SaliDog Steel Guitar

If you read the trumpet writeup, you know I had a mid-50s Mossman double neck steel guitar that I really dug, and traded for the horn. I regret trading it to this day. Flash forward to 2013. I was playing banjo for the Koozies, but as we know, banjo doesn't work on everything. They were wondering how to get more electric tone. They said "do you play steel guitar?" I said "of course." I didn't mention I didn't have one.

However, I had been planning on building one for quite a while, and this kickstarted that. Originally, I wanted an 8 string, but I had all sorts of 6 string gear around, and would have to buy 8 string pickups/tuners/etc, so in the name of expense and time, (and the fact that I had never built one of these before), I went with a 6 string.

SaliDog is the brand I would use for my instruments were I a real luthier. That's all that means.

Steelin It

Design took about a day, construction about a week and a half. Having never built one before, there was some figuring out to do. When I do my next one, should go quicker.

While building this, I played a steady diet of Don Helms and Jerry Byrd in the shop; let's train this thing right!

I decided to buy as little as possible in building this, whatever I had in my shop would have to work. Almost got there. Had to buy pots, knobs, a jack plate, shellac, and a sheet of aluminum for the pickup cover. Total cost: about $20.

The body is a laminate of walnut (top) and poplar (bottom), because those were the 2 pieces of wood I had laying around that were the right size. (I had bought the walnut with this in mind about a year before). Had I the time and inclination, I could have made it 3 ply, resawing the walnut into two pieces, and sandwich the poplar in there. But I didn't. The bridge and nut are 3/4" aluminum bars, the string tree a piece of steel bar I had laying around. The tailpiece is a steel angle iron I cut to size, smoothed out, and drilled holes for the strings.

All the metal work was roughed with a jigsaw or hacksaw, final fitted by hand with a rasp, and then smoothed by wet sanding. That took a while.

I set up the tailpiece so that the strings would be an exact straight line from nut to bridge, eliminating the need to cut slots in the bridge. They just sit on the 3/4" aluminum bar.  I think that gives it more boing and sustain. The nuts slots were cut with tiny little files I got from Harbor Freight. Yeah, they sucked. But they worked. I like nuts grooved just deep enough to hold the strings, no deeper. About half the string sitting in there usually works.

The fretboard is temporary, and will be replaced as soon as I have the time. I have the metal cut and painted, just need to get the fret markers on there.

The pickup is a strat pickup I've had in the drawer for 20 years, I forget what it is, maybe a Duncan; I think I bought it at a sidewalk sale at Guitar Center. I may splurge on a new one soon.

The hardest part in construction was the neck joint. I spent way too much time rounding and shaping it, and never quite got satisfied. Since it wasn't crucial to the tone, and I was on a schedule, I did it as much as I could stand and then said screw it , good enough. Gotta love that old school craftsmanship.

I also spent some time on the headstock design, basing it on the Greene and Greene "cloud lift". It was harder than I thought it would be to get right.

The control cavity cover is cut from a Peter Pan 78 record. 

I finished it with shellac, since lacquer is a bitch to get right without a spray room, and I hate poly on instruments. I really like shellac, to me it's the best looking finish; the only bummer was I had to buy some. In the interest of time, I got some BullsEye pre-mixed, clear 2lb cut. Just applied it right out of the can, a semi-French Polish on it, meaning nice light coats with a cotton polish pad.

I also like steels on legs, rather than on my lap, so I built a little steel table out of plywood, truck bed felt, 1/2" pipe and some bathroom floor flanges. (that's what the legs - pipe - screw into on the table). It all breaks down and fits into a hard case I built for it, again out of plywood and truck bed felt. (the picture there was from before I built that, using a keyboard stand and a quickie steel table).

I use a Stevens bar, but may try a round steel bar soon, I just had a Stevens laying around. Fingerpicks same as the banjo, Golden Gate thumb + Showcase 41s fingers.

I go from steel into a Moller T-Rex overdrive, a Black Hole phaser (helloooo 70s), and then an old Ernie Ball Volume pedal, plugged into the Vibrolux. The phaser is great for backup playing, keeps the steel in a nice spot in the mix. The volume pedal is a must for steel playing. I may use some reverb on the amp as well.

I tune it to C6, C E G A C E . I forget the gauges on there right now, just standard C6 set. When I build my double neck 8 string (WHEN, not if), I'm gonna go C6 and E9.

Pre-shellac.

Steelin It

Post-shellac.

Steelin It