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Harry B. Soria

[Apuakehau, Jr., Joseph Kekuku‘upenakana‘iapuniokamehameha ]

(b La‘ie, Oahu, Hawaii, 1874; d Dover, NJ, Jan 016, 1932). American steel guitarist, teacher, and inventor. The Hawaiian steel guitar’s invention is largely credited to Joseph Kekuku. Joseph and his cousin, Samuel Kalanahelu Nainoa (1877–1950) were raised in the rural village of La‘ie, Oahu. By the age of 11, the close companions had become skilled musicians under the tutelage of the elders of La‘ie. Prior to the creation of the Hawaiian steel guitar, Hawaiian musical combos featured primarily violin, flute, “Spanish” guitar, and ‘ukulele performances. Sam played the violin, while Joseph spent much of his time trying to make his guitar sound like Sam’s violin.

Joseph’s first experiments involved running various implements across the strings of a conventional gut-string guitar, including a steel bolt, a penknife, a pocket comb, a dull straight razor blade, and a tumbler, with the guitar laying across his lap. When the cousins enrolled as boarding students at Kamehameha School for Boys in the fall of ...