GO AHEAD AND ASK
BY JOE COFFEY
Photo by Christine Porubsky
Some of us make gear, some of us play it, and, in our case, some of us
work at a media company that aims to keep everyone informed. That’s
why we facilitate this discussion every month. There are certain conversations that need to take place just between us gearheads. This month,
we wanted to connect you with acoustic virtuoso Andy McKee.
McKee is one of the most important guitarists to come along in a
very long time. As an artist, he represents change and innovation.
We used to gauge an artist’s popularity by album sales—which, of
course, were often dependent on big-label backing for proper production and promotion in order to stand a chance. McKee made his
mark with a video camera and an internet connection. The modern
metric for gauging what the public is connecting with—You Tube
views—is hard to comprehend when you consider McKee’s numbers:
the total You Tube views for his videos are approaching 100 million.
But then again, when you consider his artistry and sheer originality, those numbers start to make sense. Who among us hasn’t seen
a bearded and dome-shorn McKee slap-hammering that rhythmic
tapestry of tones in his “Drifting” video? ( 33, 172,856 views at press
time). And who can’t remember their own reaction to first seeing
McKee’s wonderfully arranged and skillfully played version of Toto’s
“Africa”? In a world where awestruck music fans quickly copy and
paste URLs to share music videos that impress them, McKee is a real-life digital sensation. His videos were the top three rated You Tube
clips of all time at one point.
Though tremendously talented, McKee’s time spent woodshedding
is just as prodigious. A dedicated student of the instrument who is
largely self-taught, McKee learned a lot by teaching, too, and continues to do so when he can. He has won and placed high in numerous
fingerstyle competitions around the world. He now plays alongside
the world-class players he used to look up to as mentors. His name
carries plenty of weight on its own, though, as I can attest after seeing him wow an appreciative crowd with a solo show at the Montreal
Jazz Festival earlier this year.
82 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2010
Music fans in general embrace McKee’s work, but as guitarists and
gearheads there is another zone of McKeedom we’re interested in
exploring, obviously. The following questions were submitted by
Premier Guitar readers/viewers via our website.
1Love your stuff! You’ve inspired me to explore the percus- sive elements of guitars that most players are completely unaware of. Unfortunately, the guitars I bought before I
started tapping and thwacking aren’t relaying those sounds effectively through amplification. The piezo and built-in mic in my current guitars are either way too sensitive or too sterile. What kind
of electronics do you recommend for someone trying to explore
your style of playing while plugged in? —Chris Williams, New
York, New York
Hey Chris. I have been using the Pure Western pickup from K&K for
several years now. It’s three contact pickups that are attached inside
the guitar around the bridge area. They have a really natural sound
and pick up the percussive guitar techniques very well. Yamaha also
has a great system called the ART that is similar. I use that in conjunction with their SRT system in my Yamaha guitars.
2Hi Andy. I’m curious about harp guitars and have been thinking about getting one. Are there any quality brands that won’t break the bank? —Tony Burns, Fredonia, New
Hi Tony. I would recommend checking out Holloway Harp Guitars.
They are working hard to get an affordable, high-quality harp guitar
out there. I’ve played a couple and they are nice instruments! [Editor’s
note: Check out our video demo from Summer NAMM 2010 online at
3What were the circumstances when you decided the harp guitar would be a big part of your artistry? —Jeffrey Meatyard, San Antonio, Texas
Hey Jeffrey. I first heard the harp guitar on a Michael Hedges album
called Live on the Double Planet. He had a tune on there called
“Because It’s There,” and I really loved the expanded range of the
instrument. I never had the chance to see Michael perform before he
passed away, unfortunately, but in 2000 I saw a musician named Stephen
Bennett performing, and he also played harp guitar. We became good
friends, and he thought I might be able to do some interesting music
with the harp guitar. So in 2003 he sold me one of his.
4I understand you’re self-taught but actually know your theory. What method books or systems did you use to learn? Please spill! —Sherry M., Evansville, Indiana
Hey Sherry. I actually learned a lot by teaching guitar lessons—it
keeps you on your toes. Any book that teaches you about scales,
modes, the circle of fifths, and chord construction should work fine.
I was always really into chords and loved learning about inversions
and substitutions, and there are some really good jazz books out
there on that. Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m definitely not a proficient jazz player!
5As a current player who’s doing innovative things, you inspire me. So I’m wondering who inspires you in a similar fashion? —Ryan Nusbickel, St. Louis, Missouri
Hey Ryan, thanks for your question. When I was getting into playing guitar, I spent a lot of years learning the tunes of some of