Steel Trappings

Steel Guitar Chronicles

The Story of the Oahu Publishing Company of Cleveland, Ohio

November 1, 2023 • Geronimo "Geri" ValdrizSteel Guitar History

"HAWAIIAN STEEL" is a weekly radio program that spotlights the Hawaiian steel guitar masters from the past to the present. "The Steel Guitar Chronicles" is a monthly feature of the show that tells the stories, history, and origin of Kīkā Kila.

This month we look at the story of the Oahu Publishing Company of Cleveland, Ohio.

The Oahu Publishing Company was a music education program formed during the 1920s to teach students how to play the Hawaiian Steel guitar.

Popular culture in America became fascinated with Hawaiian music during the first half of the twentieth century and in 1916, recordings of indigenous Hawaiian instruments outsold every other genre of music in the U.S.

By the 1920s, sales of Hawaiian steel guitars and instruction had become well established and the Oahu Publishing Company became the leading purveyor of these lessons.

Harry Stanley, Oahu Publishing Logo, Oahu Publishing Ad

The organization canvassed nearly every city in the U.S., often door to door, selling both their Oahu brand instruments and lessons for their weekly classes.

The original Oahu Music Company was founded in Flint, Michigan in 1926 by Harry Stanley and George Bronson. They separated shortly thereafter and in 1930, Stanley founded the Oahu Publishing Company at Cleveland, Ohio.

In the great depression of the 1930s, many Americans had little money to spend on extra items such as musical instruments. But Oahu's acoustic guitars were available for the relatively low price of seven dollars. This included a case, picks, nut adapter, and lessons. The company thrived even through the worst of the depression!

Harry Stanley opened several Oahu studio schools and branched out into publishing music sheets, music lessons, and manufacturing his own instruments. The Oahu Company sold guitars, amplifiers, sheet music and accessories. The instruments were made by Oahu, as well as Harmony, Valco and Rickenbacker.

Oahu 1930s Tonemaster Oahu 1935 68B Jumbo Squareneck Oahu 1942 Model 66K Squareneck

Stanley also encouraged his brightest students to purchase franchises for Oahu-owned studios under the name Honolulu Conservatory of Music. He eventually supplied one thousand two hundred of these teaching studios across the U.S., Canada and other countries. An industrious student could open their own teaching studio, and perhaps become a performing musician themselves one day!

The Company published a magazine called "The Guitarist" in the late 1930s which was sent to their mail order students worldwide. It was largely a promotional tool to keep their students interested, but also an advertising means for Oahu products.

Students and teachers played on live radio broadcasts and concerts across America, and an annual convention was held each year. Thousands of teachers, students, and dealers attended and there were large group performances of the Hawaiian steel guitar.

In 1970 Harry Stanley died, and his wife managed the company until it closed in 1985. Over the years, an estimated 200,000 students graduated from Oahu's steel guitar courses.

Notable steel guitar students of the Oahu method include Herb Remington of Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, Bud Isaacs with Red Foley's band, Doug Jernigan from the Grand Ole Oprey, Lloyd Green, Wayne Newton, and many others.

The many teachers, students, and performers of the Oahu Publishing Company certainly increased the popularity of the Hawaiian steel guitar in America! Many experienced a lifetime of joy with Kīkā Kila.

And that ends the "Steel Guitar Chronicles" for this month, with more stories, history, and the origin of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar to come! Ka ua e ho‘okani ka kīkā kila!

"Hawaiian Steel" with Geri Valdriz is broadcast live every Tuesday from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm (HST) on Mana‘o Radio, Wailuku, Maui, Hawai‘i, KMNO, 91.7FM on the radio dial.

You can catch it on the air, or streaming live at www.manaoradio.com. Listeners can also access our online archives to enjoy previously recorded programs at your convenience. Just search "Listen on Demand" for past shows.

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Oahu 1930s Tonemaster

Oahu 1935 68B Jumbo Squareneck

Oahu 1942 Model 66K Squareneck