Luthier Spotlight – Stephan and Ella From StEllArt
Meet husband and wife team, Stephan and Ella From StEllArt…
How did you get your start in music?
My parents introduced me to music at a very young age. I still remember them playing the James Bond “Gold Finger Soundtrack” and Elvis’s “Blue Hawaii” vinyls when I was 5 or 6 years old. I got my own sound system a couple of years later and I vividly remember buying my first albums: Supertramp “Crime of the Century”, “Frampton comes Alive” and Heart “Dreamboat Annie”. That was it, I knew then that music would take an important place in my life.
Are you still an active player?
I was never very much of a good player, but enjoyed playing on a good instrument.
How did you learn the art of woodworking/Luthier? Who would you consider a Mentor? How did you get started as a Luthier?
After playing a year or two on my PRS Custom 22, I wanted to acquire a higher end instrument but just couldn’t afford it. Then one day while I was surfing the Web, I stumbled upon a very interesting British Builder’s Website called Crimson Guitars. This builder; “Ben Crowe” was generous enough to post the progress of his instruments on a daily basis. That really made it for me. I was getting up at 5:00 AM every morning for almost 2 years, spending between 1 or 2 hours looking at his progress and taking some notes before going to work every morning. Being an Engineer, it was relatively easy for me to put everything into perspective. I have to say that even if I never met Ben Crowe he taught me a big part of the art of art of woodworking/Luthier. One day, I will travel to Great Britain to meet Ben in person and thank him for what he did without even knowing it. It’s when my wife Ella (Architect and Fashion Designer from Moscow, Russia) immigrated to Canada in 2008 that we decided to undertake the construction of our first guitar, called StElla; a combination of our names, Stephan and Ella.
When did you build your first bass?
We completed our first Bass, Athena in 2012 after building a couple of guitars. Athena was commissioned by a musician who heard about us and our work. (Neck Through construction, dense exotic woods, attention to detail, stylish designs…)
Studio Pictures of Athena can be seen at:
Pictures of the building process of Athena can be seen at:
How do you select the woods you choose to build with?
We choose our woods for their tonal qualities and their aesthetics. My wife Ella is very good for choosing wood combinations that look great together. I could say that she is Chief of the Design department.
How about pickups? What pickups did you use in the past? What electronics do you use right now?
This is usually at the customer’s preferences.
On Athena, we used A “PJ “combination from EMG, active P5 and J5. The signal goes through a BQS active EQ system with a 5-knob system that features a balance control (blend) and master volume with separate bass and treble pots along with the concentric mid-control (stacked) and 18 V power supply for extra headroom.
On Sibilla, we used EMG 4SW individual active pickups mounted in a Macasar Ebony housing. Each pickup has its own height adjustment. The signal goes through a EMG BQC active EQ system with a 3-knob system featuring a master volume, both the bass and treble on a concentric pot as well as another concentric pot for the mid-control and 18 V Power Supply for greater Headroom.
Also included is Richard McClich (RMC) PA-400BX, 4 individual Piezo transducers. The piezo signal goes through a Richard McClich (RMC) Poly-Drive 1 Preamp with piezo and MIDI outputs. Control includes Piezo Volume, Midi Volume, a 3 position selector switch (mag/mag + piezo/midi) and a momentary switch for the midi program changes.
Triple output jack as follows:
- Magnetic pickups
- Magnetic/Both/Piezo (use individual pots for blending)
- MIDI Output
When jacks 1 and 2 are inserted simultaneously, output 1 is magnetic only and output 2 is piezo only.
On Nemesis, we used 1 Delano Xtender 6 passive pickup. The signal passes through an active 3 band
“F Bass” EQ (Bass/Mid/High) and Volume, and a 3 position selector switch for Mag Pickup configuration
“Single coil (rear)/Parallel/Single coil (front)”.
Also included is “Richard McClish (RMC)” Bass Excellence piezo transducers and “Richard McClish (RMC)” Hybrid Pro “B” preamp with Volume and Tone control, 3 position selector switch for (Mag/Both/Piezo).
Dual output jack as follows:
- magnetic pickups
- Magnetic/Both/Piezo (use individual pots for blending)
When both jacks are inserted, output 1 is Magnetic only and output 2 is piezo only.
Who were some of the first well-known musicians who started playing your basses?
Actually, we do not have any well-known musicians playing our instruments, but we do have test ride sessions booked with Alain Caron and Marc Langis, “Ex-Bassist for Celine Dion”.
How do you develop a signature or custom bass for an artist?
This is probably the most important part of the process. These instruments will probably last for a couple of lifetimes and passed on to the next generation so it is very important to get it right the first time. We spend time with the player discussing about his playing style to determine the size of neck and scale length of the instrument. In some cases, we have used a customer’s instrument that he (or she) is familiar with to reproduce the neck on his (or her) new instrument. Because our guitars are entirely built by hand, one by one, it is possible to fabricate any body shape. Ella’s aesthetic talents are exceptional and, so far, she has come up with a couple of beautiful body shapes. A multitude of wood species can be used to build guitars and they come in all colours and they can be relatively cheap to very expensive. Tone-wise, it is not easy to predict exactly how the instrument will sound but we are able to follow some pretty good guide lines. We work very closely with our customers in order to offer them a unique and rewarding experience, so that the process of the creation of their instrument can also constitute for them a most fruitful experience.
What are a few things that you are proud about your instruments and that you would consider unique in your instruments?
I think I would have to say the attention to detail and building without compromise. I think that our instruments combine many different building techniques that make them unique. Such as: Multi-Laminated exotic wood Neck Through, Multi-Laminated exotic wood bodies, Comfort Carved Backs, continuous wood back control covers, Inlaid Output Jack plates, Inlaid Truss rod covers, Multi-Laminated headstock veneers, Copper tape Faraday cage control cavities just to name a few.
Which one of the basses that you build is your favourite one?
Every new instrument is our favourite at that particular time. I think we are bringing the bar up each time, so I have to say that our new favourite is Nemesis, our latest 6-string semi-hollow neck through fretless.
Can you give us a word of advice to young Luthiers who are just starting out?
Find a good Mentor, listen attentively, be extremely patient, keep your two feet on the ground, plan a couple of steps ahead and be sure that your tools are always sharp.
What advice would you give a young musician trying to find his perfect bass?
Each time you have a chance to try a new Bass and you find that you like it. Be attentive and identify the reasons why. After playing other basses, you will probably notice that these reasons are repeating themselves. Then you will know what you are looking for.
What is the biggest success for you and for your company?
We are a team of two; my wife and I and we have been working in the dark for almost 10 years now. With the attention we received since the birth of Nemesis, we hope to change all that. For now, I would say that our biggest success comes at that moment when the musician takes possession of his instrument. The look in his eyes at this specific moment is very rewarding. Another satisfying moment is when you hear the instrument sing in the hands of a talented musician.
Are you preparing something new, some new model or new design? Or maybe some new gear amps, etc.
My head is always full of new ideas; the problem is which one to undertake? Apart from the fact that we might be starting the build of Nemesis # 2, Ella and I just finished the design of an 8-string multi-scale neck through single cut guitar. A StEllArt Facebook follower has proposed that it would be pretty cool to build a
9-string multi-scale extended range bass. I thought that it could be a nice project to undertake.
What are your future plans?
Originally, we started to build 6 and 7-string guitars. But I need to be honest and say that we have more pleasure building basses. Bass Players are more adventurous and open-minded and this is great for us because we can think outside the box and build instruments that are out of the ordinary. Saying that, we would be very happy to concentrate a greater part of our time building basses.
Is there anything else you would like to share that we have not included?
We would like very much to express our gratitude to those who gave us their trust in building for them a unique instrument that does not only provide them with superior performance capability and sound, but that is also a work of art.
We also want to say thanks to Valery and Raul from Bass Musician Magazine, without whom these instruments would not get as much attention as they deserve.