Here’s my report on getting an old Stick retrofitted by Emmett Chapman.
My Stick is a black polycarbonate model made in 1987. I bought it new from a music store in 1990. I played it for about a year and then quit music altogether in 1991. In January of 2007 I decided to start playing music again and decided that I would learn the Stick and not return to guitar. I was delighted to find that there was now a great online community with a mailing list and a forum with lots of people at different levels of playing. I have learned a ton from everyone online, and I recently went to the Heartland Stick Seminar 2007. It was great to meet other Stick players and to get instruction from Greg Howard and David Parr many thanks to them.
During the seminar Greg inspected everyone’s Stick and told me that I should send it to Stick Enterprises and have Emmett look it over. And that’s what I did. Emmett gave me a list of things he could do to it to make it play and sound like a modern Stick, and I had him do everything.
I have it back now, and I have taken a bunch of close-up photos of it, and I’m going to give a detailed account of everything that was done to it. I’ll start at the top and work my way down and then to the back.
You can click on each image thumbnail to get a fairly large close-up.
O…M…G!!! This is fantastic! The tone and playability are amazing, very close to a brand new Stick.
The first thing that was changed was the nut. The old, adjustable nut screws were removed and replaced with new, shiny brass ones that are much bigger.
I think they are very nice looking and make the strings very stable.
I was wondering why my open strings would sound so loud when I was playing and took a finger off a string. I had been reading on the forum that this was mostly a matter of playing technique and it will improve over time. But it just wasn’t improving. The new damper material that is on new Sticks really is much better than what was on mine, and this problem has been reduced dramatically. I still have much room for improvement to make them dead quiet when playing, but this change has gotten me most of the way. I was surprised what a difference this small thing made.
The Neck Strap
My old neck strap was replaced with a new one, and the clasp on the Stick was replaced. Now my strap doesn’t fall off while I’m playing! That was really annoying.
Frets and the Neck/Body
Over the years my Stick had developed a noticeable twist in the body. This made adjusting the action very challenging. I didn’t think there was anything that could be done about this, but I was wrong. The twist in the body was somehow leveled and the frets were then leveled, crowned, and polished. They are beautiful!
This is a hard job since the frets are stainless steel and not nickel-silver. I now expect a lifetime of hard use without seeing much, if any, wear.
I had the original Stickup on my Stick, and I really liked the tone. However, I didn’t realize what I was missing. All the years of sitting in my closet had taken a toll on my Stickup. The pots were extremely noisy and couldn’t be cleaned. In addition to that, there was some corrosion inside that left the pickup itself very noisy with a high amount of cross-talk. I now have a brand new Stickup!
The sounds is incredible. To my ear there really isn’t any cross-talk, and I have highs now! I now understand why people say that a poly Stick has a very “acoustic” sound. I liked my sound before, I LOVE it now.
The bridge on older Sticks is not the new adjustable one like on new Sticks. The new bridges really need a longer body since they stick out the end. If you try to put one on an older Stick then you can’t put the instrument on a stand. You could add some sort of new end bumper of some sort, but it seems like too much work. Since I prefer light gauge strings this really isn’t necessary anyway if you get what Emmett has come up with. Just like the nut, the bridge screws were all replaced with new, bigger brass ones. However, some of the screws are “shaved” to improve the intonation. With light strings, the intonation is pretty close to perfect. Here’s a shot of the whole bridge.
Here’s a close-up of one of the shaved screws.
I think this bridge is great.
The Truss Rod
My poly Stick didn’t have a truss rod, and after 20 years it had a bow in the body. There was just no way to adjust the thing to get low action! This was the main reason I sent it back to Emmett. They routed a channel down the middle and added a truss rod, just like a new Stick gets. Here’s the top anchor.
They did a great routing job! Here is the bottom end with the adjustment nut.
I can now straighten out the neck/body along with the best bamboo Stick! Woo hoo!!! This has let me get the action down very low. The playability is just wonderful now. I played Greg Howard’s new 12-string bamboo at the seminar, and the action was so much better that it was enough to convince me to get mine retrofitted. I had to have that action, and I wanted it now!
The Tale of the Fly (Listening to Your Spirit Helper)
While I was taking the photos of my Stick, I had a visitor to the shoot. A fly kept landing on my Stick and mugging for the camera. At first I was annoyed at its attempts to get my attention. First, it waved it arms.
I just ignored it and shooed it away. It came back and tried flapping its wings hard, thinking I might hear them.
Then it turned its back to me in disgust and flew away. I thought it was finally gone and I could finish the shoot.
But, it came back with a greater resolve and really got in the pictures. I finally stopped and leaned over and said in an annoyed voice, “What?” He stopped, moved closer, looked right at me and said…
I said thank you for the input, and he really flew away this time.
The moral of this tale is that you never know where your Spirit Helper will lead you, and you better listen.
I heartily recommend that anyone with an older Stick without truss rod give SE a call right now and set up a retrofit. I didn’t really expect this big of a difference. I thought it would sound the same and just have better action. The real surprise was the tone! It is bright, with incredible sustain, and has a magical, acoustic-like quality. I have turned off all effects, and I am loving practicing more than ever before. You really owe it to yourself to have an instrument that has been set up recently by Emmett. It is worth the investment in time and money.