Hawaiian Steel Guitar

Hawaiian Music is a Style, Not a Guitar

People often ask, what's that instrument you're playing called. I tell them it is a “lap steel guitar” or a “pedal steel guitar,” depending on which I take to the beach. Both are unique and beautiful and Hawaiian music can be played equally beautiful on both instruments.

The first thing you need to learn is that Hawaiian music is a style, not a guitar. Albeit, I prefer the lap steel for Hawaiian music at the beach because it is lightweight and less burdensome if it starts raining suddenly. Besides, I love the simplicity of the lap steel. I've been playing less expensive lap steels lately in public to encourage people that it doesn't requires a $1700 Jerry Byrd Frypan guitar to sound great. My Rogue Jersey Lightning is awesome with as good a sustain as the Jerry Byrd Frypan (if not better). Here's a video on YouTube of me playing the Rogue Jersey Lightning lap steel through a Peavey Session 400 amplifier. Here's the MP3 backing track I made with Band-in-a-Box, which you can have and share with others. Here's a much better MP3 version of E MAMA E that I recorded, which you can also have and share with others. God bless and enjoy!

Here's What A Friend We Have In Jesus that I also recorded. The track is freely available on my “Rhythm Tracks” page.

In this article, I want to focus on Hawaiian technique and not so much tunings, although I'm going to stick to the C6th tuning for simplicity (and because that's what I play 95% of my Hawaiian music on, B11th coming in 2nd). I don't claim originality for any of these musical pieces. Most of them are from albums I've heard and worked hard to figure them out. Please read, Playing Music and Emotional Feelings.

By “style” I am referring to numerous techniques that are quite popular on steel guitar giving it that distinctive Hawaiian sound. Here are dozens of different pieces of music on C6th tuning which I have recorded on lap steel and some tabs to guide you to learn them on the C6th lap steel. This will help get you going and give you a great start playing Hawaiian steel guitar.

Jerry Byrd teaches...

“Steel guitar is a Hawaiian instrument by birth and what I consider to be the signature sound of Hawaiian music. Having undergone many changes, both physically and musically, in the hundred-plus years of its existence, it is, I will say without hesitation, one of the most difficult instruments to master.” —Jerry Byrd, “It Was A Trip On Wings Of Music,” by Jerry Byrd (1920-2005); 2003, p. 110.

I have tried to be helpful by indicating which fingers I used to pick the notes, placing a letter after each number. Of course, the number represents the fret upon which to place the bar on the designated string.

T=thumb
F=forefinger (or index finger)
M=middle finger

  1. Hawaiian Piece 01 | Hawaiian Piece 01b | Hawaiian Piece 01c | Hawaiian Piece 01d

    E___8M___________12M______12~~10M___8~M___________________________
    C_______9T~~~12______12T__________________________________________
    A________________________________________7T_______________________
    G_________________________________________________________________
    E_________________________________________________________________
    C#___Note: on 01b version I start on 9th fret instead of 8th._____
  2. Hawaiian Piece 02 (to chime the notes at fret 17, gently place your palm across the strings and rake your thumb pick across strings 5 through 2 and then immediately lift your palm off the strings)

    E_________________________________________________________________
    C____5M____*5~~~17____Thumb rakes across strings 5 and 4__________
    A____5F____*5~~~17________________________________________________
    G____5T____*5~~~17________________________________________________
    E____5T____*5~~~17________________________________________________
    C#_*chime across strings using palm harmonics at the 17th fret.___
  3. Hawaiian Piece 03

    E_________________________________________________________________
    C____5~~~17_______________________________________________________
    A____5~~~17_______________________________________________________
    G____5~~~17_______________________________________________________
    E____5~~~17_______________________________________________________
    C#________________________________________________________________
  4. Hawaiian Piece 04

    E____*5__________________3M__4M__~5M______________________________
    C_____*5_________4M__5M___________________________________________
    A______*5____5F___________________________________________________
    G_________5(thumb plays__________~5T______________________________
    E___________(this note)___________________________________________
    C#__*Back-rake across the first 3 strings using your forefinger___
  5. Hawaiian Piece 05

    E___*5F___________________________________________________________
    C____*5F__________________________________________________________
    A_____*5F_________________________________________________________
    G________5T (note that thumb plays this note)_____________________
    E_________________________________________________________________
    C#___*same as above, back-rake with forefinger toward you.________
  6. Hawaiian Piece 06

    E______*3~0~3~0M_____________0~1M____1M___________________________
    C________________________0F__________0F___________________________
    A___________________0~1F_____________0T___________________________
    G_______________0T________________________________________________
    E_________________________________________________________________
    C#_*string one is only picked once at 3rd fret, then bar bounced__
  7. Hawaiian Piece 07

    E_________________________________________________________________
    C____*5~~~17__________These are palm harmonics.___________________
    A____*5~~~17______________________________________________________
    G____*5~~~17__________Notice that you are sliding up one octave.__
    E____*5~~~17______________________________________________________
    C#__*Rake across strings while gently lifting palm off 17th fret._
  8. Hawaiian Piece 08 (thumb is used on string 5, and middle finger on string 2)

    E___Below you are blocking the 5th string with the thumb pick.____
    C_____4~~6___6~~8___8~~9___9~~11____11~9___9~~8___8~~6___6~~4__4__
    A_________________________________________________________________
    G_________________________________________________________________
    E___4______5______7______9_______11______9______7______5_______4__
    C#________This technique is called pick blocking._________________
  9. Hawaiian Piece 09 (thumb is used on string 4, and middle finger on string 1)

    E____4~~5___5~~7___7~~9___9~~11___11~~9___9~~7___7~~5___5~~4____5_
    C______________________________________________________________5__
    A_________________________________________________________________
    G__4______6______8______9______11_______9______8______6_______5___
    E_________________________________________________________________
    C#___Same exact technique as above, but on strings 1 and 4________
  10. Hawaiian Piece 10 (thumb is used on string 4, and middle finger on string 1)

    E___8________6________5_________3______1__________________________
    C_________________________________________________________________
    A__________________________________________These are advanced_____
    G_____9~8~7____7~6~5_____5~4~3____3~2______techniques, but you____
    E__________________________________________need to know them so___
    C#___This is a great scale exercise._______you can work on them.__
  11. Hawaiian Piece 11

    E_________________________________________________________________
    C___9~M___________________4M___5M_________________________________
    A_______8T_____5F_____3F__________________________________________
    G___________5T_____3T__________5F_________________________________
    E______________________________5T_________________________________
    C#________________________________________________________________
    
    		
  12. Hawaiian Piece 12 | Hawaiian Piece 12b

    E________5~~3M____________________________________________________
    C_______________4~~2F_____________________________________________
    A_____________________1T__2T__3T__________________________________
    G___4~5T__________________________________________________________
    E_________________________________________________________________
    C#________________________________________________________________
  13. Hawaiian Piece 13

    E____10M__9~8M____________________________________________________
    C______________8F_________________________________________________
    A_________________7T__6T__5T___4F_________________________________
    G_________________________________5T______________________________
    E_________________________________________________________________
    C#________________________________________________________________
  14. Hawaiian Piece 14 | Hawaiian Piece 14b

    E______~6~5M_______________________On this piece fingering is_____
    C_________________~7~6M___5M_______very important to sound right._
    A_________________________________________________________________
    G____5T______5F___________5F_________T=thumb___M=middle finger____
    E_______________6T________5T___________F=fore (index) finger______
    C#________________________________________________________________
  15. Hawaiian Piece 15 | Hawaiian Piece 15b (same as first, but on 10th fret)

    E____5~~~___5~~~____5___5_________________________________________
    C___________________5___5_________________________________________
    A___*5~~7___7~~5__________________________________________________
    G___________________5___4_________________________________________
    E_*reverse bar slant and then slant back down after picking again_
    C#________________________________________________________________
  16. Hawaiian Piece 16

    E___________5M______8M___________10M___10M___10M___10M____________
    C_____________6F______9F___________________________10F____________
    A_______________6T______9T___~10~~~T___9T_________________________
    G___4T__5T___________________________________10T___9T_____________
    E_________________________________________________________________
    C#________________________________________________________________
  17. Hawaiian Piece 17

    E___________________________________________________3_3_4_5_______
    C______________4M_4M~5M~_____________________4__~5__3_3_4_5__5____
    A__3M_______3M___________3F~___2F_3~2~3F___3F___~5___________5____
    G______2~3F_________________2T__________~3T_____~5__3_3_4_5__5____
    E____3T_________________________________________~5___________5____
    C#________________________________________________________________
  18. Hawaiian Piece 18

    E_________________________________________________________________
    C_______________________4M___5M___________________________________
    A___2F__3~2~3F______3F_______5F___________________________________
    G______________~3T___________5T___________________________________
    E____________________________5T___________________________________
    C#________________________________________________________________
     
     
  19. Hawaiian Piece 19 (clips 19 through 33 all recorded with $79 Rogue lap steel. Listen to musical pieces 34 and 35 to hear a 24 1/2" long-scale Jerry Byrd aluminum Frypan and the rich difference in tone. The Jerry Byrd Frypan is much nicer, having a beautiful tone. It's the original stock factory pickup in the Byrd Frypan. Plus, the $79 lap steels fall apart after a few years and don't stay in tune as well. You get what you pay for. Still, you can't beat $79 for what you get, with a stand and legs. By the way, consider a quality 'Deluxe 34' laptop stand for your lap steel if you'd like one.)

    E________________~10__9__8________10____*I'm recording clips 19___
    C_______7__9~________________10__________through 33 with my Rogue_
    A____8________8______________10__________$79 lap steel, through___
    G____________________________10___10_____a G5222 Gretsch amp &____
    E____________________________10__________a BOSS '63 Reverb pedal._
    C#________________________________________________________________
  20. Hawaiian Piece 20

    E_______________3__4__5_______________~10__9__8___________________
    C_________4__5________________7__9~______________10_______________
    A_______5__________________8________8____________10_______________
    G_____5_______________5__________________________10_______________
    E________________________________________________10_______________
    C#________________________________________________________________
  21. Hawaiian Piece 21 | Hawaiian Piece 21b

    E_______________________7_________________________________________
    C________12______7_________5_______All natural harmonics__________
    A______12______7_____5____________________________________________
    G___*12______7____________________________________________________
    E_________________________________________________________________
    C#_*use left hand pinky finger to chime all of these (no bar)_____
  22. Hawaiian Piece 22

    E____4~~5T_________________________________________________________
    C____4~~5T___________6M~5__________________________________________
    A____4~~5T_________6M_~~5___*5~~17_________________________________
    G____4~~5T_______6F_~~~~5____5~~17_________________________________
    E____4~~5T___5~6T_~~~~~~5____5~~17_________________________________
    C#_________________________________*palm harmonics_________________
  23. Hawaiian Piece 23 | Hawaiian Piece 23b (same as first, but then I raise the bar to fret 5)

    E_________________________________________________________________
    C___*4M~~________*I begin my downward bar slide at about _________
    A____4F~~_________fret number 10. I also back off the volume______
    G____4T~~_________and then raise it as I'm sliding down into______
    E____4T~~_________home base at fret number 4._____________________
    C#________________________________________________________________
  24. Hawaiian Piece 24

    E__________*Thumb rakes across all of these.______________________
    C__*~6___~6___5___________________________________________________
    A___~6___~6___5___________________________________________________
    G___~6___~6___5___________________________________________________
    E___~6___~6___5___________________________________________________
    C#________________________________________________________________
  25. Hawaiian Piece 25 (The following musical piece works very nicely in many Hawaiian songs; such as, "Beyond the Reef" and "Farewell My Tani")

E_________________________________________________________________
C___________6~~9~~12~11~10________________________________________
A______5~6~~~~~9~~12~11~10________________________________________
G___5_____________________________________________________________
E_________________________________________________________________
C#________________________________________________________________
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 26

E__________________8___~10_____8__________________________________
C____________7~8____________9_____________________________________
A_______5~7_______________________________________________________
G____5____________________________________________________________
E_________________________________________________________________
C#________________________________________________________________
 

	
  1. Hawaiian Piece 27

E_________________8~10______8_____________________________________
C____________7~8________9______8__________________________________
A_______5~7________________________7___6___5______________________
G____5____________________________________________________________
E_________________________________________________________________
C#________________________________________________________________
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 28

E_________________8~~12~11~10~9~8_________________________________
C____________7~8~~~~~12~11~10~9~8_________________________________
A_______5~7_______________________________________________________
G____5____________________________________________________________
E_________________________________________________________________
C#________________________________________________________________
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 29

E___*13M_____________________________Note: For the second part____
C_____13F___15M___13M___12M__________of the clip, I'm simply______
A____________15F___13F___12F_________alternating the same fingers_
G____________________________________shown (Mexican style)._______
E_________________________________________________________________
C#___*I'm simply picking the strings backwards, separately._______
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 30

E___0M___0___0___0___0___0___0____________________________________
C___2F___2___1___1___0___0___1____________________________________
A___2T___2___1___1___0___0___1____________________________________
G_________________________________________________________________
E_____Note: This piece is common in Hawaiian intros, songs________
C#____like 'Analani E'.___________________________________________
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 31

E____0M____0____0_________________________________________________
C____11F___10___9_________________________________________________
A____11T___10___9_________________________________________________
G_________________________________________________________________
E______Note: This is used in 'Panhandle Rag' (not Hawaiian song)__
C#_____but it's something that's good to learn.___________________
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 32

E____0M____0_____0____0____0______________________________________
C____0F____0_____0____0____0______________________________________
A____10T___12___~13___12___10_____________________________________
G_________________________________________________________________
E____Note: This is more of a Western Swing piece, but I want______
C#___you to learn about working with open strings.________________
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 33

E_____0M__________________________________________________________
C____~4T___0F_____________________________________________________
A_________~3T___0F________________________________________________
G______________~2T___0F___________________________________________
E___________________~3T___________________________________________
C#____This is another interesting piece you should know.__________
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 34 (I used a Jerry Byrd 24 1/2" long scale Frypan to record the musical pieces below for 34 and 35. You you can hear the rich tone in comparison to the $79 Rogue steel used from pieces 19-33)

E____5~3M_________________________________________________________
C_________3F______________________________________________________
A____________3T__2T_______________________________________________
G___________________3T__2T________________________________________
E_________________________________________________________________
C#________________________________________________________________
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 35

E____5~3M______________________________________~6M________________
C_________3F____________________________5F_________5F~____________
A____________3T__2T_________3F__4T__5T_____5T_________4T__________
G___________________3T__2T________________________________________
E_________________________________________________________________
C#________________________________________________________________

Jules Ah See 'Beyond the Reef' Intro

  1. Hawaiian Piece 36 (I play it through slow, and then full speed so you can learn the notes)

E__________5__4~~3_______________|_______________5~6~_____________
C________5_________3_____________|___________5________5~__________
A______5_____________3__2________|___3__4~5____5_________4________
G___~5_____________________3__2__|________________________________
E________________________________|________________________________
C#_______________________________|________________________________
  1. Hawaiian Piece 37 (this is part of Herb Remington's instrumental song, SWEETNIN.' Try it with an A6th rhythm track or a C6th Rhythm Track (uses real instruments in track). Hear me play the song using an older BB track, or watch on YouTube (I used A6th in the video). The A6th is the same as the C6th with a high G, just 1 1/2 tones lower in pitch. Herb Remington popularized this A6th tuning. I like the A6th because the lower pitched strings have a richer tone to them. I slowed the tempo of the song down a bit from Herb's original to give it more of a swing feel. Here's part of the tabs below. These are good muting and chiming techniques to learn. This is a great song (see bottom half of page) to learn and play...

E______________0_______7_7___5_5__________________________________
C____0_0___2___0___7___7_7___5_5___0_0___2__0_____________________
A____0_0___2_______7_______________0_0___2__0_____________________
G_________________________________________________________________
E_____All of the above notes are played by muting the strings_____
C#____with the right hand placed just before the bridge.__________
 
 

	
E___*12___*7__*5__*7_________repeat above section again.__________
C___*12___*7__*5__*7______________________________________________
A_________________________________________________________________
G___*These notes are all chimed using palm harmonics. These are___
E___natural harmonics, meaning that you don't use the bar to play_
C#__them. Place your pinky across the two strings and chime.______
 

The following pieces (38-43) were recorded using an 8 string CANOPUS brand guitar tuned to standard C6th with an added Bb (dominant 7th chord).

In this first piece, I do some thumping (as I call it) exercises on the bottom string tuned to a low C. I use two different techniques so you can here what they both sound like. In the first technique, I simply use the thumb pick to block the string after picking it, and then move down to the next fret. I don't skip any frets, thumping each fret as I descend down to fret three. In the second technique, I actually raise the bar off the string just a little bit each time after picking the string, to give it that chicken-pickin quality.

  1. Hawaiian Piece 38

E___________*To learn this, simply start slow and accurate._______
C______________*Accuracy is more important than speed.____________
A______*As you get the hang of it, your speed will increase.______
G_____*It's great practice to move your bar one fret at a time____
E______up and down the neck. Go up an octave and then down._______
C_________________________________________________________________
Bb________________________________________________________________
C____10___10__9__8__7__6__5__4__3_________________________________
 
 
E__*Notice below that I silence the 9th string while sliding up.__
B__________3~~14~15_______________________________________________
A_________3~~~14~15____*Just touch the string with your thumb_____
G________3~~~~14~15_____pick while sliding to silence it._________
E_______3~~~~~14~15_______________________________________________
C______3~~~~~~14~15_______________________________________________
Bb___*3~~~_____*I block the 9th string because it doesn't sound___
C____3~~~~~~~~14~15_____good in an octave slide.__________________
 
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 39 (I use the preceding technique in the song, “Beyond The Reef,” just to give you an idea how it is used. I tabbed out some of the parts below)...

E______________________________________|_____________________3____
C_____8________________________________|___*10~~12~~10___8___3____
A_____8_________________________11~10__|___*10~~11~~10___8________
G_____8________________________11~~10__|_____________________3____
E_____8___8___9___10__________11~~~10__|____10~~~~~~~~___8________
C_________8___9___10_________11~~~~10__|__________________________
Bb________8___9___10________11~~~~~10__|___*forward bar slant_____
C______________________10~11~~~~~~~10__|__________________________
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 40 (The following is the A13th tuning. I recorded this piece twice, this one doesn't hold the bass note at the end quite as much. Notice the G note on the seventh string. Also, notice that string 2 is lowered to a B note instead of the normal C. This is not a standard tuning, just a variation that you should be aware of for particular songs, like “Unforgettable.” Jules Ah See used this A13 piece below on “Beyond The Reef” with Barney Isaacs, on the album “Hawaiian Shores.”

E___Click Here for complete tabs and history____________
B___< NOTICE B NOTE INSTEAD OF C__________________________________
A_________________________________________________________________
G_________________________________________________________________
E_________________________________________________________________
C_________________________________________________________________
G___< NOTICE G NOTE INSTEAD OF Bb_________________________________
C_________________________________________________________________
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 41 (this piece uses some of the things I just shared with you. I tabbed out the single string solo for you. I played the piece a little slower here. You can hear the descending note pattern (bass thumping) again as I taught you in Hawaiian Piece 38)...

E__________10~~13___11~____11~___________8~9__8__7__|_______________________
C________10___________________10______9_____________|_______________________
A___9~10______________10________10~9________________|_________________10____
G___________________________________________________|________________10_____
E___________________________________________________|__8__9__10_____10______
C___________________________________________________|__8__9__10____10_______
Bb__________________________________________________|__8__9__10___10________
C___________________________________________________|____________10_________
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 42 (this is very Hawaiian sounding. I learned this from George De Fretes song, “Beyond The Reef.”

E_____________12_____~13__12__12~10_______________________________
C_______________________________________________11~12__12__*12____
A___________________________________10_______10___________________
G_____________12__12____________________9~10___________12_________
E____11__12____________________________________________12_________
C____11__12_______________________________________________________
Bb______________*Palm harmonic (also called a chime)______________
C_________________________________________________________________
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 43 (a variation of “Beyond The Reef.” Notice especially the large chord voicings and then the end chord. I like the sound of the very last chord, dropping from the 4th fret to the 3rd)...

E___________10__9__8______________________________________________
C___9__10___________________10____8___7___6~5___3_________________
A___9__10___10__9__8_______10~____8_________________4~~3__________
G_________________________10~~____________________________________
E________________________10~~~____8___6___5~4___3___4~~3__________
C___________10__9__8____10~~~~______________________4~~3__________
Bb_____________________10~~~~~____________________________________
C_____________________10~~~~~~____________________________________
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 44 (you can use the following two licks in tons of songs. It's a great technique to learn.)

E_________________5___6___*7~8____________________________________
C______________5______________*8__________________________________
A_________5~6___________________*7___6___5________________________
G___5__5__________________________________________________________
E_________________________________________________________________
C______*triples (three notes played in duration of one note)______
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 45

E____________________5___6___*7~8_________________________________
C_________________6_______________*8______________________________
A___________5~6______________________*7___6___5___________________
G____~5__5________________________________________________________
E_________________________________________________________________
C_____*triples (three notes played in duration of one note)_______
  1. Hawaiian Piece 46 (here's 4 beautiful clips that only Leonard T. Zinn could play so beautiful. Watch video)

E________5___________________3________5___5_______________________
C___________7___________________4__5__5___5_______________________
A_______________7~6_______________________________________________
G___4__5______________5~4__3__________5___5_______________________
E_________________________________________________________________
C_________________________________________________________________
  1. Hawaiian Piece 47 (Leonard T. Zinn. Watch video)

E__________3______________________________________________________
C_____________4~_________4~~5___5_________________________________
A_____________________3___________________________________________
G____2__3_________3_____________5_________________________________
E___________________________5___5_________________________________
C_________________________________________________________________
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 48 (Leonard T. Zinn. Watch video)

E______________~11___10~9~8______________10_____________________________
C_____________________________10_______10____~13_____11__12__12~10___9__
A_______9~~10____________________________________13__11__12__12~10___9__
G___9________________10~9~8___10___9_10_________________________________
E_____________________________10_____________________________________8__
C_______________________________________________________________________
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 49 (Leonard T. Zinn. Watch video). I added a variation below. As a general rule, don't forget to use vibrato on any note that pauses when playing steel guitar. I've had people come up to me and say they really like the vibrato. This is a classic Hawaiian piece...

E__________5__3________________________~5~~4__3___________________
C________________4~~2_______4~~~__5____~5~~4__3___________________
A_______________________1_________5_______________________________
G____4__5_________________________5_______________________________
E______________________________5__5_______________________________
C_________________________________________________________________
 
 
E__________5~3_________________3_________5___5____________________
C_______________4~3_______________4~5________5____________________
A_____________________3~2__1______________________________________
G____4__5____________________________________5____________________
E_________________________________________________________________
C_________________________________________________________________

	
  1. Hawaiian Piece 50

E___1_______1~~~~~~~6~~~~~~~~~~5~~~17_____________________________
C____1_______1~~~~~~~6~~~~~~~~5~~~~17_____________________________
A_____1_______1~~~~~~~6~~~~~~5~~~~~17_____________________________
G______1_______1~~~~~~~6~~~~5~~~~~~17_____________________________
E_______1_______1~~~~~~~6~~5~~~~~~~17_____________________________
C_________________________________________________________________
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 51 (I recorded this clip so you could learn this important technique. It's not difficult if you get the technique correct. The triplets begin with the thumb. That's the key. Focus on that first note with the thumb, and then the other two notes will follow. I sometimes use my forefinger, and at other times my middle finger. Use what feels most comfortable and NATURAL to you.)

E__*This is a popular Hawaiian technique which Bud Tutmarc mastered.__
C_____________________________________________________________________
A____5M______*5M______________________________________________________
G_________*5T___*5T___4T______________________________________________
E_____________________________________________________________________
C__*triples (three notes played in duration of one note)______________
  1. Hawaiian Piece 52

E__________________________________________________________11__10___
C___________________________________________________11~~___11__10___
A______3______6_______9_______12___________________11~~~___11__10___
G________3_____6_______9________12____12~11_______11~~~~____________
E_____3______6_______9_______12______12~~11______11~~~~~____________
C_______________________________________________11~~~~~~____________
Bb___3______6_______9_______12______12~~~11____11~~~~~~~____________
C_____________________________________________11~~~~~~~~____________
 
  1. Hawaiian Piece 53

E_________________________________________________________________
C_________________________________________________________________
A_________________________________________________________________
G_________________________________________________________________
E_________________________________________________________________
C_________________________________________________________________
 

A Kayton Roberts Hawaiian Piece

Here's a great Hawaiian lick by Kayton Roberts at 1:29 in this nice video. I tabbed the piece below. Kayton is simply following the chords, but he's playing the notes separately. So you can play other chords like this too, which is important to obtain that cool Hawaiian sound...

E_________________________________________________________________
C_________________________________________________________________
A________7~______5~_______4~______________________________________
G_________________________________________________________________
E_________________________________________________________________
C____8_______6________4________2__________________________________
 

Here's some Hawaiian techniques to incorporate into your playing from Jerry Byrd's timeless song Lovely Hula Hands ...

Here's an MP3 song of me playing What A Friend We Have In Jesus on a Jerry Byrd long-scale S-6 Frypan, with that old-timey style of single note playing and lots of vibrato. I prefer a larger pedal steel bar, which gives me more to grip onto while playing the lap steel. I'm recording with a USB interface directly into MixCraft software on my computer. I made the background track with Band-in-a-Box 2010.5. Here's the track for you to download and play along with yourself or record Enjoy! I shared this with you so you could hear the superb tone of the Jerry Byrd Frypan lap steel. If you'd like to have it, here's the original source file for BIAB to work with it yourself.

Awesome Palm “Muting” Technique at Bridge

IF YOU'RE NOT USING THE MUTING TECHNIQUE ON A REGULAR BASIS, THEN YOU'RE MISSING HAWAIIAN STEEL GUITAR COMPLETELY.

I have recorded numerous songs with my $79 Artisan lapsteel (now sold by Rogue and others), which I enjoy playing because there is nothing covering the bridge, which allows me to mute the strings easily. I use the muting technique quite a bit in Hawaiian playing. You simply place the palm of your right hand near the bridge, and it mutes the strings. It is a really great sound and always surprises people when they hear it. Here's Kayton Roberts using this technique in the song, Little Brown Gal.

There are several brands of lapsteels being sold today that place a steel plate over the bridge, preventing the player from muting the strings. It's because you've got people building lapsteels who don't play them. You'll also see Kayton Roberts in the video doing some nifty tone swells with his left-hand on the tone knob. To do this technique, you slide the bar up into the desired chord while turning the tone control to bright at the same time. Then back off with the bar while turning the tone control to muddy at the same time. You do this quickly a few times and that's the effect. Nice!

On My Yellow Ginger Lei and The Hukilau Song I played steel guitar accompaniment. You can download My Yellow Ginger Lei and The Hukilau Song here. You can hear me demonstrating the awesome palm muting technique in The Hukilau Song. Not enough steel players use this awesome technique these days. It is 100% Hawaiian! You need this technique to play Hawaiian War Chant and The Hukilau Song correctly. It's simple to do... you just place the palm of your right hand at the guitar bridge. Then pick while your hand is muting the strings. Some guitars are built by people who don't know about this technique, so they place a chrome cover over the bridge, thus preventing palm muting. Ironically, the cheap $99 Rogue lap steel is built properly.
 

A Great Lap Steel for An Affordable Price

Here's a fantastic lap steel at an affordable price. I own the red one (I think it matches the gig bag best) and it sounds awesome. It has felt glued underside to keep it from slipping off your lap. Strings mount through the body. The sustain is awesome. Note: I removed the chrome plate over the bridge so I could do palm muting. I highly recommend that you do the same. There's just 2 Philip's screws to remove. The pickup is chrome anyway, so you don't need the cover. It looks very nice without the cover and feels much more comfortable being able to place your hand over the bridge or close to it. That chrome plate is terrible.

I left the round wound strings on the guitar that came with it and they sound great; but note that the 6th string is about .065" and won't tune up to C# (C6th + A7th) without likely breaking.


Bar Bouncing, Tone and Volume Swells

Here's Buddy Merrill perfectly demonstrating some bar bouncing and great tone control knob swells. If this kid can play this good at age 15, then anyone can learn to play steel guitar if they apply themselves. Here's more Buddy, doing some great tone swell technique. You can see in the video where Lawrence Welk required for the "Fender" logo to be covered over. No company's name was promoted if they didn't pay to be advertised on the Lawrence Welk Show.

Don't be afraid to try new things on your steel. You can see Lawrence Welk telling Buddy to smile for the audience while playing. Considering all the things going on around him, it's amazing that Buddy plays so flawlessly. You can learn a lot from this video. Don't shy away from the strings. As you can see, Buddy Merrill takes control of the strings. It's kind of like driving a car, i.e., either you control the car, or else the car controls you. Pulsating the volume knob quickly with the left-hand is used to make violin sounds on the steel guitar. Using the tone knob produces swells like Buddy Merrill is performing in this classic video.

Here's Alvino Rey, a truly amazing musician, playing the song HINDUSTAN, from his steel guitar instrumental album, PING PONG. Alvino makes his steel guitar sound like a muted horn, by using the same technique that Buddy uses, but playing only one note. Alvino also uses more hand and bar movement to achieve the desired effect. These are amazing videos that are worth a thousand words to the steel guitar student. Very few players today are able to perform these techniques. They have been lost over the decades. No steel guitar course that I know of teaches how to do these techniques. We are fortunate to have these videos to learn from. Anyone can play steel guitar; but a true musician is also an entertainer and can amuse the audience with various techniques, such as the ones you've seen demonstrated in these classic videos. I like making train sounds, which is nothing more than a diminished chord and some volume pedal swells. You slide the bar into the diminished chord while pressing down on the volume pedal.

You can also see Alvino Rey doing some back-raking with his picks. I use this technique much on my Hawaiian album that I recorded for my mother in 2001 before she died later in the year.

Here's an amazing little piece by the famous steel guitarist, Sol Hoopii, which he called THE TRAIN SONG. It is a variation of the Gospel song, Life's Railway to Heaven. He makes a train whistling sound just as I said, with volume swells and a diminished chord. Sol Hoopii makes the sound of cows, chickens, a train whistle, pigs, and a steam engine in the song.
 

C# or You'll Bb

C# or you'll Bb is just a cute saying I heard many years ago. I never thought I'd be using C# and Bb as my primary tunings on C6th. It's a pretty neat way to remember your tuning options for the 6th string. A Bb is fine for C13. The C6th lap steel is standard tuned to straight C6th (trebly to bass: E - C - A - G - E - C). By raising the 6th string from C to C# you have a nice A7th chord on strings 3,4,5 and 6. By lowering the 6th string down to a Bb you have a C13th tuning strummed all the way across (or just a few strings. I generally play strings 3,4,5 and 6 for a C13th). I like Bb and C# and it's hard to choose which one I like better, and of course I like just leaving the 6th string at C for a full C6th chord. I have tabs for Beyond The Reef using Bb and C# so you can see the difference how they are used.
 

Playing Harmonics

Jerry Byrd taught that harmonics say, “I have a secret!” Harmonics are beautiful. Most steel guitarists avoid playing harmonics because they scare themselves, thinking they can't do it; but if you'll think ahead just a little bit while you're playing, then you can play accurate harmonics. The trick is to make sure your right palm is directly over the proper fret (usually 12-frets higher than where the bar is resting). You can also play harmonics by placing the palm (or a finger) 5 or 7 frets higher than the rot bar position. There are known as ARTIFICIAL harmonics.

NATURAL harmonics occur only with the strings open, at the 5th, 7th and 12-frets (and also at the 16th, 19th and 24th frets). Yes, at the 16th and 19th frets. Try it and you'll see! Just place your left hand's pinky finger gently on the string and then pick it with your right hand (or you can rake across the strings while picking them). This is called a chime, a natural harmonic! Natural harmonics work great in the song, WHEN THEY RING THOSE GOLDEN BELLS. On the E9th pedal steel, I play a verse and chorus once through in the key of Eb and then modulate up to the key of E, which allows me to play the harmony using natural harmonics.

On the C6th lap steel, songs such as KEWALO CHIMES are composed entirely of natural harmonics. You can here this song on Jerry Byrd's album, HAWAIIAN SUNSET. Here's a short clip of KEWALO CHIMES (MP3). These are all natural harmonics played by using the pinky finger of the left hand on frets 5,7 and 12. The song is not difficult to play, it just requires patience to learn the song. The trick to playing good natural harmonics is to pick the strings closer to the bridge for frets 7 and 5 (especially fret 5 natural harmonics).

I've heard that harmonics are harder on the Fender guitars, but I've never had a Fender. Leonard T. Zinn sure makes his Fender sound nice. I have a 1936 Rickenbacher (also called “Rickys”) and the sustain is MUCH longer than on my $79 Artisan lapsteel I had started learning on. I couldn't believe the difference. If you've never played a Rickenbacher (pre WWII models are spelled with an h; whereas post WWII Rickys are spelled with a k... "Rickenbacker"), then you have a treat awaiting you my friend if you ever have the opportunity to play one. On the Rickys, the tone is incredible due to the horseshoe pickups and the dense Bakelite body; but stay away from any guitars that have had the volume and/or tone pot swapped out. It ruins the sound completely and there's nothing you can do about it except to find old spare parts... good luck!

I recently bought a great used S-8 lap steel that was built with gorgeous canary wood from South America. The guitar has a Jerry Wallace pole pickup in it, and the sustain is some of the best I've heard. It's awesome. You can hear me attempting to play some of Jerry Byrd's awesome harmonics from the terrific song... SONG OF THE ISLANDS!

A lot of students of the steel guitar become quickly frustrated when they go to tackle harmonics, and get tackled instead, buried upon a pile of missed notes. They think at that point that harmonics is too difficult to learn, and will require too much work, so they give up on the harmonics. The problem is that they don't understand the proper techniques of great harmonics. If they could get great harmonics in their playing, then they'd love playing harmonic chimes and use them extensively I assure you. Playing harmonics needs to become as natural as breathing for the steel guitarist.

The 2 things that you need to do is:

  1. KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO PLAY. Practice in advance what you want to play with harmonics (usually the melody line). Even if you can play great harmonics, it won't help you if you aren't sure where to place your hand next (and that creates mental obstacles to make you trip and stumble in your playing). That's not good at all. So we want to become familiar enough with a song and it's melody, so we know exactly what we want to play.

  2. PLAY IT EXACT. You must place the palm of your right hand over the fret to be chimed. Being off even a little bit will result in either a missed chime altogether, or no sustain because you didn't strike the string hard enough. You don't want to pick too hard, but just hard enough to get a nice solid chime (and then raise up the volume pedal to make the best of your chimed note while it rings out it's life). This is equally important. Finger chimes are much easier, because you can see what's going on; but you can't see under your palm. So it's easy to be off by a fret, especially higher up on the fretboard. Practice makes perfect.

I used to have a hard time with harmonics, because I didn't have my palm exactly over the note that I had chimed. It's much easier to place your hand accurately when you know in advance exactly where and when to put it down on a particular fret. This is the reason why point number 1 is so important above. If you know your song, then you won't waste those critical milliseconds in panic trying to find the correct place to put your hand.

Of course, seasoned musicians who know their instruments inside and out, backward and forth, can play adlib on a dime and execute superb harmonics nearly all the time. I'm still working at it. I don't claim to be an expert on harmonics, but Jerry Byrd certainly was. I learned from Jerry to THINK AHEAD a little bit in the song, to anticipate and plan your chimes.

Here's BALI HAI, in which I play some nice harmonics. They're not hard to do; it just takes work to get them right. It's easy to chime a note; but it's harder when you're chiming a melody line. I knew exactly where I was going start my first note, and made sure to place my right palm exactly over the 10th fret where I begin at 1:29 in the video...


 

There a few different ways of using harmonics that I am familiar with:

E_______3___5___6___8___10___12___13___15___17________________________________
C___5____________________________________________17___________________________
A______________*5__*7____________*12__________________________________________
G______*3__*5__________*10__*12_______*15__*17________________________________
E__*5___________________________________________*17___________________________
C#____________________________________________________________________________
 

Playing Hawaiian Music On Pedal Steel

There are numerous pedal steel tunings and setups that have been used to record some fine Hawaiian albums.

If I lower my E's on the E9th pedal steel, I have the C6th tuning and can play Hawaiian just as easily as I could with a lap steel (the rhythm track is Band-in-a-Box and could be better, but it works for at home). Here I played Adventures in Paradise on the E9th pedal steel with the E's lowered. Jerry Byrd used a ShoBud guitar, full-bodied on many of his recordings. He just didn't have any knee levers or legs. The hard-rock maple body gave him a nice tone.

I recorded an entire album on A7th pedal steel in 2001. Here's more on the A7th pedal steel. I recorded Sweet Leilani and Lovely Hula Hands recently on A7th.

Here's Lloyd Green playing 'Beyond The Reef' from 1964.

Albeit, traditional Hawaiian music is performed on a lap steel, lacking any knee levers or pedals to alter the chords. To sound authentic, it is important to avoid letting the twang of the pedals sound on pedal steel. Basil Henriques in Europe has proven that Hawaiian music can indeed be played on a pedal steel, and he is the best at it in my humble opinion. His setup is very similar to my A7th which I learned from Basil. He has a pedal that raises strings 1 and 2 a whole tone.

“During the years 1935 to 1940, steel guitar was king.”
—Jerry Byrd, “It Was A Trip On Wings Of Music,” by Jerry Byrd (1920-2005); 2003, p. 117.

Something Better Than Band-in-a-Box if You Want Original Rhythm Tracks to Play Along With

~By David J. Stewart


 

Take someone to the islands today with your music!


If all you have is music, you have nothing! You need Jesus Christ as your personal Savior to truly be prosperous in life. You may be the poorest man in the world materialistically, but if you have received Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God; believing on His name to forgive your sins, then you are a rich soul indeed!

John 20:31, “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ,
the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”