How do you like your instruments set up?
The Sticks need to have really low action by default to enable tapping. Three of them are in standard tuning - E A D G C F# B E A D - with light gauge strings. I don't feel comfortable with medium or heavy gauges. My main laquered Stick has an active EMG pickup called the ACTV-2, while the Grand Stick is equipped with a standard pickup. After years of active sound, I needed to go back to a passive pickup for the typical stick sound - it sounds amazing on the lower strings. For the XBL, I am going to try tuning the melody side lower than the standard tuning and try different gauges. For the fretless Stick, I use a fourth tuning on the bass side, while the melody side is standard. Fortunately these tunings manage to stay in the range of a light gauge. Dedicated Stick strings sets are made by D'Addario and distributed by Emmett, and can be arranged in several kinds of tunings.
For the Yamaha bass I use a roundwound 40-95 R. Cocco strings with very low action, but for the Arlequine fretless I use an Elixir set with a big 130 as the B. I may bring the Arlequine back to standard tuning and have Makassar make a new five-string fretless bass, so I will have a low B and high G on one instrument. My fretted bass has 45-105 gauge R. Cocco strings and custom pickups from Mama. The Telemaco has low action as well as thin strings. I don't tap or hammer on these instruments - I prefer picking on bass and guitar.
Can you share a moment from your career that has stuck with you?
I'll always remember some magical moments that can only happen during rehearsal. Once I was rehearsing with a fellow Stick player, Roberto Fiorucci, and our drummer, and we just started to play some chords with a volume pedal. One by one we magically started to follow each other into a perfect interplay that seemed eternal. I have a recording of the session that I keep. It was all improvised, but I've tried to record it again doing all the parts myself. I played both Stick parts, but I got stuck on the drums - I'll have to find another drummer who can play it.
What about your downtime - do you also play music at home?
It depends. I have my music room, and it happens that sometimes I pass most of the day inside there, just playing and recording. Sometimes I don't even touch an instrument unless I have to rehearse for a gig. I have a very strange relation with music. I listen to music depending on my mood and it has to be in certain intimate moments. It's difficult to explain!
Unfortunately, the number of Chapman Sticks out in the wild is small, so the ability to check one out in person remains a long shot. In this case, YouTube is your friend, showcasing some amazing Stick work by such luminaries as Nick Beggs - former Kajagoogoo bassist and current Bass Guitar Magazine scribe - and Emmett Chapman himself.
As far as recorded works, Greg Howard contributed Stick to the Dave Matthews Band's Before These Crowded Streets album, and Tony Levin spews Stick all over King Crimson's early eighties output. Any of the three albums from this time period - Discipline, Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair - deliver amazing Stick rhythms and textures, as well as display the incredible interplay between Levin's Stick machinations and Belew and Fripp's idiosyncratic guitar work.
If none of the above sounds appealing, check out the Blue Man Group the next time they're in town - they've been known to rely on the Stick for a portion of their act.
XBL Stick prototype
Fretless custom bass
by luthier Makassar
Fretless Yamaha BB350
Tele-style electric guitar
SR Technolgy Jam 150 Plus
with SUB180 Live added
Korg Pandora PX3
VOVOX directional cords for mono jack
Planet Waves stereo to dual mono cables
Elixir Strings (65-130) for Makassar custom fretless bass
Custom string set by R. Cocco (40-95) for
Ernie Ball strings for the Makassar Telemaco