Unfretted, July 2008
Kevin Kastning: 10 Questions
1. Where were you born, where did you grow up, and what were your first musical influences?
I was born in Wichita, Kansas, which is right in the middle of the US. I also grew up there, but moved to Boston when I was 23. My first musical influences were in the form of listening to records before I could even walk. My father was a bassist, and had a huge record collection of several genres: big band jazz, classical, country and western, bluegrass, a few pop records. There was always music playing. From there, I don't know which genres would have influenced me early on, but I'm sure that having all that music around all the time made an impact. The ones I really remember were a live Cannonball Adderly record, and some Mozart: some of the later symphonies and a recording of Andre Previn playing the 11th and 12th Mozart Piano Sonatas.
2. What instruments have you learned, and how did you come to playing the fretless guitar?
Starting at age 7, I played various wind instruments, such as trumpet, french horn, and baritone horn in the school orchestras, and just loved that. Around age 11 or 12, I started playing guitar and piano. Current instruments are all the various guitars (6- & 12-string), alto guitar, the KK series of Santa Cruz extended baritones; both in 6- and 12-string, fretless guitar, mandolin, bass, and piano.
I began playing fretless guitar back around 1983 or '84. During this time, I was composing my first string quartet, and I had borrowed a cello for a while to try to work out some of the cello parts. I wasn't playing arco, but all pizzicato. I really became fascinated by the cello's pizzicato sounds, the almost vocal quality. I wanted to extract that sound, texture, and vocal element from a guitar. Although I had never heard of a fretless guitar, it occurred to me to have a guitar converted into fretless; I thought this would be just for experimental purposes, but within a few months I was performing with it. I took my Ibanez D-type acoustic to the luthier that did all my guitar work, told him what I wanted, and he basically threw me out of his shop! I persisted, and eventually he did the conversion for me; in fact he ended up liking it. He is an incredibly talented luthier, and still does some work for me; his name is John Barger in Salmon, Idaho.
That Ibanez is still the fretless guitar I use. I had it set up with nickel-wound light-gauge strings (.010, .013, .017p, .026, .036, .046) for years, but now use nylon strings, as they just speak better on this instrument. I also feel that the articulation is improved with nylon strings.
3. Do you play also electric fretless guitar or only acoustic?
I don't play any electric instruments at all; either fretted or unfretted.
4. What are your main musical influences right now?
The past several years, I've been listening to a tremendous amount of early music; this is music which was composed between 1400 and 1650 or thereabouts. In addition to that, it's my usual diet of 20th-century composers: Bartok, Schoenberg, Webern, Henry Cowell, Elliott Carter, Shostakovich, and many others.
5. Are there any other instruments you would like to learn to play?
Right now, the various guitar family instruments are keeping me plenty busy! I wouldn't mind getting a cello, though.
6. What do you feel in the main difference between the electric and the acoustic fretless guitar?
I don't play electric fretless, but from recordings I've heard from those who do, the sustain issue is certainly improved on electic. Playing fretless acoustic, the sustain is all but gone in the upper registers, so I've had to re-learn parts of my technique to either compensate for that, or to enhance and extract what little sustain there is in those registers.
7. What do you feel is the future for the acoustic fretless guitar?
Excellent question! I wish I had an equally good answer. In the future, I do hope to see more of us adventurous souls allowing it to lead us down previously unexplored paths.
8. Did you choose to play the acoustic fretless guitar, or did it choose you?
I'm not sure. Maybe I chose it, based on the cello experience I mentioned, or maybe that was how it found me, through the cello. At the time, I had never heard of a fretless guitar; I just knew I wanted a guitar with no frets to see where that might lead me.
9. What is your philosophy of music... what is the purpose behind why you play music... what is the reason (if any)?
I doubt that this interview is long enough to really explore that question. However, a couple of inceptive thoughts would be that I think music is the highest form of non-verbal communication. It comes from and reaches into places which words can't. For me, music is like breathing; it has always been there, and I don't know how I'd exist without it.
10. Who are your 5 favourite musicians of all time?
Wow, tough question. I suppose I tend to listen to, learn from, and experience growth and expansion from a broad range of composers rather than musicians, if we're defining musicians to be instrumental performers and/or players who either do not or are not known for their composing. I doubt that I could narrow it to five, but certainly Bela Bartok and Carlo Gesualdo would be on that list.