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more... ArtistsGuitaristsFingerstyleAndy McKeeNovember 2010

Go Ahead and Ask: Andy McKee

Go Ahead and Ask: Andy McKee

5. As 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 my favorite musicians. Guys like Michael Hedges, Eric Johnson, and Don Ross. At some point several years ago, I just sort of stopped working on learning tunes from other players and started trying to write my own. I still listen to those guys, as well as some of the newer generation of players— guys like Antoine Dufour and Gareth Pearson. But my inspiration usually comes from other places these days, including my family, my fans, and places I get to travel to.

6. The bass tones from your fan-fretted guitar (the one with a “G” on the headstock”) are amazing. I assume this is because of the longer scale length on the bass side. I’m about to get my first fan-fret. Are there any particular tunings that seem to come alive with those guitars that you recommend I explore? —John Turner, Dallas, Texas

Hey John. The Greenfields I own are amazing instruments. The one you are talking about, a G4.2, is designed with the use of altered tunings in mind. It works particularly well with tunings that extend the lower range of the guitar. Some of my favorites would be B–G–D–G–A–D, C–G–D–G–B–E, and C–G–Eb–F–Bb–D. Try ’em out!

7. Andy, your music is awesome. What inspired you to go from playing electric guitar to acoustic? For me, it was a Tommy Emmanuel workshop in Phoenix. He inspired me so much. Was there a particular person or event that prompted your switch? —Kent Ironside, Apache Junction, Arizona

Yeah, Kent. For me, it was going to a Preston Reed workshop in Topeka, Kansas, when I was 16 years old. I had never checked out steel-string acoustic guitar music before and was blown away by his use of altered tunings and wild techniques. I was also really drawn to the idea of covering rhythm, melody, and harmony all at once.

8. I love your playing and your style. “For My Father” absolutely blows me away. You have so many songs that express so many emotions through your guitar(s). Thank you for sharing your talents with all of us. Here’s my question: How does one get started with tapping and alternative tunings? —Charlie Yontz, Crawfordville, Florida

Thanks for the kind words, Charlie. For me, I first picked up a Preston Reed instructional video and learned some of the techniques and ideas behind tapping on the acoustic guitar. After that, I tried learning some of my favorite tunes by ear from records. I hope to make an instructional video available of my own in 2011. For altered tunings, it helps to have a good understanding of chord construction to be able to come up with new tunings. I personally do not take the time to “master” different tunings. You could say that I use altered tunings to create a different palette to paint with each time I use a new one.

9. Your version of Toto’s “Africa” is mind-blowing to me because you chose to emulate the band’s familiar parts instead of just riffing off the themes. Your ability to give the melody lines that organic quality is amazing. How did you approach that song and figure out what you were going to do with it? —Jason Wolf, San Francisco, California

Hey Jason, glad you dig the arrangement. Well I started with that drumbeat at the beginning. The trickiest part was figuring out how to keep those dual rhythms going between the drums and the keyboard part in the intro. I play a bit of piano, and I think that helped a lot with being able to separate the two hands and rhythms there. After that, I thought that, dynamically, it made sense to fingerpick the verse sections and then really kick out the jams during the chorus by strumming. It took a bit of figuring out how to finger the harmonies and the chord structures there, but perseverance pays off! For the keyboard solo, I decided to use a Billy McLaughlin approach by tapping the root notes with the right hand and hammering-on/ pulling-off the solo lines with the left.

10. You’ve had success in major fingerstyle competitions but have also become popular outside of the fingerstyle community—that’s something that is more rare than it should be. What advice do you have for other fingerstyle players who’d like to break out of that talented-but-small pond? —Mike Thomson, Raleigh, North Carolina

Well Mike, I can only comment on my own success in this field, and I would like to think that it is because of the way I write music. When I sit down to compose or arrange a piece of music, the last thing that I am thinking about is how difficult or how impressive the tune will be to other guitarists. What I am trying to do every time is communicate something that is inside of me—a feeling, impression, or emotion—so that I can share it with the world. As a musician, that should always be your aim. If it is and you do it well, people can’t help but appreciate what you are doing. It also helps to put videos on YouTube. ;-)

Watch our interview with Andy McKee at the Acoustic Masters tour:

Watch an exclusive performance of Hunter's Moon:

Next month
For next month’s “Go Ahead and Ask,” head to premierguitar.com/goaheadandask and let us know what questions you’d like to ask the folks at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.