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The lap steel guitar is a type of steel guitar which is typically played with the instrument in a horizontal position on the performer’s lap or otherwise supported. The performer changes pitch by pressing a metal or glass bar against the strings as opposed to a traditional guitar where the performer's fingertips press the strings against frets. The bar placed against the strings is called a "steel" or "tone bar".
There are three types of lap steel guitars:
- Acoustic lap steel guitar: The body resembles a traditional Spanish guitar. These were originally called "Hawaiian guitars", after the "slack-key" playing technique was popularized there in the late 1800s. These instruments are specifically designed to be played horizontally; i.e., the strings are higher off the fingerboard than a traditional guitar. Traditional guitars can be modified to play this way by using a "nut extender", a device to raise the strings.
- National or Dobro-type guitars, which typically have reinforced square necks and feature a large aluminum cone, called a "resonator", to increase volume.
- Electric lap steel guitars: These guitars are designed to be played horizontally and feature an electric pickup so they do not require any resonant chamber. Guitars in this category may differ markedly in external appearance and include instruments made from a rectangular solid block of wood. In addition to the lap-played model, a closely related version called a "console steel" guitar often featured more than one neck which made it too heavy to be played on the performer's lap. It is supported on legs (but does not include the pedals or knee levers of the pedal steel guitar). Electric lap steels typically have six, eight or up to ten strings.