Interview with Eric Aceto, Ithaca String Instruments
Eric, you have a lifelong story making instruments with unique designs, like violins, guitars, mandolins and especially fadolins, a violin with six or even seven strings. What I think makes you extraordinary is that as you are an experienced and regularly performing musician: you were not just searching for fancy stuff to catch the eye. You never compromised on sound, and all your production, plucked or bowed, has a characteristic voice, deep and powerful despite short scales measures.
With this background, Violoncello da Spalla didn’t probably look as much as a challenge to you. How did you come across it?
I believe I first heard of Violoncello Day Spalla thru a Facebook post from Dmitry Badiarov. I was intrigued right away by the instrument, its sonic range, tone color and the fact of it being accessible to anyone with violin or viola technique. I already had been exploring extended range violins. That it was a five-stringed cello felt perfect to me. I also have always taken inspiration from baroque era and earlier instruments. The sense of freedom and improvisation in the string arrangement, construction and ornamentation of this era has always appealed to me.
What was (if there was) the obstacle in your mind that would have prevented you from making and playing a violoncello da Spalla?
I was immediately taken by the thought of being able to successfully play a cello. My previous attempts were unsuccessful because of the unfamiliarity of bow changes. Raising your arm to play a higher string rather than the opposite for violin.
What did you find as a result of entering this world?
What I did not realize when I began the study of this instrument, thru Dmitry Badiarov, was that it would completely change my approach to instrument design in general.
What was that stroked you most about it?
When I started with the system of proportional design based on the string length of the instrument, it was like a light bulb switching in my head. I immediately saw how this was applicable to everything I do. I have used The System to build not only violoncello da Spalla but most importantly to redesign my 5, 6 and 7 stringed violins. I also have used it in the design of guitars and have plans for the redesign my florentine mandolin family instruments. My main focus, the Fadolin (6 string violin) design has been vastly improved in response and projection by using these design principles taken from study of the Violoncello Da Spalla.
Three other things that you like about it or that positively changed in your life thank to it.
Because of my being made aware of the Da Spalla, I have been able to reach a wider clientele, have had several instruments commissioned and also now have another wonderful and emotive voice to use in my own musical performance
Would you recommend other jazz musicians to play it? Why?
I certainly would recommend this instrument to musicians in any genre of music. I feel that Violoncello da Spalla is a great vehicle for musical expression, and the musician is responsible for putting it forward and finding its place in whatever style of music one wishes to play.
Recently you enriched the da Spalla range of accessories, making a pickup for Sergej Malov’s Spalla. Tell us a few words about your special custom pickups.
I started building amplified instruments around 1978 because of a personal need to be able to compete, in musical settings, on an even footing with louder instruments like electric guitar, keyboards and drums. I spent years developing a pickup design that I felt well represented the instrument it was used on without compromising its acoustic tone and response. I am happy to say that these pickup systems are well regarded and used around the world by a very many well-known artists. Applying the pickup system to Violoncello Da Spalla was an easy choice for me.
...and how to get in touch with you if someone wants to order one? Which is the process to have one? Should one have a bridge made on his instrument and then send it to you? How long is the waiting time usually?
I regularly produce pickup systems for all bowed instruments. For Violoncello Da Spalla, I can supply a bridge blank (with the pickup system) that must be fitted to the instrument. For larger instruments like Da Spalla, Cello and Bass, it is also possible to send a fitted bridge to me and install the system. Email is a good way to communicate with me. There is information about my pickup systems and contact on my website here https://ithacastring.com/
Anything you’d like to add?
I would also like to thank you in particular for your invaluable contribution to this instrument. Being involved with this fine group of luthiers and musicians who are bringing it back into awareness has been a great joy for me. I would like to say thanks to each and every one.
You are welcome! It was an absolute pleasure for me to be in touch! I so much appreciated when I told you that there was someone “close” to you (a couple of hrs by car? Well, it looked close on Google Earth!) who was willing to try to make a set of silk strings for cello da spalla, and you jumped in your car and went to him to show him your instrument and try out his experiments! ...but we keep this story for another issue!
...and here the same questions asked to Sergey Malov, who recently provided his Spalla with a pick up made by Eric:
What did you find as a result of buying this pick-up?
More flexibility, no more fear about balance, accessibility for playing other styles.
The specific feature you liked most about it:
The integrity of the whole.
Would you recommend this pick-up?
Yes. I would:)
Anything else you would like to add?
Let the music speak for itself:)
News from da Spalla world
This past week, Willian Hurd hold a recital on his Violoncello Da Spalla that you can still see at the link below here. You can enjoy the Rossini duet for cello and double bass, a perfect match for da Spalla!
If you are reasonably young, you own a Spalla, or you can find one to borrow, you can participate in a masterclass with Sergey Malov and also in an international competition next summer in Antwerp:
Updates from our workshop
When I made my first violin, I couldn’t wait to finish it, play it, and see him starting his own life. With me or far from me, it didn’t really matter, but what moved me was the idea I was making something that, technically, could survive me and bring my voice in times I will not be here any more. So it was totally unexpected that a melancholy feeling came to me at the moment of closing his body. After all that time it was strange knowing that I would never saw that inside any more (hopefully 😬!). It’s a bit like your son leaving for college. A great day, but you are feeling a bit sad, technically nothing is changing, but everything is changed.
So we decided that it was time to celebrate, to forget that melancholy. And since then, every time we glue the top to an instrument we celebrate! We are in lockdown here and bars are closed, so we had a homemade aperitif on Monday after the Wagner had its top glued on!
And now he’s enjoying his make-up saloon!
(Yep, we don’t use lamps. We like the sun and at this time of the year, it doesn’t heat too much, it’s just perfect!)
Featured video of the week
Here in action Sergey Malov with his amplified Spalla on a very special recital, a drive-in recital! Enjoy!