GAA's Guide to Vintage Hawaiian Guitar Music
This is a guide to vintage Hawaiian guitar music (i.e.
music from the 20's and 30's played on an acoustic lap steel
guitar). Below are my recommendations for instructional
materials and CDs. If you're interested in the more modern C6 lap
steel tuning, check out my guide to
C6 Instructional Materials.
Instructional Books and Videos
If you want to learn to play vintage Hawaiian guitar, then there is a limited
selection of instructional materials.
||Learn to Play Traditional
Hawaiian Guitar is a video by Bob Brozman put out by Homespun
Tapes. It's excellent. It's 85 minutes long and full of good
information. The video is available as a DVD or download and includes a booklet with tabs.
The first part of the video covers technique
and history. Then he teaches four different vintage Hawaiian tunes. For
the first two tunes, "Mai Kai No Kauai" and "Maui Chimes",
he presents multiple versions ranging from simple to "hot". It gives
one a good feel for how to put all the elements together to embellish a
tune. The last two tunes are more advanced: "Moana Chimes"
(Brozman calls it the "quintessential"
Hawaiian guitar tune) and "Uheuhene", a jazzy tune.
The video ends with a performance of "Ua Like No A Like". That tune is
not tabbed out, but you should be able to pick it up by watching.
Overall it's a nice balance between beginning and
advanced material. He teaches the Low G tuning (DGDGBD). This is equivalent to
the Open A tuning (EAEAC#E) which was commonly used for Hawaiian guitar until the
mid-1930's. It's also the
same as the Open G tuning used for bottleneck guitar.
Art of Hawaiian Steel Guitar is a book by Stacy Phillips published by
Mel Bay. It is available as a book or e-book with online. It's also very good, but it has a
different approach than the Brozman video. It has tabs for over fifty vintage Hawaiian steel
tunes. Most of the tunes are "classics".
The majority of the tunes are
tabbed for the High G tuning (GBDGBD). About 20% of the tunes are other
tunings: Open D (DADF#AD), G6 (GBDEGB) and Bm (GBDF#BD).
The book has a
lot of supplemental information. There are chapters on the history of
Hawaiian music, a discussion of the elements of Hawaiian
guitar, information about some of the players and tunes, a discography
of vintage Hawaiian music and a bibliography.
The CD demonstrates the
tunes. They are at a slow tempo without accompaniment. You should
get some of the vintage Hawaiian compilation CDs on Rounder and
Folklyric (see below) so you can hear the original recordings.
A follow-on book,
Art of Hawaiian Steel Guitar, Volume 2, is also available.
It's a very good supplement to the original Art of Hawaiian Steel Guitar.
The format is similar. It tabs out twenty vintage Hawaiian tunes. Each tab
is preceded with short discussion of the tune.
The collection includes seven Sol Hoopii tunes, three Jim and Bob tunes
("Song of the Plains", "St Louis Blues" and "By the Waters of the Minnetonka"),
one by Jules Ah See ("Hula Blues") and three "old style" tunes by David Burrows.
Nearly all the tunes use the High G tuning. The remainder are in C6, Bm and an unusual D tuning.
There's a section on turnarounds that beginners will find useful.
Even if you're an experienced player who rarely uses tabs,
you may find the advanced tabs (Jim and Bob tunes and Sol Hoopii's "Hula Girl") tabs useful.
The video and both books are very good. If you're just starting out,
get the Brozman video. I think it's much clearer in teaching some of
the techniques such as vibrato, harmonics and triplets. However, you
should also get the first volume of The Art of Hawaiian Steel Guitar
and maybe the second volume too.
The books are a very good complement to the
Brozman video - they'll expand your repertoire and knowledge of the
history of Hawaiian guitar. The Art of Hawaiian Steel Guitar books are available from
Stacy Phillips' website
Vintage Hawaiian CDs
Here's a list of some of the currently available CDs featuring vintage Hawaiian
steel guitar. There is little overlap in the selection of tunes on
these CDs. Buying one doesn't preclude buying any others.
All the CDs with the exception of the Remembering the Songs of our Youth
are compilations of
original 78 recordings. If you haven't listened to a lot of old
recording you may find that it takes a while to get used to the surface
noise and limited fidelity. However, once you get over that you may be
surprised at the amount of detail you can hear on these old 78s.
Steel Guitar Classics (Arhoolie/Folklyric 9027) - A very well chosen
collection of 26 Hawaiian steel tunes. All of the key vintage steel players are
represented - Sol Hoopii, Bob Pauole (Jim & Bob), King Bennie Nawahi,
Sam Ku West, Sol Bright, etc. The liner notes are very good. If you
only get one CD then this is a good choice.
Hawaiian Music: Steel Guitar Masters (Rounder 1052) - Another
nice collection with good liner
notes. Sixteen tunes.
Hawaiian Music: The Great Singers (Rounder 1053) - Nice
collection, good liner notes, sixteen
tunes. Even though it is a collection of vocals nearly every cut
features steel guitar.
Sol Hoopii: Master of the Steel Guitar Vol 2 (Rounder 1025) -
Sol Hoopii is a true master of Hawaiian steel
guitar. This CD contains tunes from 1927 to 1951. Many of the tracks
feature electric steel guitar. It includes detailed liner notes with
information about each tune. There is also a
Master of the Steel
Guitar Vol 1 (Rounder 1024). It covers 1926 to 1930. The liner
notes are not as detailed as the Volume 2 liner notes. I found the
Volume 1 harder to listen to - the recording quality isn't as good and
the tunes are a little more "primitive". However, once you get into it, it is
very enjoyable to listen to.
History of Hawaiian Steel Guitar
(Cord International HOCD34000) - A
very good collection of Hawaiian
steel guitar music from 1927 to 1950. It includes a 16 page booklet
with detailed liner notes describing the players and the tunings used.
The booklet is nicely illustrated with photos of vintage Hawaiian
guitars. Only the first eight cuts are acoustic steel guitar. The rest
are electric steel guitar and can't really be considered "vintage". It
does let you hear how Hawaiian guitar evolved after electrification and
the switch to other tunings.
Ho'Omana'o I Na Mele O Ka Wa U'i (Remembering the Songs of Our Youth) (Rounder 6028) -
This is a modern recording of vintage Hawaiian music by the Tau Moe family and Bob Brozman.
Tau Moe and his family are Hawaiian musicians who toured and recorded
begining in the 1920's. This album was recorded in the 80's. There's a real charm to
hearing them recreating these songs nearly 60 years after they first performed them.
Bob Brozman has the vintage Hawaiians steel style down pat.
His playing on this album is a great source of musical ideas for vintage Hawaiian steel.
- Waikiki Is Good Enough For Me and Rhythm of the Waves
(Beer Records) - NOTE: Both are out of
print! These are two incredible
collections of Hawaiian steel music from the 20s and 30s. These are not
not audio CDs. Each CD has nearly 200
tracks in MP3 format. They contain lots of great and rare tracks.
If you want to explore further, here are some collections dedicated to a single group or artist.
These collections are nice because they give you a feel for the range of an artist and help you
understand the elements that make up an artist's individual style. Note: if you're interested in Sol Hoopii, Beer Records has a
complete discography of his commercial releases.
Sol Hoopii: King of Hawaiian Guitar: Acoustic and Electric 1927 - 1936 (Cord International) -
This is a nice
collection spanning much of Sol's career. Cord International did a very good audio restoration job.
Some of these tracks also appear on the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Classics and Master of the Steel Guitar Vol 2 albums, but most of the tracks are unique to this collection.
Sol Hoopii: Sol Hoopii in Hollywood (Grass Skirt Records) - This is a
collection of Sol's earliest recordings made in 1925/1926 on a small label in Los Angeles. It's interesting to hear how developed his style was even in these early recordings. Nice liner notes give some historical background on the record label and the record business in the 1920's.
Sam Ku West: Hawaiian Hula Blues (Grass Skirt Records) - Sam Ku West's recording of "Huehue"
has always been one of my favorite vintage steel recordings. This CD is a collection of
everything he recorded in his short career. There are quite a few nice tunes in this collection.
The liner notes, based on contemporary newspaper
reports and information supplied by surviving members of Sam Ku West's family, are excellent and give a sense of what it must have been like to have been a touring steel guitarist in the 1920's.
Sol Hoopii and Sam Ku West were contemporaries and recorded many of the same tunes. In this Steel Guitar Forum post I point out some interesting similarities in their recordings.
King Bennie Nawahi: Hawaiian String Virtuoso (Yazoo 2055) -
Bennie Nawahi had a lively playing style. His tone is pretty distinctive because he played a single
cone resonator. Nearly all the other Hawaiian steel guitarist of this era used a tricone resonator which has
a much "sweeter" sound with more sustain. This album
has a very wide range of musical styles - "hot jazz", happa haole, Hawaiian, blues and even country.
The most interesting tracks are probably the "hot jazz" tunes he recorded with a small orchestra.
Kalama's Quartet: Early Hawaiian Classics (Arhoolie 7028) -
The vocals on this collection are outstanding. The members
of the group have very distinct vocal styles (especially the bass vocalist)
and they blend together nicely. One unusual feature of the group is
that on most tracks they have two steel guitarists. It's interesting to hear how they stay
out of each other's way (e.g. one plays high while the other plays low, or one plays
busily while the other leaves a lot of space). Because they were popular recording artists of the
their time, it's a good collection of popular Hawaiian tunes from that era.
Feel free to contact
me if you have any comments. Visit my home page for pages on related subjects
(such as Jim and Bob, the Genial Hawaiians).
visits since April 21, 2003
09/09/02 - Initial version
04/09/03 - Added links to albums
01/05/04 - Added note that "Waikiki Is Good Enough For Me" is out of
06/06/04 - Added note about Vol 2 of "Art of Hawaiian Steel Guitar"
10/09/04 - Added note about pieces in Ozzie Kotani's book
04/26/05 - Added note about C6 Instructional Materials and Brozman/Moe album
07/17/05 - Added Cumquat Records play-along CD.
11/08/05 - Added links for Kalama's Quartet, King Bennie Nawahi, Sam Ku West and Radio Sol CDs
11/23/05 - Added information about The Art of Hawaiian Steel Guitar, Volume 2
03/31/06 - Moved to new server, added email contact, link to Jim and Bob page
12/11/07 - Fixed links to Cumquat CDs, added "Sol Hoopii:Acoustic and Electric 1927 - 1936" and "Sol Hoopii in Hollywood"
12/13/07 - Added note comparing Sol Hoopii and Sam Ku West, dropped "Rough Guide to the Music of Hawaii"
12/23/07 - Added link to Sol Hoopii discography
12/31/10 - Fixed broken links
05/13/11 - Fixed broken links, added images