Pat Kirtley

Infobox Musical artist
Name = Pat Kirtley

Img_capt = Pat Kirtley
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Background = non_vocal_instrumentalist
Birth_name =
Alias =
Born = 1952
Died =
Origin = Kentucky
Instrument = Guitar
Genre = Fingerstyle guitar
Occupation = Musician, studio engineer, teacher
Years_active = 1992–present
Label =
Associated_acts =
Notable_instruments =

Pat Kirtley (born 1952 in Kentucky, USA) is a US-American fingerstyle guitarist, composer and guitar teacher.


Pat Kirtley grew up in a musical Kentucky family. As a child he was exposed to the musical influences of his mother's family – listening to country and bluegrass – and his father's family who were more attracted to pop and classical music. [ "Pat Kirtley", Interview by James Jensen for Acoustic Music Resource (1999)] . Accessed on November 17, 2007.]

Kirtley's first exposure to guitar, at age 5, was hearing guitarist and composer Spider Rich (writer of many tunes for Chet Atkins, including Yakety Axe) in a small recording studio where Kirtley's father worked as a part-time assistant. Rich was playing fingerstyle in the style of Chet Atkins, and Kirtley says from that moment, he wanted to learn guitar. He began learning at age 8, taught by two uncles who were influenced by Chet Atkins and Merle Travis, as well as pop and country music of the day.

In his teenage years he was also drawn to recording and its technology. By age 13, he had acquired a tape recorder and had become interested in electronics, not just using the equipment, but teaching himself how to build and modify it. He soon began experimenting with tone modification and looping techniques on his recorder and took his early steps in recording with some of his first, never to be published compositions as a 14-year old teenager. [ [ [ "Good Old-fashioned Tape Looping", Kirtley recalls his first steps] . Accessed on November 17, 2007.] , [ Pat Kirtley's self-introduction to the Looper Forum] . Accessed on November 17, 2007.]

In the early seventies, after having played in groups including pop, rock, jazz, and a nine-piece R&B show band, Kirtley moved away from electric guitar and began focusing on the acoustic, playing both steel-string and nylon-string guitars. During this time he began to develop his unique playing style, using alternate tunings, and writing original material. In 1974-75 Kirtley recorded his first album, with eastern Kentucky guitarist Wendell Cornett. Though the album was never released, it established the characteristics of Kirtley's acoustic style, introducing tunes like "B-Rod's Rag" and "Old Joe Clark" which were re-recorded 20 years later for his first CD "Kentucky Guitar".

While always an ardent guitar player, Kirtley began his professional career on the other side of the microphone, working as a studio engineer and producer for twelve years beginning in the mid-70's. He continued playing and creating his compositions, but never published them or pursued working professionally as a guitarist until around 1989, when he began touring as a solo act. In 1992 he entered the fingerstyle competition at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas - without notable success. He didn't give up, and won the 1994 National Thumbpicking Contest in Mountain View, Arkansas. That same year, he released his first CD "Kentucky Guitar", which earned very positive reviews. The next year, 1995, he went to Winfield for the third time and became the "National Fingerstyle Guitar Champion" in the Walnut Valley Festival competition. [ [ Pat Kirtley about "Walnut Valley Festival"] . Accessed on November 17, 2007.]

In 1996, Kirtley was chosen to participate in a project for Narada Records, a CD titled "Guitar Fingerstyle", featuring a collection of tracks from leading contemporary acoustic guitar artists. The release was a success for the label, selling nearly a quarter-million copies worldwide. 1997 and 1998 saw Kirtley releasing two more CDs, "Irish Guitar" and "Rural Life". Both contain his own solo guitar compositions, and arrangements of pop and traditional tunes. He then appeared on other artist's CDs as accompanying guitarist and also began developing pieces for a group/duo context, leading up to his CD "Just Listen" (2000), which featured collaborations with Tommy Emmanuel, jazz guitarist Craig Wagner, and acoustic super-group Nickel Creek. The group sound context was further developed on Kirtley's "Brazilian Guitar", released in 2002. This CD focuses on Brazilian Samba and Bossa Nova styles and was recorded with an ensemble setting. Here Kirtley's sound comes from the nylon-string guitar instead of his usual steel-string.

Through this period, Kirtley also released a number of video projects, including three instructional titles for Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop, as well as producing a number of videos on other artists. In 1999 he released the video "Nine Pound Hammer: Guitar Styles of Western Kentucky", produced on-location in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, introducing several significant guitarists in this genre to new audiences. Kirtley also participated in four more CD projects for Narada Records, two CD collections on Rounder Records, and has released two books of transcriptions of his music for Mel Bay Publications.

Currently Kirtley tours extensively in the USA and internationally, for concerts, guitar workshops and music camps, producing videos and keeping several recording projects running. He co-authored a book about home recording and writes articles for guitar magazines about his guitar techniques, recording and other related topics, in magazines such as Electronic Musician, "Acoustic Guitar", "Onstage", "Home Recording", and "Wood & Steel", as well as in the German magazine "Akustik Gitarre". [ [ Website of folkmusic-camp "Swannanoa Gathering" in Asheville, North Carolina] . Accessed on November 17, 2007.] , [ [ "Workshop Pat Kirtley – Celtic Fingerstyle" by Andreas Schulz] . Accessed on November 17, 2007.]

Since 1996 he endorses Taylor Guitars in his workshops and guitar clinics at guitar dealers throughout the US. Kirtley is a renowned and experienced guitar teacher and addresses not only composition and techniques, but focuses on personal attitude, the development of good practice habits and techniques. In 2006, Kirtley was honored as the newest inductee to the "National Thumbpicker's Hall of Fame".

Pat Kirtley lives in Nelson County, Kentucky.

Influences and technique

Kirtley's musical influences are quite diverse. He names among others Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Les Paul, Doc Watson, Antonin Dvorak, Johann Sebastian Bach, Edgar Varèse, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Dmitri Shostakovitch, Igor Stravinski, John Cage, Harry Partch, Wendy Carlos, Jimi Hendrix, Bernard Herrmann, Dave Brubeck, Frank Zappa, David Crosby, Wes Montgomery and Keith Jarrett.

In the early years of his career he drew from country and bluegrass sources, but at the close of the 80ties he began to explore Irish – celtic music, using open tunings like DADGAD in guitar arrangements of irish fiddle and airs [1998 The Blarney Pilgrim (vestapol), Liner Notes] . Later he ventured to Brasil and South American music, his repertoire defies easy categorisation. His compositions are a blend of folk and other traditions, which he transfers with cleverness to the guitar. Because of his wit and his clear and expressive articulation he leaves his audiences deeply impressed. [ [ Pat Kirtleys Biografie at Winfield Festival] . Accessed on November 17, 2007.]

Coming from Kentucky, his "finger-" or "thumbpicker"-roots are close to the playing of Chet Atkins, Merle Travis and Doc Watson. Kirtley uses his thumb for a regular and driving alternate bass while playing the melody with the other fingers. This melody is often syncopated and creates a swinging tension in conjunction with the regular alternate bass. Additionally he uses the frailing-technique like a banjo player by lightly brushing several or all strings, alternating down- and upstrokes with bass notes. His bass-lines are meticulously composed and often repeatedly take over parts of the melody. In several of his pieces he uses single note runs build from open and fretted strings creating a very particular sound, mostly in intro- and outro-parts and bridges leading from one part of the piece to the next. Kirtley mainly composes short and clearly structured pieces, containing three chorusses, with variations in the second and third chorus and an ending repeating the main melody. [ [ Review of "Rural Life" on Live Music Report] . Accessed on November 17, 2007.] Pat Kirtley puts high emphasis on right hand techniques and melody performance as well as on the general musical expression.

Guitars and technical equipment

On his CDs and in concerts Pat Kirtley uses the following guitars, "Pat Kirtleys gear", by Teja Gerken. Acoustic Guitar, issue #57] . Accessed on November 17, 2007.] :

* Martin J-40
* Martin MC-28
* Taylor 710CE
* Taylor 514-C
* Kirk Sand elektroacoustic
* Godin Multiac MIDI guitar

His Taylor has a DiMarzio magnetic soundhole- pickup and Fishman pickup in his other guitars. On stage he mixes the pickup-signal with the input of a good condensor microphone. He uses an Alesis Nanoverb Reverb and a Baggs Para Acoustic Digital Interface with a 5-band parametric equalizer.

In the recordings studio he adds one or two other mikrophones and additional effects. Apart from the Godin Multiac MIDI guitar he owns a Roland GR-9 synthesizer, a Lexicon Jamman and a Lexicon Vortex, and Lexicon and Alesis reverbs over a Mackie mixer. The signal is processed further with audio editor software, several digital recorders and tape machines.

Kirtley always uses a thumbpick and plays with plastic-reinforced nails. He prefers .012 to .054"-gauge "D'Addario Flat Top Phosphor-Bronze J-17" strings.


* 1994 "Kentucky Guitar" (Mainstring Music)
* 1997 "Irish Guitar" (Mainstring Music)
* 1998 "Rural Life" (Mainstring Music)
* 2000 "Just Listen" (Mainstring Music)
* 2002 "Brazilian Guitar" (Mainstring Music)

Collaborations, guest musician

* 1999 "Before My Time", Todd Hallawell (Soundset)
* 2001 "Wanted! Jesse James Alias: Steve Rector", Steve Rector (Hound Sound Music)
* 2004 "Exotic America", Andy Robinson (Brontosaurus Records)
* 2005 "Contrast", mit Pauly Zarb (Pauly Zarb and Pat Kirtley)


* 1996 "Guitar Fingerstyle: A Narada Collection" (Narada)
* 1997 "Dance of the Celts: A Narada Collection" (Narada)
* 1997 "Masters of Acoustic Guitar" (Narada)
* 1998 "Celtic Fingerstyle Guitar V. 1: The Blarney Pilgrim" (Rounder Records ROUN3157)
* 1998 "Celtic Fingerstyle Guitar V. 2: Ramble to Cashel" (Rounder Records ROUN3156)
* 1998 "Acoustic Guitar Highlights, Vol. 2" (Solid Air)
* 2001 "Guitar Fingerstyle 2: A Narada Collection" (Narada)

Video, DVD

* 1998 "The Blarney Pilgrim" (vestapol 13063dvd)
* 1998 "Ramble to Cashel" (vestapol 13029dvd)
* 2004 "Nine Pound Hammer: Guitar Styles of Western Kentucky" (vestapol 13081dvd)
* 2004 "Introduction to Thumbstyle Guitar" (Mel Bay Productions GW301DVD)
* 2005 "Introduction To Alternate Tunings" (Mel Bay Productions GW302DVD)
* 2005 "Introduction To Celtic Fingerstyle" Guitar (Mel Bay Productions GW303DVD)

Sheet music, books

* 1999 "Acoustic Guitar Artist Songbook, Vol. 1". String Letter Publishing, ISBN 978-1-890-49003-4
* 2000 "Kentucky Guitar". Mel Bay Productions 97331D, ISBN 0-7866-4992-5
* 2000 "Master Anthology of Fingerstyle Guitar Solos Vol.1". Mel Bay Productions 98370BCD, ISBN 978-0-786-65290-7
* 2003 "Irish Guitar: Celtic Guitar Solos". Mel Bay Productions 97332, ISBN 978-0-786-67051-2
* 2006 "Home Recording Studio Basics". Mike Levine, David Darlington, Pat Kirtley, Rusty Cutchin (Cherry Lane Music). ISBN 978-1-575-60563-0


[ [ Pat Kirtley discography and product list at Funky Music] . Accessed on November 16, 2007.]

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