1950s Magnatone-made Orpheus Lap Steel Guitar

I've worked on a lot of Magnatone lap steels (and Dickersons, and Bronsons, and whatever other brands these lap steels were sold under) in the past, but I've never handled one that didn't have its pearloid wrapping all over the body. This one's the first I've seen that has a simple age-yellowed natural finish over the (pine or poplar?) body.

It also has a nice set of old original Kluson tuners on it, big funky volume and tone knobs, and the usual nice decal for the "fretboard." It has a chipped-out plastic Orpheus label at the headstock and the owner of the instrument kindly linked me to a Magnatone-made amp out there on the net that bears the label as well. Curious!

Aside from the finish and knobs, it's very much like most other Magnatone lap steels and has a waxed-into-the-body blade-style single coil pickup, tiny cavity with volume and tone controls crammed in, and a very basic look and style that's nonetheless well-thought-out and curvy in just the right places to make it ergonomic for the player. These old lap steels handle nicely. That's not something I can say about all old lappy brands...

Post-work it has a biting, clean, Fender-ish tone that's sort of a cross between a Danelectro's chime and sing-songy qualities and a Strat or DeArmond's snap and zing. It's a perfect sound for '50s lap steel, of course -- and punches right through a band (or recording) mix.

Repairs included: cleaning, proper grounding for the strings, general fussing-over, and setup.

Setup notes: it's a lap steel -- the strings are high -- but it's also in good order and both the nut and saddle are even and level. It's currently tuned to open E (EBEG#BE low to high) with 50w-11 gauges, plain 3rd.

Scale length: 22 1/2"
Nut width: 2 1/2"
String spacing at nut: 1 7/8"
String spacing at bridge: 2 3/16"
Body length: ~12 1/4"
Lower bout width: 7 5/8"
Side depth at endpin: 1 3/4"
Body wood: solid pine or poplar
Bridge: steel

Condition notes: there's wear and tear to the finish including some flaking-off at corners and edges and plenty of weather-checking. The Orpheus label/badge is damaged at the headstock. The pickup and wiring is all in good order, though I did need to spray the pots out with contact cleaner and I added a couple of screws to the jack socket's sidewall to keep it in place and wiggle-free. There's one tiny chip-out on the body near the control cavity cover but it's still intact.

Magnatone lap steels use a blade-style pickup -- the center bit is a horseshoe magnet that's wrapped with a coil and the leads off the coil are carried into the control cavity. The company then backfills the routed-out slot that the pickup rests in with wax. This results in a very strong mount for the pickup and it response nicely with the body.

I always add a ground wire to the string-retainer cup at the back of the body. The wrist-rest/palm-rest over the pickup is also grounded from the factory, but I think it's nice to have both strings and rest grounded.