Steel Trappings

Tricones and Frypans

Tricones and Frypans in January

January 13, 2022 • Addison ChingFestivals and Conventions

January's Hawaiian Steel Guitar Showcase will feature a special steel guitar presentation. The showcase will feature Alan Akaka, Bobby Ingano, and Greg Sardinha performing with two different and distinct types of lap steel guitars. Each type of guitar has its own characteristic sound and way of playing.

These guitars are the National steel guitars, commonly referred to as Tricones, and the Frypan steel guitar.

The first segment will feature Alan, Bobby, and Greg all playing National guitars. This acoustic segment will feature music designed to be played on these instruments such as that of Sol Ho‘opi‘i.

The second segment will feature the three steel guitarists all playing various frypan steel guitars and a more contemporary sound.

Tricones are acoustic steel guitars with three resonating spun aluminum cones placed strategically inside the steel guitar's body to amplify the sound. Originally developed in the late 1920s, the guitar is also known as a resonator steel guitar.

In his book "Kika Kila: How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed the Sound of Modern Music," Dr. John Troutman, Curator of American Music at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, mentions "In 1926…three men approached him [Sol Ho‘opi‘i] with the wildest, most otherworldly looking guitar that anyone had ever seen. The idea for the design took root in the shop of John and Rudy Dopyera, two brothers who had emigrated from Slovakia a few years before."

Troutman continues, "They eventually established a musical instrument business in Los Angeles that specialized in banjos when the third man, a haole steel guitarist named George Beauchamp, sought their help in creating a louder instrument to better compete with his raucous vaudeville orchestra."

The National String Instrument Corporation was established in 1927 by John Dopyera and Beauchamp, manufacturing National resonator guitars. Tricones are still manufactured by National Reso Phonic Guitars (National Guitars) and are now available with pickups. However, the current National Guitars bears no historical connection to the original National String Instrument Corporation, although the name, branding, and product line bear a resemblance to the original company.

National Tricone Steel Guitar
A National Tricone Steel Guitar
Richenbacker A-22 Frypan Steel Guitar
A Richenbacker A-22 Frypan Steel Guitar

The Frypan steel guitar first made its appearance in the early 1930s and is named for the kitchen implement it resembles. Frypans have pickups, require amplification, and may come in different string configurations from 6 strings to 8 strings.

The Frypan design, first developed by Richenbacker, has been replicated over the years by the Sho-Bud Jerry Byrd Fry Pan (Sho-Bud), the Excel Jerry Byrd Frypan Lap Steel (Fuzzy Steel Guitar Company-Japan), and most recently, the Frypan by Clinesmith Instruments. The Excel and Clinesmith frypans are still available but must be ordered directly from their point of manufacture.

The Showcase will be livestreamed on the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Showcase's Facebook and YouTube Channel on January 22, 2022, beginning at 3 PM Hawaiian Standard Time.

Alan Akaka contributed to this article.

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