1957 vintage Kalina Lap Steel made by Valco looks like it was built yesterday. The pearloid body is beautiful, with little wear and no damage. Even the original alligator print case is in fantastic shape. Still has the original “captive” cable attached. The felt material on the button is in great shape and still all intact. This is usually always worn off (may have been replaced, but don’t think so). Love these old lap steels. They are so cool looking and have a remarkably great sound. Very art deco in style. Pickup is pretty sweet.
The only issue are shrinking tuner buttons which is a very common occurrence on vintage instruments. They just did not make plastic all that well in the 1950s. These are quite easy to replace. Just pickup new “vintage” style tuner buttons from Stewmac. I will get around to it, but right now the buttons are totally functional. The original tuner mechanism is great. I do not think this one got played much and was well cared for.
Built in the era when Hawaiian music was still super quite popular. These old lap steels have a powerful unique sound and adapt well in the hands of country, rock and blues players as well. Basically they are “lap steels’ because they are played in your lap and you use a “steel” bar. They are a big part of the tradition and sound for country, rock and blues. These genres just generally use a different tuning, touch or technique. Rock and Blues players might chose to use an open E, G or A tuning and country players may chose to use a C6 tuning. Although, like all these musical there are no hard and fast rules.
Valco built many different lap steel models in the 1950s & 1960s under the names Valco, Kalina, Supro, National, Silvertone, Oahu, Noble, Dwight, Tonemaster, Airline, etc. You can sometimes fine these vintage models at less expensive prices than the old Gibson, Rickenbacher (the way it was spelled in the old days) and Fender lap steels. Valco made many different lap steels. They are a bit different in tone.
Valco made guitars for over 30 years and most people agree they are pretty decent lap steels. Some say (and I agree) that Valco lap steel guitars usually have a pickup that is more suited to rock and blues than sweet country swells. Much like a good P90 pickup. Very responsive to pick attack getting quite aggressive when you dig in and can also provide a nice clean tone with a lighter touch. Lollar even reproduces these pickups.
In the YouTube video below David Lindley is playing an almost identical Kalina Lap Steel with GE Smith. This is what this lap steel sounds like in the hands of a master. Notice the modified cable connection on Mr Lindley’s lap steel. This is a common mod on these old lap steels removing the captive cable and adding a standard 1/4 inch jack.
Kalina Lap Steel in the recoding studio
It’s Now or Never in C6 tuning (more of a country tuning) played on Valco Lap Steel Guitar
Tunings I learned from several sources including Wikipedia
Lap steel guitars are not tuned in standard guitar tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E, low to high). Usually they are tuned to an open chord like G, D, E or even A. Sometimes an extended chord like a 6th, 7th, or 9th. During the 1920s and 1930s, much of the sheet music written for lap steel utilized open A tuning as the de facto standard tuning for the instrument.
Most Rock and Blues players use open G/open A or open D/open E. Joe Perry of Aerosmith uses Open E on his electric lap steel. David Lindley is another player who uses transposed variations of these tunings.
Open G is tuned D-G-D-G-B-D
Open A is tuned E-A-E-A-C#-E
Open D is tuned D-A-D-F#-A-D
Open E is tuned E-B-E-G#-B-E
Bluegrass and Country Dobro players using a square-neck instrument tend to favor an altered G tuning, often called “High-G”, where the 6th string is tuned up to “G” instead of down to “D”, and the 5th string is also tuned up, to B: G-B-D-G-B-D. They also sometimes raise it up to “High-A”: A-C#-E-A-C#-E.
These tunings are possible on a lap steel or square neck Dobro that can take the extra stress, but could cause damage on a round-neck resonator or standard guitar. Dobro players also generally use a set of strings with different gauges than those used on standard electric or acoustic guitars to help them to project more sound and to achieve their higher tunings.
Modified C6 tuning, with a Bb in the bass: Bb-E-G-A-C-E
Western Swing and Country lap steel players generallyy use a C6 tuning. There is no one ‘standard” C6 tuning. A popular one is C-E-G-A-C-E. This tuning is a good for those old Hank Williams records.
The E7 tuning is used when learning with the Mel Bay Steel Guitar Method instructional books.
E7 tuning is B0-D-E-G#-B-E or with the 6th string lowered to the tonic E: E-D-E-G#-B-E
Also see more about Lap Steel and different tunings at Brad’s Page of Steel.