Ukulele Sessions: Watch Slack-Key Master Ledward Kaapana Play Two Songs

By Greg Olwell

For decades, Ledward Kaapana has delighted audiences with his music. Masterful, virtuosic, and always fun, the native Hawaiian guitarist and ukulele player specializes in playing the islands’ unique slack-key style, which uses open tunings to create sounds otherwise not possible on a standard tuned instrument.

During a recent West Coast tour, Ledward stopped by our studio to play two songs from his latest album, Jus’ Press Vol. 2. Though known primarily as a guitarist, Kaapana has always featured ukulele in his performances and this year marks the first time in his nearly five-decade recording career that he has recorded an album’s worth of ukulele material.

Led used two tunings during this session. He played “Na Lei Hawaii (Song of the Islands)” in standard tuning (G C E A). For the Sonny Chillingworth slack-key piece “Whee Ha Swing,” Led used a “Wahine” tuning on his tenor ukulele. Wahine slack-key tunings use a major 7th note to create a major 7th chord when the open strings are strummed. As he details in the video, Led tunes his first string down one full-step to G and the third string down a half-step to B.

00:00 “Na Lei Hawaii (Song of the Islands)” (Standard tuning, G C E A)

05:32 “Whee Ha Swing” (Sonny Chillingworth) (Wahine tuning, G B E G)


Both songs Kaapana plays on this session appears on his latest album, Jus Press Vol. 2.

(After shooting this Ukulele Session, Ledward grabbed one of the office guitars of our sister publication, Acoustic Guitar for a tune with accompaniment by Fran Guidry. That video is here.)

Led plays a tenor ukulele made by Chuck Moore of Moore Bettah ukuleles. It features an inlay of Led’s signature phrase “Jus’ Press” on the ebony fingerboard and another inlay of his signature sunglasses and hat on the headstock. (Don’t miss the red cowboy boot inlay on the soundhole, either!)

The red cowboy boot inlay in Led’s custom tenor made by Chuck Moore was a fantastic touch.

Learn to Play ‘Glass Ball Slack Key’ from Led Kaapana

‘You Can Do Anything on the Ukulele’ Lessons from Living Legend Led Kaapana