Tone Talk with Kiki Wong

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woman sitting in window with guitar
Photo by Jack Lue
       

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 15 – Spring 2021 – Electrified!

Ever since Kiki Wong was a wee little girl, she had a passion for animals and music. Like many little girls, she dreamt of being a veterinarian, playing doctor on her stuffed animals.

At the age of six, she also discovered her passion for music and started classical piano lessons. When she was thirteen, her family gifted her father the first family acoustic guitar, a Yamaha Eterna, purchased from Costco. Her father taught her the first influential three chords G, C and D. She sought out the rest of her guitar education through the internet (yes, pre-YouTube days). She played in countless garage bands throughout high school with all types of music varying from indie to death metal. She also learned how to play the drums at the age of sixteen, followed by a bit of undeniable bass-slapping.

After graduating from the University of California, Irvine with a bachelor’s in Biological Science/Pre-Medicine, she decided to take a break from the books and become a full-time guitarist with the all Asian-American girl band, Nylon Pink, and later became the lead vocalist.

She then had experience playing on stage with Taylor Swift at the 2014 VMA’s and Usher at CBS’s Fashion Rocks Fall 2014. She was also the lead guitarist of Bret Michael’s band in a commercial for Nissan. She then joined the band She Demons, put together by Jerry Only’s the Misfits, touring internationally and nationwide in the fall of 2015 as direct support. The band name was later changed to Hellfire Heart.

After music took a halt, she and former singer of Nylon Pink, Kaila Yu, decided to pivot their brand into a travel blog, which generated over 100,000 views per month in the first six months of release. They later co-wrote the best-selling book 30-Day Travel Challenge: How to Make Your Travel Dreams a Reality and speak as travel experts on multiple news networks such as KTLA, CBS, NBC, and Fox News.

Wong currently plays guitar for the Los Angeles rock band Vigil Of War.

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?
Tone has been a touchy subject ever since I’ve picked up a guitar. Growing up, I really loved metal—like really, REALLY loved it. I loved it so much that I didn’t really like any other tones except for heavily distorted dirty chunky metal chugs. This likeness still sticks with me to this day, though recently, I’ve been more interested in exploring cleaner tones as well.

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
For years, I’ve played Schecter guitars because of the heavy metal tones and body shapes. Recently, I have also been playing Zemaitis, and I’m absolutely LOVING their guitars. They put so much care into the craftsmanship and treat their guitar-making like an art. I’m so happy with my Zemaitis® Z22QQ TOB. I also play out of a Marshall JCM 2000 live and use really minimal pedals these days. However, in my guitar videos, most people would be surprised to find that I play out of a Line 6 Spider III amp and record it directly through the iPhone camera. I like how raw it makes the videos and to show some of the flub-ups; that way, people know it’s not doctored in post-production.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
When I played in a KPOP cover band, we did a lot of post-production and a ton of effects to make it sound more electronic. Recently with our new releases with Vigil Of War, we recorded at Barefoot Studios, where tons of Warped Tour band records were made. It was amazing to create all of our sounds direct from amps—no plugins, just raw tones. I loved that recording style.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?
Because I don’t play with too many pedals, I honestly prefer just to get the tone perfect on my amp. I move around a lot on stage and have accidentally activated pedals on live shows, so I like to get it right and tight on my amp.

What does your practice consist of?
Scales, scales, and more scales with a metronome, of course. Then a few twiddly dees and twiddly dum stuff to warm up. Lastly, I run through the set, once sitting down and the rest standing up. I also mix in fun songs and covers that I like so that I don’t feel like the practice part is too draining. It’s always good to play stuff that you’re passionate about and that you enjoy, so you feel more inclined to practice more.

Favorite guitar riff or lick that inspired you to play guitar?
My favorite lick is honestly “House of the Rising Sun.” That was the first song that I learned to play, and my dad taught it to me. Whenever I hear it, it still gives me all the feels.

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?
Be bold. Be brave. Don’t let anybody tell you who you should be. Be yourself and own your s–t. You are a magical unicorn, talented and beautiful in your own way. That’s what people want to see!