Keona Lee: 17 years (and 30-seconds) to shred

Keona Lee November 2020 Guitar Girl Magazine Calendar photo by Jack Lue


Olympic athletes. Astronauts. World leaders. Throughout the decades, there has been a standard set of professionals that kids idolize. Keona Lee, however, wanted to be like Mick Mars – Mötley Crüe’s guitarist – when she was a little girl.

Venerating hard rock gods from an early age wasn’t a passing fad for this California native. Only 17 years old, Keona has won shredding contests and performed in front of some of the country’s greatest guitarists. 

Keona talks with GGM about some of her most memorable moments from NAMM, what gear she prefers, and her new band Kryptid. 


 As a young artist making your debut performance at Winter NAMM earlier this year, you were quite the “buzz” around Anaheim. How was your overall experience and what were some of your “standout” moments? 

That was my first time at NAMM, and I had been looking forward to going for a long time. Some of my favorite moments were meeting artists like Rob Caggiano (Volbeat), Oli Herbert (All That Remains), and Courtney Cox (The Iron Maidens). I felt like I was in heaven because I was geeking out over all of the gear that was there. I also got to meet up with Mike and Squiggy (from Loudwire’s Gear Factor) again. Squiggy asked me if I wanted to help them do a short video for the Loudwire Instagram Takeover after the convention closed for the day and, of course, I said yes. They said I could pick any guitar on the floor to play.  

Out of all the guitars there, I wanted to play Nita Strauss’s new signature JIVA. So, Mike, Squiggy, my dad, my friend, and I ran across the convention floor to film a video. The next day, Squiggy wanted us to meet him at the PRS booth so I could demo Mark Tremonti’s MT15 amp and Dustie Waring’s guitar for Loudwire’s Gear Factor. I showed up, shredded, and Squiggy asked me what I thought. The tone of the entire rig was so sweet and had the nicest crunch to it. It wasn’t muddy at all on the distorted channel, and the clean channel sounded smooth and beautiful. The guitar itself played beautifully and was well balanced. Then Squiggy told me to turn around where I found Dustie and Mark standing right behind me. They watched the entire thing and had big grins on their faces. I was completely shocked that I didn’t even think that something was going on behind the scenes, but it was awesome meeting them. 

Besides shredding on the uke which we witnessed at NAMM, you’re also a guitar shredder and the first female to ever win the Music Experience shredding contest at the Aftershock Festival last year. Congrats! Tell us about that contest. 

Thanks! That contest was run by Squiggy from Loudwire’s Gear Factor. Early in the day, I was eagerly testing out Rob Caggiano’s signature See Thru Purple guitar because I had been itching to play it for a long time. One of my favorite songs to play is Rose of Sharyn by Killswitch Engage and the photographer, Cameron Nunez, noticed and thought it was killer. Little did I know, he ended up telling Squiggy, and he came out to meet me. I continued playing, and he begged me to enter his 30-Seconds to Shred contest which would take place the next day. 

When I showed up to the festival the next day, I immediately went over to the booth, grabbed the Rob Caggiano signature, and began warming up. I was nervous. I had never done anything like this before, and I wasn’t really sure how it was going to go down. Before I knew it, it was time. I originally thought we could play any guitar in the booth, but it turned out that everyone played through the same rig: a bright yellow Yamaha Revstar and a Line 6 amplifier. My biggest competition was a kid, a little older than me, who flew in from a different country and won the year before and another younger boy named Jonah who plays in a band called JNX. I went last. Squiggy announced that there would be a runoff between myself and Jonah. I thought we would do one time each and then decide, but they were so on the fence that we did two rounds instead. Our fate was decided by four judges (Squiggy, Mike, Armando from Yamaha, and a representative from Line 6). They couldn’t pick between us, so they declared us both the winners. They were looking for factors such as clarity, technique, and crowd response. Both of us got to take home a yellow Yamaha Revstar. In the end, I’m glad I participated in this, and I plan to do it again the next time I go to Aftershock. 

Tell us about your gear and what sound you look for in your guitars? 

I currently have 16 guitars (including bass and acoustic) with a wide range of tones. Personally, I look for the combination of look and tone because each guitar’s tone is unique; a riff on one guitar will sound different on another if you really pay attention. Regarding looks, I’ve always been drawn to guitars with a unique and explorer-esque shape, such as my Gibson RD and my LTD Snakebyte. Another huge thing I look for in my guitars is how they feel when I play them. The more comfortable I feel, the more I will be drawn to play them more than others, and the less nervous I feel. 

You play in a metal band in San Diego called Kryptid. Tell us about the band, how it was formed, and your music; do you perform covers or write original music or a combination of both?

Kryptid was formed back in 2013. At that time, Kryptid was a cover band consisting of four kids from the same music school who wanted to take our skills to the next level. Then some things happened, and we ended up breaking away from that school to continue the band on our own. After we broke away, Kryptid has evolved and the members have changed. Shantanu, our drummer, and I are the remaining founding members. The current lineup is Rafael (vocals/guitar), Lucho (bass), Shantanu (drums), and me (guitar). As of right now, we are playing a mixture of covers and originals, but are in the process of writing more and more of our own songs. Thanks to Tesy Ward, we were able to debut our new lineup at the Whisky A Go at Crüe Fest earlier this year and knocked it out of the park. Keep your eyes peeled for Kryptid in the future. We have some big things planned, and you can keep track of them at our Instagram (@kryptidofficial) and Twitter (@kryptid_band) pages. 

At what age did you start playing guitar and who were your musical inspirations? 

I started playing the guitar when I was 11. Ever since I was little and saw the Motley Crue Greatest Video Hits DVD, I had wanted to be like Mick Mars. There was just something about his playing that drew me in and ignited the fire. As my taste evolved, I began to look up to guitarists such as Nita Strauss, Adrian Smith, Adam Dutkiewicz, Rob Caggiano, Kirk Hammett, Chris Rörland, Tony Rombola, and more. 

If there were any one person you would like to collaborate with, who would it be and why? 

Out of everyone, I would love to collaborate with Mick Mars because he was the one who inspired me in the first place. I feel like I could learn so much from him and I would love to jam and pick his brain. 

For such a young artist, what are your next steps in your musical journey? 

So far, I plan to continue on with Kryptid and to record an album. I also plan to do more live performances, whether that means guest appearances or opening for other bands with Kryptid. The more exposure, the better. It’s a way for me to get my name out there.  

Keona Lee Guitar Gear  

Currently, I’m playing through a Carvin V3 half stack and an Axe FX II XL+ with an MFC 101 Mark III pedalboard with customized effects. I’m also playing with 1.0mm InTune Jazz picks.
My favorite guitar to play at the moment is my metallic red Z-X Dean Explorer that I found at Central Coast Music in Morro Bay last year. I ended up switching the strings to
10-52 (skinny top, heavy bottom) Ernie Ball Paradigm strings
and I switched out the stock pickups to an EMG 81/85 combo.
That guitar plays like butter and glows in the sunlight.
Special thanks to Dirtbag Clothing for being extremely supportive
over the years and for helping Kryptid with gear and clothing. 

Editor’s Note:  Since the publishing of this interview in Issue 6, Keona has turned 18.


Tara Low


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