Getting Started Playing Lap
By David J. Stewart | June 2010
| Updated September 2015
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
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
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
free crash course I put together to get started right away playing
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 am940hawaii.com. 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
Learn To Pick String
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…
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 …E____0____0__0____0___0____0______|___2~~~9_______________________C____9____9__9____7___8____9______|___2~~~9_______________________A_________________________________|_______________________________G_________________________________|___2~~~8_______________________E____9____9__9____7___8____9______|_______________________________C_________________________________|_______________________________
Here is what Jerry is playing at
2:42 in the video
for �Beyond The Reef.� You can use this arrangement in many other
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
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
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.
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
Learn Your Scales And
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…
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.
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.
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.
GeorgeBoards.com 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
jazzbacks.com . 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
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
A Low Bass:
E – C# – A – E – A – E
A High Bass: E
– C# – A – E – C# – A
E – B – G# – E – B – E
E – C# – G# – E – D – B
F# 9th: E – C#
– G# – E – A# – F# (used by
Dick McIntire, a beautiful strum tuning for Sweet Someone, Paradise
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
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
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
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.
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!
�Muting� Technique At Bridge
IF YOU’RE NOT USING THE MUTING
TECHNIQUE ON A REGULAR BASIS, THEN YOU’RE MISSING HAWAIIAN STEEL GUITAR
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
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 .
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!
My Yellow Ginger Lei and
The Hukilau Song I played steel guitar accompaniment. You can
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
lap steel is built properly.
Bar Bouncing, Tone
And Volume Swells
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.
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.
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
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 .
Gear & Accessories
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!