Steel String Origins In Hawaii

a royal quartet cover

In my never-ending quest to uncover information relating to the early history of the acoustic steel string guitar in Hawaii I recently came across two sources of quality information that I would like to share. I previously wrote a little about the history of the dreadnaught guitar and the role of Hawaiian music in its development. You can read that post here.

Through these two articles I’ve been able to deepen my understanding of how the acoustic steel string guitar arrived in Hawaii through a recent article in The Fretboard Journal’s issue #42 titled “A Royal Quartet: Charting the Martin guitars that left the mainland”. You can read that article by clicking here. This article offers some great history about some design changes that Martin made in their guitars for the early Hawaiian string bands as well as how the relationship between Martin guitar and these string bands came to be.

Upon researching the author of this article, I realized that there was someone out there already doing comprehensive research on a topic that I have been interested in. The author Kilin Reece is not only a scholar of Hawaiian music but a luthier and repairman himself. He has a shop in Kailua on O’ahu in which he repairs, restores, and builds vintage instruments. This was very exciting indeed! Searching through his website I came across an article that was written in a local magazine discussing his various projects including his project with Martin Guitars on the early Hawaiian string bands. You can read that article here.

For those of you interested in string band music, vintage instruments, Hawaiian history, or American roots music I highly recommend the two articles I linked. I also want to share this podcast with Kilin Reece in which he discusses some of these ideas. You can link to this here. There is a great untold story of these early string bands waiting to be told, and I am excited knowing that someone is ahead of me in uncovering this story. I know I am highly anticipating this collaboration between Mr. Reece and Martin Guitar and I think it will add a new chapter to the story of American Roots music that will force many to rethink what they think and know about acoustic music in America.


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