Steel Trappings

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The Joseph Kekuku Replica Hawaiian Lap Steel Guitar

January 3, 2024 • Daniel TremblayInstruments and Luthiers

Aloha to all. This is a follow-up to a blog I made a while ago.

I was asked "How to" convert any standard guitar to a KĪKĀ KILA. I will describe how I do it. I have done about 30 [conversions] at the time of writing this, where some were donated to schools we visit, some sold to people I teach lessons to (now at the Waikīkī Hyatt Regency on Kalākaua Ave. Thursdays from 2-3pm), and some auctioned off at steel guitar festivals.

I also keep one that I use when I do my Hands-on Experience to demonstrate what Joseph did when he invented the first steel guitar.

Any 6 string guitar can be converted. Only 6 string guitars can be used because the only nut extension I have found is for 6 string. Guitars can be electric or acoustic. It does not hurt the guitar and if you decide to convert back, that can be done at any time. Just remove the nut and change the strings back.

To start you will need the parts seen in the picture below:

Required Parts

I use a pencil to rub on the grooves of the nut extension. The graphite from the pencil lubricates the grooves and helps prevent the jumping around when tuning that sometimes happens. See below. I also lubricate the tuners on the guitars, they tend to be dry and can be hard to tune otherwise. I use 3-in-1 oil, just wipe off excess.

Lubricating Parts

I use an inexpensive guitar I purchase on Amazon when they are available. When the one I usually get for $43 is not available I have tried others but like the $43 one best. [Ed. note: the preferred Joymusic guitar used here has a 38-inch neck.]

I recommend taking a picture of the turners and the bridge before you start, and then you can refer to it when reassembling. At first I didn't do this and made many mistakes restringing.

Tuners and Bridge

On the Joymusic guitar I get, I remove the pick guard by gently and slowly peeling it off. See below. If the decal pulls off, I reattach using some of my wife's clear nail polish which worked great. Any glue residue can be removed with rubbing alcohol.

Removing the Pickguard

I have found that you do not need to change the first 2 strings on the new guitars I get as they are a good gauge for steel. I just loosen them and sneak the nut extension under them; smaller groove goes to smaller gauge string. I remove the rest and replace with the John Pearce strings saving the lighter gauge John Pearce strings for later use.

Retaining the first two strings

I have in the past replaced the tuner that came with the guitar, but lately found that it must have been improved because it seems to be working, I tune mine to C6. Tune it up after stringing making sure nut extension is centered and the bridge is centered as it can move since it's only held in place by string pressure. Also make sure strings are equally spaced on the bridge as there are no grooves to insure spacing on the guitars I get.

That's it, now you have a Kīkā Kila which you can enjoy anywhere. I use mine in my condo so as not to bother my neighbors. The original problem with the acoustic steel guitar is that it is not too loud, of course unless you add a pickup and amplifier. I also add some tape along the frets and number the frets as an aid to beginners using tablature.

The finished product

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