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Photo: Chapman stick (From The Stick’s website) | “Imagine creating music on a stringed instrument that is simultaneously a guitar, a bass, a piano, and percussion. Add unlimited electronic capabilities and forward-thinking playing techniques for ultimate expression. Now, design a tuning to make navigation of the instrument amazingly simple, and streamline the look and feel for optimal accessibility. This instrument already exists as the Chapman Stick.” ~ Steve Adelson describing the Chapman Stick in Guitar Player magazine

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 usually has ten or twelve individually tuned strings and is used to play bass lines, melody lines, chords, or textures. Designed as a fully polyphonic chordal instrument, it can also cover several of these musical parts simultaneously.

The Stick is available with passive or active pickup modules that are plugged into a separate instrument amplifier. With a special synthesizer pickup, it can be used to trigger synthesizers and send MIDI messages to electronic instruments.

A Stick looks like a wide version of the fretboard of an electric guitar, but with 8, 10, or 12 strings. It is, however, 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 “behind” (in guitar parlance, this means a short distance towards the tuning machines) on the appropriate frets for the desired notes.

For this reason, it can sound many more notes at once than some other stringed instruments, making it more comparable to a keyboard instrument than to other stringed instruments. This arrangement lends itself to playing many lines at once, and many Stick players have mastered performing bass, chords, and melody lines simultaneously.
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