An essential part of the symphony orchestra, the cello is also the second largest stringed instrument. Consisting of four strings that produce tones an octave lower than the viola, the cello closely resembles the human bass voice on the low end, and is very often associated with classical music; primarily in string quartets and orchestras. However, the cello can be used in other styles as well. In fact, heavy metal groups sometimes use the cello by adding a pickup to electrify the instrument, along with various effects pedals.
Cellos are constructed in both full and fractional sizes. Being a function of leg, arm and body length, the cello is more complex than the violin or viola to size properly.
Designed for beginners, student cellos are often made by machine. For high friction points such as pegs and the fingerboard, maple is sometimes used, often dyed to look like expensive ebony. These cellos are affordable for most budgets and make a great option for players still in the early development stages.
These cellos have better quality wood and craftsmanship. Often made by hand, they sound better and can also accommodate advanced players. Extensive hand graduation of the cellos top and back creates a war and refined sound, and the pegs and fingerboard and often made of ebony. Depending on how high in quality the wood and craftsmanship is on an intermediate cello, they're even capable of approaching a professional performance level.
Using only the finest wood and built with extraordinary attention to detail, there are very few craftsman even skilled enough to be at this level. And due to the high cost of premium wood, along with the amount of hours required to make one, the price of a professional cello is considerably high.
For the top of a cello, only straight-grained spruce is used. The reason is because most of a cellos sound comes from the top, so a strong material must be used to handle the strings heavy tension and establish a resonant sound. The preferred choice is a straight-grained, natural-aged spruce – preferably no less than five years.
For enhanced beauty and stability, maple is used on the sides, back and neck.
For the finger, pegs, endpin and tailpiece, ebony is the preferred choice. Dense and dark, this wood is strong yet light to not make the instrument feel top-heavy.
A few other exotic woods used include rosewood and boxwood, among others. Used for the pegs, tailpiece and endpin, these woods are picked for both their beauty and individual sound characteristics.
Normally crafted from a very dense wood. These are used to adjust the strings tension, for tuning purposes.
Placed between the nut and scroll to secure the cello's pegs. Holes on both sides of the peg box are tapered to make tuning easy and stable.
Normally crated from a quality hard maple. A lot of stress is placed on the neck. In fact, proper tuning can put around 200 pounds of tension on the neck alone.
Glued at the top of the neck, the strings are pressed against this long, dense and stiff wood. Meant to add strength to the neck and keep it from warping. Quality fingerboards are made from ebony, and scooped inward towards the center.
The bridge stays in placed solely by tension, and is higher where the lowest string crosses. For proper sound transmission, quality bridges are hand-fitted against the body.
For a freer response, two holds are cut in the top of a stringed instrument. This also allows sound to be projected from the instruments interior.
The tailpiece is located at the cellos bottom, and anchors the bottom of the each string. Typically for cosmetic purposes, they are made of the same material as the pegs and endpin. But any dense material will do.
These were originally made from animal intestine. Now, tail guts are made from nylon, and are meant to hold the tension from the strings into the button, across the saddle.
Located at the bottom of a string instrument, this small button-like feature holds the tail gut.
This is used for a few purposes. For one, it holds the tail gut (like the button does for a violin or viola). It also has an adjustable rod so that the cello's height can be adjusted to the proper position of a player.
Found on the inside of the body, the sound post delivers vibration from the top to the back, and offers structural support.
A long piece of wood that's glued under the lowest string, inside the frame. The bass bar disperses sound over the instruments entire length, and strengthens the structural support of the top.
Manufacturers employ stringed instrument makers (known as "luthiers") depending on their level of experience. Building a cello is an artistic endeavor as much as it is a scientific one, and it requires a certain level of patience and skill. For this reason, less experienced luthiers normally work on less-expensive, student cellos. However, as their experience increases, so does the level of cello they craft.
To prepare the cello so that it plays at its greatest potential, manufacturers employ "setup" technicians. Responsibilities of the setup musicians include adjusting proper depth and shape of the notches at the nut and bridge, the shaping and shaving of various components, precise fit and finish of pegs, and tuning.
To further enhance the beauty of a stringed instrument, a technique called "flaming" is used. Flaming is meant solely to improve the instruments visual appeal, and will not necessarily improve the sound quality.
Constructed from two pieces of wood that are glued together, instrument backs are commonly "book-matched". While this doesn't necessarily enhance the sound quality, it will give the string instrument a uniform appearance.
Not counting a players skill level, the most influential factor of a stringed instruments sound quality is their choice of strings. There isn't any definite type of string that all players must use. Every string type has their own characteristics, each of which are more fitting for different situations, from country to orchestral performances. Also, certain strings sound differently depending on the instrument being used.
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When buying a cello, both skill level and the musician's age should be taken into consideration, as well as what the instrument will be used for (school band, orchestra, etc). If it's for school, it might be a good idea to ask the band teacher for guidance.
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