The Electric Cello
People began to experiment with using amplification to produce instrument sound in the 1920s. There are mostly unsuccessful examples of telephone transmitters linked up to violins and microphones attached to bridges of instruments. The creation of the electric guitar in 1931 was among the first successful electrically amplified instruments and paved the way for a wide variety of stringed electric instruments such as the electric cello.
Instead of producing sound from acoustic resonance, the electric cello and other electric instruments produce sound with electric amplification. Because the body of the instrument is not essential to the tone and production of the sound, some modern electric cellos have no body or an inconsequential adaptation of the form of a traditional cello. These electric cellos are not intended to play classical music written for the cello but are instead used to cover popular or rock songs and to play their own repertoire of music.
Most electric cellos are amplified from a piezoelectric system in the bridge of the instrument. Pre-amplifiers can also be used when attached close to the strings. Acoustic cellos can be adapted to produce electric music but their traditional shape and function can create contradictory resonance and also increases the likelihood of microphone feedback. Some electric cellos are known as silent cellos as they only produce sound when plugged into an amplifier. The possibilities of sound from an electric cello are different than its acoustic parent as the electric instrument has the opportunity to create "wah" sounds, have a chorus effect, and allow for distortion of the notes. Some electric cellos still possess the traditional endpin and knee supports but others use an elongated pin or a tripod to stand and play their instrument. Von Cello, a musician who also has a band by the same name, popularized the “celtar” style of playing a cello like it is a guitar. Now there is a following of electric cello players who play their instruments this way using a strap system to support the cello.
Many popular, rock, and heavy metal bands integrate the electric cello or other electric stringed instruments into their repertoire. In 1971, the Electric Light Orchestra was one of the first to popularize this inclusion as their songs not only contained cello arrangements but they also brought four cellos on tour with them in addition to their standard rock band. Other more contemporary bands like the Smashing Pumpkins and OneRepublic have made extensive use of electric cellos in their music as well.
There is also a significant population of cello-based bands. The 1990s band Rasputina utilized a lot of the distortion effects that the electric instrument provided and opened for artists and bands like Marilyn Manson. One of the most unique, avant-garde music groups to heavily utilize the cello is the duo Loneliest Monk who accompany the cello with a drum kit, voice, and some toy piano sounds. Five young members of the Venezuelan youth Simón Bólivar Symphony Orchestra have branched out from their traditional, classical roots and make up the group Akashiaft who covers Aerosmith, the Beatles, Nirvana, and other popular bands.
If you are looking to enhance your cello playing with an amplified instrument or plan to cover death metal songs, look no further for various styles of electric and silent cellos.