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Surfin’: Hamming and a Steel Pedal Guitar

02/18/2011

By Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU
Contributing Editor

This week, Surfin’ rediscovers the hamming father of the steel pedal guitar.

On Valentine’s Day, ARRL News featured a story about rock ’n ’roll band Arcade Fire winning the Grammy award for “Album of the Year.” Turns out that two members of Arcade Fire -- Win and Will Butler -- are the grandsons of the late swing era bandleader Alvino Rey, W6UK.

I am a prehistoric ham (from the Boombastic Period), so I knew about Alvino Rey, but ask the average ham on the street and she or he may not have a clue.

I learned about Alvino Rey back in the mid-1960s when he appeared on the King Sisters’ television show playing his pedal steel guitar. He played the instrument in such a way that it sounded like a human singing. It was fascinating and always the highlight of the show for me.

My mom was a mid-20th century pop culture expert and informed me that Alvino was married to one of the King Sisters (Luise, to be exact), so that sort of guaranteed that Alvino would be appearing regularly on the program.

Turns out that Alvino was more than just a performer on the show; he was also its musical director. It also turns out that Alvino was a ham (W6UK), which I discovered when I was getting into ham radio at about the same time that he was appearing on television. According to Wikipedia, “he built his first radio at the age of 8 and, within a couple of years, became one of the youngest licensed ham operators in the country.”

Being a Ventures wannabee, I was also impressed that like many hams, Alvino was an electronics tinkerer. During his tinkering, he invented the guitar amplifier and was instrumental in the design of Gibson’s first electric guitar. How cool is that?

Alvino was a ham and tinkerer right up until the time of his death at age 95.

Until next time, walk, don’t run, but keep on surfin'!

Editor’s note: Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU, wore out a copy of Play Guitar with The Ventures LP. To contact Stan, send e-mail or add comments to the WA1LOU blog.

 



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