Justin King (guitarist)

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Justin King (born June 13, 1979) is an American musician and artist from Eugene, Oregon, recognized as a pioneering guitarist for his percussive "tapping" playing style which consists of a variety of influences ranging from Flamenco to Celtic music. Currently, King is running a recording studio in Brooklyn, New York called Vinegar Hill Sound as well as doing part-time war photojournalism in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Background and Current Activities[edit]

King comes from a family well known in the wine business under the King Estate name. King attended O'Hara Catholic School from the first grade through the eighth grade. He later attended Marist High School before attending South Eugene High School. He dropped out of high school as a sophomore and entered the San Francisco Art Institute to study painting. He began playing drums and guitar around age 14 and wrote and performed songs with his current bassist, Drew Dresman. King began to focus on acoustic guitar at age 19, and in 1999 he released his self-titled album, followed by Opening in 2000. In 2001, after traveling through Europe, Ireland and Great Britain, King recorded "Le Bleu"—an instrumental acoustic guitar record which featured long-time friends and James West on percussion, Troy Sicotte on bass and Linh Renken on violins. Le Bleu was recorded at Peter Gabriel's "Real World Studios" just outside Bath, England.

Inspired by Real World Studios, King returned to the US and began construction on his own studio "Blackberry Hill". The studio took about two years to complete during which time King toured the country as a solo guitarist opening for James Taylor, BB King, Diana Krall, North Mississippi All-Stars, Al Green and others. Just after building Blackberry Hill King recorded another instrumental record, "I-XII", with James West, renowned bassist Michael Manring and European guitarist Carlos Vamos. Shortly after that King started a band with James West (later replaced by Nadir Jeevanjee), Troy Sicotte (later replaced by Drew Dresman), and Ehren Ebbage (later replaced by Chris Plank). The band toured the country for about one year before being signed to a major label record deal with Epic Records in 2006.

The band recorded the self-titled "Justin King and the Apologies" record at King's Blackberry Hill studio as well as studios in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. The recording process took more than a year during which time the band continued to tour extensively throughout the nation as well as some international performances. After a large shakeup at Epic Records in which the president and the band's A&R representative left the company the band stayed on in limbo with Epic for about one more year before requesting to be let go from the label. Epic gave the master recording rights to the band and the album was released independently by the band shortly thereafter. After touring tirelessly throughout the year the band broke up around the end of 2007.

Since the disbanding of The Apologies, King has pursued an interest in photojournalism, having spent August 2008 in Iraq embedded with the Oregon National Guard at Balad Air Base. He accompanied the US military on patrols and raids as well as medevac missions and convoys. His photos appeared on the BBC's website[1] and his stories were featured in Oregon's mainstream news publications.

Le Bleu and various side projects[edit]

In 2001, King released Le Bleu, which was a mostly instrumental album featuring only one track with vocals ("Ashes"). It dramatically showcased his skills on acoustic instruments, and although the album was independently released, it would receive critical acclaim.[2][3] However, the biggest boom to his music career was the release of live videos on the Internet. The first, and most famous, was a clip of the credits from a documentary on Jean Larrivée guitars. In it, King plays an energetic, fast-paced version of "Phunkdified,"[4] which served to introduce younger, web-savvy players to King's unique playing style. His live performance of "Knock on Wood" at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in Eugene introduced the Doolin double-neck acoustic guitar.[5]

Following the release of Le Bleu, King began several new projects including an electronic remix of Le Bleu by the Raging Family, and another instrumental project with Carlos Vamos and Michael Manring. His primary focus, however, was a songwriting-based album. He assembled a new band with longtime friends Ehren Ebbage (lead guitar) and Drew Desman (bass). In 2005, drummer James West and was replaced by Nadir Jeevanjee. King's endeavor in rock music also features a return to playing piano on several songs. King's latest music maintains his complex musical style despite acquiring a more mainstream sound.

Sony BMG/Epic Records battle[edit]

On March 20, 2007, King and his band, after a long struggle, ended their contract with Sony BMG/Epic Records.[6] The band felt that the label took away a considerable amount of freedom in deciding how the music should sound, as well as showing little interest in King's musical ambitions. The band released a five-song EP, Fall/Rise, in spring 2007 before resuming touring, which included several performances in South Korea. The band's debut album, Justin King and The Apologies, was released on September 28, 2007.

Humilitas Occidit Superbiam[edit]

King's latest record is another solo effort, released independently, and features King on a broad range of instruments, including cello, drums, keyboard, bass, and guitar. In addition to playing all the instruments, King engineered and produced the record. His Myspace page announced the title of the new album as Humilitas Occidit Superbiam, and it was subsequently released digitally in November 2009.[7]


Justin has admitted to have spent "more than his means" on his gear.[citation needed] The following list includes some of his acoustic guitars, as well as the electric guitars he has owned and performed with.


  • 1952 Martin 00 spruce/mahogany
  • 1957 Martin D-28 spruce/rosewood
  • 1995 Martin 00 spruce/rosewood
  • 1956 Martin D-21
  • 1956 Gibson SJ
  • Lowden 0-25 C cedar/rosewood
  • Lowden 0-25 C cedar/rosewood, fingerboard extension
  • Melville Guitars of Australia spruce/rosewood, fingerboard extension, wide neck
  • Breedlove custom 7-string spruce/rosewood
  • Daryl Perry Flamenco spruce/ash
  • Doolin Double Neck Double-Cutaway Custom
  • Paul Reed Smith Angelus
  • Taylor 714ce
  • Kalavinka Custom Spruce/Honduran Rosewood


  • Moollon Narcis
  • Fender Telecaster (assembled from other parts) with Suhr pickups
  • Gibson 1959 ES-335 reissue
  • Gibson ES-126
  • Gibson SG
  • Various off-brands from the 60's

Doolin double neck[edit]

Justin first approached Mike Doolin, an innovative luthier with an excellent reputation, to build a double-neck steel-string guitar. Justin wanted a guitar with two identical DADGAD-tuned necks to expand on his unique two-handed tapping style. The challenge was to design an instrument that could handle 340 pounds of string tension and yet still be acoustically responsive. The instrument features many of Doolin's innovations, including a pinless bridge, and adjustable neck angles. Doolin and King chose an instrument with a modified jumbo-style body, cocobolo (rosewood) back and sides, and a redwood top. The redwood is incredibly strong and stable, while at the same time being dynamic and possessing a rich acoustic tone. They also decided on using B-Band acoustic pickups, which are known for their excellent fidelity. The result is an unprecedented instrument, completely unique, with a wonderful tone. This can be seen on the song "Knock on Wood" and "Crown" (unofficial title).


Solo albums[edit]

Justin King and The Apologies[edit]

  • Justin King and The Apologies (2007)
  • Pilot (2003) (EP)
  • Bright and Dirty Lights (2005) (EP)
  • Bright and Dirty Lights Taster Disc (2005)
  • C-Sides (2006) (EP)
  • Fall/Rise (2007) (EP)

Justin King and The Raging Family[edit]

King West Manring Vamos[edit]

  • I-XII (2008)


  1. ^ "In pictures : 'My Iraq adventure', On the road". BBC News. 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
  2. ^ Julie Bergman (2002). "Acoustic Music CD Reviews". Acoustic Guitar. Archived from the original on 2007-04-07. Retrieved 2007-05-07.
  3. ^ Praetorian (2004). "Justin King - Le Bleu". Trivial Being. Archived from the original on 2007-05-13. Retrieved 2007-05-07.
  4. ^ YouTube video of Justin King playing Phunkdfied in the Larrivée documentary
  5. ^ Google video of Justin King playing Knock on Wood
  6. ^ Freedom Tastes Like Champagne - Justin King announces release from Sony/Epic contract Archived 2007-05-09 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ New album release info.[permanent dead link]

External links[edit]