Acknowledged as inventor of the steel guitar, he was born in Laie, Hawai`i and died in Dover, New Jersey. In 1885, the 11 year-old schoolboy, "fooling around" with his guitar, slid different objects across the strings to see what sounds he could produce, and became intrigued with the unique musical tones he heard.
At 15, he amazed his schoolmates at The Kamehameha School for Boys in Honolulu, with the "sweet sounds" he produced running a hair comb or tumbler across the guitar strings. In the school shop, Kekuku developed the smooth, steel playing bar used today, and raised the guitar frets so that the bar would glide easily across the strings. He also switched from gut to wire strings for more sustained notes, and designed individual finger picks for the opposing hand,
Before he died, Kekuku had toured all of the United States and most of Europe teaching and popularizing the steel guitar. By the early 1900s, the popularity of Kekuku's invention, the steel guitar, was firmly established in Hawaiian music, and soon after in the country music field.