• Ethan Setiawan - Checkpoint Interview

    Ethan Setiawan
    Berklee College of Music student Ethan Setiawan is a rising young star honing his already considerable musical skills within the rich Berklee College of Music scene.

    Ethan just announced the release of Checkpoint, a collection of solo mandolin and mandocello tunes out September 30 to complement previous recordings with Julian Pinelli and Theory Expats.

    We'd been hearing good things about his music for several years, and the release of Checkpoint seemed the perfect time to shine the light on his accomplishments and diverse musical tastes.

    Originally from Goshen, Indiana, Ethan won the Walnut Valley National Mandolin Championship in 2014 and has now entered his second year at Berklee on a full scholarship. He has studied under Mike Marshall at the prestigious Savannah Music Festival's Acoustic Music Seminar, an invitation-only experience whose alumni include many of the brightest stars on today's acoustic music scene. Add to that trips to the best music camps in the U.S. such as The Mandolin Symposium and Swannanoa Gathering and a guest appearance on A Prairie Home Companion.

    With the release of a five-song solo project on BandCamp we decided to chat with Ethan to find out about where he's at and where he's headed with his music. At the time of the interview Ethan was just starting a semester studying at Berklee's satellite campus in Spain.

    You have an enviable mix of instruments for a second year Berklee student, suggesting your ears are open to a lots of different kinds of music. That's reflected on your recordings.

    I have a Clark F5, a Blue Star 5-string electric mandolin, and a Shenk 5-string mandocello.

    The Clark I won in the Winfield mandolin contest in 2014 and it's been rocking ever since. The Blue Star is great, I play it a bunch but it doesn't actually appear on this recording.

    The mandocello is the weirdest. It has five strings, low to high CGDAE, and a jazz guitar body. So I'm a bit confused on what to call it. The longest name I've heard so far is 5-string octave tenor guitar, but I usually wind up saying 5-string mandocello.

    It's from the shop of Jim Shenk, a very talented luthier from Goshen Indiana, down the road from where I'm from. He makes killer guitars and mandolins. I had one of his mandolins for a while. I spent a lot of time this past summer working with a drummer and an electric bass player, and the Blue Star and the Jim Shenk are the instruments I played with that band. For bluegrass or more acoustic jazz, I'll play the Clark.

    Ethan Setiawan with Shenk mandocello
    Ethan with his Jim Shenk mandocello.

    Ethan's Clark F-5, photo credit: Austin Clark. Note from Austin: "This photo was taken before I installed a pickguard. Ethan has since removed the pickguard and I refretted it a year or so ago with EVO fretwire."

    Joe Walsh speaks very highly of your music. Who else are you studying and playing with at the moment?

    I've studied and taken mandolin lessons with Joe and he's fantastic. I'm in my second year at Berklee, and it's great! I've also had opportunities to study with Jason Anick, Rob Thomas, Bruce Molsky and Tony Trischka. After Berklee, and even during Berklee, my main focus is to be on the road with a band. I'm also deep into music technology classes (recording, live sound, mixing, production), so that'll at least be a supplement to performance. My band OctoPladd just released a series of live in-studio videos and we're gearing up to hit the road in 2017. I hope to have a longer, more involved solo record out in the next couple years as well.


    Ethan plays his Shenk mandocello on his original composition Wrangle.

    Checkpoint Tracks

    • Walking Music
    • Hymn
    • Just A Beholder
    • Wrangle
    • Stolen


    About OctoPladd, The Boston Bluegrass Union proclaimed, "...perhaps in an ideal world, all the band members would be wearing two plaid shirts at the same time." L-R: Julian Pinelli (fiddle), Ethan Setiawan (mandolin), Noah Harrington (bass, holding a banjo for the photo), Sam Leslie (guitar), all Berklee College of Music students.


    OctoPladd plays Ethan's original composition Untitled 12.

    Tell us about your stay in Spain at the moment.

    I'm here for just the Fall semester. Berklee's Valencia campus has study abroad and master's programs so I'm here taking lessons from a great Spanish jazz guitar player named Israel Sandoval, and a bunch of music technology classes not offered in Boston, with the end goal of adding a music technology minor to my performance degree. While performance is my main focus, things that pertain to performance, such as recording, live sound, and booking/marketing, for me are all interesting and relevant.

    Additional Information

    Comments 10 Comments
    1. Scott Tichenor's Avatar
      Scott Tichenor -
      Have to share a story about Ethan that I hope doesn't embarrass him. It shouldn't.

      It starts with Austin Clark who lives in Boise, Idaho but is originally from Lawrence. I run into his parents almost ever Saturday at the morning Farmer's Market and usually have a chat with them. Saw them yesterday and mentioned I was doing an interview with Ethan and told them he plays one of Austin's mandolins. They already knew that. Apparently both Clark parents had the opportunity to meet Ethan once and couldn't speak more highly of him. In fact, pretty much what I've heard from everyone I talked to. Austin mother also remarked that Ethan wore down the frets on the mandolin is just over a year and that impressed her that he plays that much.

      Wonderful that he's such a talented musician but it's even better when you find out he's a great person. I really enjoyed chatting with Ethan to do this piece and look forward to watching him develop over the next few years.
    1. danielpatrick's Avatar
      danielpatrick -
      Great interview!
    1. Mandocarver's Avatar
      Mandocarver -
      Great talent. Looking forward to the album's release and in particular to hearing/seeing more of that amazing 5-string mandocello.
    1. PhilGE's Avatar
      PhilGE -
      Ethan is top notch as a person and musician. He was very supportive of my son's early forays into jazz.

      Jim built this several years ago and Ethan used it on for a couple of summers before Jim built the arch top. It now belongs to another talented young musician.

    1. S.T.Greer's Avatar
      S.T.Greer -
      Three cheers foe Ethan! I've had the pleasure of playing with him at the Goshen Farmers Market a few years ago. I couldn't be happier to see him doing so well. He is really a quality person.
    1. PhilGE's Avatar
      PhilGE -
      Quote Originally Posted by S.T.Greer View Post
      Three cheers foe Ethan! I've had the pleasure of playing with him at the Goshen Farmers Market a few years ago. I couldn't be happier to see him doing so well. He is really a quality person.
      It's wonderful to see "The local boy making good" 😊
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      Ethan just launched a Kickstarter project for his first solo album today. We hope you'll join us in supporting his efforts. We made donation #1 to the project.
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      Noting the anniversary of this interview!
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      Noting today's anniversary of this interview.
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      Noting the anniversary of this interview.