“THERE ARE TIMES WHEN I AM ABLE TO FREE
MYSELF from concerns about technique, and suddenly my spirit soars
and the music just ﬂows through my hands spontaneously,”
enthuses Phil Keaggy. “That comes with living with the guitar
for a long time.” Indeed, and in the nearly half-century that
Keaggy has been playing he has released almost as many records,
spanning genres as diverse as psychedelic rock, funk, folk, new
acoustic, new age jazz, and worship music.
Case in point: In the time it takes many artists to record and
release a single album, Keaggy has released four, all on his Strobie Records
label. Cover of Love (“Pretty much just some simple
songs, most of them covers, which point in the direction of
love,” he says), the rollicking Cosmic Rumpus with the Jack Giering
Trio, an in-studio performance of his masterful live-looping
set called Live from Kegworth Studio, and an intriguing collection of improvisational
duets with global percussionist Kyle Jones titled Numen. And that’s
not to mention 2011’s Glass Harp Live at the
Beachland Ballroom 11.01.08 [Special Friends],
which showcases Keaggy with the legendary
power trio that he ﬁ rst achieved success with
in the early 1970s.
Keaggy’s playing also graces recordings
by numerous other artists, most recently
ﬁve tracks on Mickey Dolenz’s upcoming
Once a luminary within the then-nascent
Christian music industry, Keaggy’s faith continues to inform his life
and music. “I believe
music and all that is good is inspired by a
loving creator without whom there would be nothing beautiful,” he
says. Whatever its
origin, Keaggy’s extraordinary guitar playing communicates in a
that anyone with ears and half a heart can
What guitars are you playing these days?
There are three electrics that I play mostly.
My main electric is the ’71 Gibson Les Paul
Deluxe that I modiﬁed with PAF and PRS
pickups, which I have been playing for a long
time. I also have a ’64 Fender Strat that a
friend gave me in 1987, which is a fantastic
instrument that I do a lot of recording with.
And the third electric is a Strat-style Zion
with two Seymour Duncan humbuckers. It
is a well-crafted instrument with a whammy
bar and a beautiful tone that they made for
me back in 1986. My brother Dave also gave
me a 1959 Gretsch Anniversary that I love.
He bought it new in 1960, and used to let
me play it when I was in 7th grade. Finally,
I have two Flatline guitars, which are awe-
some. One is a Tele-style instrument called
a Delta 90, which has a regular Tele-type
pickup in the neck and a P-90 in the bridge.
The other is a Vistaglide Custom, which has
Gretsch-style pickups. My main acoustic is
still the 2004 Olson SJ Cutaway, which plays
and sounds wonderful.
Do you have a standard live rig?
When I play nearby I use a mid-’60s Vox
AC30 with Top Boost, often combined with a
modiﬁed early-’60s Fender Deluxe—though
recently I substituted a Peavey Classic 30 for
the Fender on a local gig and got a great tone.
I set the Peavey right in front of the Vox, so
it was a combination of the tones. You still
feel the oomph of the Vox, but the level is
slightly attenuated. When I play away from
home I typically borrow amps from friends.
As for effects, I’ve got a Pedaltrain board
with a Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler, a custom-
built compressor, a Visual Sound Route 66
overdrive/compressor, a Swell G-TOD over-
drive, a Tone Freak Abunai overdrive, and
once in a while I use a Franklin ProDrive.
I also have several old Boss pedals, including a CH-1 Super Chorus, a TR-2
a DC-2 Dimension C, an OC-2 Octave, and
a FV-60 volume pedal. I use both the DL-4
and a rack-mounted Lexicon JamMan for
looping. I also still use the Heet Sound EBow.
Cosmic Rumpus was released by the Jack Giering Trio, which shares the
same lineup as the Phil
Exactly. They did Inter-Dimensional Traveler, and we’re working on
the third album
now, which will be by the John Sferra Trio.
They’re all going to have the same psychedelic covers.
There are some great tones on that album, like
that slightly overdriven solo on “Blue Cayman.”
That’s my ’71 Les Paul going through
an unusual signal chain. As I recall I used
a “Blackface” setting on the Line 6 POD,
then into a LaChapelle tube preamp and a
Daking limiter compressor, and probably a
Line 6 Echo Pro delay, though I don’t think I
used a lot of delay. I was trying to emulate a
little of the Bloomﬁeld style on that one. It’s
strange because the tune itself has this kind
of David Rose “The Stripper” vibe.
And what about the sweet, steel-guitar-like
solo tone on “Forest Green”?
That’s the Zion guitar. I was going for an
unusual midrange tone to create a kind of
“deep forest” sound, and using the whammy
bar with volume swells to get the steel-guitar effects.
Describe your picking techniques.
When I play acoustic, I use acrylics on my
thumbnail and my three ﬁngernails [Keaggy
lost his middle ﬁnger in an accident when
he was a child]. When I started out, I played
exclusively with a pick, but then I began incorporating my third ﬁnger, and
eventually I put
the pick aside almost entirely. Not having a
pick in my hand freed me up to play multiple notes simultaneously and do things
slapping harmonics. I still use a pick if I’m
playing a song with strumming throughout.
On electric, I mostly play with a pick,
though about 30 percent of the time I play
with just my fingers, which opens up a
whole different world of expression. The
direct contact with the skin puts you more
in touch with the strings, and you feel and
hear things differently. Jeff Beck was a big
inspiration for that. When I do use a pick, I
prefer Fender Medium-style teardrop picks.
I’ve tried all sorts of picks, but that always
seems to work for me.
Talk about your vibrato. Do you move the string
up and down or back and forth or combine the two?
For typical blues-type stuff I’ll go up and
down. Sometimes I do it while the palm of
my hand is still cradling the neck and some-
times without. You know how Clapton does
it where it seems like his hand is just ﬂoating? I also go back and
I’m doing volume swells with my pinky and want to get that
violin-like sound. When I
was a teenager I used to think I had to do a
really fast vibrato, like Jim McCarty and Jorma
Kaukonen. Michael Bloomﬁeld did that early
on, too, but as he got older he slowed down.
And you also use a vibrato bar?
My Zion guitar has a vibrato bar, which I
use when I’m playing it. Before I had a guitar with a bar on it I
developed a technique that
sounds like I’m scooping a note in the way a
bar would, and I still use that sometimes.
Is there any aspect of your playing that you
feel has evolved signiﬁcantly in the last few years,
either technically or aesthetically?
One thing that’s happened more lately is
that people will come up after a performance and say, “There was a
phrase you did that
touched my soul.” So maybe what has evolved
is my ability to put more heart into my playing, rather than anything
comes from an appreciation for the gifts of
life and music and of being able to communicate something to people with my
Your playing encompasses many types of music,
yet you have a unique voice. What’s one aspect of
your “signature” style?
One evening recently I listened to a lot of
my music on random play, taking it in like I
was somebody discovering me for the ﬁrst
time, and I realized that I do have a signature style. I noticed that I have a
way of holding down one or two notes, like pedal tones,
while other notes are moving about, and that
was a consistency across my approach. I’d
been so wrapped up in playing my whole life
that I hadn’t noticed something that really
contributed to making me who I am. I think
when a musician realizes, “That’s me, that’s
what I do,” it helps them appreciate the gift
that they have, and the hard work that went
into ﬁnding their voice, and that encourages
them to keep going further.