When I say fingerstyle guitar, do you say… huh? You might’ve heard of guitarists Michael Hedges or Andy Mckee but if not, they are among some of the pioneers in what has been deemed “fingerstyle” guitar. Michael Hedges dropped audiences’ jaws with his unusual way of playing the guitar. He made playing the guitar a unique, one-man band experience. Michael created a new style by playing the melody, bass, and percussion all at the same time on the guitar. He would use his right hand to tap the melody on top of the strings while his left hand played the bass in between percussion beats and hits on the body of the guitar. Michael used almost all alternate tunings for his compositions. The unique and creative playing style Michael crafted has been one to blow audiences away. It’s called fingerstyle guitar.
In Michael’s Footsteps
There are several guitarists who followed Michael Hedge’s footsteps since his tragic death from a car accident in 1997. There are a handful who have had a significant impact on my fingerstyle guitar journey. I chose five fingerstyle guitarists who have changed my way of playing and listening to the acoustic guitar. I listed them below in the order I was introduced to their music and playing.
So here they are!
Five of my Favorite Fingerstyle Guitar Players
1. Andy Mckee
I will NEVER forget when I saw the first video of Andy Mckee. A friend of mine came over to my house while I was practicing guitar and opened up my laptop to pull up a YouTube link. “You’ve GOT to see this, Camille!! This guitarist! He taps the guitar strings and plays a drum beat at the same time?!” my friend explained. I was immediately intrigued. The link pulled up an original instrumental guitar piece, “Drifting,” where I witnessed fingerstyle guitar for the first time. I was hooked. My eyes were glued to Andy’s fingers playing the bass, melody, and percussion at the same time. I was obsessed!
Later that night, I couldn’t get the song out of my head. I wasn’t able to understand how Andy played all the elements of a song at once. The melody. The bass. The percussion? All at once?! “Me too,” I told myself. “I wanna learn too.” I ended staying up the entire night obsessively watching the “Drifting” video over and over again until I finally was able to train my fingers to play and master the song. That wasn’t enough. I wanted more! I looked up more of Andy Mckee’s compositions and began learning them and improving my fingerstyle guitar technique.
What impressed me about Andy was not only his technique but also his excellent command and intuition for creating heartfelt, catchy melodies. I have since seen many fingerstyle guitarists who have impressive skills and technique but I get lost in their compositions and am not able to latch onto a distinct melody. Andy Mckee has that. He’s got skills and he’s got melody. I can also say he’s got a great heart. I was able to meet Andy and learn from him in New York at his guitar camp, Musicarium. He is as incredible of a person as he is a fingerstyle guitar player
I will forever be in debt to both Andy Mckee and my friend for introducing me to him and the incredible and unique playing style, fingerstyle guitar.
ANDY MCKEE: DRIFTING
After I was introduced to Andy Mckee and was moved and drawn to the acoustic fingerstyle guitar technique, I began searching for other fingerstyle players. And that is when I came across Antoine Dufour. Like Andy Mckee, Antoine has impressive fingerstyle guitar skills but also has his own unique playing style. I was able to witness his impressive fingerstyle technique and instruction while attending Andy Mckee’s Musicarium in New York in August 2015. Antoine is also a great guy with a fun sense of humor.
When I think Antoine Dufour, I think precision. Precision in his timing. Precision in his percussion. And precision in his creativity in blending all elements of the song together – the melody, the bass, and the percussion. His playing is incredibly clean. I began learning a couple of Antoine’s songs and was immediately drawn to “Scratch.” It’s a really cool tune that speaks to his incredible fingerstyle guitar skills.
ANTOINE DUFOUR: SCRATCH
In 2007, the world was introduced to fingerstyle guitar on a larger, Hollywood scale. I was introduced to Kaki King. The movie, August Rush was about a young boy, a musical prodigy who played the guitar how Michael Hedges intended – in the fingerstyle guitar technique. Kaki King, an outstanding fingerstyle guitarist was the guitar double for the little boy in the movie. She played a couple of tunes in the movie – one of them a cover from fingerstyle guitar pioneer, Michael Hedges called “Ritual Dance.” I went home immediately after seeing the movie and looked up more of Kaki King’s compositions and was immediately drawn to her creativity.
I have yet to see another fingerstyle guitarist with such ingenious creativity in their playing as Kaki King. Her latest album, “The Neck is a Bridge to the Body” was made into a theatrical, multi-media experience on her world tour. She projected images onto her custom-made ovation guitar to tell a story while she performed her songs in the fingerstyle guitar technique. She also plays several other instruments, including drums, which makes her such an incredible fingerstyle/percussive guitarist. I had the privilege of taking lessons from Kaki and I got to meet up with her in Brooklyn for an all-day guitar boot camp. She’s an incredible mentor and fingerstyle guitarist. One of the song’s shes most famous for is her stunning, “Playing with Pink Noise,” which demonstrates her skills and creativity.
KAKI KING: PLAYING WITH PINK NOISE
I remember one day looking through some Andy Mckee videos and I came across one where he was playing with another guitarist: Don Ross. They were playing a duet called “Tight Trite Night” – a Don Ross tune. I was instantly drawn to the catchy melody and the rhythm and wanted to hear more. I started looking up other Don Ross tunes and came across one called, “Klimbim.” It had a light-hearted, catchy melody that I couldn’t get out of my head and had to learn. I found some guitar tabs and started learning the song, which felt different from the other fingerstyle guitar songs I had learned. It was more rhythmic and it helped me improve my fingerpicking skills.
When I think of Don Ross, I think of rhythm. Don has a unique way of integrating intricate melodies and rhythms into his compositions and I have been continuously impressed with his fingerpicking and fingerstyle guitar technique. His “Klimbim” tune will always be one of my all-time favorites.
DON ROSS: KLIMBIM
As I have been introduced to other fingerstyle guitar players, I was immediately drawn to Luca Stricagnoli. Not just because he’s Italian (since that’s just cool and I used to live in Italy and love the people and the culture there), but because of his infectious energy.
When I think of Luca Stricagnoli, I think of energy. There’s no doubt Luca loves what he does. His energy is unforgettable. He has such passion for fingerstyle guitar playing and it shines through his technique, arrangements, and compositions. Luca has become one of my favorite fingerstyle guitar players. His cover of “Sweet Child of Mine” is absolutely mind blowing and brilliant! And I just might have a crush on him
LUCA STRICAGNOLI: SWEET CHILD OF MINE