The Chapman Stick Tuning, Development, and Design | The Chapman Stick Method
What is the Chapman Stick?
The brainchild of inventor Emmett Chapman, the stick grew out of his experiments as a guitar player. According to his biography "It Felt Like Flying" he was playing his electric guitar one day, and in a happy moment he tried elevating the instrument into a near vertical position, with the tuners high, and the body low.
What happens with this simple change is that the fingers of both hands now align with the frets. And, as any guitar player has noticed, if your amp is turned up, just touching the string to the fret is enough to play a note.
From this happy inspiration, he began to build a new type of electric guitar, designed to be played by touch, with both hands.
History of the Chapman Stick
The very first prototypes were quite guitar-like.
Chapman was a jazz player and was accustomed to playing chord extensions. These are additional notes that add color and texture to the sound of the chord.
And perhaps it was natural for him to begin here. If Chapter Two of his "Free Hands" method book is any guide, it would appear that his first technique was still quite guitarish. That is, with his left hand near to the tuners, he would play a chord's root on a low string, and then some higher harmony notes on some higher strings.
Meanwhile, his right hand, placed more toward the middle of the neck (where notes are pitched higher), would play a melody.
Sometimes the 'higher' melody hand wiped out a 'lower' harmony note being played by the 'lower' harmony hand. But if you try this, you'll agree with Chapman: It doesn't matter. The technique still sounds great.
Same as Jimmie Webster? Not!
In an odd historical note, this is the same use of the two hands that had been made by Jimmie Webster some years earlier, except for two things --
* Chapman's elevation of the instrument into a near-vertical position causes the fingers to align with the frets, and makes scalar and chordal playing fluid and efficient with both hands.
* Chapman went on to develop a more expanded instrument, and this expanded the technique.
Chapman Stick Tuning
We think that the Chapman Stick tuning evolved as a consequence of Chapman's earliest method of play, described above.
With the left hand placed near the tuners to play roots and harmony notes, in what became a brilliant extension of the electric guitar, Chapman began to add a few low-pitched bass strings, lower than the normal low strings found on electric guitar.
This makes for a more satisfying chordal sound, for the same reason that a band with a bass-player sounds more complete than a band consisting only of guitarists.
Perhaps to make access to these lowest bass notes easy, the lowest bass strings were placed closest to the low guitar strings. Experimentation probably revealed that, if a couple of bass strings are good, then a few more might be better.
An ‘Inverted’ String Arrangement
And when the additional strings were added, instead of adding them "atop" the low bass strings in the normal orientation used by any bass-player or guitarist, these additional bass strings were added "below" the low bass strings.
Chapman states that he experimented with many tunings.
What emerged, as evidenced in his method book ("Free Hands"), was a tuning that could be described as "Inverted-Fifths" in the bass strings. Elsewhere on the Megatar website you can find more discussion of the Chapman Stick tuning, compared to other tunings.
Chapman Stick Purchase
Where does one find a Chapman Stick for sale? Either from Chapman's company ("Stick Enterprises"), or find a used Chapman Stick on EBay. When searching Chapman Stick buy one of the newer models, as design enhancements in recent years, in our opinion, improve the sound and playability.
Why does a guy who has a Chapman Stick sell it? Some former Stick players have changed to Warr Guitar, and some have changed to Mobius Megatar instruments. And of course, sometimes a musician goes off in another direction, or has to raise cash for baby!
Chapman Stick Prices
Stick prices have increased steadily over the years, and at the time of this writing, a Chapman Stick instrument with the full twelve strings costs about $2500, although there are some lesser instruments with less strings that cost slightly less.
Chapman Stick strings
To re-string a Stick, six bass and six melody strings are required. Although you could use bass strings from the music store, finding guitar strings long enough is quite difficult.
Chapman sells strings for his instruments, and a great many Stick players around the world buy Mobius Megatar strings to re-string their instruments. (The Mobius strings, although manufactured for the Mobius Megatar instruments, are of similar gauges, quality, and length, and seem to work well, and in keeping with the Mobius philosophy, both Mobius instruments and Mobius strings are priced more attractively for the musician.)
What bass does Tony Levin play?
He plays a number of different basses in fact, but he's perhaps the best known artist creating Chapman Stick music today, playing with many top-level musicians, sometimes on bass, sometimes on Stick.
He used Chapman Stick on many Peter Gabriel albums, and the Chapman Stick used on these songs gave them a great sound. Many people enjoy the distinctive Chapman Stick bass sound, and it fits nicely with many kinds of music.
Although we at Mobius Megatar are proud of the design enhancements that have made us the preferred instrument among many two-handed tapping musicians today, we must acknowledge the earlier design and innovation that Emmett Chapman brought to the field of electric guitar, and toward the playing of two-handed touchstyle technique.
[Back to Top]