Fort Myers Beach's own Dietrich "Pete" Schaeffer of the Boat Lizards has something not many have in the nation or even the world. Made up of 12 strings and having the same range as a grand piano, Pete's "Chapman Stick" has been turning heads to all who see it.
"I've been playing music for 50 years now, with all kinds of people all over the place, and 10 months ago, when my wife and I went to another art show downtown, I hear this music, this special instrument," Pete said. "I look over and say, 'What the hell is that?' Never saw one, never heard of it."
A new musical project was implanted in his mind.
Dietrich “Pete” Schaeffer is proud to play his custom-made Chapman Stick at Bonita Bill’s on a regular basis. The Chapman Stick, although set up to look like a guitar, is more closely related to a grand piano, with 12 strings and played with two hands, as you would a piano. Pete says he is one of only three in the entire state of Florida to own one. Photo by MELISSA SCHNEIDER.
"After that, I had to get one myself. It's totally custom one of only three in the entire state of Florida that I know of. As soon as I got home after first seeing it, I went online and watched videos of people playing them, researched what it was," he said. "They come in different woods, different styles, different everything. It's all custom-made and takes about six to eight months to receive."
Pete explains exactly what makes up the Chapman Stick.
"It has 12 strings, the same range as a grand piano, and wherever you touch the strings, it plays that note. There's no strumming, like on a guitar. So, you play it in a sense as you would a piano, either hand on either side," he said.
Once picking up The Stick, Pete says, after 50 years of professional music playing, everything he knew was thrown out the door.
"Everything I learned about guitar, bass and piano was down the tubes on this instrument," he said. "I had to completely start from scratch. The notes aren't where they're supposed to be, the method is different. I ordered it with a MIDI pickup (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), so you can make it sound like a saxophone, a violin, whatever you want."
Pete, who has played with the likes of Fats Domino, BJ Thomas, Johnny Rivers, Rufus Thomas, Dr. Hook and more, enjoys the challenge, as a half-century of musical expertise can get boring at times.
"I thought I'd have it down to a pretty good science within three months, but I was wrong," he said. "After reading books and watching others online, on a scale of 1 to 100, I'm at a 10. I think it'll take me at least a year to get to 50 percent. I've gotta do something different though. I like the challenge."
You can watch Pete adapt to his Chapman Stick every Monday night during jam sessions at Bonita Bill's Waterfront Caf, 702 Fisherman's Wharf, from 6 to 9 p.m. Since it's an open jam session, feel free to bring your instruments and get on down with Pete and The Stick.
"The way they adapt that instrument, it's been adapted to jazz, blues, classical, you name it, from one extreme to extreme to the other. It's such a great experience and challenge for me. I love it."