Pick-up Sticks.

10-string Grand Stick, Graf von Faber-Castell desk pencil and extender, G. Henle Verlag Skizzenbuch.
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5 Responses to Pick-up Sticks.

  1. Nice juxtaposition. Can you tell me what’s up with the sixth and seventh strings, Sean? Does the winding change above the nut?


    • Sean says:

      My two favorite sticks to pick up. 🙂

      I’ll try to give you a run-down of the strings/tuning:
      1. Looking at the photo, the 5 strings starting on the right are considered the bass strings, and they are tuned in descending 5ths.
      2. Continuing from the right, the last 5 strings are considered the treble strings (or the “melody” strings), and they ascend in 4ths.
      3. This tuning scheme might sound strange, but it is rather logical: imagine playing the note “C” in the bass and a C-triad in the melody strings. Next, move everything one string to the right–the bass ascends a 5th to “G” and the chord descends a 4th, also to “G”; the instrument is very geometrical in that sense.
      4. The strings are wound from the inside-out, except for the two outer strings (for reasons of space), but those tuners are reversed, which means everything turns the same way on each side.

      This is a 10-string model, but there also 8- and 12-string models. There are also many different tunings that take advantage of certain registers. I’ve always preferred “standard” tuning, which has a range similar to that of a piano.

      This is a picture that shows how the instrument is basically held and played:

      The left hand generally plays the bass side and the right hand plays the other, though you can un-cross them as much as you’d like.


  2. Sean says:

    Here is what the tuning system looks like from the back (not the same Stick):


  3. Kenneth Goodenough says:

    Sean, do you ever run into trouble with crosshanded playing when playing classical transcriptions with this tuning? I ask this since I still haven’t decided which tuning I will get when I buy one.


    • Sean says:

      It depends on the piece, I think. As appealing as it might seem, you’re just not going to be able to play much of the keyboard literature on this instrument, but pieces for other solo instruments can be transcribed for The Stick. Part of the challenge with the bass in 5ths is that linear parts (e.g. walking bass, scalar passages) are difficult, plus there are no open strings to use (as you would on guitar or bass). You could experiment with different tunings, but I’ve always favored using standard tuning and discovering what I could make of it. Paraphrasing and borrowing from Schönberg (who quipped that there is much yet to be written in C) I’d say that for The Stick, there’s much yet to be played in standard tuning.

      I’ve noticed that some Stick players seem to revel in endless experiments with tuning systems, but never seem to come up with any repertoire; just tuning systems. In the end I think that whichever tuning you choose you should stay with it for an extended length of time, rather than going back and forth. Standard tuning was Emmett’s original system, and for me, the most flexible.


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