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Chapman Stick

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A 10 string Chapman Stick
A 10 string Chapman Stick

The Chapman Stick is an electric musical instrument devised by Emmett Chapman in the early 1970s. He set out to create an instrument designed for the tapping technique of both hands parallel to the frets that he invented in 1969. The first production model of the Stick was shipped in 1974. Superficially, it looks like a wide version of the fretboard of an electric guitar with 8, 10 or 12 strings mounted on it, but it is considerably longer and wider than a guitar fretboard. Unlike the electric guitar, it is usually played by tapping or fretting the strings, rather than plucking them. Instead of one hand fretting and the other hand plucking, both hands sound notes by striking the strings against the fingerboard just behind the appropriate frets for the desired notes. For this reason, it can sound many more notes at once than most other stringed instruments, making it more comparable to a keyboard instrument than to other stringed instruments. This arrangement lends itself to playing multiple lines at once and many Stick players have mastered performing bass, chords and melody lines simultaneously.


Over the years, Chapman Sticks have been made out of many materials. The first ones were made from super hardwoods, most from ironwood, but some from ebony and other exotic woods, through the early 1980s. The next group, chronologically, were made from an injection-molded polycarbonate resin through the early 1990s. Today, they are made from many hardwoods (including padauk, Indian rosewood, tarara, maple and mahogany),other organic materials like bamboo, as well as graphite epoxy and other even more high-tech composites.


Currently there are six different models of the Chapman Stick. Some string configurations are mentioned below, but current production models offer any tuning within physical limitations of stringing:

  • The Stick (10 strings, 5 melody + 5 bass)
  • Grand Stick (12 strings, 6 melody + 6 bass)
  • Stick Bass (SB8) (8 strings, 4 melody + 4 bass or an undivided bass guitar-like tuning)
  • NS/Stick (8 strings set up for plucking, strumming, or tapping; co-invented by Chapman & Ned Steinberger) 34" scale
  • Stick XG (a variation on traditional Stick construction, made from structural graphite, continuous strand carbon fiber )
  • Alto Stick (10 strings, 5 melody + 5 bass, with shorter scale length for a more guitar-like range)

Currently The Stick, Grand Stick and Stick Bass are 36"-scale, but the older production models were 34" scale.

Stick Enterprises has also manufactured some custom and limited-run instruments:

  • The Acoustick an acoustic version of the Chapman Stick made for Bob Culbertson
  • A 10-string Grand Stick the wider fretboard of the Grand with only 10 strings.
  • StickXBL A prototype Stick with body construction by BassLab using a hollow "tunable composite" material. Only a small number of these prototypes exist.

Musicians using the Chapman Stick

Chapman Sticks have been used on many popular music recordings to play various parts, bass, lead and chords and textures. Popular artists who have used the Chapman Stick on their recordings and live performances include:

  • Steve Adelson
  • Carlos Alonso of Glueleg
  • Nick Beggs (Kajagoogoo, Ellis, Beggs & Howard, John Paul Jones)
  • Blue Man Group
  • Blue Quarter
  • Zeta Bosio of Soda Stereo
  • Brian Bourne of Rawlins Cross
  • Tim Buckley featuring Emmett Chapman
  • Bruce Cockburn featuring Fergus Marsh
  • Bob Culbertson
  • Trey Gunn (now uses the Warr guitar)
  • Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith
  • Greg Howard solo and on the Dave Matthews Band album Before These Crowded Streets
  • Kittyhawk (with multiple Stick players)
  • Tony Levin
  • Sean Malone of Cynic and Gordian Knot
  • Hugh McMillan of Spirit of the West
  • John Myung of Dream Theater
  • Nima Rezai of Nima and Merge
  • Don Schiff solo and with Lana Lane and Rocket Scientists
  • Andy Widders-Ellis solo on Amy Grant Hit "Angels"
  • Richard Wright of Pink Floyd
  • Red Wanting Blue played by Mark McCullough.

Ex-Weather Report bassist Alphonso Johnson was among the first musicians to introduce the Chapman Stick to the public.

Recordings that have been influential on many Stick players, because the Stick plays such a prominent role, include the 1981 King Crimson album Discipline and Emmett Chapman's 1985 album Parallel Galaxy.

The Chapman Stick also made a (slightly disguised) appearance in David Lynch's film, Dune as Gurney Halleck's baliset, though the scene where Gurney actually plays the instrument was removed from the theatrical version and can only be seen in the various extended versions of the film. The piece being played in the scene is from Emmett Chapman's album Parallel Galaxy.

Wayne Lytle, creator of Animusic, commented that on his piece "Stick Figures", he had the inspiration for the bass guitar character from the Chapman Stick.

Mike Oldfield plays Chapman Stick on The Songs of Distant Earth album and some video clips in multimedia content of extended CD. He plays the Stick with a pick instead of tapping, and uses it mainly for its futuristic look.

External links

  • - Official Site
    • How it works
  • - Comprehensive Stick site with forums, pictures, and more
    • FAQ -'s FAQ on the Chapman Stick
  • Compendium of photos of Chapman Stick players
  • StickiWiki - Encyclopedia of Stick Knowledge
  • A directory of Stick players
  • Chapman Stick Discography
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