Whenever I am out playing around town, trying out new gear at a music store, or talking shop with other musicians and music
lovers, I invariably end up answering the question,
"What is that thing?"
This "thing" that people are
referring to is the Chapman Stick.
So what is the Chapman Stick?
Is it a sitar? No. Is it a bass, a guitar? Well sorta. It is a bit of both with percussion and keyboards
thrown in for good measure.
Let me explain it this way...
In 1969,a young jazz guitarist by the name of Emmett Chapman suddenly discovered a new method of playing his guitar. This
method involved using all fingers of both hands to "tap" notes on the neck of his guitar. Both hands would orient on the neck
in a manner that allowed the fingers to lay parallel to the frets and perpindicular to the strings. The right hand would cross
over the neck and play melody lines and chords, the left hand would play in a more "traditional" manner and tap out bass lines
and melodies. Both hands could play lines
simultaneously, independently or interdependently, creating chords and melodies (think
of a piano and its technique).
Emmett's method of tapping on the strings with both hands would allow for greater control of
expression via bending, legato, muting, volume, sustain, harmonics, etc.
"This is the common orientation of a fingering hand, more or less at right angles to the neck, and has from antiquity been
the manner in which pickers, pluckers and strummers of stringed instruments finger-stopped their notes, usually with the left
hand. I dedicated this fingering role to both hands, each addressing the board from opposite sides, and I began to perform,
teach, and demonstrate this new method, as well as inventing and manufacturing a new instrument to fully realize its potential."
Thus we now have the Chapman Stick.
Rarely is a new
instrument conceived and transformed from paper to product and become so widely accepted and successful. Even
more so remarkable is the fact that the instrument is the result of a technique realized from the heart of a daring musician
wanting to express himself beyond the limits of "traditional" standards of execution on his instrument of choice.
"The technique came before the instrument, a sudden discovery while playing my guitar in 1969. No known guitarist, bassist,
or fingerboard player had ever before used a basic three and four fingered technique in each hand simultaneously to play independent
lines, scales and chords. It was unique, yet basic and logical - both hands aligned parallel to the frets and perpendicular
to the strings, the fingers of each hand fitting sequentially into selected fret spaces at any point along the board."
A 12 string Stick with The Block pickup owned by Steve Adelson. The "Solar Stick" is one of Steve's many
A close up of the "Solar Stick" and it's wonderful custom inlay work done masterfully by inlay artist Cliff Suttle
of Shark Inlay.