For guitarists, it's typically an aural-only experience, rendering songs via unusual tunings. About the only visual display from the late, lamented Sonic Youth, who would at times jam screwdrivers into their fret boards to make certain sounds, was if ax master Thurston Moore would sport his hideous lime-green racing jacket.
The Glenn Branca Guitar Army didn't care much for the visual either. But then there's Kaki King. The charismatic guitar hero wants to balance her unconventional guitar stylings with some eye candy.
"A Neck is a Bridge to the Body" isn't just about music. Her guitar is a screen. It's about projection mapping for the Georgia native. King turns an all-white guitar of plastic resin into a sensory screen.
"I wanted to make the show more colorful," King said on a call from her Brooklyn apartment. "I discovered projection mapping and I thought it would add an amazing element to my show. I knew images would look good on my guitar. I could play it, and it made the show that much more compelling. This allows the guitar to express itself."
When King, who will perform Wednesday, Feb. 24, at Northampton's Iron Horse Music Hall, plays a note, the color of her guitar changes as if the mood is altered. Software is used to analyze the sounds she's making and projects them back in colors and images.
"It's exciting to add this sort of element to my show," King said. "You have to keep making it interesting. I'm a color person. Blues and greens mean something to me."
The visuals aren't all that's compelling on the "The Neck is a Bridge to the Body" tour. The songs veer from jazzy to Latin to psychedelic rock. The underheralded virtuoso nails it with her complex fingerpicking style. King constantly tries to innovate.
"I'm driven to try to take it farther with each album and tour," King said. "I'm not content just making the same album over and over. I don't think that would be too hard to accomplish. It takes effort to change it up and try to make it more interesting for not just the audience, but for me as well. What I love about what I'm doing now is that things are constantly changing with how it's set up with projection mapping. You'll never see the same show twice. I'll play a little differently and the images on the guitar will be different."
King's style is different. She will deliver what she calls "body percussion" on her guitar. "I love doing it," she said. "I can just play hand drums on the guitar for an entire song and that changes everything. The way it's reflected back visually is really cool. I'm shaking things up. I'm not part of the status quo."
Fortunately King has a fervent base of fans. "The Neck is a Bridge" was completely funded by fans courtesy of Kickstarter. King's goal was to generate $25,000 but got more than $43,000 in donations to the cause.
"I love the way things are in the music industry because I have the support I need to do what I want to do," King said. "A label isn't going to give me the kind of money I need to make an album. Labels aren't going to spend the kind of money it took for me to make this album. I made the album my way and it's the people's album and I'm proud of that."
King, who has made seven albums, took her guitar playing and visual experimentation to another level, but she believes she has a long way to go as a recording artist.
"The guitar is the master," King said. "I'm just trying to learn more and more with each project. But I do have to say that I'm really proud of what I did this time."
KAKI KING appears Wednesday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m. at the Iron Horse Music Hall, 20 Center St., Northampton. Wishbone Zoe will open. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 day of show. 413-586-8686 and iheg.com