(R)evolution of the Species: The Alto Stick™By Jeff Pearce, March 2009
Listen to Jeff play his original compositon "Almost the Moon" on the Alto Stick:
When Greg Howard asked me to write and article about my experience with
my Stickup™ equipped Alto Stick, I found myself thinking "I won't be able
to say anything better than what I read in Sean Malone's article about
the Alto" (see: "Alto is: Citius, Fortius").
There are already some great Alto players out there in the
world, and this is also amazing for an instrument that has not been
around very long at all.
If I were to give the "Cliff Notes" version of this article upfront,
that version would be "the Alto Stick is the most revolutionary Stick
that Emmett has produced". Hopefully, what I write in the following
paragraphs will explain why I have such an opinion.
From first touch, I knew the Alto was a serious instrument. Many Alto
users have commented that the Alto is NOT a "toy" or a "starter model".
That's DEFINITELY true. I think of it in much the same way as a parlor
guitar — it may be physically "smaller" than a full-sized acoustic
guitar, but it has a sound all its own — a sound you're not going to
find on a full-sized acoustic guitar.
Like a full-sized Stick, the Alto is set up perfectly by Emmett and
crew, for the lowest possible action. One thing I was prepared for was
to have to tap a little extra harder — after all, the Alto is a smaller
scale instrument than a full sized Stick, therefore, extra tapping
strength would be needed — right? Well that was a non-issue; I made no
adjustment in my tapping strength, and everything sounded great.
Where I knew I would have to make an adjustment would be in fret
spacing — the Alto being a shorter scale instrument means there's a
smaller distance between frets. This took me about ten minutes to get
adjusted to, and then my hands felt every bit "at home" as they do on a
full sized Stick.
But the amazing part, and the revolutionary part, came when I started
stretching my hands out to cover more range.
I have a "decent" stretch in both hands; years of classical guitar has
kept at least my left hand nice and limber. My right hand does "ok" on
a standard Stick. I have a good and safe four-fret stretch. But on the
Alto, what feels like a four-fret stretch with the right hand on a
standard Stick quickly becomes a five-fret "no stretch required"
experience. This has given me some new compositional tools to approach
my music with.
One of the most stunning aspects of the Alto, and another compositional
tool, is the overlap. Now, the regular Stick has a lot of overlap, so
Stick players are used to that. On the Alto, though, the areas of
overlap are shifted up quite a bit in pitch, moving from a middle range
of notes on a full Sized Stick to an upper range of notes. And I have
to say it's almost intoxicating to play some standard "Stick shapes"
with both hands, and hear these cascades of higher notes literally
bouncing off of each other.
And this aspect of the Alto has led me to believe that it may be the
ultimate "duet" instrument. I've played duets with other musicians, and
the full sized Stick is great. However, playing a duet with a cello
player, for example, can cause a whole lot of sound in the mid to lower
mid-range if the players aren't careful. I cannot WAIT to try the Alto
out with a cello player. But I can hear it working well with a violin
or an oboe, as well.
Being that the Stick is an electric instrument, the pick-up becomes the
"exit point" for the music to get out into the world, and my Alto has a
Stickup on it. After years of playing a full sized Stick with the
(wonderful) ACTV-2 Block, I have to say that I was completely floored by
how great the Stickup sounds, and I REALLY wish that my first Stick
experience was on a Stick with a Stickup; I probably wouldn't have used
any other pickup after that.
Although the Stickup may TECHNICALLY be a humbucker (there's certainly
no hum or buzzing), it's almost a disservice to call it a humbucker,
mostly because humbuckers historically have a "rounder" tone with FAR
less high end. I'd almost say that the Stickup has a slight guitar-ish
response like a humbucker, but with the high end "sparkle" of a piezo,
along with "something else". And like all things that are works of art,
that "ten percent of something else" is what makes it unique and "it's
own thing". Greg Howard once wrote to me that he thought the Stickup
had a wonderfully "3-D" sound to it. I thought at the time "yeah, that's
a cute thing to say, but reality is usually another thing". Well, it
DOES have an incredible "3-D" sound, and it captures the higher notes of
the Alto perfectly!
Maybe with all the focus we Stick players give Emmett for creating such
a great instrument (and the Stick IS great!), we may have dropped the
ball a bit in NOT praising him more for what he's done in creating the
Stickup. To make a passive pickup that sounds not only dead quiet, but
has a luscious high end — THAT is an achievement to me. And it makes me
REALLY happy that my bamboo (full sized) Stick I have on order has a
I've played musical instruments long enough to know that the danger of
picking up a new instrument is mistaking "newness" for "true love"; it's
best to spend time with an instrument before declaring "this is the
one!". But as I wrote to Greg Howard recently, "I think this may be
true love!". Older songs of mine, written on the Stick, suddenly sound
so delicate on an Alto. Not everything will translate, and the lack of
REALLY low notes on the bass side may take away some of that "punch"
that's so present on a full sized Stick. But what you lose in the lower
range, you get back (and then some) in the higher ranges. I know I'm
looking forward to continued explorations on the Alto.
Jeff Pearce is an award-winning Stickist and ambient guitarist based in Indiana. To find out more about his performances and recordings visit his Website at: www.jeffpearcemusic.com/
For more infotmation about the Alto Stick see: www.stick.com/instruments/alto/
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