Ken Bonfield. Interview. Review.

KEN BONFIELD| 2008 | Interview & review|

Ken Bonfield

Ken Bonfield has always been on list of top guitar players from his 1999 inclusion on Lights out and his work on PBS and NPR, his artistry and mastery of various styles is evident in his work. I was really priveledged to be able to interview Ken and post up some MP3s of his excellent playing!

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| Black Dog | – I was immediately reminded of Stefan Grossman and John Renbourn at their best with this bluesy-folk tune. If you like Bermuda Triangle Exit, you’ll apprecite this tune!
| Getaway | – A slow aire in the Celtic vein, this slowly evolves into a melancholic masterpiece.

More sound clips at the end of the Interview.

TT– Ken, whenever I’ve heard your pieces, you always sound like you were born with a guitar in your hands… but really how did you start out with the guitar?

Ken: The short answer is that I didn’t start playing guitar until I got one for my 19th birthday, 34 years ago. I dove right in, started playing about 3-4 hours a day, mostly Gordon Lightfoot, Jackson Browne, and John Prine.

TT- So it’s practise practise practise?

Ken: More like play play play. I don’t like to call it practice much, I think it makes it sound like work, and I’ve always played the guitar because I enjoyed it. The fact that others seem to dig what I do is cool, but I’d be playing regardless That said I do manage to get my fingers on a guitar 2-3 hours all the time and quite often 4-5 hours a day

TT: So do you have a fixed practise routine?

Ken bonfieldKen: The short answer is no. There’s no daily routine, per se, but I always play some scales and do some excercises, work on whatever new tune might be appearing on my guitar and experimenting. It’s funny, but since I don’t tour like I used to 35-40 weeks a year, and I’m selective about gigs, I spend most of my time ‘noodling’ trying to find new pieces or find new twists in old material.

I don’t really put together a show until about a week out from the show; my fingers are always in good shape, and it seems that the shows stay fresh. I can pretty much dust off anything and perform it inside a week. If there’s anything fixed about my practice it’s that I really always try to find something new every day.

TT: And you have anything to inspire that new found music?

Ken: Guitars inspire me. New guitars, old guitars, guitars strung with different strings or tuned to a new interval, all that jazzes me up about the guitar. A new tuning, anything can really trip the creative piece.

TT: So different flavours of guitars for different music?

Ken: That really hasn’t been true until lately. At one point I had 3 acoustics, not really a lot for someone who does what I do, and they were all really good guitars, but I realized that they all did the same thing pretty much; they were different versions of the same thing.

guitar casesSo, I got rid of one, a Santa Cruz, and then modified a Carruth OM to be a High string, then tuned a Carruth OM down a whole step in standard and put heavier gauge strings on it, then I got a Carruth Baritone that I tune C-C in standard, then up for alternate tunings. So my three main guitars now are all very different, the each have their own palette of colors.

I’m taking this a step further. To celebrate my birthday I got a nice little Breedlove 12-string and a Regal Roundneck Wood Bodied Dobro. If things go well with the 12 I’ll probably ask Al Carruth to build a Baritone 12 for me.

TT: wow, that’ll be some guitar! You seem to have a close relationship and an affinity for Al’s guitars…

Ken: Al is my guy. There are many wonderful luthiers out there, but Al just seems to build Ken Bonfield guitars; they all have balance, but sound big, and the trebles on Al’s steel strings just sound fat. I can’t tell you how many times people think I’m playing nylon strings, but I’m not.

His guitars are also really comfortable for me; I’ve had problems with carpal tunnel and tendinitis in the past, but I can play for hours on Al’s guitars and feel fresh and pain free; part of it is the set-up I’m sure, but his guitars are very ergonomic.

It’s very cool to be able to work with someone who really understands how I hear guitar, and what I need the guitar to do. He’s very patient, he’s come to visit me and talk to me about what I want; it’s really an incredible relationship. I’m very lucky.

| Opal’s Delight | – Jaunty fingerstyle with melodies you wouldn’t necessarily expect in such a piece.  A great composition altogether.
| Stealin’ | – Blues-ragtime piece with those great ascending bass tones.

Ken Bonfield
Al Carruth Guitars

©2008 Terence Tan.
Pictures & MP3s courtesy of Ken Bonfield – ©2007-8.