Well…this steel guitar is not actually TSA Certified, but at a length of 20-3/4 inches it does fit diagonally in a carry-on suitcase. I had built the first incarnation a few years back when I had to go on a business trip and wanted an instrument to take along. I was only taking a carry-on so it had to be small enough to fit inside this turned out to be a perfect fit.
The body is made from a length of hemlock rail and the fretboard from the supplied cover strip. I utilized only the top side for installation, so a few recess holes were drilled, cut and filed for the pickup, tuners, and bridge. It was the perfect width and the inner cutout just fit the pickup and tuners. The body and fretboard were stained with a mixture of white vinegar and steel wool, which gives the wood a worn/rustic look.
Space was tight, so I had to use my space well. The first thing that I had to figure out was how it would be tuned and therefore what kind of tuners I would use. I wanted to keep an uninterrupted linear form down the sides and back, which left only the top for all functional aspects. I had used an eyebolt/nut/1″ angle as a tuner on a previous build and felt it could work if I was able to fit two and later three tuners within the 1-1/4 space allotted. Eventually, I drilled out a small recess to lower the profile of the tuners in the final model.
I decided early on that I wanted to use an endpin, with a built-in strap button, for the output 1/4″ jack. Since it had to come out of the end closest to the pickup, the strings would have to be mounted around the endpin so I wouldn’t be able to fasten the center string with a normal screw in the center position. I found that an electrical isolation block provided a secure mount and could be installed around the endpin while maintaining adequate string spacing.
I installed one Nd144 Electromagnetic Cigar Box Guitar Pickup—it was the perfect size to fit within the 1-1/4″ space and worked well for the three-string configuration. The early models had had pickups with a magnet built in on the bottom so that the pickup could be moved from the bridge to neck position relative to the specifically placed screws. The magnet would attract the screw and the pickup would stay in the desired position.
The fretboard is scaled to the length of Les Paul beginning at the 12th fret. Early models had a V-shaped mark filed into the surface as fret markers. Only one model was fretted with fabricated nails. The nails were cut, filed to size, super glued into a rut and then dressed.
As far as the remaining components, the nut and saddle are cut from left-handed thread rod and then filed on a diagonal for aesthetics. The top was filed to create ruts to hold the pieces of rod; this also helped lower both the profile and the string action. On the end opposite the endpin, I installed a strap button made from a screw, 1/4″ spacer, and washer. The American flag strap is made from duct tape and is both strong and comfortable.
This was one of the first instruments that I made following the 2×4 slide steel guitars, which were my introduction to building, so many of the features and strategies that I developed for this project paved the way later projects. I like this build—it’s interesting and durable and fun to play; plus, you can fit it in a carry-on suitcase, which is gold in my book. I’ll leave you with a few build pictures of the first, business trip incarnation of this instrument: