Hawaiian Steel Guitar Association... encouraging the study, teaching and performance of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar
Thoughts from Jerry Byrd

Some pearly words from Jerry Byrd, pronounced at his Bishop Museum workshop session (Spring 1998):

 

  • Use your steel guitar as an art form to convey feelings through playing. Forget what kind of steel, what kind of bar or picks -- PLAY MUSIC!

  • The word talent is greatly overused. Without desire, talent is NOTHING.
  • You'll never ever finish LEARNING steel guitar. It's a solo instrument. Be an individual. Don't let somebody else tell you what you should do. PLAY YOUR PERSONALITY.

  • Get the listener involved in what you're doing. Lead them into the music. Make them anticipate your next note.

  • Steel guitar is a LAID BACK instrument.

Jerry Byrd,
Director Emeritus of HSGA

More of Jerry Byrd's Thoughts on Steel Guitar...

 

Has it ever occurred to you that we play the most "cluttered-up" musical instrument ever invented?? Well, we do by far! And why so? I have lived to bear witness to all of them, most of which were designed (?) to make playing a difficult instrument easier but actually doing just the opposite, and then finally giving it up altogether - or moving on to another instrument like electronic gadgets of all kinds.

 

Let's look at one of those: Electronic Keyboards. It was now possible to electronically "bend" or "slur" notes (and here I'll use a salesman's "pitch") to sound just exactly like a steel guitar. These came into being when? - 15 or 20 years ago? - and would now replace a whole orchestra: string section, rhythm section, everything and anything and would now throw hundreds of musicians "out of work."

 

Since I was, and still am, teaching at Harry's Music Store, I witnessed first-hand the birth (and death) of these "boons" to music. Half of the floor space was taken up with electric keyboards purchased by a few young 'kids' who ordered every new model that came out (which was almost a monthly happening) only to very quickly become obsolete due to a newer, and much better model. During a conversation one day, one of these young geniuses said boastingly, "These will put steel guitar out of business because we can do it on keyboards same sound, same way" etc etc etc. I replied, "No, you can make it sound like you think a steel guitar sounds: which is gliss, gliss, gliss. If it can sound just like a steel, as you say, then tell it to play like Jerry Byrd." End of conversation.

 

The "fad" lasted a few years as all fads do; the "salesmen" left and there sat dozens of keyboards and amplifiers of all sizes, which were later shipped to an auction house in California for a very small fraction of what they cost.

 

Slide Guitar. Here is another one! "New and Improved" by the use of better "slides" - that ugly tube of metal that's placed over the fingers of the left hand that, I'm told, sounds "just like a steel guitar." (Where have I heard that before?) And what they do, typically so, is "scoop" into every position - by at least two frets, usually more - like shooting arrows at something. It drives me nuts!!! Zip, Zip, Zip and about as subtle as a bulldozer!!! Often, people come up to me and ask about or refer to my "slide" guitar. I hastily, and emphatically tell them that I play steel guitar and add that it was not born in the "southern" U.S. - it was born right here on this island in Hawai`i.

Pedal Steel. I have never said that I dislike the use of pedals - I dislike what they do with them with only a very few exceptions. Regardless of how many gadgets they invent, it all comes down to this: "Excellency" does not come easily and is not dependent upon "tools" - or even whether you have two hands and ten fingers.