Eric Steckel: The Prodigy and the Knaggs Kenai-S
by Steve Rider
Since his first album release, “A Few Degrees Warmer”, at age 11, Eric Steckel has been enthralling crowds with his own blend of blues rock that brings together old and new schools of guitar playing. Eric has delivered unique style of bluesy guitar shredding to fans in over twenty-five countries. Now he has teamed up with the people at Knaggs Guitars to bring an Eric Steckel signature guitar, the Kenai-S, to life.
GC: How did you get into guitar playing and the blues at such a young age?
Eric Steckel: My parents were huge music lovers and supporters of local, regional and national acts that came through the area where I grew up (Lehigh Valley, PA) and were taking me to see shows before I could even walk or talk. Blues and Southern Rock was in my blood from day 1 growing up in that household, but it was only a fan thing until my uncle Dave bought me a ¾ scale acoustic for my 8th birthday and within weeks I was playing Blues shuffles and progressions on it. I really took to it naturally. By age 9, a Strat was in my possession and it just took off from there!
GC: How old were you when you played your first show?
ES: I played my first paying gig at the age of 10 at an outdoor arts festival type setting and there is still some footage of it somewhere. From that point on I was hooked and never looked back.
GC: How long did it take before you had your own album out?
ES: The year after that first paying gig at age 10, my dad had the idea to record a live performance of mine with a mobile recording truck and possibly release it as a debut live album in 2002 at age 11. The recordings came out great and that album sparked most of the public’s interest in me at such a young age. A lot of the fundamentals of my playing are evident in that early recording, and some of those licks I still play today….hopefully a bit cleaner though!
GC: How did you hook up with John Mayall and what was it like playing with the Bluesbreakers?
ES: John discovered me at a Blues festival in Florida I was opening for him. He just happened to arrive early to pick up his passes and such and heard a guy playing from backstage and wandered to the front to check out who he was hearing. Turned out it wasn’t a guy at all, it was a little 12 year old kid and he couldn’t believe it. I then sat in with him and the Bluesbreakers during his set that night and traded licks with Buddy Whittington and John approved enough to invite me on tour with him for his 2004 European tour and subsequent 2005 Road Dogs album recorded in Los Angeles.
GC: How would you describe your playing style?
ES: I’ve always felt my style was a blend of SRV, EVH and Gary Moore. I’ve always loved 80’s guitar tones and that high gain buttery tone but love the attack of guys like Stevie and Gary Moore. So I play with that same right hand attack but through amps like Bogner and Diezel that are voiced for more hard rock and metal players. That’s where the style becomes something a bit more unique and I’ve heard people say it’s like SRV playing metal!
GC: What were your influences in those early years?
ES: Growing up it was Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Warren Haynes, Eddie Van Halen, SRV, Clapton, Gary Moore and the list goes on. Most of those are still my influences today even after a lot of evolution and stylistic change on my part.
GC: You’ve been quoted as saying, “I don’t just listen to the blues. I don’t want musical tunnel vision. I use scales that are not in blues, like from Indian and Pakistani music. I don’t want to be stifled.” Could you share some of these unconventional influences that you explore as a mature musician?
ES: Sure, that is correct! I listen to prog, bands like Porcupine Tree and King Crimson, I listen to EDM and Dance/Techno music a lot while driving, I listen to straight up Metal and I also listen to drone music and ambient soundscape music. I feel I pull from all of this to make my own sound and even covered a dance track on my new Polyphonic Prayer album this year, but of course done in my Bluesmetal style.
GC: What attracted you to Knaggs guitars and how long have you been playing them?
ES:I had been hearing and reading about Knaggs guitars for years but never was in a position to play one, so I assumed it was another hyped guitar brand. A friend of mine stopped over to my house one day with his brand new regular Kenai and I just flipped out over it. At this point I did not know Peter or Joe at all and I bought my first Severn X like any other customer. About 2 weeks after the purchase I did a live video playing the Severn and a fan of mine shared it to Peter and Joe who immediately got in contact and added me to the roster. The relationship grew from that point on and when Peter started noticing all of my fans talking about my Knaggs and the reaction it received, the idea of a collaboration/signature model was discussed.
GC: Your signature model is based on the Kenai. What drew you to that model over the others as a base platform?
ES: The Kenai shape was always gorgeous in my eyes, I loved the lines of it and of course the beautiful headstock shape. But it was physically a thin guitar which I wanted to change. Also in the back of my mind for the last 5 years I had been chasing the high I got from the loaner 1959 Burst I used on my 2013 European tour but was not interested in copies or relic’s or overpriced replica’s, so I just kind of put it in the back of my mind for good. Until Peter and I started swapping ideas back and forth and the idea of a really thick Kenai with almost no back carve and a super fat 59 style neck was introduced. I loved the sound of this and then we got deeper into the specs and really created a monster of an axe that only weighs 8 pounds but sounds like the fattest singlecut guitar ever made.
GC: When did you begin your collaboration with Knaggs on the Kenai-S?
ES: We began the collaboration over the last year of knowing each other and me being a Knaggs official endorsed artist.
GC: In what way did you mold the signature model to make it more suitable for your personal playing style?
ES: The thick neck, satin finish, ebony fretboard and low output pickups are all things I insisted on based on my personal needs. I play a lot of hot, sweaty outdoor Blues festivals and ebony always feels smooth to me and the satin finish takes away the hassle of fingerprints and my sweaty hands sticking to the back of a glossy neck. The low output pickups are perfect for my super high-gain 200w fire breathing amps because too hot of a pickup causes a bit of overload into the modern style compressed circuits. PAF’s and high gain amps are a magical combination.
GC: Your signature model sports and short scale. Do you prefer the short 24.75” scale to the 25.5 or 25”? If so, why?
ES: I actually love both scale lengths because I’m a completely different player on each one. The short scale brings out the pure rock n roll mayhem in my playing and I don’t worry or focus too much on technicality and flying around the fretboard. Fat chords and sustaining whole-step bends on my signature model sound better than a million notes. On Super Strat style guitars I’m more of a shredder, but that’s not always a good thing!
GC: Is there something about the combination of a mahogany body and maple cap that you feel works best for you sonically?
ES: Yes, absolutely. It’s that classic sound of low end thump, but with extreme clarity in the highs that is so magical. It’s like having the best of both worlds.
GC: Why did you go with the covered Bare Knuckle Mules for pickups for the Kenai-S?
ES: We opted for uncovered Bare Knuckle Mule’s in my prototype because we wanted a very sweet sounding PAF and Bare Knuckle makes a great one! Uncovered simply because it looks badass!
GC: What were you looking for in the overall aesthetics of the guitar? Is there anything particular about the look and feel that you really wanted?
ES: Well, like I said I loved the Kenai shape but wanted the Kluson vintage tuners and I wanted the Sunflower Burst finish because I knew that would look amazing under natural sunlight or LED stage lights and the satin finish compliments it so well. All these pieces came together to make an amazing piece of art.
GC: Your own music is a seamless blend of blues and rock, even metal; would you say that the Kenai-S covers the complete spectrum?
ES: That’s correct. We call it Bluesmetal because I think that pretty much sums it up in one word. The Kenai-S was actually a direct reaction to Bluesmetal because I wanted to make what I thought was the perfect axe to play this type of music and now we’ve got it. The guitar cleans up remarkably well even on the bridge pickup so I can still pull off the ballads without wanting or needing a Strat style guitar or needing to switch guitars at all during my show.
GC: Will the Kenai-S accompany you on your European tour dates?
ES: Yes! The guitar will be joining me in a few days at the legendary Rory Gallagher International Tribute Festival and will be with me all through the US Summer dates and my 3 month European tour in the Fall.
GC: Is there anything upcoming, news or events, you would like to share with our readers?
ES: I mostly just want to thank everyone for their support of my new 2018 album, Polyphonic Prayer. This album has done more for my career in 90 days then some of my older albums have done for me in years, so I’m super proud of it and thrilled at the reaction. I only want the readers to check out the album and come to a show if I’ll be near you and hope yáll join our Bluesmetal army here and of course check out the Kenai-S when it arrives at a Knaggs dealer near you!
To learn more about Eric Steckel please visit: ericsteckel.com