When we arrived home after our trip to Paris, we found our electricity off. We called the landlord and he called an electrician. The landlord came while the electrician was there. We have a somewhat eccentric landlord and he was playing in the house like a kid. He ate the candy in the candy dishes (which is great- because that is why it is there), he played the piano and he played the guitar. He noticed that I have an empty cello stand in my house. I told him in my caveman Italian that I play the cello and I want to buy one in Italy.
He said he has a friend in Ferrara that makes cello. We were sure he must know Alessandro. He said no- his friend’s name is Sergio. Nathan and I were intrigued at the prospect of another cello maker in Ferrara. We found Sergio online and determined that he specializes in making contrabasses but he also makes cellos. I contacted him via email to see if he had any cellos available and to see if he was willing to see us.
On a small unrelated note, Google translate is awesome. I am trying to learn the language and I do pretty well with it, but when I write an email, I can just pop the text into Google translate and put both the English and the Italian versions in the email. It is just an awesome tool for us here.
He wrote back that day and said he was available both Saturday and Sunday and we could pick a time to stop by. We answered that we would come to his workshop Sunday at noon.
We arrived and Sergio was so kind. He offered us coffee and took us into his house. We met his wife who runs ultramarathons. They were very kind- both had limited English but we were able to communicate. After a cup of coffee he took us to his workshop. It was so pretty to see all the contrabasses. They are so big! He restores old ones and he makes new ones. I have seen a lot of places with many violins and cellos- but something about the size of these instruments makes the whole workshop very impressive. I would have loved to get a picture but I did not know if he would like that very much.
We saw the cello right away. It was the same traditional red color as most cellos I have seen. It was pretty- but simple looking. The type of cello that as you look closer you see the high quality of the wood grain- but from far away it could be any cello. Sergio asked if I had brought a bow- I do not have a bow here so I did not. He rosined up his bow and let me play. Right away I like this cello.
Before I even noticed the sound- I noticed the way it played. This is what I had been looking for. Then I noticed the sound. It was a big sound. It resonated well. He left Nathan and I there for 5 or 10 minutes to give me a chance to get the feel for the instrument. I like the way I sounded playing it. I like this cello a lot. Then it dawned on me that this cello is worth a lot of money. I knew it was more than I was planning to spend. Nathan and I talked while Sergio was out of the room and he asked me if it were the same price as the other, would I want to take it. I knew that was still a good bit over our price range but it was something to think about. When he returned he told us that it was 10,000. This cello was worth every penny of that- but I am not a professional cello player. I will never make money from playing and I do not need an instrument in that price range. That did not mean I did not want an instrument in that price range.
This was only his 5th cello. He had recently begun to love the sound of a cello as much as the contrabass. He is interested in taking lessons as well. It was fun to see his enthusiasm and interesting that he made this instrument that I liked so much with such little practice. He wants to make more cellos.
I told him that is a beautiful instrument and I thought that price was more than fair. He seemed almost apologetic that it was not in our price range. But he understood. He continued to show us his workshop.
He showed us the room where he varnishes and stains the instruments. It takes a lot of space for the contrabass work. He played several of the basses for us. They sounded so good. He had one particularly nice new one. He played it for us and I had never heard a bass that sounded so good. That was not even his favorite one. He had one that he was restoring and it was over 100 years old. The tone was mellower but Nathan and I both preferred the one he made.
He had two of them that were not yet stained and varnished. They were also interesting to see. We asked him about the prices on his basses. The one that he played for us was full maple construction for the hardwood (and they are all spruce for the tops). That one was 17000. He had a few others that he had made out of poplar instead of maple. Poplar does not have as pretty a grain but it is just as functional. Those most basic basses were 10000. He had some a little more too. All the old ones that he was restoring were all made of poplar too. It was really a nice experience in his workshop.
He told us he knows a young man in Ferrara that makes cellos in the 3000 range. We were surprised and delighted! How many people make cellos in Ferrara? Sergio made a call and off we went to Gabriel’s house.
Before we left, he knew I needed a cello bow. He offered to sell me one of his German handmade bows at cost. I told him I would think about it and he asked me to take one of his bows to Gabriel’s so I had something to play with as he does not keep any cello bows in his workshop.
It turns out that Gabriel had been making instruments for a long time in Romania. His family has been making instruments for generations. He wanted to be trained in the Italian style of making so he came here to study under Sergio. He has just started to be recognized for his work, and his cello was just published in a journal of Italian handmade cellos.
That was the cello that was available to see and play. It had already been sold to a professional musician in Taiwan who will be here next week to pick it up. He has two more in various stages of construction. The one that is the next to be finished was in Bologna getting fitted with the ebony pegs and other pieces. He said if we wanted it, he could have it finished in approximately 20 days.
Also, the cello is currently unfinished wood. That means we could request the finish be anything that I want. This is amazing. I never dreamed of being able to find someone to customize a cello to that level.
When I played his cello that is already sold- I was quite pleased. I like the way it played. That was big deal. The sound was very nice- not quite as spectacular as some of the more expensive professional models, but it will only get better with time. Also, it was still a very good sound. I had been test-driving the best of the best. I was very happy with this cello.
Nathan and I left his house with his card and we were very excited. I was still not sure about all this. 3000 is a lot money and it was not the best of all the cellos I had played but it was so good! Nathan pointed out that this is exactly what I wanted. He is a young maker who is very good and still unknown. The cello is made in Italy and I get the added bonus of working with the maker to customize the finish. Once the cello is done he will work with me to make sure the set up is optimized for the way I want it to play and feel. Maybe he is on his way to be a world known maker!
When I thought about all these factors- I decided this is it. This is the cello I am supposed to have and I am so excited. Hopefully soon I can post pictures!