Italy artisan crafts guitars for musicians in need

Offer Roberto Ceretti a fortune for one of his coveted hand-made guitars and he'll likely turn you down: the Italian craftsman may be in demand among collectors, but only plies his trade for top musicians in need.

Tucked away in the hills of north-west Italy, Ceretti's workshop is hung with half-finished models, the walls lined with stacks of cedar, mahogany and apple wood, and a large drawing board is littered with classical guitar designs.

"I made my first guitar when I was 12-years old, out of cardboard. It didn't work of course, but the passion stuck," said Ceretti, 50, who began his business in earnest 15 years ago after transforming his run-down holiday home in the Piedmont woods into an atelier.

Now he makes between five and six guitars a year, selling them for a song to help musicians hit hard by the economic crisis and cuts in culture budgets.

The father of three fells trees himself during the winter – the best season because the wood is less likely to split – hauling them back to the remote workshop in his truck before chopping them down to size in the clearing, his dog at his side.

He also rescues trees such as redwoods or firs destined for the chop in gardens around the region. He selects the best grain aesthetic from those to carve out the back, front and neck of his guitars, and uses all natural materials – such as boiled cow femurs – to make parts like the bridge and nut.

In crafting his instruments, Ceretti takes inspiration from master makers like Antonio Torres Jurado, the 19th-century Spanish luthier (stringed instrument maker) renowned for designing the first modern classical guitar – Ceretti likes his instrument bodies rounded rather than flat.

Modern artisanal guitars, sought for their rich tonal qualities, can sell for up to €25,000, but Ceretti is not in business for the money.

'Not prostitutes'

"Guitars aren't prostitutes to put in the window. They're instruments to be kept for a lifetime, to be played and lovingly cared for," Ceretti said.

"I only have musicians as clients. I don't make guitars for collectors or people who just want something fashionable to put on their wall," he added.

White-bearded and decked out in a lumberjack shirt and workman's boots, Ceretti sees himself as more of a carpenter than an artist.

Breaks are spent walking alongside a nearby river, waiting patiently for the right moment to collect fresh materials – a timetable he says is often dictated by the waxing and waning of the moon, which affects the presence of woodworm.

From the moment the wood is ready, it takes him about a month to craft the instrument, which he sometimes rounds off with inlay on the rosette or fingerboard.

It is a painstaking, time-consuming vocation he says his children are unlikely to want to inherit, but one Ceretti says he finds "incredibly rewarding".

"If you're a musician living in Italy today, you are not making any money. So I don't charge for many of my guitars – I exchange things for them," Ceretti said, adding that in the past he's been paid in machines or tools he needs, and even a cement mixer.

His family lives in the house adjoining the workshop, and Ceretti saves money by using spring water rather than tap, and wood stoves for both central heating and cooking. But even out here in the wilderness, his philosophy is based on sharing.    

"With the best musicians that's always been the way I've worked. If they can afford to pay, I might charge between €2,000 and €7,000 for a guitar, but it doesn't happen often," he said.

"With the economic crisis as it is, I help out real musicians in need."

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Italian Eurovision winner tests negative for drugs

Damiano David, the frontman of Italy's Eurovision winners Maneskin, has passed a drug test he took on Monday to clear his name after speculation that he had snorted cocaine at the song contest's grand final.

Italian Eurovision winner tests negative for drugs
Damiano David of Maneskin performs at the Eurovision final. Photo: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

A drug test was “voluntarily undertaken earlier today by the lead singer of the band Måneskin which has returned a negative result seen by the EBU”, the European Broadcasting Union announced on Monday evening. 

“No drug use took place in the Green Room and we consider the matter closed,” the EBU said in a statement, adding that it had checked all available video footage as part of “a thorough review of the facts”.

READ ALSO: Italian Eurovision winners ‘really offended’ by accusations of drug use

David, who was shown on camera leaning over a table backstage in what some speculated could be drug use, had strongly denied the allegations. 

He said the footage showed him sweeping up some glass broken by one of his bandmates.

Måneskin with their trophy after winning the final of the 65th Eurovision Song Contest. Photo: Sander Koning / ANP / AFP

There had been calls for “total transparency” from officials in France, which came a close second in the song contest, after the clip went viral following Saturday’s final in the Netherlands.

The French minister for Europe said that drug use should be grounds for disqualification, though the head of France’s public broadcasting group said they did not plan to challenge the result.

David told interviewers he was “really offended” by the speculation, which he said had marred Italy’s first Eurovision victory in 31 years.

“We are alarmed that inaccurate speculation leading to fake news has overshadowed the spirit and the outcome of the event and unfairly affected the band,” the EBU said, adding that it was looking forward to “a spectacular Eurovision Song Contest in Italy next year”.