yeah. make a heirarchy with high number of joints. then, go to skeleton>ikSplineHandle>option box. turn off auto simplify curve. create ikSplineHandle for the heirarchy.
then, make a heirarchy with a fewer number of joints, while snapping to the curve created by the ikSplinehandle.
then, select the heirarchy with less number of joints, select the ikSpline curve, apply smooth skin bind.
go to the component editor for the curve, go to the smooth skin tab, adjust the weights for all the vertives.
now, you have a joint heirarchy which has 3 or 4 joints, which can control a heirarchy that controls a heirarchy with 12-14 joints.
if you want more details, there is exactly one such setup in the book inside maya 5. the rigging section written by erick miller is pretty good...