Slack Key Guitars


Slack Key on the Web
Slack Key on LI / NY
Lessons & TABs


Where can I find Hawaiian Slack Key Guitars?

You don't need a special guitar to play Slack Key. Any steel or nylon string guitar (or ukulele) will do. The "key" to slack is in the tuning. And in the spirit .. the soul of your playing, or mana.

However, since Slack Key typically involves much lower string tension, some Slack players prefer a guitar specifically built and set up for lower tension, else the neck bows back slightly, causing the strings to buzz against open frets. And since Slack Key is mostly a finger picking style, many Slack players favor a custom-built guitar to accommodate Slack finger-style and to accentuate the flowing Slack tones and melodies.

For example, many of the Hawaiian-born Slack players I have met have tremendous hands with thick fingers and thumbs. They are always looking for steel string guitars with wide necks and widely spaced strings for their large fingers. Most nylon string (classical) guitars are set up this way, but not steel string acoustic guitars.

Another example is the type of the wood used to make the sound box of the guitar. Many serious finger-style players prefer the rich tones produced by harder woods like Hawaiian Koa. Not only does it produce gorgeous tones, it can also be stunning to look at, especially curly Koa with its waves and knotted, swirling grains.

Here are some tremendous custom guitar and ukulele shops I have come across (and purchased from!).



Vance Guitars: Bucksport Maine
25 Beech Lane
Bucksport, Maine 04416

Phone: (207) 469-6310

Vance is the finest guitar maker east of Hawaii. Maybe we should include Hawaii too! This guy is a regular Renaissance man. Over the years Vance has specialized in custom commissioned furniture and cabinet pieces, honing his wood artistry skills. In addition, under the tutelage of his father, Vance learned the fine art of lacquer finishing in his family-owned antique restoration business.

His full-time gig is running a tropical fish store, Vance's Tropical Fish, which is located directly beneath his guitar workshop. The humidity that rises up to his shop is perfect for bending and forming wood. He makes guitars for the love of the craft, and only in small, limited batches. He will make only 6 or 12 guitars a year.

He prefers hand-picked Koa from Hawaii, Maine Curly Maple, Sitka Spruce, and Madagascar Ebony. He crafts custom dreadnought and parlor style guitars and ukeleles too. His guitars feature wide necks (1 7/8” at nut!) and big, bass-booming, thick bodies (5 1/2" at end-block).

Vance crafted a custom 2-hole "Kaimana" Slack guitar for Ben Diamond, based on specifications they came up with together. Here are some photos.

Vance showing the newly cut soundboard for the Kaimana 2-hole guitar. Ben playing air guitar at the shop with his soon-to-be soundboard.
Kaimana 2-hole nears completion. Bridge and neck mock-ups shown. The final product.
Vance Peters playing one of his hand-made guitars in his Hawaiiana room. Vance Peters and Ben Diamond jam away on Vance 6 and 12-string guitars.
Bending the Koa for the Kaimana 2-hole guitar. Ben Diamond performs at LIFGC on 12/1/2010 using his new guitar!




bullet Grimes Guitars: Kula, Hawaii

Steve Grimes
Grimes Guitar Company
1520 Kamehameiki Road, Kula, HI 96790

Phone & FAX: (808) 878-2076

Steve's shop specializes in arch-top jazz guitars, but the also make phenomenal Hawaiian Slack Key guitars. Keola Beamer has a custom line of Slack guitars available through Grimes Guitars. You can see some great images of Steve's creations at

Home | Slack Key on the Web | Slack Key on LI / NY | Lessons & TABs

This site was last updated 12/12/2010