This interview with Emmett Chapman was conducted by Guillermo Cides
in early May of 2002 and originally published on Guillermo's website at
Thursday 2 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:
GUILLERMO 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?
EMMETT 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
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.
GUILLERMO - In that moment of 1969, did you know of anyone else who
tapped on strings? Did somebody else play this technique then?
EMMETT - 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.
GUILLERMO - How does it affect you as inventor of a new musical
instrument that years later thousands of people play your invention?
EMMETT - 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 lives 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.
GUILLERMO - Do you personally feel more like a musician or an inventor?
EMMETT - 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 - Nowadays, Stick Enterprises is a medium small family
company directed by yourself. Why didn't you decide to create a great company
as in the case of most inventions that become popular?
EMMETT - 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 label execs.
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
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 others' hands.
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 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
GUILLERMO - As a luthier of fretboard tapping instruments, do you
feel that the work from your hands somehow continues to belong to you?
EMMETT - 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 own.
GUILLERMO - Should The Stick be more popular than it already is?
Emmett and Yuta Chapman
EMMETT - 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 - We all know the history of the competition. Does it
influence you personally? I refer to your daily work.
EMMETT - 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).
GUILLERMO - What is the source of your confidence in your day to day
EMMETT - 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 - What has surprised you most about the course of your own
career and that of other Stick players?
EMMETT - 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
GUILLERMO - Why hasn't an acoustic model of The Stick been developed?
EMMETT - 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 like.
GUILLERMO - Do you find that The Stick is surrounded by a mystique?
EMMETT- 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.
GUILLERMO - Looking back, how would you summarize all these years of
work with the Stick?
EMMETT - 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.
GUILLERMO - 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 nurture it?
EMMETT - 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 first taught.
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, my posts to Stickwire
and Sticknews E-mail membership lists, and otherwise coordinating events with
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
GUILLERMO - Thank you, Emmett Chapman.
Guillermo to the readers
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
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 of Emmett. 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!
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