Andy McKee, acoustic guitarist extraordinaire 

click to enlarge Guitarist Andy McKee’s unique instrumentals are popular on YouTube, to the tune of 48 million hits. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Guitarist Andy McKee’s unique instrumentals are popular on YouTube, to the tune of 48 million hits.
It’s an astronomical figure almost unfathomable to acoustic guitarist Andy McKee – the 48,453,000 views to date of a 2006 live-shot video of his intricate instrumental “Drifting,” plucked in his inimitable style, high on the fretboard, his knuckles rapping a jazzy rhythm on the guitar body.

“I still can’t even believe it – it’s just like, ‘whoa!’” says the Topeka, Kansas native, who recently was invited to open for Dream Theater and one of his biggest fans, Prince. “But with YouTube, the visual presentation of how I play definitely didn’t hurt things. It’s a rather unusual way of playing.”

Scroll down to see a video of Andy McKee playing.

Fans can study the musician’s licks up close when he hits Yoshi’s in San Francisco this week, previewing his new self-released EP “Mythmaker.”

He’s not sure how he became an online sensation. He remembers an indie instrumental imprint called Candyrat proposing that he shoot close-up clips of his guitar filigrees for posting. “YouTube was really new then, and I wasn’t really familiar with it, so I said, ‘OK, why not? Let’s try it and see what we can do,’” he says. “But it was a fast-forward button on my career. YouTube suddenly brought my music to people all over the planet, and they were really digging it!”

McKee has put his own ornate topspin on pop classics, like Toto’s “Africa” and Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” and backed Josh Groban on his Christmas disc. He also has covered tunes from instrumental idols like Michael Hedges, and recorded with others, such as Don Ross.

Currently, his licks are so popular, he sells tablature books for albums like his 2005 breakthrough “Art of Motion,” plus sheet music for nearly every song.

While various guitar companies have offered him endorsements, he has refused. He favors meticulous models handcrafted by an independent luthier in Montreal.

Onstage with Prince on Australian tour this year, McKee, 34, rearranged Purple One standards for an acoustic medley.

Backstage, the two played nonstop table tennis (“He’s like an Olympic-level athlete on the ping-pong table, and he was a very respectful man. He called me Mr. McKee all the time, never Andy,” he says).

Oddly enough, the axman started out a huge Metallica/Iron Maiden fan who simply wanted to shred on electric.

Then, at 16, a cousin dragged the rocker to a Preston Reed fingerstyle guitar clinic. “This guy was doing all this crazy stuff on acoustic guitar,” he says. “And I just fell in love with the style, and the idea of simultaneously playing all the different parts of a song on one guitar, rather than just some blazing solo .That’s when my switch got flipped!”


Andy McKee

Where: Yoshi’s, 1330 Fillmore St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Jan. 9

Tickets: $31

Contact: (415) 655-5600,

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Tom Lanham

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