Discover more from Violoncello da Spalla
Are there specially designed strings for Violoncello da Spalla?
An overview of what’s in the market
First of all, how is usually a Violoncello da Spalla tuned? It’s C2, G2, D3, A3, E4.
Which is same as a “normal” Cello with a top E added, or, more correctly, like a Tenor Violin with a low C added. That's it:
Making strings for an instrument this short (vibrating string length between 39 and 45, being the most common 42,5, the Badiarov small model) and this low in tuning, is tricky for a string maker. The strings you need should be very dense: heavy and vibratile. We will write in the future about how this could be possible in the time of gut, but here let just have an overview of what’s available today:
Atelier Boussoir’s strings: silk or gut basses
Eliakim Boussoir is a violin maker and strings maker from France, and he lives in pleasant countryside close to Metz. He is quiet and generous, has a deep understanding of strings and instruments after serious studies and experience. He offers only the overspun basses, so the three basses, and they come in two versions, silk core and gut core, overspun with pure silver. I tried both, and I like them both.
I admit these are my favourite strings because they are easy, they speak easily and have a rich sound. I think they can be appreciated by both period instruments musicians and modern musicians. They are overspun with round wire, like historical strings, which helps to have a clear pronunciation. In both versions, the sound is bright and powerful, and the two versions are remarkably similar. They have the character of the firm.
The gut version is a bit warmer, with slightly more colour nuances, but needs that little more attention in starting the note. One advantage of the gut version is that you can tell when they are about to break because they start getting longer, so you can notice that while turning the peg, the string response is not that you expected, but a bit less. This is when you can expect a break in the next week or the following environment humidity change. Both versions have a long life.
They are affordable. At the moment of this publication, a set of basses would go for around 140€.
Aquila Corde Armoniche: gut or synthetic
Aquila is an Italian brand offering various kind of strings, specially tailored on Spalla.
Their speciality is pure gut strings, and I highly recommend their trebles. I use, on 425 mm scale, 112/116 on the E and 160for the A. Ensure you get those the less polished as possible, it’s better if you ask expressly while ordering. Because this is the only way to have long-lasting strings with a warm, rich sound.
Their basses are made using gut and pure silver round wire. These are the most historical we can get when buying standard sets. They have a long life and a powerful sound. But they need practice and long acquaintance with the use of historical gut strings. They are affordable too, being the complete set around 195€.
There is some downside, principally in the not-so-standardized specs. You may get strings which are too long (and you’d better not cut them) or slightly different balances because the owner Mimmo Peruffo is always experimenting and searching for a better solution. You can get outstanding strings, but you are never sure you will get them again. My suggestion is, when you find one that you love, keep it on until it last, don’t change it just for the sake of having everything brand new.
They also offer a set of synthetic strings. These are not modern strings, but they were studied to provide vegan period instruments players with the possibility of avoiding gut, maintaining the sound of gut. At the same time, they would like to offer an alternative to the more expensive and hard to find modern strings, which we will discuss below. This synthetic set is priced at around 250€. I didn’t try them, so I cannot offer at the moment a review. If you had the occasion of trying them, please comment below and give your feedback, it will be most useful to all!
Thomastick: synthetic and steel, flat wire
Though You certainly don’t need an introduction to Thomastick brand, let me say that innovation was part of their DNA since their early years. They were the first to use flat wire and introduce synthetic core strings to the market. Yes, before Dominant strings came out, we only had gut or steel, and steel in those days was not something a professional would have played.
They designed their Violoncello da Spalla set specially for Sergej Malov on a Badiarov model. It’s modern strings, with synthetic or steel cores, and they are overspun with flat wire outside. So you get the flat surface you are used to when playing on modern strings and the same kind of response under the bow. They definitely at high-quality strings being the synthetic powerful, and fast in response and the steel warm in tone.
These are the only modern strings on the market tailored specifically for Violoncello da Spalla.
They have their downside: one is communication; it is not always easy to get to the right person and being answered. But if you write to this email
you’re likely to get your strings smoothly enough. They offer two different sets, one for the “standard” tuning above, the SPA501, and one for a tuning one-fourth above, like a viola with an added low F, code SPA502. I have no idea of the use and repertoire of the second set. If you do, comment, please!
Another issue is that they have a minimum order of three sets, and you cannot order single strings. The more significant downside is probably their price: 525€ per set.
If you are not sure if they are worth a try, there are tons of beautiful videos by Sergej Malov that speak for themselves.
Not satisfied yet?
There’s always mix and match, the same way we are used to on other instruments. I will always be ready to take a stand in favour of complete sets, of a one-only brand on the instrument, and I have strong motivations for this. And in a perfect style of “Do what I say, not what I do”, I am also the one who doesn’t consider modern violin e as part of the set (how many modern violinists do you know who use the same e given with the set?), same for viola C... and that uses Aquila trebles close to Boussoir’s basses on the Spalla.
But how do we chose between strings that are not made for the instrument?
You can go in three different ways:
viola long scale strings (43 cm at least), tuned one tone higher, for the D, A and E (so to use viola C, G and D. You need strong strings for this because you are using them one tone higher in tension also. Pirastro’s suggestion is to use their Tonica for this purpose. Sensicore offers an XXL viola set plus a low F which you can use on a Spalla if steel is your cup of tea.
Fractional cello strings: it is hard to find high-quality strings for kids’ cellos, but some brands do provide them. It’s the case of Larsen, D’Addario, and Thomastick. A common suggestion is to use 1/8 cello Larsen C and G for Spalla’s C and G. I tried a D Helicore, 1/8, titanium wound, and it's very good.
Standard size cello’s strings: think of a big cello. As if you had a capo, stop its strings at one fifth above: G on the C string, D on the G string, etc... if you measure the string there, you will be around a Spalla string length. If you take that same strings, you can tune them one fifth above on the Spalla. A cello C on the G, a cello G for the D, and so on. In favour of this, notice how the gauges of Aquila Spalla strings are the same as a light cello set.
Thanks to Stephen Collins, Kaga Yutaka, Owen Pallet and D. Rickert for suggestions on brands and models tested on a Spalla.
Add in the comments your suggestions! Your experience it’s a great value!
News from da Spalla world
This Saturday, 20th of Feb at 8 p.m. Swedish time, the Väsen Duo in concert, Facebook Live, featuring Mikael Marin at the Violoncello da Spalla and Olov Johansson at the Nyckelharpa. Enjoy traditional tunes from Sweden in which the Spalla fits like it always been there thanks to Mikael spontaneous technique.
Following, always on the 20th of Feb 2021, there’s a concert featuring William Hurd on Violoncello da Spalla, together with his colleagues Lauren Anderson Bustami, alto, Victor Holmes, bass, Kimberly Galva, violin and Mary Findley, Harpsichord.
It’s at 7 p.m. EST, and you can get free tickets at this link below.
A colourful, busy Saturday to cheer us up from our lockdown sofas!
Updates from our workshop
We are working on a Johann Wagner model. This is a tiny five-stringed cello which is preserved in the St. Anna Museum in Lübeck. It’s not on display, and it suffers from mushrooms. We went to measure it last March, together with our friends and colleagues Takumi Takakura and Paul Shelley. It surprisingly has its original neck. It is typical manufacture for Saxony in the mid 18th century. The maker, from whom we know nothing else than this instrument, was skilled but working for not-so-high tickets.
It is short. 39 cm scale, on a 46cm body. With a neck as short as a violin’s. But it is not a Frankenstein, it is remarkably well proportioned, and when you see it, you feel it has come out from an old painting. This is why it is irresistible and we decided to make it.
As often is the case in this kind of projects, there are many doubts and questions, which you can investigate only by making and trying. We will have time for this later. By now, here are a couple of pics, of the original and our one.
Featured video of the week:
Being this our first newsletter, what a better video than this instroduction to Violocello da Spalla by the pioneer Sigiswald Kuijken! Enjoy!