Wayne “Kimo” Knox and his wife, Ka'iulani, on Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, Febrary 20, 2017

Our February 20, 2017 meeting featured a presentation by Wayne “Kimo” Knox and his wife Ka’iulani
on Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, with audience participation. After setting up a trio of different types of guitars (each in its own unique tuning), and a slide show on the Red Room’s flat screen TV, Kimo introduced the attendees to a fascinating history of the guitar in the Hawaiian Islands. In addition, he demonstrated various tunings by playing songs written for those tunings. The guitars used were a nylon 6-string, an acoustic steel-string, and an acoustic 12-string. (Note: All tunings mentioned here are from low to high, 6th string to 1st string, left to right.)

Kimo started off with “Deep In a Dark Forest,” by Makana, using the following tuning:
Low B - F# - D - A - F# - D (retrograde tuning, meaning the 2nd string is tuned lower than the 3rd string.)

The slide show discussed how guitars were brought to Hawaii in the late 1700’s – early 1800’s. Around 1820, missionaries who came to the Islands played hymns on guitars. Around 1832, vaqueros (cowboys) from Mexico brought guitars with them. Although they used the E - A - D - G - B - E tuning, slack key tunings became proprietary tunings of individual families who guarded them closely, sharing only with other family members. Only after the 1970’s did slack key tunings become more widely shared. Families began to recognize that unless they started sharing tuning knowledge, the art form would die out.

Songs using slack key tunings tend to connect notes to each other smoothly. The process can be compared to starting a painting with a blank canvas. This yields music that is soothing, sweet, and satisfying. Often the songwriters pick a tuning that makes it easy to play the song. A song that’s easy to play tends to relax the player. In fact it may be impossible to play the song in a different tuning.

The legendary Blues man Robert Johnson had a Hawaiian “connection.” He evidently learned several Slack Key tunings. A possible example is his “Preachin’ Blues,” which used a tuning thought to be E – B – E – G# – B – E.

Kimo brought a tablature arrangement of “E Kuu Morning Dew” by Keola Beamer. The tab is also viewable at {{ ERROR NO CLOSE DELIMIT }}http://gallerykauai.com, Kimo and Ka’iulani’s web site.


D - G - D - G - B – D; — C - F - C - G - C - E

C# - F# - C# - F# - A# - C#; — C - G - D - G - B - E

Bb - F - D - F - Bb – D; — C - G - C - G - B - D

C - G - C - G - A – D; — D - A - D – F# - A – D

~John Williamson

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