Surrounded by Strings

The idea for the StringStation came to guitarist Jim Bartz by way of serendipity.
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“It was one of those magic moments,” he enthuses. “I have all my instruments close by while recording, and I accidentally bumped the low C on my Chapman Stick while hitting a lap steel at the same time. I thought, ‘Wow, maybe I don’t have to overdub these instruments separately.’” Shortly thereafter, Bartz created a mock-up of the StringStation—an instrument that combines a Stick with a modified triple-neck steel guitar and a 6-string.

“I have the array of 40 strings tuned in groups of favorite chords,” explains Bartz. “Under the steel necks, there’s a sheet of Plexiglas with detents where the fret markers are, and a small bridge with felt on the bottom under the strings, so I can move the bridge to change keys.”

The StringStation’s multiple signal paths are routed to a digital mixer for effects and dynamics processing, before being output to various surround-sound formats. Bartz has patented the design, and he is currently seeking funds to build a working prototype that will include multi-string Ebows, Hipshot-like tuners, MIDI triggers, DAW controllers, and, possibly, even Roland VG8 technology.

“There are dozens of playing techniques you can use to exploit the many tones and sounds available on this instrument, including tapping, harmonic plucking, and hammering,” says Bartz. “And I’ve been working very hard to use the instrument in a way that’s really amazing and magical, because that’s the only way to inspire people to play it. Otherwise, it just becomes a novelty item.”