Mahalo MLG1 lap steel

Heard the word about the surfing lap steel?

The sound of a wailing lap-steel guitar is as synonymous with Hawaiian culture as loud shirts, Dog the Bounty Hunter's mullet... and pineapple chunks on pizza. The new Mahalo MLG1 Lap Steel nails that association with the Polynesian island, thanks to a beautifully rendered surfboard-shaped basswood body.

The guitar is topped and tailed with a raised chrome bridge and top nut connected by heavy gauge strings (high to low: 0.013, 0.017, 0.024, 0.032, 0.042 and 0.056). An inch or so below the strings lies a sheet of printed markers to guide your fingers, and a single P-90-style single-coil pickup wired to a volume and tone control.

"What sets the Mahalo apart is that, while you can rest it on your lap, it also comes with three telescopic legs to take the strain"

There are plenty of great quality, affordable lap steels available. The P-90-equipped Recording King RG-31 and RG-32 models (£140 a pop); the fugly but ergonomically sound Peavey PowerSlide (£229), which can be hung from a strap; and the Art Deco Gretsch Electromatic 'steels (£334) to name a few.

What sets the Mahalo apart is that, while you can rest it on your lap, it also comes with three telescopic legs to take the strain. It also comes with a padded gigbag that accommodates the steel and the legs.

You don't, however, get a tone bar (basically a solid slide) - you can use a guitar slide or bottleneck, but a tone bar sounds better. The likes of Jim Dunlop sell them for around £25.

Our Mahalo steel came tuned to open E (high to low: E, B, G#, E, B and E), a popular blues slide-guitar tuning used by the likes of Robert Johnson, The Rolling Stones, and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry when he's pulling blues licks from his old lap steel.

Aficionados of classic 40s and 50s country lap and console steel tend to use a C6 tuning, of which there a quite a few variations. Listen to Don Helms' playing on Hank Williams hits such as Your Cheatin' Heart.

You need to use open tunings on a steel so you can play chords by laying the tone bar across a few strings at a time. For instance, in E tuning, when you hit the strings open you get an E chord. Slide the tone bar up to the 5th fret marker for an A chord; continue to the 7th for a B chord. That's a classic three-chord trick that you couldn't pull off on a steel in regular tuning.

Despite its novelty appearance, the Mahalo MGL1 is a serious instrument, with its lone pickup pumping out a ballsy tone. Steel players like to use a volume pedal to fade notes in, but you can use any effects you want. Delay and overdrive - as used by David Gilmour and Huey Morgan on their steels - are especially effective.

MusicRadar Rating

4 / 5 stars
Pros

Nice tone. Telescopic legs. Gigbag.

Cons

No tone bar included.

Verdict

Like pineapple on pizza, lap steel can be something of an acquired taste, but the Mahalo is the perfect place to start.

Scale Length (mm)

577

Scale Length (Inches)

22.75

No. of Frets

36

Hardware

Chrome

Pickup Type

1x P-90-style single coil

Guitar Body Material

Basswood

Circuitry Type

1x volume, 1x tone

Body Style

Surfboard-shaped lap steel

Available Finish

Gloss Cream with surfboard graphics

Features

Aluminium fingerboard

Review Policy
All MusicRadar's reviews are by independent product specialists, who are not aligned to any gear manufacturer or retailer. Our experts also write for renowned magazines such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Computer Music, Future Music and Rhythm. All are part of Future PLC, the biggest publisher of music making magazines in the world.