"The Hawaiian people have been from time immemorial lovers of poetry and music."
- Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii's last queen
Sol Hoopii (1902-1953) Hawaiian born Sol Hoopii is considered by most to be the greatest lap steel player ever. He played “Hawaiian Style” by laying a National Tricone steel body guitar on his lap and playing the notes by sliding a steel bar up and down the strings as opposed to conventional fretting. Photos of Sol are difficult to come by, but shown here is a recently discovered circa 1929 photo of him (seated in the middle) from the 1934 movie ‘Down To Their last Yacht’. On the far left is Sol K. Bright, another great Hawaiian guitarist.
Already an accomplished musician at the age of 17, Sol and his band stowed away on a ship to San Francisco. He soon headed to Los Angeles and his career was launched. His timing couldn’t have been better because he started recording in 1925 at the height of the Hawaiian music craze. He recorded jazz, popular, and of course Hawaiian music all with a mind-boggling virtuosic style. Some of his best selling tunes were recorded during the mid 1930’s just about the time that Sol switched to a new-fangled electric lap guitar plugged into an amplifier, but I prefer his earlier acoustic recordings.
Sadly, in later years Sol developed diabetes, went blind, and like so many other musicians fell upon hard times, but he continued to perform right up until the end. Sol Hoopii truly deserves to be called “The King of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar”.
- Palolo from 1927
- Hilo March, acoustic version from 1925
My 1931 National Style 4 – The steel-bodied Style 4 was the fanciest of all National guitars with beautifully hand-engraved Chrysanthemum designs on all sides. The three small cones created a very smooth and sweet tone that was ideally suited for Hawaiian slide playing. Because most musicians played slide style with the guitar on their laps, most Tri-cone guitars have square necks, but this model was also made with a standard round-shaped “Spanish” neck which enables conventional playing styles. Not many musicians actually play this type of guitar any longer, but they are still appreciated by collectors as beautiful pieces of art.