Christian Musician: Steel Strings and a Box of Wood

An Acoustic Guitarists Special

By Rich Stevens

Excerpted from CCM Magazine, November 1992, pp. 42 - 43
The other artists profiled in this article are: Margaret Becker, Michael Card, Steven Curtis Chapman, Billy Crockett, Scott Dente, Ricky Skaggs, and Randy Stonehill.

Reprinted by permission of CCM Communications, copyright 1992---all rights reserved.

Phil Keaggy

To sum up Phil Keaggy's world of playing and the impact he's had seems almost impossible. Especially in light of his statement, "I actually wanted to be a drummer at first. I tinker on the piano and drums, but I'm pretty focussed on being a guitar player, singer, and songwriter. Probably 90% of that is done on the acoustic nowadays."

Elvis Presley, Duane Eddy, The Beatles, The Ventures, and the entire British invasion helped him stay committed. When 1970 came along he began to enjoy the music of Julian Bream, Andres Segovia, John Renbourn, and Bruce Cockburn. He says he actually listens to more chamber and orchestral music such as Ralph Vaughn Williams, Ravel, and Debussy. "I like music that really moves my spirit, heart, and soul."

Although Keaggy's own dream would be to have an even balance between electric and acoustic, he explains, "By and large, the kind of people who book my concerts and the people who come to hear me don't want me to be a rock 'n' roll player. I realy enjoy the freedom on the acoustic. You can bend those strings, you can whack those strings, and you can play sensitive on them. Even with its limitations, it's easier for me to be more spontaneous. I can stop anywhere in the song, I can back up, I can change the arrangement, I can sing new words, I can forget the words, and laugh about it."

For the last nine years [as of 1992] he has been playing Olson guitars. He used them on Beyond Nature, The Wind and the Wheat, and "Epilogue/Amazing Grace," the bonus track on [the CD reissue of] The Master and the Musician. Before Olson, he used Mark Whitebook guitars and Ovation. A five pin Canon connector cable goes into his guitar which connects to a small condenser microphone [a Fender FM-1], a Sunrise magnetic pickup and an L.R. Baggs transducer pickup in the bridge. He combines all of them into a Pendulum preamp [the stereo HZ10 model], and occassionally into a single rack space, custom made O'Neil preamp. He uses an Alesis Quadraverb for delays, and has used T.C. Electronics gear [preamp/EQ and chorus footpedals], a Carver power amp [for powering his own monitor send], and recommends a very sturdy rack case.

"It's important to make a spiritual connection, a musical connection. Even if I don't say much in concert, I find that with acoustic music you can really say a lot about yourself, and what you feel, and what you believe in, and people understand.

"I would encourage players not to get completely dependant on reading only, but to be able to create and be spontaneous, and to be able to improvise on their own. If you're a soloist, I recommend getting your sound so that it fills the auditorium and fills the ears of people without it being overwhelming."

[Way Back Home editor's note: As of Autumn 1995, Phil's live performance setup has changed and simplified considerably. Although he still plays his Olson guitar at home and in the studio, he now favors a Langejans guitar for live performance. It has a built-in L.R. Baggs Duet system (under-saddle piezo pickup and internal mic, with on-board battery-powered preamp). The Duet signal goes to a Korg G2 "Toneworks" pedalboard for EQ, reverb and chorus, a Boss volume pedal, and a Lexicon JamMan for delay effects. The JamMan is now the only rack-mount component is his setup, and he carries it without a rack case enabling him to travel much more lightly than he was able to with the 3-pickup Olson setup.]

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