The first time I came across this unique instrument was back in 2002. At first, I have to say, I was quite skeptical about it, and for several months (about 6), the friend of mine who bought it was extremely anxious and getting more and more impatient as the time went by. But I still couldn’t understand why so much excitement! Then, after several encouragement and great support from Virginia Splendore who is an experienced Italian Stick player, the time finally came, and I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was just perfect! The sound, the color, the wood he chose, the mechanics but mainly its unique design. My friend was the proud owner of his very own Chapman Stick and with it he recorded a few tunes of which “Air” is my favorite.
The Chapman Stick® is an electric musical instrument devised by Emmett Chapman in the early 1970s. A member of the guitar family, the Chapman Stick has been used on music recordings to play various parts (1981 King Crimson album Discipline (played by Tony Levin) and Emmett Chapman’s own 1985 album Parallel Galaxy. Amy Grant’s hit single “Angels” also featured a Stick solo (played by Andy Widders-Ellis).
Chapman, a jazz guitarist, sought to create an instrument designed for the “Free Hands” tapping method of both hands parallel to the frets, which he originally developed for use on his guitar in 1969. The first production model of the Stick was shipped in 1974. Chapman brought his instrument to public attention by demonstrating it on the game show What’s My Line? on October 10, 1974.
Ex-Weather Report bassist Alphonso Johnson was among the first musicians to introduce the Chapman Stick to the public, while Tony Levin was an early user, who was playing the instrument from the mid-1970s and would bring it to a high profile on sessions and tours with Peter Gabriel.
The Stick made a disguised appearance in David Lynch’s film, Dune as Gurney Halleck’s baliset, though the scene where Halleck (played by Patrick Stewart) actually plays the instrument was removed from the theatrical version and can only be seen in the extended versions. The piece being played in the scene is a quote 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 semi-anthropomorphic bass guitar from the Chapman Stick.
After 30 years of building and playing these things, Chapman still hopes to see his instrument gain some traction in the popular consciousness. But compete with the guitar? Not really.
“Guitars and blue jeans were a big part of the American dream,” Chapman says. “They’re fantastically successful because they became more than a commodity. They became a part of the culture. What product can be as pervasive as guitars and blue jeans?”.
Visit the Chapman’s Web site, and you will find useful advice if you are interested in buying a stick and never actually seen one in person, or if you are simply just curious and would like to know more.