Hidden in the countryside near Trumansburg is one of Tompkins County’s greatest treasures.
No, it’s not Taughannock Falls. It’s Ithaca Stringed Instruments, a musical instrument workshop with handiwork played all over the world by famous musicians such as Jean-Luc Ponty and Jerry Goodman.
Eric Aceto co-founded Ithaca Stringed Instruments with his friend Dan Hoffman – not the local attorney – after Aceto left Ithaca Guitar Works in 1995.
Locals might recognize Aceto as the electric violinist for many of Ithaca’s favorite bands. Aceto was born and raised in Rochester, arrived in Ithaca in 1974 after art school in Nova Scotia and time as a musician near Lee’s Summit, Pa. He and his brother, Harry Aceto, had a band called the Peabody Band when Eric landed in the Ithaca area. Since then, he has played in TiTi Chickpea, Djug Django and Mectapus. He continues to play in combos, with his brother Harry on bass and with keyboardist Chad Lieberman.
The average person might be intimidated at pursuing two relatively unrelated arts, but Aceto has integrated them.
I can build or experiment on an instrument and then play it that night at a gig to see if his experiments work, Aceto said.
Aceto started building violins, violas, cellos, mandolins, guitars and basses long before founding his own business. His talent at building instruments began with woodworking at art school. He was also performing.
I was playing music, and I wasn’t happy with the state of violin amplification at the time, so I started experimenting, he says.
Using his woodworking talents and his love of playing, Aceto has been an innovator and is mostly self-taught taught in lutherie – the art of building stringed instruments. He says he’s taken a few workshops along the way but, like Thomas Edison, most of his inventions and innovations come purely from his own imagination – and from long-time collaboration with Hoffman, who recently left Ithaca Stringed Instruments to build his own violins.
Hoffman inspired him.
I really can’t say enough about him, Aceto said. He had a huge effect on me.
Aceto has continued to develop his unique ideas throughout three decades of experimentation.
The first electric violin he made had a solid body, meaning it was carved out of a solid block of wood with no need for acoustic resonance. When he heard the sound of his first electronic instrument, he says, I instantly knew, ‘That’s not it.’ He found the sound to be too artificial, and so he set about to make it more mature and natural-feeling.
Over time, he developed his own unique concept of a chambered instrument, in which acoustical properties – the properties of natural sound – are adjusted to focus on the electrical pickup. The design maintains the characteristics of the original violin with some modification. Judy Hyman of The Horseflies and Tara Nevins of Donna the Buffalo both play chambered fiddles developed by Aceto.
Music is a tradition in the Aceto family. Eric Aceto grew up playing folk music and jazz with his grandfather, his father and his brothers.
In addition to playing with his brother Harry, Aceto also plays with another brother, guitarist Robbie. One son, Teo, has moved out to Hawaii, where he specializes in building instruments of the ukulele family. Aceto’s son Jordan, known around town as the lead guitarist in the Sim Redmond Band, works in the shop alongside his father.
He’s really gonna be a great luthier, Eric says of Jordan.
With the next generation following their father’s footsteps, Ithaca Stringed Instruments is likely to be turning out great handcrafted instruments for at least one more generation.