The Hawaiian-style Slack Key guitar is a unique instrument that requires more than just technical knowledge and skill to play. According to the legend of the slack key, Cyril Pahinui, the slack key is essentially a Hawaiian term for what is more commonly known as open tuning. He says that when he met Chet Atkins and played with him in Nashville, Tennessee, Atkins told him that the tunings he used in Slack Key were what Atkins considered open tunings. Ku'u Hoa: He fine-tuned two and a half steps and played the key of C with his fingers, so it sounded in the B-flat key.
Wahine U'i (Slack Key Instrumental): This song also appears in the Slack Key Giants anthology (Pumehana Records 491). Until recently, the slack key was virtually unknown outside of Hawaii, largely due to its geographical isolation. However, a new generation of musicians have taken it upon themselves to share their knowledge and keep this style of music alive. Almost all slack key tunings require retuning the guitar strings relative to the standard ones (EADGBE), and this usually (but not always) means loosening or lowering several strings. Waialae, which is played in the tones of D and Sol, was fine-tuned two half steps to sound in the tones of C and F.
December is the Season was tuned two half steps to sound in F and was played in the tones of Sol and E minor, sounding in the tones of F and D minor. Aloha Ia O Wai`anae: with Led playing this tuning, two frets were plugged to sound in the tone of A, and Bob Brozman also in this tuning, tuned two and a half steps to the tone of A.During the 1960s and 70s, when Hawaiians regained their cultural identity after imperial colonization of their homeland, many loose-toned recordings were made. Born on the island: he fine-tuned two half steps and played with his fingers in the key of C, so he sounded in the tone of B flat. I Ka Po Meke Ao: This song also appears on the album Best of Hawaiian Slack Key, with Gabby Pahinui (Hula Records 340).
The only thing that is known is that the vaqueros (Spanish cowboys) brought the guitar to the Hawaiian Islands and Hawaiians took it and created their own style of slack key. Ka'inapu Lio Li'i Li'i: Two half steps are played in the tones of Re and Sol, two half steps to be played on the keys of Do and F. The titles of these recordings are all in capital letters; record label and number are also indicated, as well as whether or not they are sold out (no longer available on the market) and whether or not a Slack Key artist on the list is supporting another person. The Hawaiian-style Slack Key guitar is an instrument that requires more than just technical knowledge or skill to play. It requires soulful expression from its player. With its unique tunings and techniques, it has become an integral part of Hawaiian culture.
As more musicians continue to share their knowledge with others, this style of music will live on for generations to come.