Getting Started Playing Lap Steel Guitar

By David J. Stewart | June 2010 | Updated September 2015

Learning to play the steel guitar instrument is a very rewarding experience that lasts a lifetime. Music has taken many humble musicians across the oceans as honored guests to play in the presence of royalty and greatness, and for other intrigued steel guitar music enthusiasts. Proverb 18:16, “A man's gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.”

If you seriously want to learn to play the Hawaiian steel guitar, then I highly recommend buying Jerry Byrd's instruction course available from Scotty's music in St. Louis, Missouri. You will learn EVERYTHING that you need to know. The course includes some rhythm tracks, covers different tunings (mostly the C6th, which is what 90% of Hawaiian music is played on) and you'll learn all the basic techniques to become a professional player. There's over 100 pages of instruction and lots of songs. Jerry Byrd (1920-2005) teaches you everything.

Plus, Scotty has hundreds of individual Hawaiian steel guitar tabs available which Jerry Byrd hand wrote, which are advanced and awesome. Most are C6th, but there are also B11th, E9th, E13th, diatonic, D9th and others. The difference between the different tunings is very well explained in Jerry's main instruction course, which I call the Big Book. You can order it at the preceding link to Scotty's music. Also, Scotty has nearly all of Jerry's Hawaiian steel guitar instrumental albums available if you'd like them as well. I want to help you learn to play the steel guitar as soon and proper as possible, and this is the way to go.

Here's a great song to learn first... Adventures In Paradise. Here are some nice Hawaiian things to play on the steel guitar. I remember the first time that I started to learn the lap steel. I didn't have any tablature yet. I had heard many Hawaiian songs for years and knew the melodies. So I took my Airline 6-string lapsteel and started working out some arrangements by ear, that is, I figured out the melodies on my own. Buddy Emmons says in his basic C6th course that if you can hum a song, then you should be able to play it on your instrument just as fluent. Of course this means being familiar with the scales on your steel guitar. Every song is composed of scales, and scales are composed of notes. learn your scales and you're on your way to mastering your instrument.

Never focus on playing fast; but rather, try to play correct, accurate and clear (not sloppy). Speed comes naturally with time. Great playing comes with great TECHNIQUE. I've learned that there's a proper technique for EVERYTHING on the steel guitar! In my humble opinion, the secret to Jerry Byrd's and Lloyd Green's playing (if there is a secret) is proper technique and knowledge of chords. If what you're playing isn't working, you've likely got the wrong technique. Technique is the exact way that something is executed (done). The difference in unique sound between Jimmy Day, Stu Basore, Barney Isaacs Jr. and Ralph Mooney is their technique. Technique and tone are inseparable, although distinctly different. Tone is the impact which your sound has upon the listener. Before people ever listen to what you are playing, they first hear your tone. If the tone is lacking, the most beautiful arrangement won't make the emotional connection with the listener.

Lloyd Green says that there's about 50 different things that affect tone. Tone is the character of your sound; whereas technique is the character of your playing. Instruction courses can teach you what to play, but it's virtually impossible to teach tone and technique. That's why Lloyd Green's masterful playing cannot be tabbed out in an instruction book. Lloyd Green has achieved incredible sounds unprecedented in steel guitar history, which are from his technique. The fascinating thing is that the chords behind his sounds are the same basic chords that everyone else plays, but it's THE WAY that he plays them that produces his highly sought after, musically coveted and truly admirable playing.

Music is something bigger than the musician, and it always will be. Music is powerful, a medium of communication. But excellency doesn't come easy. Anyone can learn to play the steel guitar in a relatively short time, if they so desire; but it takes many years to perfect the techniques which makes one's playing truly great. It has been said, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” There is no secret nor magic to learning to play impeccable steel guitar. It just takes desire and the character to stick with it.

Let me just briefly say my friend, music is a gift from God above. There can be no true greatness without God and humility. I will always be a student of the steel guitar, no matter how much I learn.

Learning to play steel guitar is like learning to ride a bicycle, once you learn to play it, it's yours for life. No one can take it from you, pending your health. Music and health are gifts from God. I encourage you to practice scales as a means of increasing your ability to play notes more gracefully. Here's a free crash course I put together to get started right away playing Hawaiian music.

Once you understand the BASIC C6th scales, chords positions, chord progressions, and have played the instrument for several months, you'll never forget how to play it. I don't care if you don't play it for 15-years, you won't forget how to play Beyond the Reef and Beautiful Kahana. These are such beautiful songs. The key to improving your playing is to listen to lots of music and then learn new things to play as you go. It's easy to get into a rut where you're playing the same licks over and over, but to break free of this you need to learn new things. Listen to different versions of the same Hawaiian song to learn how each steel guitar player differently approaches the song.

Steel players are a rare bunch indeed, and highly sought after. If you love steel guitar, then it'll keep you coming back again and again to learn more. When you get discouraged, listen to some of your favorite steel guitar music. You can listen to Hawaiian radio for free on the internet, like There's nothing wrong with trying an instrument to see if you like it. That's the only way you'll learn. It may not be for you. I have always loved stringed instruments, but the steel guitar by far is my favorite. It's absolutely amazing what sounds can be produced by simply placing a bar over some strings, with no frets (only fret markings). With just 6 strings you can make so many incredible sounds on lap steel.

To shorten this page I have published numerous separate articles which I hope you'll find of interest and helpful...

Learn To Pick String Groups

The FIRST thing you need to learn is how to use the picks and pick the strings. Nearly all players use 3 picks, and a few use 4 picks. I use 3 picks (1 plastic thumb pick, and 2 metal fingerpicks). Some people use an extra metal pick on their 3rd finger. I use standard Dunlop finger picks. I prefer brass over steel when I can find them. I just like the look better. I like .017" or .018" gauge. The picks sell in different thicknesses. I don't like heavier gauges (like .021" and .022") because it's harder to bend the picks. Since everyone has different sized fingers, you will need to adjust the fingerpicks by bending them to fit. Jerry Byrd chose to use .018" picks himself.

The curve of the metal fingerpick should face upward, level with the top of your fingernail. I adjust the pick's curve to where the tip of the pick is even with my fingernail, but I've seen Lloyd Green's finger picks and they're bent way up like Jeff Newman's were (above the top of the fingernail). Some players like to bend their picks up more to prevent the picks from clawing into the fret board; but I don't worry about stuff like that. I can always get another guitar. If Jeff and Lloyd bend their picks up more, they certainly know what they're doing, so I won't have an opinion here. The important thing is to bend your picks to where you're COMFORTABLE playing with them. For me, I like the tip of my pick to be even with my fingernail and sticking out a little bit.

If you're just starting out on your journey to be a steel guitar player, finding lap steel guitar instructions can be difficult. I've made it all easy for you, and free from my heart, preparing a Hawaiian crash course to get you going that you're going to love. Trust me! Here's a ton of awesome rhythm tracks to motivate your playing. You're welcome to freely download and do whatever you want with these tracks. You can burn them to a CD and go down to your local beach, river and lake, nursing home, family picnic, church gathering, barbeque, whatever, and play along with the nice tracks I've provided. You'll draw a crowd quickly, guaranteed.

People absolutely love Hawaiian steel guitar music. They can have my music and videos for free. I have tabbed out free arrangements to teach steel. I have made a bunch of great rhythm tracks with Band-in-a-Box, with real instruments. I'm doing this because it's what I would want someone to do for me if I were new and wanting to learn. And I have hundreds of awesome Hawaiian songs on this website to help motivate others to learn steel guitar. I encourage you to listen to other play steel guitar and when you hear something interesting, stop and listen to it repeatedly, maybe even slow it down with MixCraft software (links and information on my rhythm tracks page) to analyze it, and learn how to play it your self. Don't be overwhelmed, just pick a song that you like and go from there... baby steps!

Here's a beautiful version of the classic song, Beyond The Reef, played on dobro by Jerry Byrd. Marty Robbins is singing. Jerry calls the instrument a “steel guitar” in his video, Kohala March. It is a steel guitar, named after the steel bar, but it is also a standard dobro, nothing special. Jerry's using a square neck. A round neck dobro plays like a guitar, but with a slide that fits over the finger. On a square neck you use a steel guitar bar. Jerry's using the C6th tuning (treble to bass: E - C - A - G - E - C). In the song Beyond The Reef, Jerry plays an interesting thing at 1:34 in the video, which I've tabbed here in the first section below; the second section in the first tabs is for the awesome slide Jerry does at 2:31 in the video...


Here is what Jerry is playing at 2:42 in the video for “Beyond The Reef.” You can use this arrangement in many other songs...


After you pick a song, check to see if tablature is available for it from Scotty's Jerry Byrd individual tabs collection. perhaps you can figure some or all of it by yourself if you know what tuning it is being played in. That's the biggest challenge sometimes, that is, determining what tuning a song was played in. For example, I just listened to Jerry Byrd's beautiful song, "CHIME IN," which is played all in harmonics; but it's not C6th tuning and I have to try to find out someway.

Nothing is difficult once you get the hang of it. You'll discover quickly as I did that it's not as hard as it sounds to play many of the wonderful Hawaiian songs you are hearing. Anything seems difficult if you are unfamiliar with it. That's what it mostly comes down to... familiarity.

Some lap steel are acoustic but most electric. I use a Piezo (transducer) pickup that has a putty-like material on the receiver. It just presses onto the acoustic guitar near the bridge and then it has a 6-foot cord that plugs into a regular amplifier. I use a battery-powered Roland MicroCube at the beach. For a more bassy sound, you place the receiver on the bass side of the bridge. I place mine on the treble side (higher strings). It sounds very nice and I play all the same Hawaiian songs, but acoustically. It's very Hawaiian sounding.

How To Hold The Instrument

Like its name suggests, the lap steel is traditionally played across the player's lap. The headstock is to the player's left, and the pickups are to the player's right. You will want to sit in a chair that is at the proper height, meaning that your thighs are at a right angle to the floor so the guitar sits balanced and won't slip off onto the floor. I generally sit a bit to the right if it's a console steel (with legs), or else I'll move the steel a bit the the left. I do this so I can easily place my right palm on the strings at the bridge for muting. It is awkward trying to reach over with my right hand if I'm not close enough to the bridge. I really like the palm muting technique for songs like The Hukilau Song and Lovely Hula Hands. It really sounds Hawaiian.

Also, be careful if you have a Rickenbacker Bakelite because the Bakelite (which is basically bowling ball material) chips VERY easily if you drop it onto a hard floor. I have an 8' by 10' throw rug that I sit on while I play just in case I drop it. I like playing in the sand at the beach, where I don't have to worry about dropping it. Instead I have to worry upon sudden heavy rain downpours. So I keep a garbage bag ready to cover my guitar. I tried an umbrella but the wind blew it away.  With my damaged spinal cord in my neck I tend to drop things quite a bit, because my arms feel electrified and jumpy. When I play my lapsteel, I always prop something under my left foot to raise my leg a few inches, because I have shorter legs and I don't want my lapsteel leaning forward. I usually use a coconut or a case of soda, whatever I can find. My volume pedal is under my right foot, which raises it up a couple inches.

Here's the C6th picking patterns to learn

Some people like to bend the picks more to prevent digging into the lap steel's fretboard, which will scratch up a new guitar quickly if you are an aggressive picker like me. Personally, I never worry about damaging the fretboard with my picks, because I can always buy another guitar or replace the fretboard. You can't play freely if you're worried about scratching the fretboard. I know players who baby their instruments to the point that it hinders their playing ability. I have often brought my pedal steel to the beach and put it right in the sand. That's why I bought it, i.e., to play it, not to store it in a closet or look at it in the living room. So scratching the fretboard should be the least of your worries, but still, some players bend their picks slightly more to prevent this from happening. I like my picks bent out a little more, about even with the fingernail. I don't worry about the fretboard. Some of the older guitars had pick-guards installed onto them by the builders. That's good thinking. That's why the Bakelite Rickenbacker lap steel has a small triangle of fret markings missing, i.e., to allow for fret-wear from the picks (see photo to left).

There are certain string picking groups, which vary from tuning-to-tuning. Over time you'll learn to pick any combination of strings with ease. On the 6-string lap steel you'll need to learn to pick strings 4, 2 and 1 together (a major chord). This is known as an "inversion," i.e., the root note forming the chord is not the first note. If string 6 is tuned to a C note, then you can play a pure C chord by picking strings 6, 5 and 4 (which respectively is C, E, and G). You can play an inversion of this C chord by picking strings 5,4 and 2 (which respectively is E, G, and C). And picking strings 4, 2 and 1 is still another inversion of the C chord (which respectively is G, C, and E). So here we see that there are 3 picking patterns for achieving a C chord on the C6th tuning.

Take a look at this old video of Andy Iona's orchestra, with Lew Green playing steel guitar. The song is called “South Sea Island Magic.” Notice how he uses his hands, eloquently making artistic gestures while performing. Interesting!

Just learn to play one string first, and then try two, and go from there. Your first string (highest) is an E note. From the open position to the 11th fret you've got all 12 notes in a chromatic scale and thus can play ANY song. Any song in the world can be played with just the 12 notes of a chromatic scale. On just the first string you can play any song. Once you learn your basic music scales, you can quickly learn to play any instrument. You don't have to read music to play steel guitar. Some of the most accomplished musicians in history couldn't read a note of music. Here's the song, Beyond the Reef. Barney Isaacs Jr. plays a big chord voicing on the intro, and then Jules Ah See plays single notes for most of the remainder of the song. You can hear the beauty of playing just single notes. Barney and Jules play steel guitar together throughout the song, so I'm not exactly sure who played what, but I think it was Jules who played the single note melody line. The album is called, HAWAIIAN SHORES.

Here's something amazing. Thumbs Carllile taught himself to play guitar... IN HIS LAP! He sincerely thought you played it by setting it in your lap. He didn't know any better, so that's how he learned to play it. Check out this video and you'll be amazed. Can you tell him he's playing the guitar the wrong way? He plays awesome and unique! Wow! So whatever works for you is ok. Don't let others criticize you for being unique and different.

Learn Your Scales And Chords

The SECOND thing you need to learn is your scales and chord progressions, from which songs are composed. A chord is 2 or more notes played together. Once you learn your chord scales, then you can play the melody of a song by ear, i.e., you'll be able to play what you hear. If you can hum a song, you should be able to play it on your guitar if you know your scales. Learn your C6th chords.

Nearly all stringed instruments follow the same I, IV and V pattern. These Roman numerals are known as the “Nashville number system.” It's quite simple. The purpose of the system is simplicity. In the open (no bar) position, you have a major C chord on all strings except the 3rd string (which is an “A” note and gives you the classic Hawaiian sounding 6th chord, or relative minor, which is an “A minor” chord). If you place the bar on fret 5, you have an “F major” chord. And finally, placing the bar across fret 7 gives you a “G major” chord.

To put it plainly, whatever chord a song starts in is generally the song key. By using your ear to hear the correct pitch, slide the bar to find that fret on the steel guitar. That is your I chord. Your IV chord will be 5 frets higher. Your V chord will be 7 frets higher. This is the rule, always! This rule applies to every steel guitar tuning! The following diagram illustrates what I am saying, in the open string key of C...


Fret 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12


I         IV   V         I
C I         IV   V         I
A I         IV   V         I
G I         IV   V         I
E I         IV   V         I
C I         IV   V         I

In any musical key, the first, third and fifth notes of the scale give you a major chord. It is also true that in any key, the basic chord structure of 90% of all songs is the first, fourth and fifth notes. For example: In the key of C, the primary chords used in most songs are the C, F and G chord. In the Nashville numbering system we'd say the I, IV and V chord. If you include the 3rd note and strum all the notes together (across), you'll have a C6th chord (open fret). You'll have an F6th chord on the 5th fret, and a G6th chord on the 7th fret.

A common passing chord from a V to a I chord is V7 (or in the key of C, a G7 chord). Notice that the I chord repeats again on the 12th fret. This basic chord pattern is identical on banjo, standard guitar, bass and steel guitar. So in any song, just find the root chord and then apply the I, IV, V pattern to your song. In other words, you'll find the chords to your song mostly on the 1st, 6th and 8th frets in the key of Db (C#). In the key of G, you'll find your chords mostly on frets 5, 10 and 12.

Here's a lot of tabs to you get you started playing C6th lap steel. If you can learn just a small percentage of these tabs, you will be off to a great start on the lap steel. Print these tabs out and go over them often, to keep your playing fresh. Don't be afraid to try new things. Here's steel guitar virtuoso, Jerry Byrd (1920-2005), playing behind Hank Snow singing the hit song, My Little Grass Shack. The style is unmistakably Jerry Byrd, which you'll hear in the steel solo.

Here's learning TABS for several Hawaiian songs to get you started on Hawaiian playing.

More Getting Started

I highly recommend Jerry Byrds primary instruction course, which contain over 100 pages of instruction (this is your best bet for getting a proper start playing lap steel). My website offers you some free things to learn, and you can learn much; but Jerry Byrd (1920-2005) was the best of the best if you really want to learn. The course includes backing tracks to play along with and covers various tunings, primarily C6th.

Music is magical. I was in Waikiki Hawaii and heard a trio at night playing Mapuana like I'd never heard it before. It was so pretty and I wanted to cry. They didn't have a steel guitar player, but I sure wanted to join them and play (but I didn't have my guitar with me). I play Mapuana as a steel guitar instrumental on B11th tuning. The Songs Hana and Sand are also beautiful on B11th tuning. Waikiki Beach is an interesting place, where hundreds of talented people stand along the streets and perform (everything from painters, magicians, preachers, mime and musicians). There's no place like it that I know of; but still, it is largely overrated as is anything else that involves money and greed.

There's an Aloha spirit prevalent in Hawaii, but goes away quickly for those who live there, seeing all the crimes in local news. The crime is horrible in Honolulu. There's an entirely community of homeless people living on Oahu's west coast far up north from Eva Beach. Traffic is a nightmare and street signs prevent u-turns. Quite often you'll make a wrong turn and need to go right, but the street sign only allows you to turn left and so you end up lost. I spent 36 hours driving in circles in Honolulu, trying to figure out all their streets that start with the letter K. It's annoying to say the least.

A Word About Pickups

Sadly, companies have become greedy these days and use the cheapest materials available to make pickups, so they sound cheap. The average person wouldn't know what good tone is if it bit them in the butt. There are some great pickups still available, such as Bill Lawrence pickups. I have one in my ShoBud and it is wonderful.

But for lapsteel, the old vintage Rickenbacher tone is gone! The only guitar I know that sounds similar is the 24" long-scale, aluminum body, Jerry Byrd Frypan. Also, I've never noticed ANY difference between the 1 1/2" magnets (prewar) verses the 1 1/4" magnets (postwar) in the Rickys.

6, 7 Or 8 Strings And Which Tunings?

It's a personal choice, like most things in life. I prefer the 6-string for C6th, but didn't know that until I tried the 8-string. I have both, just in case I want to get those additional low notes. I have numerous guitars, as each is uniquely different. If I played E9th or E13th lap steel, I'd absolutely want an 8-string. Most C6th player have a low C and a Bb on their 8-string C6th (or they just repeat the first four strings, that is, treble to bass: E - C - A - G - E - C - A - G. Here are all the tunings!

Maurice Anderson (1934-2013) liked to use a 12 string non-pedal steel guitar. His tuning is shown on a chart at the bottom of my non-pedal steel guitar tunings page. Billy Robinson has a 10 string lapsteel. The old popular quadruple-neck Fenders have 32 string, but total on all four 8-string necks.

I've noticed that Jerry Byrd uses a high G note on numerous of his recordings, like in the "Haole Hula."

I'd go with both, so you can learn the various styles on each. But to start I'd go with a 6-string, unless you are a committed 8-string player. Every song can be played with just 6-strings. The other strings just get in the way unless you are accustomed to using them. courses (only for the beginner) focus mostly on jazz (but not exclusively); however, I don't care for jazz in particular. If you like jazz, you can purchase jazz backing tracks at I use Band-in-a-Box for lack of a better source of Hawaiian backing tracks. There are some great Hawaiian tracks available, which you can find through my Rhythm Tracks page; but many song tracks simply aren't available.

I like Hawaiian steel guitar and that is the primary focus of this website.

Admittedly, it is awesome to rake across all 8-strings with some vibrato, and then slide (gliss) up 12 frets. Those low strings really bring out the Hawaiian sound. BUT, again, everything can be played on the first 6-strings. That's why 95% of all non-pedal steel guitars sold have only 6-strings. There's just something great about a simple 6-string lap steel. That's Hawaiian!!!

7-strings are more rare, but very nice to play. I really like the 7-string, to give me a high "G" note on top (or to have both a "C" and a "C#" note on the bottom). It's a matter of preference. Still, I've always liked the simplicity of just 6-strings, which is where I play 95% plus of all my playing. 8-string playing has a unique style all its own if you listen to Hawaiian players like Henry Allen, Alan Akaka, Jerry Byrd and Barney Isaacs Jr. They really play some creative and nice things with those 2 extra strings.

Having said that, I have a 1953 D-8 Rickenbacker non-pedal steel guitar. I have the top neck tuned to the same tuning that Barney Isaacs Jr. used (from high-to-low: E - C - A - G - E - C - Bb - C). It's a great tuning. That Bb gives a great dominant 7th sound, and if strummed all the way across to include the "A" note you then have a C13th chord. As I play more and more I am increasingly appreciating the 8-string steel tunings because of the beautiful larger chord voicings. I like a low bassy string for the 8th string. Either an "A" or a "C" note usually for the C6th tuning. Kayton Roberts uses a low "A" note on the 8th string of his C6th. I alternate back-n-forth from "A" to "C," depending on the song. Still, I love the simplicity of a 6-string lap steel. The only limitations is the human mind. If you have a working mind, God willing, the possibilities are endless.

You'll like that "Bb" note on the 7th string. This is a popular Hawaiian C6th tuning. If I use an "A" on the 8th string, then I use a "G" note on the 7th string. Go by your ear. By strumming down the strings from high to low you can hear what sounds right. It's all a matter of preference.

Hears an awesome song, Moon of the Southern Sea, with Barney Isaacs Jr. on 8-string steel guitar. This is a beautiful song!

The Tunings
All of the tunings below are listed from the high string (treble) to the low string (bass)

Sol Hoopii Played in a number of variations on E major as well as a Low A Bass and High A Bass. Sol Hoopii switched to electric lap steel around 1935 and developed a beautiful C# minor tuning, shown here from treble to bass (E, C#, G#, E, D, B) which allowed more sophisticated chord and melody work than the open A or open G tunings in use at the time.

STRINGS: 1  2  3  4  5  6

Jerry Byrd (1920-2005) is one the most influential lap steel players of all times, with his development of the C6th tuning as well as providing the world with many of the Hawaiian lap steel standards that we hear today. Jerry was the best and he knew it, standing head-and-shoulders above the rest. Jerry single-handedly saved the steel guitar from extinction in Hawaii. Try as they may, no steel guitar players have matched the excellence of Jerry's masterful steel guitar techniques and style. It's great to have such a challenge and an example to follow. I am grateful for the dozens of albums which Jerry recorded throughout his career, leaving us a legacy to learn from.

Here are some of Jerry Byrd's most popular tunings, these include 6, 7 and 8 string necks. Enjoy!

STRING: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8
A Major:  E - C# - A - E - C# - A
E Major:  E - B - G# - E - B - E
E 7th:  E - B - G# - E - D - B
C# min:  E - C# - G# - E - D - B
C6th/A7:  E - C - A - G - E - C# - C - A
F#min9:  E - C# - G# - E - A# - F# - C# - G#
C diatonic:  E - C - B - A - G -  F - E
B11th:  E - C# - A - F# - D# - C# - A

Here are some more tunings used in Hawaiian style lap steel guitar.

STRING:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8
A6th:  E - C# - A - F# - E - C# - A - F#
F Maj7th:  E - C - A - F - E - C
D9th:  E - C - A - F# - E - C#
A13b9th:  E - C# - A - F# - E - C# - Bb - G
E6th:  E - C# - B - G# - E - D - E - G#
E13th:  E - C# - G# - F# - D - B - G# - E
C13th:  E - C - A - G - E - C - Bb - C

And the most commonly used 6 string tuning.

STRINGS:  1  2  3  4  5  6
C6th: E - C - A - G - E - C


Trilling, Lifting Bar, Finger And Palm Harmonics

Another great Hawaiian technique is trilling, defined as, a note that alternates rapidly with another note a semitone above it. Sol Hoopii mastered the art of just playing two strings, as you can hear in this 1930's recording...

Sol Hoopii and His Novelty Quartet - FLOWER LEI

Sol Hoopii became a born-again Christian later in his career and started playing solely gospel music, which was in its Hey Day back then when America was a better place to live. Here's a rare recording from 1943 of Sol Hoopii playing a medley of gospel hymns on the lap steel...

Watch how Sol Hoopii does the trilling effect at 3:32 in the video. Also, watch how Sol uses his hands, enjoying himself and really getting into the instrument. He does some great palm harmonics throughout the video. Sol has a unique style that I haven't seen anyone else use, of playing lengthy song verses using finger harmonics. Jerry Byrd always used palm harmonics; but Sol Hoopii is using his fingers and dramatically lifting his arms away from the guitar each time. it is amazing, enjoyable to watch and sounds awesome.

In this excellent video, Jerry Byrd is playing the A9th tuning an 8-string Frypan lap steel (treble to bass: E, C#, B, G, E, C#, A, B). At 1:14 in the video you can see where Jerry slightly lifts the bars and slides into the frets. The name of this old jazz tune is ANYTIME, ANYWHERE and it's played in the A9th tuning. Notice at 2:34 in the video that Jerry uses his right pinky finger to play some great natural harmonics (without the bar) at frets 5 and 12. He rakes the strings toward him and then away from him, an octave higher to play beautiful harmonics. Don't miss that!

Awesome Palm “Muting” Technique At Bridge


Before I knew how lousy my tone was on a $79 Artisan lapsteel (now sold by Rogue and others), I enjoyed playing it, because there is nothing covering the bridge, which allows me to mute the strings easily. Here's a better lapsteel for under $200 (it is shaped like a Bakelite Rickenbacker and has the strings mounted through the body, which is better for tone).

But also very important to a steel player is that THE BRIDGE IS NOT COVERED, so you can do palm muting. 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.

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. Here's some cool techniques by Doug Beaumier.

Anyone can play steel guitar if they're willing to work at it, but a good public 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). If you look at old videos of Jerry Byrd, like “Estrellita,” he often looks right into the camera (as if to say, “This is for you friend,” and “No sweat, I know what I'm doing”). 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. A big help to learn to play the steel guitar faster (as in time, not picking) is to WATCH OTHER ARTISTS. If you can, contact them and ask them how they did it. There are thousands of great steel guitar videos online.

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.

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.

I took this nice picture while driving near downtown Honolulu in 2008. The old trees are beautiful.

There are literally hundreds of streets that begin with the letter "K" in Honolulu, which makes it really confusing while driving unless you live there and know the streets.

ABOVE: Here's a photo I took of the one and only Alan Akaka in 2008 at the Moana Terrace at Waikiki Beach. Alan's playing a CANOPUS hollow body D-8 steel guitar (Note: In early 2011 I spoke with Yasu who builds the excellent CANOPUS guitar and he said hollow bodies were discontinued about 5-years ago. You can't buy a better instrument than a CANOPUS steel guitar.)

In conclusion, I am just a humble sinner saved by God's merciful grace. If there is any greatness in me at all it is ONLY because of the precious Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:9). I certainly don't know everything about anything. My goal on this website is simply to share with other steel guitar enthusiasts and fans everything I have learned and discovered over the past 20 years concerning the steel guitar. It is a fascinating and beautiful instrument. If I have made any errors in information, I apologize. To my knowledge it is all accurate. I'm not a professional web designer. I don't know what I'm doing; I'm just doing what I know to do.

There's hardly anything online that is comprehensive for C6th lapsteel, and everybody else wants a buck. I am freely doing this for others, out of a pure love for Hawaiian music, to help those who want to learn and play steel guitar (primarily the C6th lap steel). Learning to play the steel guitar is a worthy and fulfilling hobby I assure you.

There's nothing like playing Hawaiian lap steel at the beach, especially at a waterfront facing the sunset. It's an escape from the grim realities of life, a reminder that something much better awaits every born-again child of God in eternity.

Strings | Elderly Instruments Gear & Accessories

Children's .018" Mini Dunlop finger picks (Also brass finger picks, my favorite!)

My TRAVELER Lap Steel Guitar (not for everyone)

True Greatness (the things of Jesus Christ)

Jesus Christ is the ONLY way to Heaven!