Debuted at the aural Aladdin's cave that was Winter NAMM 2012, the Z-Stik is a wooden zigzag-shaped multi-use percussive instrument that its creator says "combines the most intriguing elements of a rhythm stick, a shaker, a fingertip drum, and a rain stick." The Z-Stik can be tapped and patted in various ways to achieve nice, organic-sounding percussive hits, and shaken to, well, sound like a shaker. "You can get tones from deep bass drum all the way up to bongo drums and everything in between clean or snare," says creator Greg Dahl.
Each Z-Stik is handmade by the Oregonian, who employs various woods that each affect the timbre of the finished instrument. Dahl has made both electric and acoustic versions, with "3 point" and "5 point" models of differing lengths. The Z-Stik can be had with a variety of sands. These are sourced worldwide, and vary the texture of the shaker's sound. In the electric version, the sand can be changed at will by the musician. With these variables combined, we reckon the Z-Stik comes in at least 50 permutations, and possibly many more. That budding percussionists can choose a personalized Z-Stik (or perhaps the Z-Stik chooses the percussionist) strikes us as a really nice touch.
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The electric version in particular is more complicated than perhaps it might appear, containing both a sand and a resonance chamber, and a piezo-fitted soundboard. This can be used as a resonator for other percussion instruments, to be routed through an amp or effects module, for example. "Some have been saying that there are triggers that make the sound," said Dahl. "This is false. It is all acoustic being picked up by one pickup inside that I build." The electric model also comes with a standard quarter-inch (6.35 mm) output, and there's a "sound hole" the performer can speak or whistle into.
Judging by Dahl's account of the Z-Stik's conception, perhaps it should have been dubbed the Zzzzz-Stik.
"The Z came in a dream," says Dahl. "I designed this while I slept and when I woke up I went to my shop and built the first one. I wasn't sure what I was building at first. I knew it was a shaker and a new way for a rain stick but no clue I was holding Pandora's Box in the percussion realm." Luckily, sand's the only thing that comes out of a Z-Stik should you open one. Dahl dreamed his dream two years ago, and after many iterative design changes, made its debut at NAMM last week, to overwhelmingly positive feedback, Dahl reports.
"The number one comment we had was 'I have never seen any thing like it before,'" Dahl told us, with other NAMM-goers reporting surprise at the "professional instrument," or noting that it will save having to move drum kits for certain gigs.
The patent-pending Z-Stik starts at US$425 for straight grain and painted 3-point electric models, and $625 for the 5-point equivalent. "Artisan" figured wood typically add about $100 more, and Dahl can be contacted for "custom build crazy figured woods." Acoustic models are currently unavailable due to high demand for the electrics.
Here's a video of Stevie Wonder working his magic with the Z-Stik at NAMM. Apparently he and the Blue Man Group plan to use the instrument on and in forthcoming records and concerts.