Getting to Know

The Man Behind The KingPhin, Andrew Davis

Roman Anton’s custom made phin guitars are truly a cross-cultural collaboration, involving Thailand’s Isarn region craftsmanship and the intimate knowledge of life-long guitar enthusiast, and co-creator, Andrew Davis. 

Andrew Davis, who can build modular synthesizers and noise machines from scratch, has lived in Southeast Asia for well over ten years collecting the traditional, stringed instruments - none more fascinating than the phin.

Andrew started playing instruments early and was in bands at a young age.

Roman and Andrew’s shared passion for the phin was quickly established when they met, and it is no wonder why. 

With such a sumptuous, pear-shaped body, an ever-expanding neck and of course, the Naga, its’ sublime head, a phin turns heads wherever it goes. 

The high-pitched melodies reach deep into your soul and reflect a proud, vibrant culture who love to dance endlessly. The phin is also very user friendly as Roman explains:

“The first time I played a phin was about 20 years ago on a road trip to Thailand. What I noticed right away was how easy it was to hold and play and how easy it was to bend notes. I mean octave style bending. It was awesome.  And then I meet a guy who is trying to make a custom model, working through the sound and the playability.  I was so pleased to meet Andrew.  He is such a well-rounded and educated musician as well as a solid tech-guy at the same time. He has played huge venues in Asia, and he has made his own foot pedals.”

Representing the sound of Isarn, Northeastern Thailand, harking back to the 17th century, this plucked, three string guitar is instantly recognizable and entrancing. 

If you have been in Thailand for long enough, you may have sat on a bus, or a tuk-tuk, which blares out the familiar sound of the phin in all its glory; backed by an upbeat drum tempo there’s no stopping the phin once it gets going. Your body will move with it accordingly. 

This form of “Mor lam” music has, for a long period, been shunned by popular Thai culture, yet recently we have seen a renaissance, even on the big stage at festivals like Wonderfruit and Jai Thep. The phin is making its way back into the hearts of the Thai people. 

For some time, Molam music has been met with fascination by foreigners who are appreciate it for what it is, an infectious, psychedelic sound capable of taking you to another place. 

On the very distinctive, long neck there are fewer frets than a normal guitar and the instrument is generally designed so that you can stay in tune, as phin enthusiast and designer of Roman Anton’s King Phin product line, Andrew Davis explains:

“The Phin is fascinating because of its really basic layout; that is what makes it so instantly jammable. I am oversimplifying just a bit here, but in a musical sense the phin is like a piano with no black keys, or a harmonica. Every note on the fretboard is going to be in key (a few exceptions). This allows the player to really experiment with different modes and really take chances when jamming or solo-ing.”

Seen in the flesh, the two custom made KingPhins, carved out of Teak wood with so much finesse and love, are spellbinding. Guitar enthusiasts, like Roman and Andrew, derive great pleasure from admiring the aesthetics of the instrument and of course, playing it too.

Andrew said: “It’s tough to find an instrument with a cooler headstock, that’s for sure, but unlike many other traditional instruments in SE Asia and globally, the phin feels instantly familiar to a guitar player.”

“The traditional way of playing it involves these really quick raking techniques which give it an instantly recognizable sound. I am yet to perfectly master that aspect, but that’s ok. The instrument is so versatile that each player can find his own voice with it.”

Roman Anton has long since been a purveyor of indigenous culture as exemplified with their Launch I, Tierra Del Fuego track Bodhi Tree, written in Yangon, Myanmar, inspired by the Shwedegon Pagoda. With his and Andrew’s passion for Southeast Asian culture combined, it didn’t take long for them to give birth to the concept of KingPhin. 

Roman said: “Andrew really gets the credit for working out the imperfections and putting some super-solid artistry into the design. We have the 10 or so prototype, concept models, sitting in the Roman Anton Office. The manufacturing and design team up in Northeast Thailand is also really attuned to what we want and deserve a lot of credit for helping us pit out quality product. We slowly went through the various stages to acoustic precision and aesthetic perfection.”

In collaboration with a team of Isarn craftsmen, Roman Anton and Andrew Davis have launched their very exciting range of custom-made KingPhin acoustic and electric models.  They can be found in the on-line shop: