Kaki King's Stage Guitars

AG 245 May 2013 Cover

by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

In her recent interview in Acoustic Guitar Kaki King talked about a few of her favorite guitars and how they affect her compositions. 

Are your songs intimately connected to the instruments on which you write them?
KING Yeah, of course. The Adamas allows me to tune really low, and that’s something I’ve sought out for ages—lower and darker tone that still maintains clarity. And, of course, the tiny 12-string, the Veillette Gryphon that I have, those songs couldn’t exist on anything else.

The Gryphon has such an incredible, sparkly sound on the new song “King Pizel.” How is that instrument tuned?
KING Well, I’m in D A D G A D but an octave above a normal six-string. On certain songs I have eight notes going, because I tune one string [in a pair] to one note and the other to something else [see “What She Plays”]. That instrument allows me to do that. I’ve tried it on a couple of normal 12-strings with mixed results.

What specifically would lead you to reach for one of your wooden acoustics?
KING There’s a track on the new record called “No True Masterpiece Will Ever Be Complete,” and that really needed to be on an acoustic. The Adamas holds up really well as a fingerstyle guitar, but the tuning on that song is a little bit higher; and the way I have my Adamas guitars set up, the higher I go, the harder they are to play. So I recorded that on a Bedell parlor guitar. Between the playability and the tone and the tuning, it all needed to be on a different guitar.

What about the koto guitar, with the extra bridge?
KING I got the idea from David Torn a long time ago when he produced my second record. He showed me this little bridge that someone had made for him. At the time I remember hearing a Meshell Ndegeocello record where he was making a kind of sound effect. I figured out that if you stick a bridge underneath the strings on top of the 16th fret, and if it’s the right height, which is roughly 3/4 of an inch, the relationship between the left side of the guitar and the right side of the guitar is a perfect fifth. So that creates an environment where you can actually make music, as opposed to making weird sounds. Once I knew I could get something that would be a little bit in tune with itself, I wrote a song for my second record: it’s a bonus track called “Nails.”
But anyway, time went by, and I brought that out again. My playing had gotten a lot better, and it’s a really cool sound the way I can pluck on one side and bend on the other. [On the new song “Bowen Island”] I kind of took ideas from Beijing opera—that almost grating sound that somehow is highly dramatic and interesting.

What She Plays

Ovation Adamas 1581-KK Kaki King, with Ovation’s High Output pickup and OP-Pro preamp. King tours with two of these signature models in ever-changing tunings, with the sixth strings as low as A. She uses Elixir strings, both Polyweb and Nanoweb light-gauge sets with slightly heavier .013 and .017s substituted for the first and second strings.

Veillette Gryphon mini 12-string with La Bella GR-12 strings specially designed for this instrument (often with .009 first strings substituted for the set’s normal .008; unlike on a regular 12-string, the string courses are in unison rather than octaves). King typically tunes to D A D G A D an octave up, and sometimes tunes the pairs of strings to different notes, as in DD AA DD FG AA DC. The Gryphon has a D-Tar Timber-Line pickup/preamp system.

Koto guitar: a Bedell parlor guitar played lap-style, with a second bridge added at the 16th fret lifting the strings about 3/4 of an inch off the fingerboard. The guitar has a Dean Markley West Coast Trilogy pickup system, with the piezo installed inside the koto bridge; even though the Trilogy includes a magnetic pickup and condenser mic, King often just uses the piezo. The tuning on the soundhole side of the koto bridge is E A C E G A, and on the neck side is A D F A C D. 

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar May 2013

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