9-string Kelstone guitar plays like a piano
By Paul Ridden
September 28, 2011
It has the look of a lap steel and can certainly be used for playing slide guitar compositions, but the relatively low action on the Kelstone 9-string guitar opens up many more opportunities over its 26 frets. Developed by Belgium's Jan Van Kelst, players can strum, pick, hammer-on and pull-off, slide, bend, use both hands like a piano player - or combinations of all such techniques. Players can explore Stanley Jordan-like combined rhythm and lead fretboard tapping, and also throw in some bass to the melody like Dominic Frasca or move metal over metal for Robert Randolph-inspired wizardry.
Essentially, the Kelstone offers the range of a bass, baritone and standard guitar in one instrument - spanning just over five octaves and tuned in fourths (B, E, A, D, G, C, F, Bb, Eb). Van Kelst says that as such: "if you know, for instance, the fingering of a major chord, you can use this form anywhere on the arm, regardless of the position or note you start with."
The player's hands are positioned over the top of the strings, running from the bass to treble, and looking down on the fingerboard. Being fixed on a stand - tilted slightly towards the audience - frees up both hands to run up and down the fingerboard with relative ease and an included pedal-based dynamic mute feature acts as a virtual palm to help keep wayward strings in check. Not having to curl your fist around the neck also offers players the kind of note span used to great effect by the likes of Jeff Healey and it's said that learning to play the Kelstone requires a lot less scale and position study than a guitar or piano.
The Kelstone features a single coil, passive pickup, it's design is said to offer very long natural sustain possibilities, and it's available in three string setups - light, medium and heavy, with the latter being the standard set supplied. It weighs 8.3kg (18.29 pounds), is 108cm long (42.5-inches) and has adjustable screws at the nut. The saddle height and intonation can also be tweaked and two instruments can be used together like the double keyboard of a Hammond B3.
A standard Kelstone is priced at EUR915 (US$1,245). The dynamic muter pedal costs EUR85 (US$115) and although the Kelstone comes with a universal adapter to fit just about any keyboard stand, you can also buy metal stands from the company at EUR35 (US$47) each. Players can also choose to carry the instrument in a funky polyethylene tube case for EUR60 (US$81), a reinforced gigbag for EUR90 (US$122) or a polyethylene hard case for EUR210 (US$285). International orders accepted but you'll need to contact the company for shipping information.
Update: We've had a few requests for a more instructional video, so here's Jan Van Kelst with some useful playing tips for the Kelstone: