guitars and sticks

I had my first guitar lesson in the fall of 1981. I had just transferred out of Catholic school into our public school system, when I entered 7th grade. That jump — from parochial school with a small number and wide variety of students to the huge, intimidating Junior High School building with hundreds of students within a year of my age — was one of the most significant developments of my life for many reasons, not the least of which was that I was first exposed to guitar instruction in the standard music classes there.

I remember the first time we played guitar. The first thing we were shown was a simple, three-string, one finger voicing for an open C and G7 chord. While other students were struggling to finger the notes, it was almost effortless for me. I clearly had a natural aptitude for the instrument, and since then it has been a lifelong love for me.

I went on to play electric guitar, and explored a wide variety of techniques and sounds, mostly through modifying the sound electronically. I eventually acquired a state of the art guitar amplification rig, that I have since traded in on other gear. Finally, several years ago, I switched to being a primarily acoustic guitarist, where I have stayed comfortably since Freakwitch got started.

I don’t want to say that I’ve gotten bored with guitar. That’s not really right. But I don’t really feel challenged in the way that I used to. Really, for me, it’s a matter of spending enough time with the instrument to regain/maintain my “chops,” my ability to physically execute the maneuvers that I need to do to get the sounds in my head. But I haven’t really felt as if I’ve been pushing myself in new directions for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I still love playing guitar, I just feel as if I’m in somewhat of a rut in terms of pushing myself.

I’ve suspected for a long time that a new instrument might challenge me again in the way I’ve been missing. For a long time I thought it might be keyboards/synthesizers. I’ve had a few keyboards over the years, and they are fun to play, especially nowadays with all the software synthesizers available. And musically speaking, with my “producer hat” on, I see these more as ways to fill out the sound of recordings, rather than as a primary instrument for me.

But finally, I have heard the call of a new instrument, a call I haven’t heard in a very long time.

The instrument is somewhat obscure to the mainstream audience, but somewhat legendary in progressive rock circles: it is the Chapman Stick. It’s hard to describe in a way: it is a stringed instrument in the guitar family, but the base model has 10 strings (something like the 4 strings of the bass with the 6 strings of the guitar), oriented slightly differently to allow 2-handed tapping directly on the fingerboard.

Consider me officially intrigued. Anyone wanna spend $2000 to get me one of these?

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