Cello Buyer's Guide
Some of the Questions Answered Below
The cello is the second largest member of the string family and an integral part of the symphony orchestra. Cellos have four strings producing tones an octave lower than the viola, and their voice closely corresponds with the human bass voice on the low end. Cellos are commonly associated with classical music, and are primarily found in orchestras and string quartets. That is not to say a cello cannot be used in other musical styles. In fact, by adding a pickup to electrify the instrument and connecting it to effects pedals, the cello has been used in heavy metal bands.
Cellos are made in full and fractional sizes. While determining the appropriate instrument size for violin or viola can be fairly simple (basically a function of arm length), proper sizing of a cello is more complex, being a function of arm, leg and body length.
Bellafina Model 510 Cello Outfit
Student cellos are designed for beginning students and are often produced by machine. Maple is sometimes used for high friction parts (pegs, fingerboard) and dyed to resemble more expensive ebony, which is found on most orchestral string instruments. These cellos are excellent for the early stages of development and are priced to easily fit into most budgets.
Intermediate cellos offer better quality wood and workmanship, most (if not all) of which is done by hand. The result is a cello that sounds better and will accommodate a more advanced player. Pegs and fingerboard are usually made of ebony. Extensive hand graduation—the process of carving wood to different thicknesses—of the top and back of the cello produce a warmer and more refined sound. If the wood is good and the craftsman has paid attention to the necessary details, some intermediate cellos may even approach the professional level of performance.
Professional cellos are made from only the finest woods and built with near-fanatical attention to every detail of construction and appearance. Because of the relatively few craftsmen skilled at this level, the number of hours required to produce a professional-caliber cello, and the cost of premium wood, a professional cello's price is considerably higher than an intermediate cello's.
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Straight-grained spruce is the only material used for the top of a cello. Most of the sound is produced by the top, and straight-grained spruce is the only material strong enough to handle the heavy tension of the strings and ensure a resonant sound. Natural-aged, straight-grained spruce is preferred. The longer the natural aging, the better—five years is the minimum preference of cello makers.
The neck, sides, and back are generally constructed from maple, which strengthens stability and enhances beauty.
The fingerboard, pegs, tailpiece and endpin are usually made from ebony. This dense, dark wood is strong but light enough that it will not make the instrument feel top-heavy.
Rosewood, boxwood, and a few other exotic woods are also used for the pegs, tailpiece, and endpin. These woods are chosen as much for their beauty as they are for their individual sound characteristics.
Anatomy of a Cello
A decorative piece at the top of the instrument.
Typically constructed from a very dense wood. Pegs are used to adjust the tension on the strings, resulting in tuning.
A box between the scroll and nut that secure the cello's pegs. The holes on either side of the peg box are tapered to secure the pegs and allow for easy, stable tuning.
Typically constructed from a quality hard maple. A lot of stress is placed on the neck. With proper tuning, there can be 200 pounds of tension on the neck.
A long piece of wood glued on top of the neck that the strings are pressed against. This stiff, dense wood adds strength to the neck to prevent it from warping. Quality fingerboards are scooped inward towards the center and made from ebony.
The bridge is held in place only by tension; no glue is used. Quality bridges are hand-fitted against the body to ensure proper sound transmission. The bridge is higher where the lowest string crosses.
Two holes precisely cut in the top of a stringed instrument permit the top to respond more freely, and sound to be projected from the interior of the instrument.
Found near the bottom of the cello, the tailpiece anchors the bottom of each string. Generally, it is made of the same material as the endpin and pegs for cosmetic purposes. However, it can be made of any dense material.
Tail Gut (tail piece gut, tail piece adjuster):
Originally made from animal intestine, now constructed from nylon, this piece holds all the tension from the strings into the button, across the saddle.
Small button-like feature on the bottom of a string instrument that holds the tail gut.
The endpin serves a few purposes. First, like the button on a violin or viola, it holds the tail gut. The endpin also includes an adjustable rod that allows the cello's height to be adjusted to an individual's proper playing position.
Located on the inside of the body, the sound post provides structural support and transmits vibration from the top to the back.
On the inside of the frame, a long piece of wood that is glued under the lowest string. The bass bar strengthens the structural support of the top and distributes the sound over the entire length of the instrument.
Building a cello is as much art and as it is science. Manufacturers employ luthiers, or stringed instrument makers, at different levels of experience. The least experienced crafters typically work on less-expensive, student cellos. As the luthier's experience increases, so does the level of cello they craft.
Manufacturers employ "setup" technicians to prepare the cello to play at its highest potential. Detailed shaping and shaving of components, fitting the bridge, precise fit and finish of pegs, adjusting proper depth and shape of the notches at the bridge and the nut, and fine tuning are all responsibilities of the set-up technician.
Flaming is a popular technique to enhance the visual appeal of a stringed instrument. However, this technique does not necessarily enhance the quality of sound produced.
Most instrument backs are "book matched," or constructed from two pieces of wood glued together. This process gives the string instrument a uniform appearance, but does not necessarily improve the sound quality.
The single most influential factor (after players' skill) of sound quality produced by a stringed instrument is the choice of strings. There is no absolutely correct type of string for all players under all circumstances. Each type of string has qualities that make it more appropriate for different situations (i.e. solo vs. orchestral or country vs. classical performance). Other factors such as cost, the player's individual preferences, and the way a particular string sounds on an individual instrument also come into play. See The Woodwind & Brasswind string selection buyer's guide for more in-depth detail.
Buy Your Cello with Confidence from The Woodwind & Brasswind
In choosing a cello, you need to consider your musician's age and skill level, and the kind of use (school band, orchestra, etc.) to which they will put their stringed instrument. If for school, consulting with the band teacher is a good idea.
Whatever cello you select, The Woodwind & Brasswind's 100% Satisfaction Guarantee means you have 45 days to be sure it's right for you. If it's not, just return it for a full refund.* And neither do you need to worry about paying too much. Our 45-Day Lowest Price Guarantee means that if you find the same cello advertised for less elsewhere, we'll make up the difference. When you buy your cello from The Woodwind & Brasswind, you can buy with complete confidence.
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