Steve Kaufman. Interview.

Steve Kaufman | 2009 | Interview |

Steve Kaufman

Please Click on the pics for fullsized view!

Steve Kaufman is one of the premier flatpicking artists and intructors today. His record stands for itself: aged 18 he made the top 10 at the National Flatpicking Championships in Winfield, KS. In 1977, he took 2nd place and in the following year, came in 1st at just 21 years. Winfield bars the winner for 5 years so they can only come back on the 6th year but in 1986 they decided to open up the contest. Steve returned on his 6th year to win the 1984 championships and subsequently after the relaxation of the rules, became the winner in 1986. At the time of writing, he is the only Three Time Winner of the National Flatpicking Championships. He is also noted to have 3 consecutive wins in the Nationals because he was barred all the years he did not enter.

TT- Steve, thank you so much for taking time from your busy schedule to speak to us! We’re very honoured. 3 times winner of the National Flatpicking Championships, multiple awards and instructional material not to mention the Acoustic Kamps… how do you find time to get all of this done and get some practise time in?

SK- As you can tell by my tardiness in replying, I am pretty busy. Since we talked last I have been to Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Canada, Spokane and this week back to Canada to Calgary and on to Chicago. My practice time is on the road in the workshops and concerts and when I am back in town it is in the studio. The studio time is either working on recordings that accompany books or working on listening CDs. The book cds gives me sight reading and arranging time and the listening CDs (working on one currently) allows me to be creative and work on technique and tone and speed and taste. So that is how I do it……. besides over 35 years of practice behind me..

Acoustic Kamp 2009TT- Not to mention Kamp! How did that come about, Steve?

SK- The Kamp got started after I had been doing my 2 Day All Level Flatpicking Workshop anc Concert weekends for about 2 years. Donna and I took a look (at Donna’s suggestion) to Maryville College to see if we could do a Kamp there. I don’t know if Donna pictured what I had in mind  but we did the research and crunched the numbers and went for it for the following year.

The first year of Kamp we had 6 instructors – Pat Flynn, Curtis Burch, Robin Kessinger, David Grier, Jack Lawrence and Myself and we brought in 180 students. Now we have 48 instructors and will teach over 750 students over the two week sessions. Now we teach Bluegrass Banjo, Old Time Banjo, Fiddle, Mandolin, Bass, Dobro, Lap Dulcimer, Songwriting/Vocals, Fingerstyle guitar and 2 weeks of Flatpicking.

The first year somewhat set the template and each year since we have honed and tweaked the Kamp to make it what it is today. The finest and biggest of it’s kind in the world. We are very proud of the students and the instructors that come to spend time with us in June each year. More info can be found at either or

Video Feature
Steve Kaufman- Guitar skills

Full size: Here

TT- And I take it there’s a Kamp Guitar each year up for grabs?

SK- We have several instrument give aways by our incredible sponsors. I forget to mention that we working towards our 14th Annual SKAK and each year is the best year ever. Last year we gave away as door prizes:
A Ken Miller Custom Kamp guitar
A Collings D-2H
A Weber Yellowstone Mandolin
A Deering  Boston Banjo
2 Deering Good Time Banjos
A Baby Taylor Guitar

A Big Baby Taylor Guitar
A 310 CE Taylor Guitar
along with countless door prizes like Intellitouch Tuners, Waverly Tuning Gears, D’Addario stings and merch and tons of other stuff. Thank you to all our sponsors. They can be seen and linked to at We also have an instrument raffle led by DU Scholarship Fund founding member Harry Moore who handles the program. We’ve probably gotten 30 plus folks to Kamp through Harry’s efforts who couldn’t afford it otherwise.

TT- Speaking of sponsors and guitars- I’ve seen you with quite a few….

SK- Yes, we have many industry leaders as Kamp sponsors. This is a great win-win relationship. We give them advertising to their target market with full page ads in most trade magazines, association newsletters, web sites and Internet blasts and the famous Kamp Manual and they give me money. Nice trade. Anyone wishing to be a sponsor in the Kamp just let me know at

Guitars – Yes I have a few but my main squeezes this year are my new Ken Miller #100 (, my Collings OM-3 and my Gallagher Doc Watson Model cutaway. All great guitars and you never know what I will bring out with me. This week it’s the Gallagher. Last week it was the KM guitar. All incomparable and all unique and very powerful guitars.

Video Feature
Steve Kaufman picks Sweet Georgia Brown

Full size: Here

TT- Very fine guitars indeed, Steve. Do just have one for practise? Would you mind telling us a little about your practise routine?

SK- My favorites are many. I have a Ken Miller guitar #100 (see and look for the archive for #100) and a Collings OM-3 that I play on the road and in the studio. I use a Martin OM-28 1931 reissue for just playing around the house or any of the above. I don’t really practice anymore, I play.

If learning a new tune, I will get the melody in my head and then start doing my reps. Repitition is the key. I may play the tune for 20-30 minutes getting to know it better and understanding it nuances. This would be a fiddle tune. I suggest to my students to practice a particular way.

I want them to take the time allowed and divide it in half. The first half is dedicatied to working on “Old Stuff”. this is when they do their reps on their tunes. I suggest they learn tons of tunes. This is where they will learn their runs, picking skills, note reading or tab reading skills, work on right and left hand skills etc. When thier half time timer goes off, they switch to the second half of working on “New Stuff”.

This can be sight reading, new chords, new chord progressions, a different style of playing, the last few songs they learned not yet committed to memory. Anything they can think of that is new. This way they have constant growth. A key point though is when the Half time and full time timer go off, you are done for the day. You do this M-F and when the bell dings on Friday – no more practice. Then you just “play” over the weekend.

Ken Miller Kamp Bear
(click for fullsize)
Ken Miller Kamp Bear Guitar
Ken Miller Kamp Bear Guitar
OM Style
Red spruce top
Koa back and sides
Kamp Bear headstock inlay
Read more about Ken Miller here

TT- That’s great advice Steve, thanks- how about for the competitions? The same practise or more intensive?

SK- Competitions are much more intense. It’s been a while for me but my practice for big competitions was to pick 6-8 songs about 6-8 months from the date of the Nationals. Work on the tunes and narrowing down the selection to 5 tunes. The idea was to have 4-5 variations on each tune. Have impact, clarity, great ideas, maybe key changes, tempo changes, timing changes and whatever else I could think of. I would practice the tunes in the order I was to play them in.

Usually two in the preliminary and two in the finals with one extra for a tie breaker. I would practice them with a tape recording of the back up parts played 3/4 speed, full speed and 15% over full speed. The fastest practice tape was because when you are in the contest, your nerves make you speed up a little so if I practiced the fastest speed, I would be ready for my “nerve attack”.

I would do this for about 6 months, every day playing through 3 sets of speeds probably 5-10 times each tune. This way I could play the songs in my sleep by the time the Nationals rolled around. Funny thing though, I always made a slight error in the songs, just nobody knew what I actually wanted to do so it got by.

Steve Kaufman

Steve Kaufman

©2008 Terence Tan.
Pictures courtesy of Steve Kaufman, youtube vids used with permission ©2008.
Video copyright original authors.

Any infringement of copyright or errors is entirely unintentional- although we try very hard not to make them. Any issues should be address to: We will attempt to resolve these issues quickly.