Slack Key Guitar and the Blues

On the morning of Friday, April 3 in the Computer Studies Building at the University of Rochester, Kimo Wayne Knox, professor of optics made a presentation on guitar tunings in Hawaiian slack key guitar and discussed their relationship to American blues of the early twentieth century. Much of this information had been presented to the Rochester Guitar Club on January 13, 2008. See the review on this site for details.

In addition to the historical perspective of how and why Hawaiians adopted the guitar and developed their unusual tuning traditions, the technical aspects of tuning and playing were also presented. For certain tunings special strings of irregular diameters are required, and metal fatigue is always an issue. Scales and chords as we know them are out the window, and the guitarist must memorize hand shapes for each song. This knowledge is usually transmitted orally and is more likely to be found written down outside of Hawaii then at home.

Kimo, who has a strong background in optics, also has long experience in flute, bass, classical guitar and lute. He made a good case for the possibility that blues man, Robert Johnson, may have learned some of his guitar tunings from a Hawaiian musician.

Professor Dave Headlam who conducts this music series at the University will be presenting a talk on Johnson at the Rochester Guitar Club at our next meeting on April 20. As usual, the meeting will be held at the Mez on Gregory Street. Hope to see you there!

—R. Taglieri

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