Steel Trappings

Steeler Stylings

Mark-come-lately: Mark Prucha

November 2, 2016 • Addison ChingEducation and Training, Entertainment

Mark Prucha is a steel guitar prodigy. He is a recent entry into the steel guitar world, having started learning the instrument just a few short years ago. Under the mentoring of steel guitar master Alan Akaka, Mark has mastered the instrument in a very short period of time. Now in his early 20s and in college, Mark also finds time to play professionally and develop steel guitar arrangements.

Mark with Hoapili

Throughout his training, Mark has appeared at various concerts and performance venues including the Waikiki Beach Marriott at the Keawe 'Ohana show, and at HSGA and ISGC conventions. He was a featured artist at the 2015 Waikiki Steel Guitar Festival, performing his own program and accompanied by Alan Akaka and The Islanders. A resident of Naperville, IL, Mark now performs with the group Hoapili.

I had an opportunity to discuss with mark his short but colorful career as a steel guitarist.

ST: How did you become interested in Hawaiian music?

Mark: My first exposure to Hawaiian music came when I was probably 7 or 8 years old. My dad bought an Israel Kamakawiwo'ole CD, "Facing Future". It was one of the few Hawaiian music albums that was sold at retail stores in Illinois. From that album, I not only gained an appreciation for Hawaiian music, but also the Hawaiian language and culture.

Later on, I began listening to some Hawaii Calls records. Hearing the sound of the steel guitar on those records struck me. I had known of the steel guitar from other styles of music, but hearing it played to Hawaiian songs was different. It was a sweet, soothing sound from the heart.

I think that's what's so special about Hawaiian music. It always has a heartfelt sincerity to it. And really all music should have that.

ST: How did you get your start on the steel guitar?

Mark: In 2010, my family took a trip to O?ahu. The trip happened to coincide with the Waikiki Steel Guitar Festival. We attended the festival and there I got to see the steel guitar played up close, something I'd never seen in Illinois. This experience undoubtedly cemented my interest in the instrument.

When I returned, I did some research on the steel guitar, and found that the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Association had its annual convention in Joliet, Illinois, not far from where I live. I attended a convention and got to meet steel players from all over the world. One of the players put me in touch with Alan Akaka. Coincidentally, I had briefly met Alan at the steel guitar festival in Hawaii. We began Skype lessons and within a year after starting lessons, I was back in Hawaii performing at that same festival.

Mark Prucha, Alan Akaka and Addison Ching at the Marriott

ST: Where did you receive your training on the steel guitar?

Mark: I took weekly Skype lessons with Alan Akaka for almost four years. Every week he'd have a new arrangement ready for me, and I'd do my best to memorize it for the following week. He helped me so much with technique, learning the fretboard, performance, and musicality. He even taught me how to write my own arrangements. It was a great experience, and I owe my successes to him.

ST: How long have you played professionally?

Mark: I've been playing semi-professionally for the past 3 years. A lot of it has been with a Hawaiian band from the Illinois area, Hoapili. The band members are from Hawaii and are now living in Illinois. In addition, I've been doing some solo gigs at local markets etc. I try to go to Hawaii as much as possible to play as well. ST: What steel guitar do you currently use? What do you like about this steel? Mark: For most gigs, I use my Excel Jerry Byrd Frypan. The guitar is made in Japan by the Fuzzy Pedal Steel Guitar Company. It's got a short scale length (22 inches), which makes performing bar slants easier. It also weighs a lot less than multi-neck steel guitars. This is helpful especially for city gigs where I have to do a lot of walking with equipment. It also fits easily in the overhead compartment of most planes.

Most importantly, I just like its tone. It's a solid aluminum guitar with a pretty powerful single coil pickup. When dialed in with the right amp, it produces some very unique sounds.

ST: What is your most memorable performance and why?

Mark: That's hard to narrow down. Playing in Hawaii is always special to me. It's the birthplace of the steel guitar. The musicians there are friendly and the scenery is unreal.

Other than that, one great memory was when I got to play in St. Louis at the International Steel Guitar Convention with Alan Akaka and L.T. Zinn. I had never been to the ISGC before and was amazed at how many steel guitar enthusiasts filled the room. It was fun bringing Hawaiian sounds to a predominantly country event. More recently, I had one of the easiest gigs I'll ever remember. A company had hired Hoapili to play at an event in the Willis Tower. We were scheduled to play for 3 hours. However, after 15 minutes of playing, the company decided to hold a presentation in the same room we were in. They told us to take a break so went to a backroom and ate pizza. The presentation lasted for the remaining time we were scheduled to play.

Mark at the 2015 Waikiki Steel Guitar Festival

ST: How would you describe your style?

Mark: It's a combination of a lot of players. Alan has had a profound influence on my style. In addition, I try to incorporate things I hear from Jerry Byrd, Sol Ho?opi?i and Jules Ah See. ST: What words of advice would you give to someone starting out on the steel guitar? Mark: Technique is important. You can play a simple piece on the piano with terrible technique but the notes will still sound the same. This is not the case for the steel guitar. Technique will directly affect your touch and tone. Some of the most important aspects are:

  • Making sure your notes are in tune
  • Playing in rhythm
  • Slanting only the bar and not your wrist or elbow
  • Picking lightly
  • Using some vibrato.

Practice A LOT. The steel guitar is one of the most rewarding instruments but also one of the most finicky.

Most importantly have fun. And always play from the heart.

Photo Credits:
Photo 1 - Mark Prucha with Hoapili. pc-Hoapili
Photo 2 - Mark Prucha, Alan Akaka and Addison Ching at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort and Spa. pc-Addison Ching
Photo 3 - Mark Prucha was one of the featured artists at the 2015 Waikiki Steel Guitar Festival. pc-Colleen Ricci

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