Recording King RG31 Lap Steel Guitar

We’ve reviewed and tested many a Chinese built guitar and have almost always found that their Achilles heel is in the electrics. The build quality of Asian instruments has been getting better and better over recent years, but their makers have not applied the same rigorous quality control methods to the electrical components.

When we were asked to look at the RG31, it seemed the perfect candidate for that ‘upgrade’. Coming in at the ridiculously low RRP of £140, it has a “one-piece” nut-to-heel Nato (Asian mahogany) squared neck and body which is “strung through”, giving maximum acoustic resonance and sustain and providing the perfect building blocks for a highly playable instrument. As might be expected, the fitted P90 is brittle and lacks any real warmth and depth, suggesting that it is a ceramic rather than an alnico model, while the ‘pots’ on the tone and volume knobs follow style, with very little change between 12 and 6 and then a massive boost between there and midnight!

We changed the cheap ‘pots’ and immediately replaced them with a pair of quality American products from Having sorted the controls, we contacted Trevor Wilkinson Designs at and bought in one of their superb P90 Alnico V neck pickups with enough bark to blow your head off, while at the same time having that renowned smoothness and warmth.

The effect was immediate. The instrument was almost unrecognisable soundwise from its original incarnation. Putting a neck pickup in the bridge position made the sound sweeter and less aggressive and with the new pot fitted to the tone control, we could go from a cool jazz sound to a wailing, shrill Cooder-type blues – and everything in between. And a properly staggered linear style pot for the volume meant that we no longer had to dial in to around seven to get any kind of serious response.

With a total outlay of just over £200, our upgraded RG31 is an instrument that will hold its corner with the best of them. And just in case you were wondering… we couldn’t resist fitting a couple of period 1930s-style bakelite control knobs!

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