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Andy Volk

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Hawaiian Steel Guitar

Editor's Note:

I got this real nice e-mail from Steel Guitar World columnist Andy Volk. Andy plays Hawaiian steel guitar, which is like a pedal steel only it doesn't have pedals and the strings are spaced wider apart. Many people consider the Hawaiian steel more difficult to play than the pedal steel because you often have to slant the bar to play harmony notes on different frets. Pressing a foot pedal or knee lever is a lot easier than slanting the bar!

Anyway, here's Andy's letter. Enjoy!

Bobby Lee

Date: Wed, 21 Feb 1996
From: Andy Volk
To: Bobby Lee

Hello, Bobby Lee. My name's Andy Volk. I'm a TV producer in Boston, Mass., a non-pedal steel player (jazz, western swing & Hawaiian) and a sometime staff writer for Steel Guitar World. I play a Remington Steel Double-8 console and a 1937 Gibson EH-150 lap steel. These are the tunings I use most often:

E13th                       C13th               B11th
(Leon McAuliff version)
1   E                       1   E               1   E
2   C#                      2   C               2   C#
3   B                       3   A               3   A
4   G#                      4   G               4   F#
5   F#                      5   E               5   D#
6   D                       6   C               6   C#
7   G#                      7   Bb              7   A
8   E                       8   C               8   B (low)
I sometimes tune my C13th neck to E,C,A,G,E,C,A,F (Fmaj13th tuning.) The Hawaiian players lowerd the bass strings of the standard A6th to get the B11th tuning. It's a very rich, lush, dominant sound. As Jerry Byrd says, it's a strum tuning - great for classic Hawaiian tunes (Sand, How D'ya Do, Hana) but also for some blues & swing stuff (Sweet Georgia Brown, for example).

Steel Guitar World has published some great info on non-pedal tunings by John Ely (formerly w/ Asleep at the Wheel, now living in Hawaii). Additionally, two great sources for non-pedal players are the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Association Quarterly (published in Honolulu, $24/year) and the Jerry Byrd instruction book, available from Scotty's Music in St. Louis. Each issue of the HSGA Quarterly features a TAB arrangement by good professional players as well as lots of good info re steel gigs and recordings. The Byrd book has a wealth of great tab, tuning charts, back-up audio cassetts and material on reading music for non-pedal steel. At about $100 bucks it's not cheap, and some of the tunes are more "hip" than others but overall, this is info that's available nowhere else.

Thanks for maintaining such a great Web page and I hope this info is of some interest.

- Andy Volk

On Jun 12, 2008, at 10:48 AM, Bobby Lee wrote:

> Could I get you to email me an update with your current tunings? I
> could add it to the page, which would make it more interesting.
> -b0b-

From: "Andrew Volk"
Date: Thu Jun 12, 2008

Over the years I've pared down my tunings and gotten rid of all my eight-string guitars. Now, I just play 6-string C6th, C6th/A7, D major, and Dmai7 and once in a blue moon, A6th or C Diatonic but I barely know those last two.

Like a lot of players, I got caught up in trying to play in multiple tunings without really getting deeply enough into any of them. Once I
narrowed it all down, my playing improved. Unlike almost everyone else, I found that eight-string tunings were a kind of trap for me. Instead of opening doors, they seemed to close them so I went back down to 6 strings.

Frankly, b0b, as a non-pro player, I don't think anyone really gives a damn what tunings I use. Nevertheless, here they are, hi to low:

 C6th     C6/A7      D Maj    D Maj7
 1 E       1 E       1 D       1 C#
 2 C       2 C       2 A       2 A
 3 A       3 A       3 F#      3 F#
 4 G       4 G       4 D       4 D
 5 E       5 E       5 A       5 A
 6 C       6 C#      6 D       6 D


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