Some GP readers might be familiar with Hawaiian guitarist Makana. His Different Game CD was reviewed in the mag in 2008 and, that same year, he narrowly missed winning GP’s Guitar Superstar competition, placing third overall and eliciting glowing praise from judges Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and notorious tough customer Elliot Easton. Since then, Makana has made a new record, the all-instrumental Venus and the Sky Turns to Clay, and he wowed the San Fran crowd with several cuts off that last Friday at Biscuits and Blues.
Playing a battle-scarred Takamine, he worked through a collection of different tunings and techniques to get his tunes across. Makana cut his teeth on traditional Hawaiian slack-key guitar, taught to him by the masters in the islands. The style incorporates not just open tunings but also independent bass lines and melodies, with fingerpicking that is also well-suited to bluegrass, folk, and Celtic music, and hints of all those traditions find their way into his songs. His hammer-on and pull-off chops are evident in “Napo’o Ka La” off his latest release, with an absolutely burning intro that would make Gary Moore proud. He shows a debt to Jimmy Page on the DADGAD showstopper “Dance of the Red Poppies,” as well as on his beautiful cover of “Goin’ to California.” At other points in the show, Makana displayed a great use of harmonics, neck-bending vibrato, and percussive techniques that gave his songs a deep sense of dynamics and drama. He also got an absolutely gorgeous amplified tone, with a dual L.R. Baggs system that allows him to process the bass and treble strings separately.
This guy is the real deal and he’s a great ambassador for Hawaiian music and the acoustic guitar. He works the crowd with a genuine charisma, and is somehow very humble about his extraordinary talent. Look for a video interview with musical examples soon on guitarplayer.com and definitely go see him if he comes your way.