Ken Frankel's Music

my last group (2013-2016)

Sound of Sirens

Wonderful acoustic band. Fabulous harmonies by my wife Susan Nielsen and Kristina Ziess.
Instrumental excellence by me on guitar, banjo, and mandolin; Jared Karol on guitar and harmonica; and Scott Underwood on bass.

Step It Up and Go


Cold Rain and Snow


Cocaine Blues


my previous group (2007-2012)

Family Lines

Acoustic trio. I played guitar, banjo, fiddle, and mandolin. Great harmonies and original songs by Susan Nielsen and her brother Tim McDonald. Here are the three videos we made before we broke up.

Tear My Stillhouse Down

(Gillian Welch; Irving Music, BMI)

The Club

(Susan Nielsen)


(Tim McDonald)


To read about my music history, click a link to info below:

Previous Professional Music Groups
Rock     Folk     Classical

Other Music Endeavors
Studio 55 Marin   The Cotati Cabaret   Music Inventions

Well Known Musicians I Have Performed With (alphabetically)

Tom Constanten Judy Frankel Jerry Garcia Richard Greene Robert Hunter Hial King
David Nelson Sandy Rothman Rick Shubb Warren Sirota Tim Ware


Late 1950's - Lead Guitar with the Newports

This was my first professional group, which I joined when I was 16. This band was led by Hial King on sax, and I think later became Hial King and the Newports. It also included my step-cousin John Spilker, a wonderful piano player. We played many CYO dances, and almost every weekend we played a dance for Ted Raden Dance Clubs. We played rock instrumentals, and standards for slow songs.

Early 1960's - Lead Guitar with Louis Haas Band

Louie Haas is now a very successful attorney, but when we where in college at Berkely together, he was a wild and crazy rock musician and singer. We both played electric guitar, and traded off leads. We played many fraternity parties, and for a couple years played almost every Friday night at a place on Shattuck called The Monkey Inn. Louie and I played great together, and we were quite successful as a working band playing copies. Lots of Chuck Berry songs, etc.

1966-1969 - Lead Guitar with The Ill Wind

The Ill Wind was one of the first bands in Boston in the 1960's to play original music, and was probably the first psychedelic band in the area. We were quite famous in New England, and played all over the area in concert halls, including the main Boston hall called The Boston Tea Party (see the picture to the right). Richard Zvonar, who passed away in 2005, created a very nice web site for this band (click on the band name link above).

Early 1970's - Home - Duo with Judy Frankel

This was a 2-person 4-piece folk-rock band with my ex-wife Judy. Judy played guitar and my programmable drum machine invention with her feet. I played guitar and footpedal bass. As usual, my ideas were about 20 years ahead of their time, specifically the idea of performing with a programmable drum machine.

Electric Piano with Lagniappe - New Orleans R&B

This band was led by Billy Asprodites. We played mostly in bars. I played electric piano, which is definitely not my best instrument. We were pretty good anyway.

Acoustic Folk Groups

Coast Mountain Ramblers - Old Timey Band with Dave Pollack and Richard Greene

I had played music in high school with Dave, who is as good a musician as I have ever met. In 1960 we were undergraduates at Berkeley, and were trying to put together an old-timey group. We put a few notices up looking for a third person, but couldn't find anyone. Richard was an excellent classical violinist from our high school, living in the same place as Dave (the co-op). Out of desperation, we decided to try to teach Richard how to play fiddle. He was a little resistant in the beginning, and made fun of the music. We put a few songs together and played them on a folk radio show (the Midnight Special on KPFA). Much to our surprise, and especially to Richard's surprise, everyone went crazy for us. All of a sudden, Richard was hooked. In the early 1960's, we played on the Midnight Special radio show often, and in small concerts and clubs. In 1963 we won the Ash Grove talent contest, which was a year long event. (Ry Cooder came in second). Our prize was to play for a week at the Ash Grove. We were so successful they held us over for a second week. Shortly after that, Dave and I graduated from Berkeley and went on to other types of endeavors. Richard made fiddle his career, which was a good thing for his many fans.

Old Timey and Bluegrass Bands with Jerry Garcia

From about 1962-1964, I performed in several old timey and bluegrass bands with Jerry and several of Jerry's friends, including Bob Hunter and David Nelson. Several of these groups have been written about in various Grateful Dead books. In the bluegrass groups, I usually played banjo, but sometimes mandolin. In the old timey groups, I played fiddle, banjo, and guitar. I also performed a few songs once as a duo with Bob Hunter. This all happened while I was an undergraduate at Berkeley, and Jerry and his friends were living in this strange quasi-communal house in Mountain View called the "Chateau," where I would go on weekends to visit, rehearse, and hang out. Other musicians I met who hung out there were Ron McKernan and Eric Thompson.

Bluegrass Trio with Sandy Rothman and Rick Shubb

Sandy played guitar and sang lead, Rick played banjo, and I played mandolin and sang harmonies. In late 1963, we played every Friday night for several months at a club on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley. When I graduated from UC Berkeley, I gave Jerry Garcia's number to Sandy, and vice versa, and told them to call each other, because they would enjoy playing with each other. Shortly after that, they did play with each other, but Sandy recently told me they never did call each other through my intervention, but met anyway.

Accompanist for Norm and Judy

Norm Gan and Judy Bradbury were a folk duo with great singing but very weak instruments. I met Norm at a party where he played a tape of some of their songs, and I volunteered to be their accompanist. I played with them for about a year. We played at folk clubs around Boston, and in particular, played at a club called The Loft every Friday night for about 6 months. I played guitar and banjo. (This is how I met my ex-wife Judy, who became Judy Frankel when we married.)

Westwind International Folk Ensemble

In 1980-81 I played in the "orchestra" for this wonderful dance group. Westwind had the unique philosophy that all dances should be to live music. In addition, in between dances, there were live music interludes to make the performance flow. I played 7 different instruments during our performances, including mandola and tenor banjo during an Irish interlude between dances, banjo during a bluegrass interlude, guitarron during a mexican dance suite, and guitar during a 1940's American dance suite. The "orchestra" changed personnel during each interlude or dance suite, and had an average of about 5 people in it. The highlight of my one year with Westwind was our performance at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley.

Classical Groups

Mandolin Quartet with Tim Ware, Bob Wilcox, and Kathy ?

This group was a fairly standard mandolin quartet. We played string quartets on two mandolins, a mandola, and a mandocello. We didn't perform much, but we were all very good musicians, and played very well together. This was the group in which Tim learned to site read.

Berkeley Mandolin Ensemble

After my mandolin quartet, I played mandolin, mandola, and mandocello with this wonderful group in concerts, on radio, and on TV. I traveled with them to Germany as the only USA representative at the 1976 German Zupfest.

The Electric Guitar Quartet (EGQ)

The EGQ played string quartets and other classical pieces on electric guitars which I specially designed and had built. I came up with the idea for this group because I loved playing string quartets in my mandolin quartet, but had so much trouble finding other classical mandolin players. The other guitarists in this group were Kathy Greenstone, Van Williamson, and Warren Sirota. The EGQ recorded a very nice cassette that included a piece by Tom Constanten, who also performed with us once as a quintet (Tom played electric piano).

Studio 55 Marin

I started this music listening room in 2012. Great sound system, comfortable seating, easy parking, and great performers. For lots more information, click the link above.

The Cotati Cabaret

From 1981-1990, I owned and co-managed this club, which was the premier live music venue north of San Francisco. Mark Bronstein, who had run the Inn of the Beginning for many years previously, was the co-manager. We continually strived to book the best local and national acts, and to make the Cotati Cabaret the most comfortable and enjoyable club in the country. By the time Mark and I called it quits, we actually had a national reputation, despite the fact that Cotati is a small town about an hour north of San Francisco. When I finally decided to close the club and have a life again, we were such an important Bay Area institution that this decision resulted in a large article on Page 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Music Inventions

Split Signal Regular and Fuzz Guitar

This is how I set up my guitar in the band Ill Wind. I had two separate signals coming off one of my pickups. One signal fed into the normal guitar outlet cord. The second signal fed into a separate outlet. This second signal went to a fuzz tone. Both of these signals, normal and fuzzed, then went into a double foot volume control. This control had two directions: up-down, and left-right. I used left-right to control the regular guitar volume, and up-down to control the fuzz volume. This way I could get various relative amounts of regular and fuzz signal, and change these interactively as I was playing. This created an unusual and interesting sound, at least to my ear.

Programmable Drum Machine

As usual with most things I do, this was about 20 years ahead of its time. I built this in 1969 in order to create my duo with my wife at the time, Judy Frankel. Although we were only two people, we sounded like four people, since Judy played guitar and controlled the drum machinge with her feet, and I played guitar and footpeddle bass. I started with a primitive drum machine, disconnected all the sounds and timers, and reconnected them through various programmable modules and footpeddle controls. I realize this sounds pedestrian by today's standards, but this was many years before computers and the digital age. All my programmable modules were permanently hard-wired in pluggable modules, or temporarily hard wired through miniature patch panels. It was definitely one of a kind, and worked perfectly. It still works perfectly, even though it is quite out of date. (As part of a major house cleaning, I tried to sell it, but couldn't, so I still have it.)

Delayed Fuzz Echo

This is an effect I invented 30 years ago. I have not heard of anyone using anything like it, but someone else has probably thought of it by now. When I invented it, digital delays didn't exist, so I made a tape recorder into a variable speed delay. I set the delay for one beat. I then sent a guitar signal to the delay, which fed through a fuzz tone. In other words, when you play a note on the guitar, you hear the note, and then one beat later you hear the same note fuzzed. This is quite an interesting sound.

Remote Amplifier Volume Control

I wanted someone working for my band to be able to sit in the audience and control the relative volumes of the guitar and bass amplifiers. Now this is easily done, since all amplifiers and drums are miked, and there is a giant mixer which controls everything, including the monitor mixes. However, in 1969, when I invented this system, it was the first of its kind. I'm not sure there is anything like this available even now, although I don't know if anyone other than me would be interested. In this invention, I controlled the volume by running each guitar cord through a photoresistor which shorted to ground. The amount of resistance was determined by a light bulb connected to the photoresistor through a short piece of heat-shrink tubing. This system, although very simple, is quite elegant, and works perfectly.

Hexaphonic Fuzztone (Electric Guitar)

Before the days of guitar sythesizers, I decided I wanted the ability to play fuzz guitar on adjacent strings on my guitar without the interference this normally causes. I solved this problem by installing a hexaphonic pickup, and building a hexaphonic fuzz tone, which is actually six separate fuzz tones in a box. Each fuzz tone gets the signal from one string. Each fuzz tone can be turned on or off separately to get interesting effects. This is quite a lovely sound, and different from anything else around at the time. I have this set up on a Telecaster that also has a Parsons-White string bender on the second string, and a palm pedal modified by Parsons to work on the first and third strings, so I can get steel guitar effects on the top three strings. This is definitely the only guitar like this in the world.

For more information, or to give feedback, email Ken Frankel