Phil Keaggy: Technique and Technology

Phil's Equipment

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 choices.

Acoustic Guitars

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 Beyond Nature. 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

Electric Guitars

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:

Delay/Sampling Effects

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 locations:

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.

The EBow

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 electronically. 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 vibrating string) 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.

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Tom Loredo /