Stickin' It to the Man
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What gear do you typically use?
Well, we've talked about amps. When it comes to effects, I hate big racks. I am well-known in Chapman Stick circles for my "Virna Sound," and it comes from a simple, small Korg Pandora PX3, designed for guitar. In the beginning I used to have a flanger, an overdrive, a reverb, a loop delay, and all of those little pedals from companies like Boss. When I got the Roland Jazz Chorus, I had all of my effects in the amp so I stopped using the pedals. I later upgraded to a Zoom 9000, which I used for ages. I use the Stick as a whole instrument more than splitting the sides, so a mono input with stereo output was perfect.
In 2000, I met [British pop musician] Nick Beggs at a seminar and he showed me the little blue box from Korg. I've tried the PX4 for bass and guitar, but the PX3 for guitar is the one that gave me my sound for five years. Now I've switched to a Boss GT-6B multi-effect pedal so I can change the sound whenever I need to during a song. I am also getting used to DigiTech's JamMan loop station, which is helpful sometimes for solo playing. In the past year, I've introduced vocals to my performance, so I use a Proel wireless system.
How many instruments and amps do you have?
I have two old ironwood ten-string Sticks, a "middle-age" oak half-fretless Stick (only fretless on the bass side) with a Stickup, and my main Stick, a 34" laquered rosewood model with an active EMG pickup. I also have one of five prototypes of the XBL [Extended BassLab], which is a resin Stick produced by a German bass luthier named Heiko Hoepfinger. He's a real genius who makes his instruments like a monocoque, hollow inside with any color you can imagine and unique designs. He received a license from Emmett to make the Stick with this material, which will hopefully be in production soon. I've had one of the prototypes since 2004; it sounds great and is very comfortable to play.
Last year I bought a used rosewood Grand Stick 7+5, which has seven melody strings and five bass strings. I've always wanted to try one of these models because the twelve strings have all the range of a ten string, plus the extra two low strings on the melody side. I composed a song on this Grand that should be on an upcoming CD I am recording with Red Magma.
I also have a black Yamaha BB350 fretless bass that I've had for ages and it still sounds great. I have a custom fretless bass that an Italian luthier named Makassar built for me. I liked his style and needed a fretless bass with a neck fit for my hands that was tuned for groovy riffs, so I asked for a bolt-on neck and four strings tuned BEAD, with a 34 1/2" scale and no high G for melodies. The Yamaha has the classic EADG tuning with a rosewood fretboard, alder body and maple neck, so the two sound very different. I like to call the Makassar bass "Arlequine," as it has so many different woods; spalted maple for the top, Italian alder for the body, a dark green Italian wood for the fretboard and maple and padauk for the neck. It's a real beauty and the sound comes out deep and thick, depending on what pickup you use. I am also waiting on a fretted bass ordered from Makassar. It will be in standard tuning with an ebony top, mahogany body, maple thru-body neck and reddish cocobolo for the fretboard.
I also have a guitar that's similar to a Telecaster, from the same luthier, which he calls the Telemaco model. It's similar in shape to the Telecaster but has a totally non-electric sound - I must confess, I don't love electric guitars. It sounds warm and the maple neck fits perfectly in my hand. I bought some instruments because I missed the ones I played before I started the Stick - this guitar was the last of those. Now I use them all; on my second CD, Different Things, I played one track using only this guitar.
Finally, I have a beautiful acoustic guitar handmade by Jacaranda, a luthier from Milan. The wood is traditional wood for a classical guitar, and it has RMC piezo pickups for each string. The guitar was designed for the guitar player Gabor Lesko. It has a wonderful rose with the Buddhist lotus design, as requested by Lesko, who is a Buddhist. The rose is positioned on the side of the top shoulder of the instrument, rather than in the center of the top. I got this Lotus guitar in time to use it on my last duet tour with Irene Orleansky; we toured Italy and Switzerland last November, playing all of our instruments and singing. The Lotus guitar was a pearl of sound during the performances.
Do you consider yourself a collector?
I wouldn't define myself as a collector; I use most of my instruments live and in recordings. I do have love at first sight for certain instruments that I have only recently been able to afford, so they're like a gift to myself. One is a violin that's not really worth anything - I just bought it to study it. The other is a 34-string Celtic harp made of European and American cherry by a luthier friend of mine. He came to visit me and showed me his progress - I liked it so much I bought it. I try to play it a little bit and I would like to take lessons, but I just haven't had the time. So those two instruments are mostly just for display.