Jonny Coffin and Lynda Kay could make a good run for the title of Guitardom’s Most Interesting Couple. She’s Gretsch’s newest endorser. He makes the most recognizable guitar case in the world. She’s an expert on tenor guitars. He saved a 1950 Broadcaster from an unthinkable fate—being retrofitted with humbuckers by a kid who didn’t realize what he had.
Coffin and Kay, who have been married four years, live in Venice Beach, California—a place where artists thrive within like-minded communities while drawing inspiration from other niches. There’s a kind of unity among the eclectic range of artists and musicians there. In other words, you don’t necessarily have to be 100% into psychobilly, steampunk goth, deathrock, or any of the gazillion other scenes there in order to appreciate or feel comfortable getting involved with them. Open-mindedness tends to prevail among people who know what it’s like to be into something that isn’t exactly mainstream.
Kay, who comes across like a mix of Hank Sr., Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison and Wanda Jackson rolled up into one vibrant ball of retro goodness, is riding the wave of buzz surrounding her debut solo release. Dream My Darling is an album filled with twang, torch songs and reverb tanks that echo like a classic country record from years past—but with a modern touch. Kay is also known for playing with rockabilly favorite Danny B. Harvey in a duo called the Lonesome Spurs.
Coffin is a mysterious entrepreneur with a Count Orlok air about him. His story reads like the kind of tale every gearhead tinkerer dreams about… his prototype was a hit, he started making stuff for artists like Slash and Keith Richards, and, just like that, a company was born. His recent gear-related projects involve the Epiphone Zakk Wylde Graveyard Disciple guitar and a line of effects pedals. He also produces records and plays in a spaghetti western-sounding band called the Death Riders that does a lot of soundtrack work.
I recently had the chance to talk to Coffin and Kay about their careers, their latest projects and of course, what it’s like when two gearheads get married.
Let’s start with the gear… I’m assuming you both have G.A.S. How does that work in your relationship? Most couples involve one person who doesn’t play and that person tends to enforce the clampdown on gear purchases.
Coffin: Funny you should ask! We have never denied each other gear. The gift of music is big around the holidays. So if one of us needs a piece of gear, we usually see what we can do to adjust our budget to compensate. A few years ago, Lynda came across a real nice Gibson tenor from the ’30s at TrueTone in Santa Monica. We didn’t have the money to buy it outright, so I offered to trade my old Martin electric for it. It was an old hollowbody from the ‘60s that I never played, and it just sat there. Lynda ended up with a great-sounding Gibson tenor and I never missed that Martin. We have a great understanding when it comes to gear. Guitars and amps are tools we use to create and we never deny or guilt each other when a purchase is made.
Lynda, your music is a modern take on old-school country. What is it like doing what you do? The road you’re on is certainly different from the path that most artists take.
Kay:I just do what I do best. It’s nice to see that people get it and understand the need for emotion in music. Classic country from the ’50s and ’60s had more of a kick-in-the-gut approach. The songs were saying something that people could relate to. It seems like most commercial artists now are jumping on the money train and cashing out. I’m into timeless songs that will be around long after I’m gone.
Lynda Kay with her Gretsch 6130 Knotty Pine Roundup. The guitar has a one-piece, chambered mahogany body, a bookmatched knotty pine top, DynaSonic pickups, and a Synchro-Sonic floating bridge.
Kay:Well, almost every time I finish a show and I’m loading out my gear someone approaches me and says “Thank you for bringing back the music I grew up on.” Lots of people grew up hearing Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Rose Maddox, George Jones and other greats on their parents’ record players. There’s an undeniable connection when I’m playing a show and people have such a glow in their faces, because I believe they are relating sonically and visually. Not a lot of artists are out there tugging on those heart strings.
Congrats on the Gretsch endorsement.
Kay:I feel truly honored to be endorsed by Gretsch. It was a dream come true when Joe Carducci offered me an endorsement deal. Gretsch was reissuing their 1955 Knotty Pine Roundup guitar and asked me to be the featured artist for that model. The Knotty Pine is a semi-hollowbody with two DynaSonic single-coils to create that great Gretsch sound. And with its bookmatched knotty pine top, tooled-leather trim around the mahogany body, and western motif belt-buckle on the tailpiece, this guitar is a work of art.
Jonny, how did the Epiphone Zakk Wylde coffin-shaped guitar come about?
Coffin:It started with Zakk. He had been talking to the guys over at Epiphone for years about this, to their custom guitar guys that he works with, and that turned into them contacting me for the cases for it. Jim Rosenberg contacted me, and then he ended up coming down to the warehouse. He said, “The coffin is really your thing. We want you behind this, so can you do the cases? Let’s get this thing going.” Then they sent me the guitar. That thing was amazing. I designed the case for it. Zakk wanted a specific logo—a cross logo of his that features his skull on the cross. So we did the prototype case. Everyone loved it, so they went into production last October. I think it was released last Halloween in a limited run. Now they’re going to make some with more graphics. It was launched at NAMM this year. We featured it in our Coffin fashion show that we had at the NAMM show.
Jonny Coffin with the Epiphone Zakk Wylde Graveyard Disciple guitar, which rests in peace in a case designed by Coffin.
Slash was your first customer. Who was your second?
Coffin:Keith Richards. A few months after Slash got his, I got a call from Pierre, Keith Richards’ assistant. He had heard about Slash’s case and told Keith, “Hey, you’ve got to get one of these things.” They were recording at the time, so I went down to the studio and met with Keith and hung out with him for a couple of days in the studio—that was an experience in itself. Keith’s comment was great when I walked in to the studio with some custom cases. He saw them and said, “Can you make one big enough to put Mick in it?” [Laughs]. He was on his hands and knees opening one up. He looked up at me and said, “You know, Jonny, we’re all vampires.” And I was standing there looking at Keith Richards and thinking, “Yeah, you know… he probably is.” At that point, I realized I was onto something because I had the ear of these guys. And then I started to get around making these cool, high-end cases for people, and no one else was doing that. The niche started there.