What Is Slack Key Guitar? Becoming a one-man band is possible with a slack key guitar. It is developed by the Hawaiian cowboys way back the 1800s. They loosened the guitar strings to produce different tunings than a normal guitar. It became part of the great acoustic guitar traditions worldwide through the years until now.

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History of Slack Key Guitar

It all starts in Hawaii at the beginning of the 19th century. There was a time when Mexican and Spanish cowboys play guitar that caught the attention of Hawaiian cowboys. The hired cowboys offer their guitars to the Hawaiians. As time goes by, the Hawaiians considered the Mexican and Spanish music to create their own sound.

During those times, only a few can play guitar, and so Hawaiians developed this so-called slack key guitar. A single guitar can then play a full sound, including bass chords, rhythm chords, and even the melodic fills. All of the pitched strings are strum with a thumb wherein the lower three or four pitched strings are played for bass and rhythm chords. Improvising sound is possible through the upper two or three pitched strings.

In the late 1800s, the slack key became popular in the Hawaiian islands. Hawaiian music is never complete without vocals, and that happens during the mid-20th century. The guitar plays a back-up role together with the other instruments.

Its popularity continued when slack key albums existed during the late 1900s.

Slack Key Guitar Explained

A slack key guitar is a style of Hawaiian music using an acoustic guitar through fingerpicking various chords. It can be played on guitars other than an acoustic guitar. It has a loosed key that makes a distinct sound compared to open chords.

It contains the major chord and 7th and 6th note chords. Those chords can be altered as to the guitarist’s decision. The slacked strings produce a very flexible sound with different tempos and tunings.

A slack-key may sound better with two guitars playing in different tunings in the same key. The first guitarist might play using G-major tuning while the other will be using G Wahine tuning. They may use a capo to sound at its best. The slack key guitar can be played in solo or group formats.

It features four basic types from simple to performance-oriented slack key style. Many musicians within Hawaii are still playing this guitar type up to these days.

If you are familiar with the sound of Hawaii’s tropical setting, a slack key guitar plays a vital role. Their songs were never played at standard guitar chords but with special tunings. Hawaiian melodies are unique compared to other nations.


In conclusion, the slack key guitar is even more appreciated up to this day. It creates a very personal and heartfelt sound. The instrument offers various open chords that you can play in different styles. In fact, this musical instrument became better as years pass through the intelligent musicians in the world. This guitar style has influenced Hawaiian music big time!

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