Chapman Stick: What Is It And How Was It Invented?

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  May 24, 2022

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The Chapman Stick is a revolutionary musical instrument that’s been around since the 1970s. It’s a stringed instrument, similar to a guitar or a bass, but with more strings and a more adaptable tuning system. Its invention has been credited to Emmett Chapman, who wanted to create an instrument that could bridge the gap between the guitar and bass and create a new, more expressive sound.

In this article, we will explore the history of the Chapman Stick and how it has evolved since its invention.

History of the Chapman Stick

The Chapman Stick is an electric musical instrument that was invented by Emmett Chapman in the late 1960s. He has developed a new way to play the guitar, whereby notes are tapped and pressure is applied to different lengths of strings, creating chords of various sounds.

The instrument’s design features fourteen individually moveable metal M-rods coupled together at one end. Each rod contains from six to twelve strings which are tuned in a variety of tunings, often open G or E. The frets on the neck of the instrument allow for each string to be fretted individually and simultaneously. This gives players control over multiple levels of expression and complexity when playing.

The Chapman Stick hit the international market in 1974 and quickly became a favorite amongst professional musicians, due to its range of sound potential as well as its portability. It can be heard on recordings by Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, Fishbone, Primus, Steve Vai, James Hetfield (Metallica), Adrian Belew (King Crimson), Danny Carey (Tool), Trey Gunn (King Crimson), Joe Satriani, Warren Cuccurullo (Frank Zappa/Duran Duran), Vernon Reid (Living Colour) and others.

Emmett Chapman’s influence has reached far beyond just his invention of the Chapman Stick—he was also one of first people ever to introduce tapping techniques in rock music with Steve Howe—and continues to be revered as an innovator both inside and outside the music industry today.

How the Chapman Stick is Played

The Chapman Stick is an electric musical instrument invented by Emmett Chapman in the early 1970s. It is essentially an elongated fretboard with 8 or 10 (or 12) strings laid parallel to each other, similar to a piano keyboard. The strings are generally divided into two groups, one for bass notes and the other for treble notes.

The stick is usually laid flat and is typically suspended by a stand or held in a playing position by the musician.

The strings are “fretted” (pressed down) with both hands at once, unlike guitars which require one hand for frets and the other for strumming or picking. To play a chord, both hands move simultaneously from different starting points on the instrument up or down to form a series of notes that comprise a chord when adjusted correctly. Since both hands move away from one another at different rates, chords can be formed in any key without retuning the instrument – making it easier to transition between songs compared to guitar or bass guitar.

Playing techniques vary greatly depending on playing style and what kind of sounds you wish to achieve; however, many players make use of four-note chords known as “tapping” or use their fingertips while others will pluck individual strings like on a guitar. Additionally, there are also tapping techniques used which involve picking out melodies using only fretting hand as well as hammer-on/pull-off techniques similar to those used in violin playing where multiple fingers can press on note buttons at once in order to create complicated harmonies with ease.

Benefits of the Chapman Stick

The Chapman Stick is a bow-like stringed instrument used in both modern and classical music genres. It has a wide range of sonic possibilities that range from a striking effect to a gentle reverberation. The Chapman Stick is a versatile instrument that can be used as either a solo or a rhythm accompaniment.

Let’s dive deeper into the advantages of the Chapman Stick and how it can be advantageous for your musical productions:


The Chapman Stick is an instrument that utilizes the tapping technique on both its neck and fretboard. This versatile instrument can sound like a synthesizer, bass guitar, piano, or percussion all at once; providing a unique and complex sound for any musician. Its versatile tone allows it to be used in any genre of music from folk to jazz and classical.

Because it allows for a simultaneous playing of melody on one side with harmony or rhythm on the other side, the Chapman stick can be used by both soloists as well as small ensembles. It can be used in both acoustic or electric settings, allowing for a wide array of musical possibilities depending on individual preferences. Furthermore, the Chapman Stick is designed with tensioned strings which offers improved tonality while allowing greater playing speeds than regular guitars.

As an alternative to traditional string instruments like guitars and banjos, the Chapman Stick offers players an interesting native sound that provides more options in composition and performance. Additionally, due its versatility it may be easier to learn than more complex instruments such as keyboards or organ synthesisers as well as having less strings than conventional string instruments enabling players to easily switch between rhythmic grooves and melodic lines while still staying in time with other musicians they play with. The Chapman Stick’s separate output jacks allow each side of its neck to be amplified independently making it ideal for composers wanting two distinct sounds originating from one instrument.

Tone and Dynamics

The Chapman Stick is an incredibly powerful and versatile musical instrument, allowing a player to create notes, chords and melodies with the same instrument. With the use of an onboard pick-up and stroke sensing technology, the Stick’s player can accurately control both the string pressure (tone) as well as its dynamics. This allows for a much wider range of expression than is available on a guitar or bass; from sounds similar to those of an electric organ to subtle dynamic changes that would be difficult to obtain with other instruments. It also provides an excellent platform for improvisation; allowing for exploration of a much broader tonal palette. The numerous possibilities of sound production allow the Chapman Stick to fit in various genres including:

  • Rock
  • Jazz fusion
  • Metal
  • Blues

Its original design was meant more as a background instrument but has been adapted over time into more featured roles in any number of styles by many innovative composers and artists.


The Chapman Stick is particularly beneficial for players of all levels as it accommodates different playing styles and techniques. Unlike traditional guitar playing, the instrument has a symmetrical design with two outs that enable versatile use of both hands. As such, left and right-hand players achieve equal control when strumming, tapping, or plucking. This allows players of all skill levels to create melodic sounds by manipulating their hands independently. Furthermore, this configuration eliminates the awkwardness encountered while trying to learn intricate finger placement seen in more complicated instruments such as the piano and drums.

The instrument can also be tuned easily depending on user preference; hence, allowing beginners to gradually understand music notes – a task often daunting for someone starting out with a traditional stringed instrument. Additionally, the Chapman Stick also makes it easier for musicians to switch between different songs or compositions without having to invest time in tuning between each performance.

Finally, apart from its ergonomic characteristics benefiting Spanish Guitarists and other professional instrumentalists by providing an efficient solution for playing complex compositions without compromising speed or accuracy; these features make the Chapman Stick relatively accessible for learner users looking to experiment various musical genres and styles from the comfort of their homes!

Famous Chapman Stick Players

The Chapman Stick is an electric musical instrument invented by Emmett Chapman in the early 1970s. Since then, the Chapman Stick has been used by many famous musicians, as well as experimental musicians, to explore new sounds and genres. Some famous Chapman Stick players include jazz legend Stanley Jordan, progressive rock guitarist Tony Levin, and folk singer/songwriter David Lindley.

Let’s take a look at some of the notable Chapman Stick players in music history:

Tony Levin

Tony Levin is an American multi-instrumentalist and a renowned Chapman Stick player. He originally joined Peter Gabriel’s band in 1977, and remained with the band for more than 25 years. Later, he formed the progressive rock supergroup Liquid Tension Experiment (LTE) in 1997 with Jordan Rudess, Marco Sfogli and Mike Portnoy which was highly successful in the progressive rock scene.

Levin has backed artists like Paul Simon, John Lennon, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Yoko Ono, Kate Bush and Lou Reed throughout his career. Playing with different genres from progressive to funk rock to jazz fusion and even symphonic metal have allowed Levin to showcase his outstanding skill as both a bassist and Chapman Stick player. He has incorporated various techniques such as tapping or slapping on the 12-string electric stringed instrument. This has given him a unique sound that sets him apart from other stick players around the world. Levin’s music is a mix of intricate songs with interesting arrangements which truly justify his award of “Outstanding Progressive Rock Bassist” by Bass Player Magazine in 2000.

You can find some of Tony Levin’s work on albums like Peter Gabriels ‘III To IV’ and ‘So’ or Liquid Tensions Experiments ‘Liquid Tension Experiment 2’. Tony Levin is also famous for performing live interactive sets from home where fans can watch all instruments being played simultaneously over video streaming services like YouTube or Facebook Live.

Emmett Chapman

Emmett Chapman, the inventor of the instrument, is a pioneering Chapman Stick player who has been playing and tweaking the instrument since its invention almost 50 years ago. His work has explored many genres and techniques in multiple arrangements. As a result, he has been seen as an extremely influential guitarist in the field of both jazz improvisation and pop-rock music. Furthermore, he is credited with creating fully polyphonic arrangements on guitar-like instruments, making him even more legendary.

Chapman is certainly one of the most recognizable names associated with this unusual instrument. He has also founder of Stick Enterprises and co-authored “The Electric Stick” book with his wife Margaret along with authoring other instructional materials related to The Chapman Stick® . He and his wife are considered innovators in musical instruction for their unique approach to teaching music theory.

Though he may not be the only name associated with this type of invention, Emmett Chapman’s influence on Chapman Stick players all over the world cannot be understated or minimized.

Michael Hedges

Michael Hedges is a well-known artist and Chapman Stick player who used this unique instrument to create a signature sound. Born in 1954, Hedges was classically trained on the violin and began experimenting with a ten-string Chapman Stick in 1977. Over time, he developed his own musical style that blended elements of jazz, rock and flamenco with synthesizer effects pedaling. His work was described as “acoustic virtuosity.”

Hedges released his first solo album on Windham Hill records in 1981, Aerial Boundaries. The album spawned several popular songs including “Arial Boundaries,” for which he won a Grammy Award for Best New Age Album at the 28th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony. This award cemented Hedges’s reputation as one of the most important figures in twentieth-century music playing the Chapman Stick. He continued to release critically acclaimed albums throughout the 1980s before his untimely death in 1997 at the age of 43 due to auto accident in Marin County, California. His last studio album, Torched was released posthumously by Windham Hill to commemorate his achievements on the instrument over twenty years of recording and performing.

The success of Michael Hedges during his life made him an icon among players of Chapman Sticks around the world, inspiring many other musicians to take up playing this unique instrument and pay homage to his legacy through their own music. Today, he is remembered as one of the pioneers in exploiting the possibilities offered by playing this special electric-acoustic hybrid into what can only be described as another dimension – unlocking surreal new sonic landscapes that no other instrument has managed to reach until now!

How to Get Started with the Chapman Stick

The Chapman Stick is a unique and versatile instrument that was invented in the early 1970s. It takes the concept of guitar-like frets and applies them to a long, thin neck, resulting in a tap instrument that has a wide range of sounds and styles.

For those with an interest in exploring the sound of this instrument, there are a few things you should consider before getting started. Let’s take a closer look:

Choosing the Right Instrument

The Chapman Stick is a modern instrument with a variety of tonal options and playing techniques, making it suitable for many genres of music. When deciding which to buy, the most important factor to consider is the tuning. There are two standard tunings available: Standard EADG (most common) and CGCFAD (or “C-tuning” – best for classical music).

The C-tuning options provide for a wider range of tonal possibilities, but will require you to purchase an alternate set of strings as well as learn new techniques.

In addition to the tunings there are several other factors to consider when choosing an instrument:

  • the number of strings (8–12)
  • the scale length (distance between nut and bridge)
  • construction materials such as mahogany or walnut
  • width/thickness of neck, etc.

Your choice will depend on your budget and musical goals. If you’re unsure which one is right for you, be sure to ask questions at your local guitar shop or find a knowledgeable Stick player who can help point you in the right direction.

Finally, be sure to ask around at local jams or gigs if anyone has experience with the Chapman Stick. Chances are there’s someone willing to give helpful advice or perhaps even let you take it for a try! When selecting an instrument make sure it is in proper working condition and check the string height, intonation and setup before committing to a purchase.

Learning the Basics

As with any instrument, learning the basics is an important first step to becoming a competent player. It is important to keep the basics simple and focus on playing notes in good timing.

It is generally easier to learn a piece of music on Chapman Stick by breaking it down into smaller segments and learning them one at a time, rather than trying to learn the whole piece right away.

Chapman Stick replicates many aspects of guitar playing such as chords, arpeggios and scales but it uses twice as many strings instead of six like guitars. To create different sounds, players can utilize different picking techniques such as tapping, strumming and sweep picking – where all or several strings are strummed at once in either direction while playing a melody or pedal tone (holding one fret with one hand while changing fingers on the other with certain rhythms).

Another technique often used is hammer-ons – where two notes played by two separate hands are overlapped such that letting go of one finger does not affect the continued sound of both notes. Two other techniques often used are slides (where two tones are played at different frets but moved between them) and bends (in which a note has its tone raised or lowered by pressing more firmly). Additionally, Hammered Dulcimer players use dampening techniques which involve temporarily muting strings to create clearer attack points when needed in chordal patterns.

After becoming familiar with these basic techniques, musicians can work on practicing specific patterns and skills that require executing multiple parts at once as well as developing chops through improvisational exercises. With regular practice and perseverance anyone can become proficient in playing Chapman Stick!

Finding Resources and Support

Once you’ve decided to take on the challenge of learning the Chapman Stick, finding resources and support is key to success. Most experienced Stick players not only have personalized programs and personal advice, but can also provide helpful group or online forums and online lessons for beginners.

For Stick players, there are a variety of forums available all over the internet, including but not limited to:

  • ChapmanStick.Net Forum (
  • One Stick One World (OSOW) Forum (
  • TheStickists Forum (
  • The Tapping Association (TTA) Forum (

Additionally, many experienced Chapman Stick players offer one-on-one instruction—whether in person or through Skype—which is an excellent way to learn more about the instrument in order to develop your skills. You can find top professors on websites like TakeLessons or explore YouTube for video tutorials and instructional content from experienced Chapman Stick players around the world. The right resources and support can help you quickly become comfortable with your instrument—so don’t be afraid to reach out!


The Chapman Stick has become a unique instrument that is used in many genres of music today. It has revolutionized the way musicians create and perform music, by allowing them to access multiple sounds and expressions simultaneously. The Chapman Stick also offers musicians a unique musical experience, as it allows them to explore different soundscapes, tones and textures.

In conclusion, the Chapman Stick is an invaluable tool for today’s modern musician.

Summary of the Chapman Stick

The Chapman Stick is a musical instrument with ten or twelve strings, which are usually made in sets of two and four courses. It is played by tapping on the strings with God sticks that have the player’s right-hand movement. The Chapman Stick has a wide variety of sounds that it produces, ranging from piano-like recordings to bass tones and lots more.

The history of the Chapman Stick begins in the early 1970s when Emmett Chapman invented it. Not wanting to limit himself to only guitar playing, he experimented by pairing two sets of four strings together which allowed him to play several notes at once. He drastically changed how people played stringed instruments and took excellence in technique to yet another level which became known as “tapping” – the technique used for playing the Chapman Stick. Its popularity increased due to various genres including rock, pop and contemporary music giving artists opportunities for experimentation and creativity.

When compared to other guitar models, there isn’t much maintenance required when caring for a Chapman Stick as its versatility makes it virtually bass immune to deterioration caused by weather or usage conditions. Furthermore, while forming chords on any guitar can be complex as one has to remember fingerings; this is alleviated with a Chapman Stick where all you have to do is memorize tuning sequences rather than memorizing fingerings through training so its appeal reaches even greater heights among newbies.

Overall, hearing a player strumming out tunes on a Chapman stick brings liveliness shown in modern electric music today thanks not just for its creative construct but also for being an easily accessible instrument suitable for any ability level that delivers great sounds regardless of genre or scale complexity.

Final Thoughts

The Chapman Stick has come a long way since its invention in the early 1970s. It is no longer a fringe instrument, and has become widely accepted and respected by musicians from all genres. Its unique design allows it to be played both with plucking as well as tapping techniques, and its two-handed approach significantly opens up the possibilities for new musical ideas.

The Chapman Stick is also an ideal instrument for record producers and solo performers who need to fill out their sound without having to hire extra musicians or use extensive overdubbing.

It should be noted that the Chapman Stick is not designed to replace any other instruments, but rather to offer another option of expression and texture in music production. With so much potential still barely tapped into, it will be interesting to see what new music emerges from this versatile creation over the next few decades!

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

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