Is It a Piano, a Guitar or a Bass? No… It’s a Tap Guitar. Part #1

For a few years now, a folk tap guitar scene has developped through the world… The recipe is pretty simple, at least to describe because playing like them is another story…

  • A good acoustic guitar well amplified…
  • A pinch of tapping straight from a Van Halen’s album or maybe from a country music guitarist (the first ones to use the touch-style)
  • A few drops of slap from Saint Larry Graham…
  • 10 fingers moving on the fretboard as if they were tiny drum sticks…

It is spectacular and often very good but are we still talking about guitar? I’d say yes without a doubt, though the approach and techniques are going beyond what guitarist’s are used to… A simple acoustic guitar turns out to be played as a guitar, a bass, a piano or even a drumset. Don’t get me wrong… I love that, although sometimes it’s almost too much to stand (Erik Mongrain, Andy McKee, Kaki King, etc…)

But an acoustic or an electric guitar, isn’t that a bit limiting if the touch style guitarist is looking to explore the possibilities? Well, I reckon the guitarists I mentioned before are far from being limited. Luckily, such instruments adapted to the touch style (also known as two handed tapping) do exist. It’s been a few years that I am looking to get one of those even though I wonder if I’ll have enough fingers to be able to play one (or enough money to afford one). Well, here are some of these instruments that I found… Not guitars, nor basses… Not keyboards nor drums… But a little bit of each, at least with regards to the techniques you will have to use.

Stick Chapman

splendore1Of course, just like me, your first thinking is: Chapman Stick. The most famous tap guitar and one of its a famous players: Tony Levin. Emmett Chapman invented the concept of the Stick in 1969, but the first models were commercialized in 1974.
Briefly, a Chapman Stick is a hybrid between a bass and a guitar, the body of which has been reduced to the simplest shape, a stick. It has from 8 to 12 strings depending on the model and it can have different kind of pickups i.e. active or passive, piezzo or midi. The tuning possibilities are diverse (though most of these tunings are in fourths and fifths), because of the number of strings and the scales length varying from 26” ½ to 36”. I guess it’s a huge playground to explore, for sure.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIWz1pcZZt8 [/youtube]

They also made an acoustic version of the Stick… Listen to this nice rendition of Little Wing.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcZ7Deu0V9A[/youtube]

Aeux, I think you could pick it up to complete your top five of Little Wing covers.

For several years, the Chapman Stick was one of a kind… But, now Emmett Chapman has some disciples and competitors who build alternative versions and variations of the Stick. Different ergonomics, different prices range, etc…

Moebius Megatar

moebiusmegatarI discovered the Moebius Megatar via twitter and the talkative and interesting Traktor Toppaz… The Megatar is produced in California, and I think this instrument is interesting even though the Stick inspiration is pretty obvious. Beside the body shape that is totally different, there two other features that retained my attention. First, the Megatar has the Buzz Feiten intonation system that is originally designed to compensate the intonation flaws of a standard guitar. Second, the neck is wider than the Stick’s neck so that there is more space between the strings… That can be helpful. Last, the price is about half the price of the Stick.

Jan Laurenz composed this Song For Sade… Sade his cat not the famous singer…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Za0c8SPj0Q[/youtube]

Koyabu Board

normal_dsc_0279Beside the shape that is very different, the Koyabu Board also have a different tuning system. The strings are symmetrically arranged so that both hands, one the melody side and the bass side, will never interfere. There are 2 versions of the Koyabu Board: a 12 strings version clearly inspired by the Stick and a 6 strings version named Koyabu Guitar that looks like a standard guitar designed for tapping.
Well, It’s not totally true actually, because it seems that recently they made the  Acoyabo which is the acoustic version of the Koyabu Board.

Video presentation of the Acoyabo.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzFCG7JkZws[/youtube]

Warr Guitar

treyfantastic21The Warr Guitar is also very close to the Stick or the Megatar, but the body is not reduced at all. Instead, the body shape is rather similar to a standard guitar or bass shape, most probably to attract guitarists and bassists to this instrument… But also because it should improve the tone of the instrument. I guess that the instrument can be settled horizontally rather than vertically, and this should ease the right hand plucking. Well, if it is easy to pluck a 12 strings guitar (with bass strings on it) which seems easy to Trey Gunn in the second video. Anyway, the purpose of the Warr Guitar is touch style playing.

In the following video, Ricky Wade swings and grooves Ain’t Misbehavin’… And he has to synchronize the bass line, the melody line and the singing… Pretty impressive.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afWZwTFhhXs[/youtube]

Trey Gunn (King Crimson) shows that the Warr Guitar can be used either for clean percussive sounds or distorted sounds (second part of the video)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DiLpG-O6As[/youtube]

That’s all for the first part. Next week I will publish the second part of this touch style instruments review. I will present you several instruments that are looking in other ways to play two handed tapping: The Planck, the Kelstone, the Harpejji and the String Station…

Until then, if any of you has video demos of their tap guitar and want them to be published here… Please contact me.

About Sem

I am the founder of Muzicosphere (that also exists in a French version). In 2011, I also created Guitar Fail, the Guitar LOL place to be. And before that I created GAS a GoGo, a gear giveaways blog in French.

8 comments

  1. Superbe recherche bravoo !! suis devenu fan de cet instrument !!!
    twitté !

  2. A part l’inévitable Tony Levin, j’avais découvert le Chapman stick dans les eighties avec “Big bubble no troubles” de Ellis Beggs & Howard – avec au Chapman stick Mr Nick Beggs, ex … Kajagoogoo ! Je continue à adorer ce morceau: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGdPBcdHlis

  3. @ Jayer: Merci pour le twitt et content que l’article et l’instrument te plaisent… 😀

    @ Doc Loco: Je connaissais pas Ellis Beggs & Howard… Il est sympa ce morceau. J’ai fait une petite recherche sur Nick Beggs et wow il déchire au Chapman Stick… Excellent!!

  4. Super synthèse.
    Comme beaucoup, je ne connaissais que le stick.
    Si le tapping a permit d’enrichir le jeu des gratteux, le total ‘touching’ me laisse toujours admiratif mais aussi perplexe.
    On a d’abord envie de leur dire de se mettre au piano? aux synthés.
    Et puis, surtout, je crains qu’ils n’aient jamais la palette dynamique (et c’est quand même un des atouts) du jeu ‘normal’
    Bon allez Sarssi, vite le seconde partie

  5. Entre admiration et perplexité c’est également le sentiment que j’ai à propos du touch style intégral (un peu comme pour l’épilation… gloups). Par contre ce qui est drôle c’est que l’une des “cibles” favorite de ces instruments ce sont justement les claviéristes à la recherche de possibilités supplémentaires en terme de dynamique… C’est vrai qu’en terme de palette dynamique on doit perdre pas mal de choses liées en particulier aux possibilités de la main droite (gauche pour les gauchers)… En tout cas c’est vraiment un truc qui m’attire pas mal même si je doute atteindre une telle synchronisation…

    Seconde partie coming soon… 😀

  6. Ouch. J’ose même pas dire que je ne connaissais que le stick..et encore, joué par Chapman himself et Tony Levin.

    Belle, interessante et instructive recherche!

  7. Merci François… Si ça peut te rassurer il y a encore 1 ou 2 mois je ne connaissais que le Stick Chapman et le Koyabu Board (pour l’avoir croisé sur les pages de Thomann)…

  8. Since this article was published, the Megatar has changed owners and been redesigned. It’s worth checking out the new megatar website if your into touchstyle or two-handed tapping.

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