Skip to main content

The DIY Musician: California Drummer Completely Reinvents the Guitar String with the SlapStick

While countless other guitar companies introduced their own versions of Strats or dreadnaughts at the 2015 Winter NAMM Show, a California percussionist named Andy Graham had the most adventurous and groundbreaking booth this year with his SlapStick instruments.

The SlapStick is a square-shaped metal tube with a steel band running the length. The steel banding material, similar to shipping bands, acts as a string. Somewhere inside, a handmade pickup is tucked in, transferring the vibrations of the band to an amp.

This long, flat metal "string" is tunable via a top knob or hex bolt and is played like a fretless bass. The sound is otherworldly, like a bass or de-tuned guitar run through an envelope filter.

Graham has completely reinvented the guitar string.

Oh, he won’t admit it. Talk to Graham long enough and he’ll describe his SlapStick as “an electric percussion instrument.” He’s dead wrong. This guy just invented something cataclysmic in the music world.

Here, just look and listen:

I can’t stop thinking about the SlapStick, to the point that I’m continually checking my bank account to see if my tax refund has been direct-deposited yet. This is more than a percussion instrument. This is revolutionary! For crying out loud, I was playing "War Pigs" on his demo model at the NAMM Show. As you know from my previous columns, my band performs with the most bizarre and unusual instruments. We need a SlapStick in there. Period.

Graham offers several different lengths of SlapSticks, from the guitar scale “N-100 Noodle” (shown in the video above) to the ultra-long “S-100 Pro,” which contains more funk than a ball of teats from outer space.

My brain wants to explode with so many questions:

  • What other possibilities are there for a steel-band instrument?
  • Can you play it with a violin bow?
  • What about other guitar effects?
  • How about using a battery-operated hand-held fan to rake against the banding like a hurdy-gurdy?
  • Feedback? Marshall stack?

Hell, imagine if avant garde guitarists Keith Rowe or Elliott Sharp got a hold of a Slapstick!

Let me point out that in most of this column, I have injected my own opinions of this instrument. To Graham, the SlapStick is a percussion instrument. That’s the way he markets them, and that’s cool by me. It’s his company. Perhaps he’s afraid to call it a guitar/bass type of instrument because of the steel banding’s unpredictability. (To me, that’s one of the features!) What would happen if an iconoclast djent band or freak funk combo ignored the marketing materials and made this their centerpiece?

Shane Speal says this is a game-changing instrument.

Check out all the SlapSticks and see oodles of videos at

So when is my tax refund going to post?

P.S.: This week, my band just introduced the greatest shirt…ever. Zep fans with beer bellies will get it.

Shane Speal is "King of the Cigar Box Guitar" and the creator of the modern cigar box guitar movement. Hear the music, see the instruments and read about his Cigar Box Guitar Museum at Speal's latest album, Holler! is on C. B. Gitty Records.