The Stick® is a tapping instrument. It has a fretboard like a guitar except
that, instead of plucking the strings with a pick or with your fingers, the notes
are sounded simply by tapping or fretting the desired note. This leaves both hands
open to play simultaneously on the fretboard. With this playing technique in mind,
the fretboard of a Stick is much wider than that of a guitar (making room for both
hands to work) and the Stick has up to twelve strings covering almost the full
range of a piano.
The Stick is an electric instrument with a magnetic pickup. It has frets just like
a guitar except that the frets are much larger and the string action is generally
lower. When a string is tapped at a fret, the string itself hits the large fret at
the point where the tap occurred causing the string to vibrate. The low string
action along with the sensitivity of the Stick pickup causes the tapping action to
produce a nice solid and sustained tone. The playing position for a Stick is to
hold the instrument in a near vertical position. The two hands then play in a
position where the fingers are parallel to the frets and each hand crosses over to
play the strings on the opposite side of the instrument.
Emmett Chapman invented this playing technique in the late 1960s on a home made
guitar and over the years the method has come to be referred to as Free Hands
While other players experimented with tapping a guitar fretboard prior to (and since)
that time, it was Chapman who realized that turning the neck to a near vertical
position and playing with the fingers parallel to the frets yielded a much more
natural playing position. Once this technique for playing was discovered, Chapman
began working to design an instrument that was actually made for this method of play.
During the early 70s, he continued to refine his instrument adding strings,
experimenting with different tunings, and adding a stereo pickup allowing separate
processing of bass and melody strings. After building several prototypes, he arrived
at the design we see today and, in 1974, built his first production Chapman Stick
Since that time, Chapman has taught his technique to many musicians and today,
players of the Stick Method
number in the thousands.
While many player's histories with the Stick date back well into the 70's, it was
during the 80s who delivered a visual of this instrument to a much
wider audience using the instrument with both King Crimson and with Peter Gabriel. The
instrument also made appearances with groups like Midnight Oil (Peter Gifford
Kajagoogoo (Nick Beggs
), and (more recently) the Dave Matthews Band (Greg
). With the visibility of the Stick growing each year, the number of players
continues to increase. Competing instrument makers have even sprung up making instruments
based solely on Chapman's innovations.
For more details, you can visit Stick Enterprises on the web at