Steel Trappings

Steel Guitar Chronicles

Hawaiian Steel Guitar and Hindustani Slide

April 1, 2024 • 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 Hawaiian Steel guitar and Hindustani Slide.

It's an improbable story: a Hawaiian guitarist ventures to India and ignites a craze for lap steel guitar. Indian film makers and composers embrace Hawaiian guitar and incorporates its lush sound into their Bollywood productions and popular music.

A few enterprising young musicians take note of the lap steel's melodic expressiveness and begin modifying archtop acoustic guitars by adding sympathetic and plucked drone strings, making them suitable for playing ragas—the melodic patterns and modes in traditional Indian music.

Soon these modified guitars are accepted as legitimate instruments for performing Indian classical music, and a new breed of guitar virtuoso emerges. It is called Hindustani slide guitar.

>Tau Moe

It all started with Hawaii's Tau Moe, who performed in India in the 1920s and settled in Calcutta from 1941 to 1947. During this time Moe and his family performed and taught Hawaiian music, and built and sold steel guitars. Many Indians (listeners and musicians alike) became entranced with the sound of the Hawaiian steel guitar.

Initially these fans were attracted to Hawaiian songs but by the early 1960's, steel guitar had become a familiar sound within Indian popular music—and this remains true today, especially in Bollywood film soundtracks.

>Brij Bhushan Kabra and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt

Brij Bhushan Kabra was an early player of Indian ragas who used a Gibson archtop guitar modified to play flat on the lap, in the Hawaiian style. His 1967 album "Call of the Valley" is a groundbreaking recording of ragas and has influenced generations of Indian steel guitarist.

Following in Kabra's footsteps came steel guitarist Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. He modified his archtop Hawaiian steel guitar by adding four plucked drone strings and eight sympathetic strings that vibrate and buzz like a sitar.

In 1992 Bhatt joined American Roots musician Ry Cooder in the studio, and the two created a spellbinding fusion of Hindustani slide and bottleneck blues. Released in 1993, "A Meeting by the River" is a landmark in the history of Indian slide guitar.

Indian players had morphed the Hawaiian lap steel into a lap-slide guitar with drone and sympathetic strings! More importantly, this hybrid instrument was fully capable of expressing all the subtleties and nuances of Indian classical raga music.

Debashish Bhattacharaya and Kamala Shankar

Today a new generation of players has emerged, ready to push the boundaries of Hindustani slide. They include Debashish Bhattacharaya, Salil Bhatt, Kamala Shankar, Harry Manx from Canada, and others.

Players today have added even more strings to the archtop lap steel guitar and freely modify their instrument to suit their style. They include a 22 stringed guitar called the chaturangui, and a hollow-necked multi-stringed guitar called the mohan veena!

Chaturangui and Chaturangui Mohan Veena

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 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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Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival Keiki Kine at Kahala Mall
August 17, 2024 – 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM HST
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2024 Northern California Hawaiian Steel Guitar Symposium *
September 29, 2024 – Odd Fellows Lodge, Cupertino, CA

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Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival Keiki Kine at Kahala Mall
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Hawai‘i Island Steel Guitar Experience at Mauna Lani
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July 25-27, 2024 – Towne Square Community Center, Winchester, IN
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