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Flamin’ Folk Art Electric Lap Steel - Circa 1950-1960

Updated: Aug 4, 2021

When someone mentions folk art instruments, a screaming electric lap steel guitar made with old guitar parts on a six pound slab of mahogany might not be the first thing to come to mind. However, this lap steel, acquired by Shane Speal in 2021 from a used guitar store in York, PA, is definitely in the ‘folk art’ category.


- From the Shane Speal Collection - part of the Cigar Box Guitar Museum

- Discovered in York, PA - Unknown builder

- Playable condition. (Video demo coming soon.)

- 23.5” scale

- 39” overall length

- 6lbs 10oz weight (It’ll win any bar fight when used as a weapon!)

- One piece body with aluminum fretboard

- Unknown single coil pickup wired to vol/tone/output jack

The first thing one notices is the flames cut into the thick red plastic pickguard which are mated to the homemade aluminum fretboard. An old guitar bridge is situated mostly on the body with one edge sticking out the side.

The strings are anchored by a horseshoe shaped piece of aluminum that is screwed to the body. (Note: all screws on this instrument are flathead screws, giving evidence that this may be a guitar from the 1950’s or early 1960’s, prior to the popularity of Phillips head screws.) The lap steel is strung with flat wound strings that have red floss near the ball end. (This is a clue that will also help date the guitar. Anyone know about old flatwound string brands that had red string/floss?)

The slab mahogany body was contoured possibly with a router on the sides and a sander of some sort on the back. Three holes are in the back for traditional lap steel tripod-style legs. As you can see, not much effort was given to the back And most of it remains unvarnished.

A closeup of the homemade aluminum fretboard. The fret lines were etched in and painted black. Rounded plastic pieces were added for the fret dots.

The pickup is unknown, although it resembles a 1950’s Silvertone H51 pickup but has the square polepieces of a 1960’s Teisco guitar pickup. Identifying the pickup will also help figure out how old this guitar is.

After all the work was done to the pick guard, string horseshoe and fretboard, the headstock almost looks like an afterthought. It’s simple hacked down and quickly routed out to fit two sets of 4-in-a-line “edited” mandolin tuners (Now 3-in-a-line, after one tuner on each side was cut off.) The tuners have 1940’s celluloid buttons which are now deteriorating.

The instrument still plays quite well, although it is difficult to tune due to the deteriorating tuner buttons. In order to make it play in a proper tuning, I will eventually try to replace the buttons only on the tuners, leaving as much of the original parts intact. This is one piece of folk art I want to remain original.

It’s a smokin’ beauty!

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