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Don Rickert Musician Shop

Cello da Spalla Moderno by D. Rickert

$6,500.00 $5,900.00
(You save $600.00)

Cello da Spalla Moderno by D. Rickert

$6,500.00 $5,900.00
(You save $600.00)
3.00 LBS
Currently 90 to 120 days
Calculated at checkout
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Product Description

Announcing the Cello da Spalla Moderno by D. Rickert


We are very pleased to announce our new Cello da Spalla Moderno right on the heels of our recent Baroque Violoncello da Spalla announcement. The Cello da Spalla Moderno is a modern reinterpretation of the 18th Century violoncello da Spalla and is designed for contemporary players, particularly fiddlers, violinists and violists performing in traditional, folk, and any number of alternative genres. Just as a modern violin is routinely used to play Baroque music, so can the Cello da Spalla Moderno.

The Cello da Spalla Moderno is, like all “da spalla” instruments, played suspended by a strap across the chest; however, this instrument is much easier for a fiddler or other non-cellist to play due to its modern synthetic core strings and shorter (about 1.33 inches / 33.78 mm) playable string length, which is about the same as a large viola (15.2 inches / 38 mm). Its string length allows us to string it with standard octave viola strings (SuperSensitive Sensicore), which are readily available and quite affordable. Further, because the strings are not Baroque period replica gut, the Cello da Spalla Moderno can be, and is fit with state-of-the-art Wittner FineTune™ planetary geared tuning pegs, which are nothing short of amazing. Changing from standard to alternative tunings and back again is a snap.

The Cello da Spalla Moderno’s body is identical to our Baroque Violoncello da Spalla’s. It has more than twice the internal air volume of a typical octave viola or “chin cello”. In other words, it is large enough to produce a powerful and full-bodied baritone roar!

Background: What is a Violoncello da Spalla?

The violoncello da spalla (Italian for “cello of the shoulder”) was, until fairly recently, a 5-string instrument of the violin family from the Baroque period that had fallen into obscurity. It is a small instrument, about the size of a modern 1/10 size cello, that is tuned to C, G, d, a, e’ (i.e. like a cello with an additional string on the treble side that is tuned to e’, which is an octave lower than the e” string on a violin). If comparing it to a violin, the violoncello da spalla is rather large; about the size of a huge viola, but twice as deep.

It is thought by many experts that the violoncello da spalla was invented, or at least perfected, by the German luthier, Johann Christian Hoffman, a contemporary and probably a close friend of Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach’s purported close relationship with J. C. Hoffmann has led to a now popular theory that Bach had a hand in the invention of the violoncello da spalla. This belief continues to be debated by experts who study the history of musical instruments.

Anyway, what is now widely regarded as the primary candidate for distinction as the original violoncello da spalla, having been previously misclassified as either a viola pomposa, viola da spalla or piccolo cello, was made in 1732 by Hoffmann. It is this instrument that, today, is the de facto “gold standard” for a proper violoncello da spalla.

The modern resurrection of the violoncello da spalla, and widespread attribution of the instrument’s invention to Hoffmann, is due largely to the Russian-Dutch luthier and media celebrity, Dmitry Badiarov. Badiarov, based in The Hague, introduced his first violoncello da spalla in 2004, essentially after Hoffmann, albeit, considerably more refined than the original 1732 instrument. While Badiarov, and his collaborator, Sigiswald Kuijken, are more well-known, it was earlier research by the Dutch violinist and violist, Lambert Smit, that laid the groundwork for Badiarov and others involved in the resurgence of the violoncello da spalla. Smit is regarded by many as the true father of the modern revival of the violoncello da spalla. Indeed, it was Smit who first posited the involvement of Bach, himself in its invention. It was also Smit who surmised that Bach’s Cello Suites and Cantatas were written, not for the full-size 4-string cello, but rather for the much smaller and manageable 5-string violoncello da spalla.

How is the Violoncello da Spalla played?

The violoncello da spalla has been described as a bass for violinists. Unlike the 5-string chin cello, a.k.a. the 5-string octave viola (see image below),


the violoncello da spalla is held across the chest, secured with a strap around the shoulder and neck, as you can see in in the photos below of Lambert Smit and Dmitry Badiarov.

9026-lambertnov04-408-576245.jpg badiarov-dmitry-04-1-.jpg

The violoncello da spalla is easily (a relative term) played by violinists and violists. Indeed, experts believe that the instrument was invented in the early 1700s in order to minimize the learning curve of accomplished violinists and violists desiring to play a baritone range instrument.

Learning to bow the Violoncello da Spalla does not take much time at all. That being said, any, if not most, experienced violinists and fiddlers, whose experience is primarily in playing the lead melody, will probably need to brush up on their music theory, particularly the principles for improvising baritone/bass harmony and chords. Put another way, they will have to learn the mostly lost art of basso continuo. Of course, there are many fully-scored solo pieces for violoncello from the Baroque period, especially by J.S. Bach.

Interest in these newly re-discovered instruments is growing as part of an overall re-discovery of Baroque music and Baroque instruments, particularly those played with a bow.

Description of the Cello da Spalla Moderno by D. Rickert and its Options

Our violoncello da spalla is, in part, based on measurements taken from the surviving instrument by Johann Christian Hoffmann (1732). Unlike the original, it has a neck length calculated according to the modern standard neck length to stop distance ratio of 2:3 for a huge viola with the same size body. As would be expected, our Cello da Spalla Moderno is 5-string instrument with a body length of 18 inches (45.5cm). It is tuned to C, G, d, a, e’. In other words, the tuning is the same as a full-size cello, but with an additional string on the treble side that is tuned to e’ (an octave lower than the e” string on a violin). It is held across the chest, suspended by a strap around the players neck, not unlike a modern guitar, but much closer to the chin (see the images above).

Approximate Critical Dimensions

  • Overall length: about 29” (73.65 cm)
  • Body length: 18” (45.5cm)
  • Upper bout width: 8.25” (21.5cm)
  • Lower bout width: 10.25” (26cm)
  • Ribs: 3.15” (8.0cm)
  • Playable String length: 15.2” (38 mm)
  • Nut width and string spacing: 32mm with; 25mm spread with average of 5mm between strings
  • Bridge string spacing: 2 3/8” (60.32 mm) string spread


  • Top: Alpine or Carpathian Spruce
  • Back and Ribs: Bosnian Maple
  • Neck and Scroll: American or European Maple


  • The standard varnish is hand-rubbed oil in rich medium brown over golden amber grounds varnish. Other pigmentations are possible.


  • Standard tuning: C, G, d, a, e’ (same as a 5-string 4/4 cello)
  • Common expected scordatura tunings: D A d a e’, D A d a d’, D A e a e’ and so forth. D is about as high as the lowest string should be tuned!


  • Supersensitive Sensicore 5-String Octave Viola

Accessories and Fittings

  • Nut and saddle: ebony
  • Nut width and string spacing: 32mm with; 25mm spread with average of 5mm between strings
  • Tuning pegs: Wittner FineTune™
  • Fingerboard and tailpiece: Semi-Baroque—matching 3mm ebony veneer over maple
  • Bridge: Figured hard maple; custom hybrid between an extra-wide (for 5-strings) viola bridge and an extra-wide cello bridge.
  • Bridge string spacing: 2 3/8” (60.32mm) string spread


As part of the purchase, we provide two cases:

  • A high quality padded soft case
  • Hard shell case for a ¼ size cello. This is the smallest hard shell cello case made by ANY manufacturer. We modify the ¼ size case to fit the proposed instrument perfectly by adding foam padding.

Optional Custom Case

A modified ¼ size cello case has outside dimensions that are much larger than those of a custom-sized case would be. A custom case for this instrument is certainly possibly; albeit, expensive (see pricing below). The modified 1/4 size cello case we provide works just fine. It is just larger than it needs to be. About 50% of our customers opt for a custom case that is "right-sized".

A custom case for this instrument has a plan (front) profile slightly larger than a shaped viola case. Of course, it is considerably deeper than a viola case. The case weight depends on the materials, and generally weighs less than 10 lbs.

We can make custom a case from durable and beautiful heavy saddle leather, molded composite wood veneers or Kyvex™ (a very attractive and lightweight thermoplastic material).

The shell materials and prices are shown below. Note that the prices are discounted to reflect subtraction of the cost of a modified ¼ cello case, which would otherwise be supplied as part of the instrument purchase price.

  • Composite wood veneer (aka molded plywood): $850
  • Kyvex™, a lightweight polymer material: $950
  • Heavy saddle leather: $1300
  • We also sell custom-sized flight cases, which weigh about 25 lbs.

If you wish to discuss a custom-made perfectly sized case for this instrument, let us know.


Of course, the Cello da Spalla Moderno can be played with a Baroque bow. The modern synthetic core strings will respond better to a modern cello bow. We recommend a bow of ¾ size or even ½ size.

In any case, the bow is your responsibility. If you like, we will find you the best deal possible for a Baroque cello bow in whatever price range you desire. We sell some very fine modern bows. The least expensive suitable bows start at about $450.

Where is the Instrument Made?

The most critical work in making our Cello da Spalla Moderno, including graduation, carving and setting the neck, varnishing, authentic Baroque fingerboard and tailpiece, peg fitting and setup is done in our workshop, which is located in Hiawassee, Georgia, USA. Some special work, such as computer assisted plate tuning, is usually done in the workshop of our affiliate lutherie in North Carolina, USA.

Some work, notably the partial completion of the body, if performed by one of several highly-trusted lutheries in Hong Kong or Beijing. The materials are the highest grade. The top is tightly-grained spruce, either Alpine or Carpathian. The back and sides are well-flamed maple, usually Bosnian, which is especially-prized for fine string instruments. The neck and scroll are generally flamed American Maple.

Our utilization of proven master craftspersons in China for the initial body construction saves us about two weeks of work. This is why we can offer our Cello da Spalla Moderno for of price of only $6,500. If you wish to have an instrument made entirely in our Georgia, US workshops, please feel free to contact us. The base price is about $13,000 and the minimum wait currently is 6 months, but can be up to a year.


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