1930s Slingerland Songster 400

I was sufficiently impressed with the sound of my Slingerland 401 (if not the playability) that I seized the chance to obtain a matching 400 lap steel as well. Most of the basic details are the same – neck-through construction, humbucking pickup, and some fancy veneers – but this is not the same instrument with a square neck. The differences are most obvious when the two are viewed side by side:

The Hawaiian version (left) has a shorter scale (24”) than the Spanish version. This is accommodated both by shortening the neck and by moving the neck joint to a lower fret. The pickup/control assembly and the bridge have also been moved toward the tail. The result is that even though there is only a 1” difference in scale, the Hawaiian guitar is a full 3” shorter than its counterpart. As is the norm, the lap steel dispenses with frets and has line markers in their place. It features a regular-height nut but appears to have left the factory with a metal nut extender; I have removed this extender and found that the tone and sustain improved. The fingerboard is also extended up to the 26th fret to make use of the guitar’s extended range. There is no pickguard, although my steel shows more pick wear than my Spanish guitar.

My Hawaiian guitar is entirely original except for the hard-wired cord, which appears to be a 1960s replacement. It has its original bridge, and keen-eyed readers might notice that it features a compensated saddle. Slingerland may have thrown a number of new ideas into these instruments, but they lacked common sense when it came to bridges: some Spanish 401 guitars had uncompensated saddles while some Hawaiian 400 guitars had compensated ones. The choice seems to be random for both models, as if the assembler didn’t understand the difference. As a consequence, a slight reverse slant is needed to keep chords on my 400 intonated correctly. At least the tone is excellent: the steel has a little less bite due to the shorter scale but plenty of output and sustain.

 

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