The StickMan Departs
November 7, 2021 3:29 AM   Subscribe

Emmett Chapman, inventor of the Chapman Stick, died on Nov 1st age 85.

Perhaps the best known Stick player is Tony Levin, known for his work with King Crimson. Other players worth listening to include Bob Culbertson, Nick Beggs, Trey Gunn (here with Tony Levin), and Mark White.

Being suitably futuristic in appearance, a modified Stick appeared in the 1984 film version of Dune, where it was played by Patrick Stewart.
posted by 43rdAnd9th (22 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

The Stick is a fascinating instrument! I first saw the Chapman stick at a show with Animal Time in 1989 or thereabouts, and then a few weeks later played by an elegant busker in New Orleans.
posted by lasagnaboy at 4:12 AM on November 7, 2021

RIP. Interesting to read the background on this. I've seen Tony Levin play one of these things live a few times. I always assumed it was just a custom bass guitar with some minor tweaks and a minimalist body.
posted by SoberHighland at 4:31 AM on November 7, 2021 [1 favorite]


damn, I'm going to be sad when Wayne Selfie dies.
posted by Merus at 4:45 AM on November 7, 2021 [7 favorites]

Just saw Levin playing a Chapman stick at a King Crimson show this summer. Perhaps more than any other instrument, I find it impossible to watch someone play it and understand how their movements are being translated in to sound.
posted by saladin at 5:23 AM on November 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

lovely instrument. i learned of it from akin unver
posted by Clowder of bats at 5:27 AM on November 7, 2021

I have one. It’s a bit like playing piano and guitar at the same time. I am approximately 19% as skilled at playing it as I’d like to be.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:31 AM on November 7, 2021 [5 favorites]

posted by mule98J at 6:07 AM on November 7, 2021

Haven't heard one of these for a while.

many Stick players have mastered performing bass, chords, and melody lines simultaneously.[2]

I've been playing piano for fifty years and am still working on this trick: since I only have two hands, it's a challenge. (And don't tell me to try stride piano. It's the 21st century, y'know.)
posted by kozad at 6:20 AM on November 7, 2021

Probably my favorite Chapman stick album is this 1988 Belgian oddity from Daniel Schell and Karo, If Windows They Have. I’ll spin it today in tribute.
posted by mykescipark at 6:38 AM on November 7, 2021

posted by Foosnark at 6:42 AM on November 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

A few more examples: Don Schiff and Kevin Keith
posted by Slothrup at 6:55 AM on November 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

I love Lynch's baliset in Dune. It's a Chapman stick, sure, but then it's been modified with a spinning wheel below like a Hurdy-Gurdy. Unfortunately the composer didn't get the memo because there's no accompanying sound in the music. But it's not hard to imagine someone modifying an instrument as versatile as the Chapman Stick to also include a drone.

We fans of the new movie are eagerly awaiting the appearance of the baliset in the second installment.
posted by Nelson at 7:02 AM on November 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

posted by Faint of Butt at 7:02 AM on November 7, 2021


My favourite Stick "player" was Geff Ruston/John Balance of Coil.
posted by remembrancer at 7:29 AM on November 7, 2021 [5 favorites]


After decades of practice, I still struggle to play the guitar. Anyone capable of playing the Stick is a much more evolved lifeform than I.
posted by tommasz at 7:47 AM on November 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've tried Stick a couple times and it was too difficult even to noodle on -- it really requires having a particular mindset in addition to developing skills. People who can freely improvise polyphonically on it (like this performance by Greg Howard) are even a step beyond that.
posted by ardgedee at 8:04 AM on November 7, 2021

The Stick reminds me of Roger Linn's LinnStrument. Both have characteristics of keyboard and fingerboard instruments, and both seemingly would require a musician to devote a lot of time in order to play fluently. I'm intrigued by these innovations, but I don't think I'll succumb to the temptation to acquire and learn to play one.
posted by Agave at 8:16 AM on November 7, 2021

I always wanted a Stick but could never justify the cost and time spent learning it. Maybe if I ever get to retire I'll buy one to putter around on as a hobby.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:34 AM on November 7, 2021

I think Stanley Jordan introduced me to this playing style, but he works miracles with a regular six-string.
posted by credulous at 8:37 AM on November 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Anyone capable of playing the Stick is a much more evolved lifeform than I.

Old Emmett set out originally to design a more logical guitar, and as soon as you see the pattern on a Stick, it’s immeasurably easier. It’s straight ascending fourths in the treble (much like the E-A-D-G of a guitar, which you could play the notes of the open strings by staying on the same fret on a Stick and moving up one string each time) and straight descending fifths on the bass (playing the same frets on the bass side would get you an E, dropping down to the A below it, then dropping down again to a D, and then lower still to a G). This means you can play the same fingering patterns in the treble or bass and get the same notes, but inverted.

As I say, I’m nowhere near as good a player as I’d like to be. I can ponder and plot out a part, and I have played it both onstage and in the studio, but it is like learning it by rote. I have never become (and will never become) as fluid with it as I would like to be, or as I am with a few other instruments. Stick me onstage with something else I am only vaguely at ease with — a banjo or a cello — and I can least produce a bit of accompaniment. With a Stick, I am paralyzed.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:48 AM on November 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

In a fairly recent interview, Levin said that he plays mostly bass these days, both electric and those NS Design uprights, and he often persuades producers who want him to play Stick that bass would be better for their song. A far cry from the days, he said, when producers' reactions when he broke it out were more like "wtf is that/get it out of my sight and never take it out again".

Chapman was a visionary who spent much of his life refining and perfecting his invention. I got obsessed with the Stick for a while in the 80's, due to Levin I suppose, and sent off for a brochure.....they sent back a big envelope stuffed with all kinds of great stuff, it was awesome. I never got the money together to buy one though - in high school, I didn't even have a decent bass amp.

I do think that the Stick sounds better on the low side, the way Levin (mostly) played it on King Crimson and Peter Gabriel records, and the kind of groove parts I have heard from Kevin Keith. But I don't much care for touch guitar, either, ymmv.
posted by thelonius at 9:51 AM on November 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

𝄢 𝄞
posted by adekllny at 3:26 PM on November 9, 2021

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