September 20, 2001

HomeBaked Beats

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This week, daze had a chance to sit down with Eric Aceto, an instrument builder and member of the popular Ithaca-based band Mectapus.

daze: When and how did you get into building instruments?

Eric Aceto: It was in the very early ’70s, 1970 and ’71. I was attending art school and I wanted to put the music and art together. I had played music my whole life and then I got into building basic instruments. I had done a lot of repair work and work on friends’ instruments. And later, when I got into it more, I started constructing instruments more in a bigger way.

D: When did you build your first electric fiddle?

EA: That was in 1974, early on.

D: So many accomplished musicians use your instruments. Who are you most proud to build for?

EA: Wow. Well, probably Darol Anger [fiddle player who has performed with David Grisman, String Cheese Incident, and others]. He’s a great player and he’s been a great supporter of the whole project.

D: If, for whatever reason, you could no longer be either a musician or an instrument-maker, which would you choose?

EA: You know, it’s not like that for me. I guess part of being a Gemini is that dual nature. They really go hand in hand. Plus, I began building violins because I was playing violin and looking for a certain sound. I really don’t separate those two at all.

D: Do certain musical styles and approaches influence the design of your instruments?

EA: Well, certainly the instrument we’re most interested in building is an amplified instrument, so yes. The reason I came to it is because I’m into acoustic music, and acoustic instruments. I’m trying to translate that feel, and that timbre, to an amplified situation, and it’s been tough over the years but I’m feeling pretty good about it.

D: You certainly should. Roughly, how long does it take you to build a single instrument?

EA: Well, it’s not just me. My partner Dan Hoffman has a huge amount to do with it. We pretty much work on each instrument together. Dan does all the plate carving, and what’s called the corpus, so he’s working the plates and the garling and the voicing of the air chamber and everything. And then I work more on the neck, the setup, the feel, and the peg-head carving. All the electric work and that stuff. So, we really both work on them and not just one instrument at a time. Different things are in different stages of development. But we can deliver a violin, right now, in about 10 weeks.

D: After all that, does the whole trend of rock stars smashing their instruments on stage make you cringe?

EA: Are they doing that again? Oh no. See, I’ve never wanted to smash an instrument, even in my most frustrated moments on stage. Why? I’ve never understood it.

D: Anything new in store with Ti Ti Chickapea [a folk trio consisting of Hank Roberts on cello, Richie Stearns on banjo and tenor guitar, and Eric on violin and guitar]?

EA: Yeah, right now we’re working on album with Kevin Kinsella [lead singer and guitarist of reggae outfit John Brown’s Body]. We’re doing a bunch of Kevin’s material, and that’s been really fun. And we’re hoping to do some gigging with that kind of group. It’s tough working around Richie’s schedule [he’s now on tour with roots-rock group Donna the Buffalo] and Kevin’d been on the road quite a bit with John Brown’s. But we’re going to try to do a more scaled back, amplified acoustic thing. It’s been really fun working with Kevin. He’s such a beautiful guy.

D: Will we ever see more from Mectapus [an eclectic and notorious local band with which Eric played violin, mandolin, and guitar] in the future?

EA: Yeah. Definitely. Joe [Palermo, Mectapus drummer and professor of history and English at Cornell] took a gig out at the University of Santa Cruz. So he’s not here during the year, but he may still teach here at Cornell during the summer. And we’ve talked about doing the acoustic thing with just hand percussion.

I actually got a chance to play with my dream band at the Rongo not too long ago. It was Mike Cerza [of Mectapus] on percussion, Joe on drums, my brother Harry on upright bass, and Mich