Don’t Stuff Your Cello in the Overhead Bin
Unless you have one of these.
The 34th inventor in my Inventor Portraits series was a man named Ernest Nussbaum. An amateur musician and professional civil engineer, Ernest wanted a cello that he could travel with and practice playing on the road. So he designed the Prakticello.
Here’s what it looks like next to a full-sized cello:
You can see that it doesn’t have the full body of a cello. It just has the parts that touch the body when played, and the parts that hold the strings. So it doesn’t resonate as loudly as a proper cello and wouldn’t be used for performance. But for practice, it does the job.
Fully dismantled, it stows away in a case small enough to easily fit in an overhead bin:
When I met Ernest, he was 82 years old and still making every Prakticello himself in his garage, spending around 40 hours on each one:
He told me:
I have to remind myself that Stradivari was still making violins and cellos when he was 90 … He’s a good example to show that you don’t have to quit just because you’re over 80.
Ernest had been making collapsible instruments since the early 1980s. The Washington Post wrote about Ernest back in 1983, under the headline “Cello To Go.” Back then he offered a model called the Travielo which included a battery-powered amplifier. But eventually he focused on just the non-amplified Prakticello.
According to a 2010 NPR story, Ernest sold about 450 Prakticellos to amateur and professional players. His customers included Yo-Yo Ma and other renowned performers.
He also made collapsible violins and violas, but those weren’t as popular because, well, they’re pretty small and portable already.
Want to see how a Prakticello is assembled? Here’s a video I made with Ernest about 12 years ago demonstrating and discussing his invention:
Ernest died in 2017. But in 2013 he passed his business along to a colleague who continues making Prakticellos to this day. If you’re interested in such a thing, you can check out his website for more.
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