Matt Potter 4:30 p.m., Dec. 6
RIYL: King Crimson, Tony Levin, Peter Gabriel, the California Guitar Trio, Genesis, GTR, Adrian Belew, the Yellowjackets
Breaking NewsThe Chapman Stick player just released a new prog-rock wagon train western with Bert Lams of the California Guitar Trio, Unnamed Lands, which he tells the Reader is “My most ambitious project yet...it's a concept record, complete with twelve-page booklet.”
Upcoming Local Shows
- "The Stick: When Six Strings Aren't Enough" · March 8, 2012
- "Stuck on a Stick" · Dec. 28, 2006
Inception: Encinitas, 1998
Influences: Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Pat Metheney, Eric Johnson, the Beatles, Emmett Chapman, Greg Howard, Genesis, Pink Floyd
Tom Griesgraber says he started out on piano as a child and switched to guitar as a teen. He was good enough to be accepted into the program at Berklee College in Boston. After graduation he came home to San Diego with a case of what he describes as post-grad Berklee guitar burnout.
"I felt like I wanted to do something different." Then: "I saw Tony Levin playing a Stick at the 1997 NAMM trade show in Anaheim, and I bought one that year," says Tom Griesgraber. The 12-stringed Stick (popularized by Levin during stints with King Crimson and Peter Gabriel) is played by tapping the strings like piano keys, with bass strings tuned in ascending fifths and melody strings in descending fourths, providing a wide tonal range of sounds.
"It sounds something like electric guitar, electric bass, piano, and synths -- all thrown into a blender," says Griesgraber. "When I started, there was nobody teaching it, really, so I bought the only two books in existence for it. The Stick itself gets amazing reactions. I used to draw small crowds in Guitar Center just by playing a few notes to test amps for it, and I've sold CDs just by pulling it out of the case and not playing a note."
It's amazing, the depth of the sounds Griesgraber makes on the Stick. And he does a lot of that stuff all at once rather than multi-tracking - watching him play is the same kind of jaw-dropper as the first time you see Stanley Jordan or Jimi Hendrix play, using fingers like a little orchestra. Many people actually like Griesgraber's Stick music better than Levin's. Though Levin has breathtaking chops, he's still grounded in basslines and guitar technique, while Griesgraber goes at it more like a pianist
Of course, you don't go to a neighborhood Guitar Center to buy a new Stick. Unless purchased used through collectors, all Sticks still come from the workshop of their inventor, a musician named Emmett Chapman.
"It's still a little family business in Woodland Hills," Griesgraber says. "They started the company in 1974." To date, he thinks they've produced around 6,000 of the instruments. "The big corporate expansion was when they added a second garage a while ago." Chapman's daughter helps run the business and his wife still answers the phone."
Griesgraber says a 10-string model is the least expensive option, retailing for around $2,000. It may seem like a lot of coin, "But," he says, "they actually go up in value." How many Sticks does Griesgraber own?
"Right this second? I own five." He has models that range upward to 12 strings, and one in which eight of the strings are tuned like a bass guitar.
He's highly influenced by King Crimson. Asked his favorite lineup of that band, he says "The double trio: Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, Bill Bruford, Pat Mastelotto, and Trey Gunn. Just so many great musical personalities, and they're all such good players that they make the over-the-top instrumentation actually work. It was actually the first lineup I saw, on video, and it's the one that pulled me into the band in general. Plus, they have two Stick players."
Now considered one the best Stick players in the U.S. (behind Tony Levin), Griesgraber says, ironically, "I can't drive stick shift. Quite the issue while touring Europe."
Typically performing over 125 shows a year, Griesgraber has toured throughout the United States and Europe with artists like Bert Lams, Agent 22, the California Guitar Trio and Jerry Marotta. He has also performed several times for the Grammys and has opened shows for a who's who list of rock and jazz groups like Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel), Stanley Jordan, Paula Cole, Andy Summers (The Police), Tim Reynolds (Dave Matthews' Band), Steve Hackett (Genesis), Tower of Power, Al Dimeola, Adrian Belew (King Crimson), and Tuck and Patti.