Phil Keaggy: Technique and Technology
Please note that this page has not been actively maintained since
about 2000, and so does not reflect some of Phil's more recent gear
In the early 70s, Phil received a Mark Whitebook guitar as a gift,
and used it as his main acoustic guitar through the 70s and early
80s, as he noted in the liner notes to Play Thru Me.
Whitebook, a southern Californian, built guitars from 1969
to 1974, when he stopped building full-time for financial and
health reasons. His instruments have been treasured, not only by
Phil, but also by such esteemed players as
John McLaughlin and James Taylor. His work as a luthier was profiled
in the May 1984 issue of Guitar Player magazine (p. 93);
that issue shows James Taylor on the cover playing one of his three
Whitebooks, a dreadnought with a spruce top and maple sides.
In the CCM Acoustic Guitar Special, Phil notes that he earlier played Ovation guitars.
In the early 80s, Phil commissioned and helped design the first
cedar-topped SJ cutaway model that luthier James Olson built.
This and other Olsons quickly became Phil's favorite acoustics, and
have been featured on all of his albums from the
original 1986 version of Way Back Home to the present;
they are especially prominent on Way Back Home and
Phil was the first professional player of national
renown to perform with Jim's guitars. Today,
a number of well-known pros play Olsons, including James Taylor, Leo
Kottke, David Wilcox, Patty Larkin, and many others. You can find
out more about Olson guitars and the people who play them at the
James A. Olson Guitars web site.
In the late 1990s, Phil began using a Langejans
custom acoustic guitar in
his live performances; and more recently he has also used a custom-built
Charis guitar, though since receiving a new Olson in
2004 he's been relying more on an Olson again for live performance. It is not unusual
for him to bring two of these guitars to a performance; often one is tuned 1/2 step
below the other.
In the Spring 1996 issue of PKC,
Phil discusses his Langejans and Olson guitars; Del Langejans is
interviewed as well.
Live Acoustic Setup
There is a
description of Phil's ever-evolving live acoustic guitar
setup on the Acoustic
Guitar Amplification web page. Phil discusses his 1992 Olson guitar
setup and his live acoustic playing in a brief article in the
CCM Acoustic Guitar Special from the November
1992 issue of CCM. Phil's acoustic guitars use pickups
and pickup/mic systems made by L. R. Baggs. You can email them for
information about their products at
Phil has played a wide variety of electric guitars through the years.
He describes and plays many of them on his Phil Keaggy Electric
Guitar Style video. A few of them have also been described
in the "About That Guitar..." column appearing in the quarterly
PKC newsletter. A list of his most-used, trademark
instruments would surely include the following:
- Flame-Top Les Paul
This guitar became one of Phil's trademark instruments back in his
Glass Harp days, and has been featured on many of his albums up to 1995.
It is spending 1997 on display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,
in the Glass Harp exhibit!
- Mid 60s Strats
Phil has owned at least two black Fender Stratocasters of mid-60s
vintage (1964 and 1965, I believe). These, too, have been featured on
many of his albums. One of these instruments was purchased in Ithaca,
NY, and is featured on the Electric Guitar Style video;
Phil uses it to teach "Follow Me Up" (from The Master and the
- Yamaha SA-2000
Phil has been playing this sweet-sounding semi-hollowbody electric
since around 1980; some of his most lyrical solos have featured
this instrument. He had the pickup switch and the master volume pot
interchanged to facilitate his volume-swell technique. It is featured
for several songs on his Electric Guitar Style video,
most notably for a mind-blowing 10-minute improvisation that includes
his E-bow version of "Amazing Grace."
- Zion Custom
Phil has been playing a custom Strat-shaped white Zion guitar (similar
to their standard "Model-T" guitar) since the mid 80s. It has two
Seymour Duncan JB humbucking pickups, with switches to split them to
single coil and to reverse the phase of one of them.
In addition, a pull-switch on
the tone pot alters the taper of the volume pot to facilitate Phil's
trademark volume-swell technique. This guitar was first featured
on Phil's The Wind And The Wheat album, I believe. It is
a very versatile instrument, capable of closely simulating the tones
of a Strat or a Les Paul, and as a result has been a favorite touring
instrument of Phil's. Many of the electric guitar tracks on
220 feature Phil's Zion guitar. Zion has also
created the first Phil Keaggy signature guitar,
the Primera (but note that this is not the model Phil himself
uses). You can read more about Zion guitars and Phil
at the Zion Guitars web site.
- Parker Fly
In 1995, Phil began using the innovative Parker Fly guitar. Its
first recorded appearance will be on his upcoming instrumental
album, 220. In the meantime, Phil has been using it
in concert. It features a unique body shape and material. Perhaps
its most unique aspect is that it has not only the standard electromagnetic
pickups of an electric guitar, but also piezoelectric pickups of the
kind used to amplify acoustic guitars. The signals of both types of
pickups can be combined, leading to unique tones. Phil described
the guitar in the Summer 1996 issue of PKC. You
can read more about it at
Ward-Brodt's Music Mall's
Parker Fly Page. The folks at Parker specifically
encourage Keaggy fans to contact them for more information about
the Parker Fly and Phil's activities regarding Parker.
Contact Brad Strickland, Director of Artist Relations
for Parker Guitars, at
In his live performances, Phil often creates amazing layered compositions
on-the-fly using digital delays, both with acoustic and electric guitars.
In the past, Phil used a Roland SDE-3000 digital delay for his
sampling/looping tricks. This rather expensive rack mount device
(over $1000 when it was in production) has 3 seconds of delay (and a 4.5 second,
lower fidelity mode). Its unique feature is that it has a "Playmate"
function, whereby the musician can tap a footswitch to set the
delay time. For this reason, it became the delay of choice for
many pro players (Larry Carlton comes to mind); the Playmate feature
lets them adjust the delay in real time to be in tempo with the music.
Of course, Phil used it for more than a simple in-tempo delay!
In the mid 1990s, Chet Atkins introduced Phil to the
Lexicon JamMan, which provides
up to 32 seconds of near-CD quality delay in a single rack space,
with far more control over delay functions than was possible with
the SDE-3000. You can find information about the JamMan at these
Looper's Delight is the online resource for information and
discussion about looping techniques.
Unfortunately, Lexicon stopped producing the JamMan in 1997. If you're
shopping for one, look on eBay and in the forum at Looper's Delight, where
you'll also find descriptions of other looping devices.
In 2000 Phil began using a Rolls RFX MP1288 MIDIWizard
MIDI foot controller to control his JamMan (you can see him using it in the split-screen
shot near the beginning of his Philly Live! DVD). This is one of only a few MIDI pedals
that allows one to send multiple MIDI messages with a single foot press. This
allows Phil to do things with the JamMan that would require sub-millisecond
footwork to accomplish with the JamMan's normal pedals. In addition, the
JamMan has some capabilities that are only accessible via MIDI and not
from the front panel or its included foot pedals. This includes the abilities
to stop and restart a loop and to fade loops; Phil accesses these capabilities
with the MIDIWizard. For details on how Phil's
MIDIWizard is programmed, read these notes on MIDIWizard programming for the JamMan.
If you program a MIDIWizard this way, you may also find this
sheet of MIDIWizard labels handy.
Phil also uses a Line 6 DL4 Modeling Delay pedal for looping and other
delay-based effects, especially for its capability of reversing
audio on-the-fly. You can find out more about this pedal at
the DL4 page at Looper's Delight.
Phil is one of the most talented users of the EBow, a small electronic
device held in the guitarist's picking hand that can be used to achieve
"infinite" sustain (well, till the battery dies, at least!) and to
produce timbres similar to those heard from a flute, woodwinds, or
a cello. Phil even uses it to achieve a bagpipe sound in his
instrumental version of "Amazing Grace"!
Its name derives from "Energy Bow," an allusion to the use
of a violin or cello bow by some late-60s electric guitarists; the
EBow achieves some of the effects of bowing a guitar, but does it
It is intended for use with electric guitars, but Phil will
occassionally use it in his solo acoustic shows.
The original EBow
(a chrome-colored device that turned itself on when placed near a
was produced by Heat Sound Products in the 70s; Phil used it from
its earliest days. It went out of production in the early 80s,
but is now being manufactured again (this time it's black, with
a power switch).
Although Phil's most amazing EBow work probably happens in a live
context, you can hear its evocative sound on a number of Keaggy
recordings, including the following:
You can find out more about the EBow at
The Amazing EBow web site.
- Pilgrim's Flight (The Master and the Musician)
- Epilogue/Amazing Grace (The Master and the Musician; Electric Guitar Style Video)
- A Royal Commandment (Ph'lip Side)
- Town To Town (Town To Town)
- Rise Up O Men Of God (Town To Town)
- Let Everything Else Go (Town To Town)
- Reaching Out (Getting Closer)
- I Love You Lord (The Wind And The Wheat)
- When The Wild Winds Blow (Find Me In These Fields)
- And On That Day (True Believer)
Back to Way Back Home...
Tom Loredo /