Secret Mojo Dumbs It Down for You

October 27, 2006

Boy I’d like to tap that…

Filed under: Music — secretmojo @ 3:55 am

How do you even begin to write about something like this?

I mean, god damn. What’s more is that Erik Mongrain isn’t the end of it. In fact, as I net-splurged on fingertap guitar, I discovered that, while Mongrain has impressive chops, there are far more musicians out there that lend more musicality (as in “graspability”) to their compositions. In other words, when you close your eyes, they’re still impressive.

Michael Hedges, a strong influence of Mongrain, is one of those guys. He was a guitarist stolen from the world in a fatal car crash, and proves in this video (has two songs) that it’s not just technique, but technique applied musically that creates wonder.

Notice how Hedges squeezes the entire dynamic range out of his guitar. Even furious triplets are played delicately, quietly; technique serving the desire of the ear. It may seem like a waste when you listen to it. Why such a rapid-fire lick, just to underlay a mere passage? Something so impressive should jump out front and center and announce its ownership of the world! I SAID “!”! (That’s certainly what works on American Idol).

But this is where true mastery comes in. Hedges is so poised, so skilled, that a movement requiring years of practice from even the most talented to master — and therefore eternally out of reach for mere mortals — is but another trick in his bag, another way to get at music. As I always contend, “there is nothing more astonishing than ease.”

In my short exploration into unconventional guitar, I discovered one fingerstylist (besides Hedges) I could truly say impressed me with my eyes closed. His name is Andy McKee. He’s not as wacky-dextrous as the others (at least he doesn’t show it), but I really like his ear for music. My prediction is that within five years, he’ll be the hot new composer, writing scores for movies using a total of six strings. At least, it’s what I hope for both him and this style of guitar music.

Finally, I must mention a video that literally had me laughing in joy. Similar to Fencer’s juggling links (which still get me to this day), these two demonstrations (top of page) of a funky instrument called “the stick” had me clapping my hands (yes, it’s true) and yelling at my screen: “My god, that is so. fucking. coooooool!”

Greg Howard, the zealous advocate of the Chapman stick who plays in these two videos, is a keyboardist and sax player who found magic in the tapping technique developed by Emmett Chapman (designer of the stick). To be honest, Howard plays stick better than Emmett Chapman himself. Dave Matthews has used him on occasion, and the guy certainly deserves more attention. Check out his solo performances from his album Stick Figures (scroll down).

Sufficed to say, I want me one of those sticks. In a bad way. Looks like a bitch to play, and it’s not acoustic. But God. Damn. It’s the only instrument I know of that retains some of the compositional features of a keyboard while offering things a keyboard lacks (pitch bend, slide, tremolo, timbre experiments, and so on). Oh, the vibrato envy!

I hope the stick catches on. Unfortunately, its $2,600 price tag is prohibitive for such an experimental amplified instrument. I’d expect that kind of price from a keyboard or a violin, because they already have a support system of teachers and players around the globe. But for an instrument that you may just discover is not your bag of tea? No thanks.

It’s still wicked cool, though. Shame about the price.


Okay, I’m probably unfair singling anybody out, because there’s plenty of fingerstyling to be impressed with over at Candy Rat Records, like Erick Turnbull (mp3 sample, site), Antoine Dufour (mp3 sample, site), Don Ross (mp3 sample, site), and a grammy-nominated guy who boldly does it with Bass, Michael Manring (mp3 sample, site). Not to mention all the newgrass artists, chicks like Ani DiFranco (mp3, site) and on, and on, and on…

Here’s a selection of Chapman stick players on YouTube (why all the ambient music, man?)

Michael Hedges kicks ass with All Along the Watchtower

Don Kush, another impressive fingertapping artist, who plays the guitar harp.

In my opinion, a superior composition from Eric Mongrain called The Silent Fool.

Check out more performance videos of the stick from various artists.

Musicians influenced by Michael Hedges (with mp3s).



  1. Wow! Great stuff…

    And wonderful you’re back blogging… I’ve been away travelling on the other side of the Great Chinese Firewall, so I haven’t checked in for awhile.

    And belated congratulations too on the knitting project…


    Comment by fencer — October 27, 2006 @ 5:35 am | Reply

  2. Thanks, fencer. I have been secretly admiring your writing and travel posts from afar. It’d be interesting to know if my (and all blogs are blocked by the Great Firewall. I’d certainly get a satisfied (though unethical) feeling of naughtiness if that were true.

    Comment by secretmojo — October 29, 2006 @ 12:10 pm | Reply

  3. Hello

    Great book. I just want to say what a fantastic thing you are doing! Good luck!


    Comment by tovorinok — July 5, 2007 @ 3:23 am | Reply

  4. You know, the Chapman Stick is not the only two-handed tapping instrument out there. There is the Warr Guitar, the Bunker Touch-Guitar, and the instrument my company makes which is called the Mobius Megatar touch-style bass. Some of our instruments cost half that of the Chapman Stick, and yet the Megatar offers a number of features that are either not available or they’re extra cost on The Stick.

    You can compare Chapman Stick to the Megatar yourself. Our website will be found at www megatar com.

    Comment by Chapman Stick Comparing Traktor — April 11, 2008 @ 7:10 pm | Reply

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