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.

LTPHG 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.

TAOHSG The 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, The 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.

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.


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 print
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