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Choosing the Right Guitar

Desiree Harris Harris

When you decide to learn to play guitar, choosing the right guitar is a very important choice you have to make. There are quite a few different types of guitars out there, and they all have distinct sounds to them. If you just choose any guitar you can find when you learn to play guitar, you may get discouraged when it doesn t sound like you expected it to sound. The types of music that you want to play will decide what kind of guitar that you should pick. That poses a problem, because when you first learn to play guitar, you rarely know what type of music that you will be playing or even if you re going to be playing it long enough to make it worth your investment. Luckily guitars are not that expensive compared to other instruments.

The different types of guitars are acoustic, electric, classical, flamenco, semi-acoustic, 12-string, and bass guitar. Even though there are a few different types of guitars, there are two main types which are acoustic guitars and electric guitars. It seems to be the consensus that when you first learn to play guitar, you should start with an acoustic guitar. You can play them pretty much any place and they are much cheaper than electric guitars. If you buy an acoustic guitar, don t buy a cheaply made one. It won t be fun to play and it won t sound very good, which means you probably won t play it and it ll end up in your garage somewhere.

You don t have to pay a whole lot of money either. You can get a quality cheap no-name guitar for under a couple hundred dollars. You shouldn t buy a guitar because of the name brand. You have to make sure the quality of wood is good. Most guitar players will tell you to stay away from plywood. Make sure it feels good and that it is well-made. You should also play it or let someone else play it before you buy it to make sure it sounds good.

If you choose to get an electric guitar, you will also need to buy an amplifier and effects, which could get very expensive. If you want to play the harder and louder music like rock and roll and you have some extra money on your hands, than go for it. When you first learn to play guitar, the extra noise that the electric guitar brings could annoy you in the beginning.

So when choosing you guitar, keep in mind the type for music that you will be playing. If you don t know yet or if money is tight, you should invest in a quality acoustic guitar. Remember, not to choose a cheaply made guitar or you ll probably give up sooner or later because it won t feel or sound good to you. Make good decisions now and you ll be a successful guitar player in no time at all.

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Six strings that sing Hawaii - slack key guitars

Sunset , July, 1996 by Jeff Phillips

The rich, mellow sounds of slack key guitar

Ray Kane pads barefoot across his small, cluttered living room, plugs in his old Lowden guitar, and pulls up a straight-backed wooden chair. As his thick, labor-gnarled fingers pick the steel strings of the guitar, the 7 year-old retired welder closes his eyes and begins softly singing the old Hawaiian love song "None Hula." The melody fills the room, and it is only after the last chords have drifted out the open doors and windows that he opens his eyes and smiles.

"That`s slack key guitar," he says, "and you really can`t define it. You have to hear it. Slack key doesn`t come from a book - it comes from within and flows from the heart to the fingers."


Slack key guitar has been played on the Islands for more than 150 years, and the sound is as Hawaiian as three-finger poi. The first guitars probably came to Hawaii with Spanish and Mexican vaqueros hired by Kamehameha III to control wild cattle on the Big Island. The vaqueros quickly taught the natives to ride and rope, but the Hawaiians taught themselves to play the guitar.

Early virtuosos blended picking styles with traditional drum and dance rhythms, and developed their own unique tunings by slackening the strings to create more open chords and a richer, fuller sound, which they called ki ho`alu, or slack key. Early techniques and tunings have been refined for generations.

Old-timers like Kane tend to keep the beat slow, with melodies so simple and pure you can almost hear the trade winds blow. The new generation of players occasionally lays on a faster beat and the subtle influences of country or blues, but the strong bass rhythms and distinctive melodies don`t stray very far from their Island origins.

Slack key gained a Mainland audience in the 1960s, when contemporary masters, including Gabby ("Pops") Pahinui, Sonny Chillingworth, and Leland ("Atta") Isaacs, began performing around Waikiki and recording on local labels. Since then, appreciation of ki ho`alu has continued to grow. In 1987, Ray Kane was presented with a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship Award as a Master Traditional Artist.


Dancing Cat Records has a Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Masters Series with recordings by Kane, Chillingworth, and Keola Beamer. For a free catalog, call (800) 448-4228. But while recordings certainly capture the sound of slack key, it takes a live performance for listeners to really experience its soul.

The granddaddy of performances in Hawaii is the Bankoh Ki Ho`alu Slack Key Guitar Festival; this year`s fest will be held outdoors at McCoy Pavilion in Oahu`s Ala Moana Beach Park from 4 to 9:30 on August 18. Sponsored by Bank of Hawaii, this free concert has featured Hawaii`s best-known traditional artists along with innovative new talent. Its success has spawned sister concerts on neighbor islands; Kauai will be next up, on November 10.

Visitors in Hilo on July 21 can catch local favorites at the seventh annual Big Island Slack Key Guitar Festival at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium; call (808) 96 5711 for more information.

On the Mainland, the fifth annual Aloha Concert Jam, which features slack key guitar and other Hawaiian music, comes to Long Beach, California, June 29 and 30; for ticket information, call (800) 468-4849.

Duke`s Canoe Club (808/922-2268) on the beach at the Outrigger Waikiki Hotel has a hot bar scene, with slack key scheduled from 10 to midnight on weekend nights. When you call to check who`s playing, ask for the manager in the Barefoot Bar.

Harry`s Music Store (735-2866) at 3457 Waialae Avenue in Honolulu is where local musicians hang out. It has one of the Islands` best collections of slack key recordings; if you don`t know where to begin, ask store employee Alan Yoshioka to help with selections. And when you`re cruising in your car and you`re in the mood for a variety of classic and contemporary Hawaiian music, tune your radio to KCCN (1420 AM, 100.3 FM) or to KINE (105.1 FM).

For information about slack key performances in Hawaii and on the Mainland, call Milton Lau of Ka-Hoku Productions at 239-4336.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Sunset Publishing Corp.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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