Selection of equipment is an individual choice. The equipment recommended for beginners comprises a 6-string lap steel guitar, a portable amplifier, a cable to connect the instrument to the amplifier, and the requisite thumb and finger picks and steel bar.
Lap steel guitars are not widely available from music stores. Many students start out with pre-owned equipment obtained from various sources including Craig's List, ebay, or pawn shops. Some of the equipment available from these sources is of a vintage nature and may command premium prices.
One setup that many beginning steel guitarists are using is the Rogue steel guitar. This import from China includes a 6-string lap steel guitar, legs to configure the instrument as a floor-standing console, and a gig bag. The setup is available from mail order music dealer Musician's Friend starting at $70.
Rogue RLS-1 Lap Steel Guitar with Stand and Gig Bag
A battery-operated portable amplifier is convenient to transport and many can fit inside a suitcase. One battery-operated amplifier that is popular among steel guitarists is the Roland Mobile Cube ($180) available from any music dealer that carries Roland equipment.
Roland Mobile Cube Battery Powered Amp
Roland Micro Cube Battery Powered Guitar Combo Amp
A guitar cable to connect the instrument to the amplifier. This needs to be a guitar/instrument cable with ¼" TS (tip/sleeve) connectors. Cables come in various lengths and colors with either straight or angled connectors. Cables can come with less-expensive rubber sheathing or with more expensive reinforced sheathing made of tweed or other material that some musicians prefer for durability. Cables can also come with a switch to turn off the cable to prevent amplifier damage when removing the cable from the instrument. The connector type (straight or angled) is a matter of preference and what the instrument's jack will accommodate.
The steel guitar requires one thumb pick and two finger picks. A steel bar is also required. Since bars come in an assortment of lengths, diameters, weights, and materials, bar selection is a personal preference. However, one recommended beginning bar for Hawaiian lap steel use is made of polished stainless steel, 2-7/8" in length, 3/4" in diameter, and 5.2oz. in weight. Shown here: John Pearse accessories.
A battery-operated clip-on tuner will help keep your instrument tuned properly. Tuners come in a variety of shapes and sizes but most are designed to be clipped on to the instrument's headstock and can be angled for the best viewing position. Shown here: Snark SN-5X tuner.
Snark SN5X Clip-On Tuner
If the guitar does not come with a case, you may want to consider a case or a gig bag to protect your instrument and make it easier to transport your instrument. Case sizes will depend on the size of your instrument. Many beginning guitars are smaller in size and may fit in a Gretsch G2165 gig bag available from American Music Supply.
If you are connecting your instrument directly to a sound system, you may need a conversion box to make your guitar wotk with the sound system. Sound systems are designed to work with microphones, and the conversion box, called a "DI" (Direct Injection) or Direct Box makes the steel guitar look like a microphone to the sound system by matching the steel guitar's high impedance pickup to the sound system's required low impedance connection. Depending on the DI selected and the sound system connection, various connection cables will also be required. A typical cable will have a ¾" TS plug at one end and a microphone XLR connector at the end connecting to the sound system. Shown here: Berringer Ultra-DI DI600P available from Amazon.