by Guillermo Cides
leer version en castellano
may, 8 pm
After publishing our interview to Tony Levin, we
have been evaluating the possibility to interview
Emmett Chapman, the inventor of the Stick and a
revolutionary and new technique consisting in the
action of the two hands perpendiculary on the strings.
In today's meeting we have decided to attempt this
interview. However, we have also discovered our
desire to direct the questions toward a different
point of view.
We would like to speak with Emmett from his personal
side, beyond the technique. We consider Emmett Chapman
is a man with a very personal vision about the world,
with a curious spirit; and a polemic man because
of his ideas and actions that, without any doubt
and beyond what we would say in this time, will
be in the books of the history because of his contribution
to the music.
We have decided to interview this man and our questions
are those which we always wanted to make him.
Will he accept?
Monday 6 May, 5 pm
He accepted! Our fears have left... We know that
this type of interviews can be rejected by the challenge
that it implies for the interviewee.
Even so, Emmett has accepted, and we really want
to make him this interview and to know his answers.
There we go...
Thursday 9 May, 10 am
The interview has been a success!
The answers are very interesting and we believe
that they will be of great interest for those who
play the Stick and its two-handed tapping technique,
even for those that don't still play it.
Here is the result:
Cides: -First of all, Emmett, allow me to tell you
that this is the first time I have the opportunity to interview
you and I have many questions to ask.
I feel that you are a person with a great capacity to be inventive,
with a great curiosity about the world, and also a polemic
figure due to the events of recent years.
I will be valiant (!) and ask you the questions that other
Stickists ask themselves but don't dare to ask you.
I have always wanted to know if the invention of the Stick
was in response to an individual necessity, or if you saw
a possible future in it from the start.
Did you invent this instrument only for yourself and later
realize its massive potential? Or, did the idea appear complete
with this added potential?
Chapman: My answer has got to be double sided, as with
most points (and essential counterpoints) I try to express.
Yes, I created The Stick and its particular two-handed tapping
method solely for myself (I was flying on guitar), however,
I notice that just about everything I do has an element of
advocacy about it, a regard for what could become popular
and even "classical" for others.
I can just as easily get excited about a special integrated
tennis technique (I have one and it's a doozy), a routine
for making coffee (everybody likes it), special health tips,
a new manufacturing process, etc. To be more factual, I discovered
the method in 1969, made the first "Electric Stick"
bodiless design in 1970, but didn't commit to a first production
run of Sticks until 1974, in response to purchase orders by
people who had been to my concerts.
- In that moment of 1969, did you know of anyone else who
tapped on strings? Did somebody else play this technique then?
Emmett Chapman: - As a jazz
guitarist with 10 years of experience at the time, also rehearsing
then with my brother Dan's rock band (Vanilla Rain), there
was no one I had ever heard of who tapped on strings with
both hands. None of my musician and guitarist friends had
ever heard of two-handed tapping on a fretboard of any kind.
Years later I learned that there were three early pioneering
electric guitarists who tapped with both hands simultaneously,
Harry D'Armond, Jimmie Webster and Dave Bunker, and that they
all played a different tapping method, with the left tapping
hand perpendicular to the strings as is usual for fingering,
but with the right tapping hand held exclusively parallel
to the strings in the orientation of a picking/plucking hand.
I realized that my right hand approach allowed the facile
drumming of fingers of both hands equally for scalar and melodic
lines and guitar type chords, while their earlier approach
required the movement of the entire right arm at the shoulder
joint in order to play consecutive notes along the neck. All
three of these guitarist innovators tapped their strings with
the right forerm, hand and fingers oriented solely in this
position parallel to the neck and strings.
Cides: - How does it affect you as inventor of a new
musical instrument that years later thousands of people play
- Yuta and I are daily rewarded with compliments and news
of Stick players' exploits and accomplishments. It's a source
of pride for us. We have the enviable social role of having
brought our dream into actuality, and with an unlimited future
potential! At the same time, players depend on us, and so
we devote our live to doing "any and all things"
to keep the momentum going. My main personal frustration is
that I now have the best instrument I've ever made, but not
enough time to play and enjoy it. I hope this will be a temporary
condition, and that in the future Yuta and I will have time
to take care of some of our more basic needs, including my
music which has been a strong theme in my life since early
childhood. Out there in the world, there are more notes being
tapped than I could ever possibly play in several lifetimes.
- Do you personally feel more like a musician or an inventor?
Emmett Chapman: - I feel another
double sided response coming on. In my case, you have to take
the whole package. That's why I could never become an actor.
I can't simply put my "best foot forward", but must
put all feet forward, or as many as I have (and at least one
foot in my mouth). Inside, I feel like both a musician and
a manufacturer. In fact, I am both in the real life I've chosen.
I also design and invent things when the need arises, and
run a business with my wife Yuta, interpret astrological charts
as an occasional hobby, play tennis on a great day, and pay
a lot of attention to my family (lots of birthdays and dinners).
Guillermo Cides: - Nowadays,
Stick Enterprises is a medium small family company directed
yourself. Why didn't you decide to create a great company
as in the case of most inventions that become popular?
Emmett Chapman: - I did decide
in favor of bigness, right from the beginning. Why not? Unfortunately,
such a decision can never be unilateral. We gave it our biggest
and best shot, forming a California Corporation in 1975. My
first patents and trademarks were registered and issued in
the late '70s (I now have 14 active patents and 17 trademarks
all in good standing and more are still coming in). We began
sales in 1974 with the Sam Ash Music Store chain as our Stick
dealer and Gibson/Norlin as our world wide distributor. I
subcontracted out as much production work as possible (and
still do). I was in contact with many publishers and record
What I didn't realize was that The Stick is not a normal product,
but has its own unique life span and trajectory. In today's
world economy, wealth is created by replication - printing,
pressing, molding, publishing of electronic and printed media,
and soon maybe cloning. An actual product in 3D must be manufactured
in more traditional ways and is not so profitable in this
economy, though some can be stamped, molded, vacuum formed,
extruded or robotically assembled.
In the case of guitars, there's a third stage of difficulty
- it's a musical instrument awaiting the "breath of life"
by the luthier. Then we come to fretboard tapping instruments,
and the level of fine adjustment (and the basic construction
and design that enables such setup) is three to five times
more difficult than guitar, I would say. What I'm trying to
explain is, the craft itself slows the business down, but
I learned this by experience much later. In the mean time,
I've always had my own musical rewards, and the musical progress
of other Stickists, to urge me onward. By the way, I am presently
concentrating on the remedy to this inherent limitation (the
true Gordian Knot with apologies to Sean Malone), with hopes
of further expanding production and putting more of it in
Editor's note by Guillermo: I have been
fortunate enough to visit Emmett while I was performing
in the US. He kindly offered to rework and set up my old
injection molded polycarbonate stick.
I watched Emmett Chapman: take into his hands an instrument
as if it were the most delicate thing. When it was ready
the following day, he gave it back to me in a special way,
not like something that is simply delivered. I thought I
saw in his action a particular care, as if that instrument
somehow still belonged to him. That image impressed me strongly
enough to inspire a chapter in my book (which you can find
on the Articles Section on the Stick Center Website).
Guillermo Cides: - As a
luthier of fretboard tapping instruments, do you feel that
the work from your hands somehow continues to belong to
Emmett Chapman: - No, I
feel there's a deeper logic here. It's just an "instrument",
after all. We sell them to customers complete with a culture,
a method and some inspiration. Sure, I get them back, and
I repair them, sometimes after 20 or more years, but I regard
them as instruments only, as a means to perform and express
your music (as well as my own). I think of The Stick as
a tool for human recreation within one square foot of space
(a worthy utilitarian goal compared to golf courses), and
as a means of striving for human excellence, physically,
mentally and emotionally in integrated fashion. This aspect
of performance "communicates" to audiences over
and above the sum total of "the notes in the grooves".
It would make as little sense to assert that the players
of my particular tapping technique "belong" to
me as to claim some sort of spiritual ownership of all the
instruments I've made, now in the hands of others, each
with his or her own individual dream. I don't make any such
claims, but one thing I know for sure, my own music is my
Guillermo Cides: - Should
The Stick be more popular than it already is?
Emmett Chapman: - Yes, probably.
It's hard to know how popular it really is. It pops up as
a subject in the strangest encounters among diverse people.
Pop culture is force-fed to the world, while a real legend
has a life of its own and can survive sparse times. Still,
dreams, legends and natural leaders are "assassinated"
all the time, if not literally, then figuratively by way
of character and reputation - and the pop culture takes
another poll of its popularity to feed to the news. There
are no guarantees that anyone's dream can survive in the
wash. There's one cause for optimism, however. Music listeners
and players (that 20% or so of humanity that doesn't have
to be told what they like) have always loved this instrument
and the music.
Guillermo Cides: - We all
know the history of the competition. Does it influence you
personally? I refer to your daily work.
Emmett Chapman: - Yes. When
you build up something successful, you must defend it, not
against competition, which is healthy and constructive in
any society, but against exploitation and degradation. Regrettably,
Yuta and I must spend valuable time defending our personal
and professional reputations in as friendly a way as possible
against various attacks, false rumors, constant Internet
"guerilla marketing", and ridicule by a dedicated
small group of Stick players who organized themselves against
us in the early '90s. They continually identify their goods
and services with The Stick while attempting to discredit
my contributions to this art and alienate our customer support
and public good will. Still, we manage to maintain our innocence
and good faith with each customer on a daily basis, and
to sail through such opposition with some semblance of grace
and professionalism (I'm speaking mainly of my wife Yuta
here, who has to deal with most of the twisted "politics"
forced upon us).
Cides: - What is the source of your confidence in
your day to day work?
Emmett Chapman: - I'd have
to say it's genetic. My mother and her Italian father
from Bari had this characteristic. Nothing really gets me
down. It's a rare day, maybe once in two years, that I'm
unable to work because of some emotional or physical problem.
Also, the little things in life are attractive to me and
no matter what's on my mind, as Yuta and daughters can attest,
I'll respond to the magic factor of the moment.
Guillermo Cides: - What
has surprised you most about the course of your own career
and that of other Stick players?
Emmett Chapman: - The best
kept secret - you never reach a plateau on The Stick. On
guitar you finally reach the fingering barrier, at least
in technical facility (this much and no more layering).
Stick is more like piano but with fingers directly on strings,
and you can always layer on another contrapuntal line, a
thumb, something up-hand, down-hand, and added sub-technique.
You never run out of orchestration.
Another secret - you can get very old, or be very out of
practice, or even mess up your hands, and still keep up
your musical momentum on The Stick. What has surprised me
most about the Stick artists whose careers I've followed,
is how they somehow survive and preserve their artistic
priorities no matter what the music world offers them in
return. They manage to find a place for themselves and fulfill
their musical dreams, because as artists they need to do
this. As for my own career, however you'd describe it, I
totally enjoy my work, constantly get carried away with
one intense task after another, and hope at some point soon
to make time for Stick recordings and concerts.
Guillermo Cides: - Why hasn't
an acoustic model of The Stick been developed?
Emmett Chapman: - Bob Culbertson
has one, the "AcouStick" TM, and he and I are
working on a second prototype together with an excellent
classical guitar builder. Between the three of us we have
a contract that covers possible future production. Bob has
played some concerts that include this new acoustic Stick
model, and though it's the same incredible hands of Bob,
it's definitely a different sound, extremely Spanish guitar
- Do you find that The Stick is surrounded by a mystique?
Emmett Chapman:- Yes, but
I don't think it ought to be so. "Mystique" implies
mysteries, a lack of clear communication, and a sort of marginalization
from the mainstream channels. Again, we Stickists are competing
with the "pop culture" that dominates the world.
Natural leaders and innovators are reduced to "cult figures"
and their daily news and history dissolve into "legend".
The Stick dream is very much alive but can't be clearly seen
in public for lack of coverage and "distribution"
(the power word). I feel there should be no myth surrounding
The Stick and its players. I've certainly experienced enough
of that. We need accomplishment and results to put all of
our work into clear view.
Cides: - Looking back, how would you summarize all
these years of work with the Stick?
Chapman: - It's a success defined in its own terms.
The music tells the story, along with the inspiration of a
new means of live human performance. Meanwhile, I still lead
a double life as musician/manufacturer.
Cides: - In my concert tours in various countries I
have met many Stickists. We are all aware that The Stick was
born with Emmett Chapman, and it has been under his constant
care ever since, with much patient and detailed handwork.
One of the repeated questions is, what will be the state of
The Stick in a hundred years when you are no longer here to
- I'm a little suspicious of people who claim to plan generations
ahead, so I don't entertain the thought. I recommend that
we simply fulfill ourselves within the framework of family,
community, and occupation or interest groups, and let the
historical chips fly or fall where they may. Meanwhile, I'm
busy enough planning for the next immediate generation of
Stick builders and players, working out alternative methods,
materials and designs in hopes of establishing Stick production
with a life of its own, less dependent on me, and finally
independent of my efforts.
There's one aspect about The Stick that I feel has the most
potential for a long life, that is, its powerful two-handed
tapping method on electric strings. The Stick (R) fretboard
tapping instrument (FTI) is not just an invention but also
a design, albeit a minimalist one, which I believe best accommodates
what was original about my tapping discovery in 1969 (both
hands perpendicular to the strings approaching the fretboard
from opposite sides). There are other instrumental designs
that accommodate this specific two-handed technique as well
as conventional picking/plucking techniques. Some Stick players
have switched to these brands, including our own NS/Stick
bass guitar (co-designed by Ned Steinberger and myself), but
whenever they're tapping on any of these dual role instruments,
they're playing the equal handed method that I created and
Then there's the infrastructure of Stick instruction, seminars,
lessons, CDs, videos, books, Internet discussion membership
groups, network of Websites, and "Stick Night" concert
events. This "culture" already has a life of its
own, thriving independently of my efforts, though Yuta and
I give our full support to these ongoing activities by way
of regional mailings, announcements posted to our Stick Enterprises
Website (www.stick.com), my posts to Stickwire and Sticknews
E-mail membership lists, and otherwise coordinating events
with Stickist organizers.
We have valuable and talented friends who have blended their
lives in "concert" with ours to create this community
of common musical practice, and we increasingly rely on them
to initiate and organize projects involving Stick players
world wide. Greg Howard comes readily to mind as a friend
who has involved himself multidimensionally over the years
with Stick projects, events and extensive publication to the
benefit of us all.
And to my friend Guillermo, you have my enduring gratitude
for the dedication of your considerable musical and educational
talents to the instrument I designed and manufacture, both
in the cultural dimension (your creation and diligent organization
of "Centro de Stickistas" in Argentina since the
mid '90s and now also in Spain), and in your personal art
(the compositions, arrangements, solo performances, and your
surprisingly broad scope of Stick recordings).
Somehow, it all adds up to a passion consummated and a dream
- Thank you, Emmett Chapman.
My final opinion:
In our Introductory Meetings for no-Stickistas, many musicians
consult me about the advantages of the Stick. I always explain
the following idea: when you are a guitarist -for example
- and you purchase a new and excellent guitar, you acquire
a similar instrument to which you already had but this time
with special characteristics improved.
You have now an excellent instrument but the same idea. When
you acquire a Stick, beyond the excellent physical construction
of the instrument, an idea comes with it, a new road. We could
say that "you also acquire a new identity", a new
way to make music, a code different to any instrument that
you has had previously.
For the musicians that never before had been composers, to
open the case and to meet with that GREAT possibility, is
something to what is not possible to put a price.
When I look behind and I see my years of activities with the
Stick and what I have been able to make with him, I wonder:
How much would you pay for all that?-.
And I respond myself:
You don't have so much money-.From my opinion this is the
great contribution from Emmett to the music: he has offered
to the musicians; among who I include myself ; the possibility
to speak through a new language.
Not only for the development of an instrument, but for the
vision, creation, development, promotion and dedication to
the two-handed tapping technique.
And this language is the thing that should really be important
for us, the musicians - or at least to those, that feel ourselves
in this way. I know that besides Emmett there are many inventors,
musicians and organizations with different proposals. Each
one of them wants to maintain high their truth. I don't know
well which is the intention of many of these people in relation
to the music, but I know what I want: it is simple and directly
to make music with the instruments.
This is what is important, at least for me.
My desire and the Stick Center's desire, is to try to see
the human side of the things.
And in the musicians this is called music.
We need languages and the Stick is one of the possibilities
that the world offers us; and the music that has been made
in the world with the Stick is the great answer to the contribution
It is no longer possible to erase anything of this.
As maybe it also happens to you, it would seem to be heard
" noise " (this is a word that the musicians know)
around the instruments and of their inventors.
Even so I wait and I continue looking for, the music of the
musicians; because the music is one of the answers.
Maybe now, is the time to make it.
See you soon!
Emmett Chapman official Web Page
The Stick Center thanks Emmett Chapmanl's collaboration
for this interview.
©The Stick Center Archives.
Traducción: Melina Von Huneffeld.
The Stick Center