can view it on designer Todd Plummer’s blog at

Since around 1988 I have been playing a very odd beat-up old lap steel guitar, with no brand name and some features that I don’t see on other guitars. I bought it from my friend Jaron Lanier, a respected technology pundit and skilled multi-instrumentalist. After hot-roding it with a deMarzio pickup (thanks to Bill Richardson) I’ve had an instrument that finds its way on almost every recording I have made since. I started realizing that I would have a very hard time replacing this quirky beast if something happened to it. Hence I began thinking about the features I need for a guitar, which I can’t find elsewhere.

I tracked down Todd Plumber through a network of luthiers, and he expressed enthusiasm about tackling a design as unusual as this. (He also builds custom drums, percussion, furniture and more.) The features most important to me included a narrow straight neck to allow easy gliss playing, a sustainiac driver to augment my usual eBow, solid legs for stability, a quality high-gain humbucking pickup, and a coated fingerboard surface that allows me to scribble microtonal jottings with wax pencil or Sharpie and later erase them if needed. Not a typical pawn-shop feature list. So… we’ll see what takes shape! I’m looking forward to featuring this new instrument on upcoming projects.

6 Responses to New lap steel

  1. Sergio says:

    …and I guess a few of us here just waiting to hear this new addtion in action!.

    Best regards and all the best for 2011

  2. Nick Stump says:

    Eager to hear what the new steel sounds like. I just found out about the ebow yesterday. I gotta keep up with the trade mags better than I do.

    Is this steel going to have more than one pick up? I’d recommend that you use two magnetic pickup and add a hex so you can used a guitar synth if you wish. I don’t know your music but as it is ambient music it would seem to me you’d want access to as many sounds as possible. I’m threatening to build a steel. How hard can it be. Most of the ones out there look like they could be cut out of a two by six and as long as the wood is flat and the components are good and the fretlines are in the right place, how could one go wrong. I’m sure it’s not as easy as that but it’s not like building a guitar with all the close tolerances you have to consider when building a guitar. Anyway–good luck and I hope to hear the new steel when you finish.


  3. admin says:

    Hi Nick – thanks for the comment. If you haven’t heard my music then you might not realize that I use lap steel in some odd ways, including infinite sustain and bowing. The “2×6” shape is actually much better for me than various pretty violin shapes. It is hard to explain this to guitar makers. Todd Plummer understood my needs and he’s making something to my odd specifications. As for guitar-synth interface, I don’t need that as I am more comfortable with keyboard than guitar anyway. I use guitar for the sounds that guitar does best, a vibrating string. Warm Regards and please stay in touch. – Robert Rich

  4. tamahome says:

    Cool Robert. I hope for a youtube demo. 🙂 See you on TWIT Monday.

  5. Chris says:

    Love your music! Especially Calling Down the Sky. I’ve seen some videos where you’re using an bolt looking thing to bow the strings on your lap guitar. What is that?

    • admin says:

      It’s a piece of a nut driver set, and I do bow the string with it. I adopted the technique from Daevid Allen of Gong, who called it Gliss GUitar. On a lap steel, there aren’t any frets and the string sits higher up, so I can get more expression out of the technique.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

2014 JamSession © All rights reserved.