Solomon Ho`opi`i Ka`ai`ai, is still acknowledged by steel guitar buffs around the world as "King of the Steel Guitar" for inventing the multiple tunings that are popular today. The eldest of 21 children, Sol, like many Hawaiian children of his time, was taught to play and sing as soon as he could walk. He showed a natural talent for the `ukulele at age 3, for the guitar by the time he was 6, and he turned to the steel guitar as a teenager.
Sol's idols were steel guitar inventor Joseph Kekuku, Pale K. Lua and David Kaili, all of whom had already become famous on the mainland . At 17, Sol and two teen-age friends packed up their guitars and `ukulele and headed for San Francisco as stowaways on the ocean liner Matsonia to seek their musical "fortunes". When they were discovered on board, their performances of Hawaiian songs so delighted the passengers, that a collection was taken up to pay their fares.
After a series of club engagements in San Francisco, the trio moved to Los Angeles. When his friends returned to Hawai`i, Sol formed another trio with Lani McIntire and Glenwood Leslie; they recorded on the Brunswick label. Caught up in the 1925-27 Hawaiian rage in Hollywood, Sol's impressive virtuosity on the steel guitar earned him movie credits with such stars as Mary Pickford, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler; the Charlie Chan movies earned him the title of the "Hollywood Hawaiian". Mary Pickford requested Sol's steel playing for an unusual use: that of putting her in the mood for her crying scenes in silent films.
Called a "genius" on the steel by his protege, Sol K. Bright, Sol Ho`opi`i was noted for his speed and dexterity, and was said to have had the greatest picking hand of all time. He was one of the first to record American songs, which, in the process, helped popularize the Hawaiian-invented steel guitar in the United States especially in the field of country music. Some of steel guitarist Hank Williams' solos are copied directly from Sol Ho`opi`i's stylings. Sol's recordings influenced such well-known steel guitar players around the world as Rudy Wairata (Indonesia), Billy Reid (Canada) and Yukihiko Haida (Japan). Sol Ho`opi`i has been generally regarded by his peers as the foremost Hawaiian steel guitarist.