Variety is the spice of life, they say. Not surprisingly, this saying also applies in the world of musical instruments, and more specifically, cellos.
You see, cellos are not a one-size-fits-all instrument. Instead, they come in a wide range of sizes. This way, every cellist can find a cello that perfectly fits their bodies irrespective of their age or stature. However, the question most people ask is, ‘how do I know the right cello size to choose?’
Indeed, it is vital that the size of a cello corresponds to its player’s size, and we’ll tell you why.
You see, the cello size determines the distance through which the player must stretch to reach the instrument’s fingerboard. Also, it defines the distance between the notes on the fingerboard. Therefore, an ill-fitting cello can negatively impact the cellist’s playing ability and cause posture problems and more.
Therefore, you must pick the right cello size for yourself or your ward.
Understandably, due to the somewhat complex system of (you’ll see what we mean in a bit) of cello sizing, choosing the perfect instrument can be tricky. Thankfully we can help.
In this article, we have prepared a comprehensive cello size guide and step-by-step instructions on how to choose the right instrument. Furthermore, we threw in some information on how the ideal cello size should fit a player’s body. This way, you can confirm if the instrument you have at the moment is the right one for you.
But, before we jump into our tips on how to pick the ideal cello size for a player, let us examine the various cello sizes that exist.
How Are Cellos Sized?
We’ve already established that there are several sizes of cellos on the market today. But, what exactly are those sizes? More importantly, what are the criteria for setting those sizes?
Typically, manufacturers base the size rating of the instrument they make on the length of the instrument’s back. Also, we should probably mention beforehand that the rating of cello sizes comes as fractions. That said, here are the various sizes of cellos that existing and their corresponding back lengths:
- 1/8 size: 17.75 to 20 inches
- 1/4 size: 20 to 23 inches
- 1/2 size: 23 to 26 inches
- 3/4 size: 26 to 27.25 inches
- 7/8 size: 27.25 to 30 inches
- 4/4 size: 30 inches and above
(You should note that smaller cellos are identical to the larger models in both construction and playing range. They merely undergo a scaled reduction to aid younger and smaller players).
Also, the most common cello sizes are 1/8, 1/2, 3/4, and 4/4.
That said, the fractions of cello sizes represent volume rather than length, while the back length defines the cello’s width. You’re probably wondering why there is a range for the back lengths for the same size of a cello. The answer is simple — there is no absolute value for the back length of cellos. So, manufacturers may sometimes go above or below the average back length for a cello size. But, they’ll usually stay within the range.
Besides, the actual size of the cello sometimes varies depending on the country that manufactures them. Most German cellos are usually the precise back length. On the other hand, Romanian and Hungarian pieces are mostly always an inch short, while Chinese cellos can be slightly smaller, bigger, or exact.
Now, most people usually find the fractional nomenclature of cello sizes misleading. For instance, the back length of the half-size cello (1/2) is not half the back length of the full (4/4). Understandably, this can make things confusing very fast.
As a general rule, most adult cellists will use a 4/4 cello, while young 4 to 6-year-old players will typically start with a 1/8. However, this rule is not set in stone. Some adults are not as tall as others, while some children may grow faster than their age.
So, here comes the million-dollar question — how do I know the right cello size for me? Well, keep reading to find out.
Cello Sizing Guide: How to Know Your Ideal Size
There several methods to pick out the right cello size for you and your child. In a few moments, we’ll explore some of the more widely used options.
Estimating by Age
One of the ways of determining a player’s cello size is by using their age. Although this method is not the most accurate, it almost gets you close to your ideal cello size. That said, here is a cello sizing guide based on the player’s age.
- 1/8 size: 4 to 6 years old
- 1/4 size: 5 to 7 years old
- 1/2 size: 7 to 11 years old
- 3/4 size: 11 to 15 years old
- 4/4 size: 15 and above
Remember, if the cello size that falls into your age bracket is too large for you, choose a cello one size below that one. More often than not, the smaller size will fit perfectly!
Estimating by Height
Here is another estimation method you may use to pick out your cello size. You see, a person’s height almost always corresponds to the size of the cello they’d feel most comfortable playing. So, experts have come up with an estimation chart that combines height ranges with cello sizes. Here it is:
- 1/8 to 1/4 size – below 4 feet
- 1/2 size – 4 to 4 1/2 feet
- 3/4 size – 4 1/2 to 5 feet
- 4/4 size – 5 feet and above
However, if you fall between sizes, it is usually best to stick with the smaller cello size. You see, cellists are generally more comfortable with an instrument that’s slightly too small than one that’s too big.
Measuring the Player
The is by far the most accurate of determining the ideal cello size for a player. In this case, you will need someone to measure the distance between your neck and your palm. However, if it is your child that’s getting the cello, you may carry out the measurements.
Based on the value you get, you can then compare it with this table and determine the arm length’s ideal cello size.
- 1/4 size – 18 to 20 inches long
- 1/2 size – 20 to 22 inches long
- 3/4 size – 22 to 24 inches long
- 4/4 size – 24 inches long and more
Estimating with Several Cellos
Finally, if you have access to several cellos sizes but you have no way to measure your arm length, you can still pick out your ideal size. Here’s how to do it:
- Sit on a straight-back chair with your feet on the floor and your knees at a 90-degree angle.
- Next, hold the cello like you would if you want to play and see if you meet the following criteria:
- The cello’s upper rim should be resting on your breast bone (or sternum).
- The lower bout corner of the cello should touch your left knee.
- The cello’s neck should be only a few inches from your left shoulder.
- Finally, the tuning peg for the C string (it’s the thickest one) should be close to your left ear.
If the cello meets all these requirements, then it’s perfect for you! Interestingly, you can also use these guideless to reconfirm the cello size you pick with other methods. If it doesn’t meet the above criteria, that cello may not be the best size for you.
That said, let us quickly relate the cello size with the player’s hand size. This way, you can see why choosing the right instrument size is essential.
Relating Cello Size with Hand Size
It may be impossible to overemphasize the importance of a cellist choosing the right instrument size. However, large players can usually get away with picking a cello size at random (since they will likely opt for the 4/4, which their arms are long enough to play conveniently). However, for small-handed cello players, the decision is much more delicate.
You see, the larger the cello, the longer its strings and the greater the space between its notes. As such, there is significantly more strain on the hand that’s reaching and holding strings across these extensions. While bigger players can usually handle this strain better, small players may struggle to keep up.
Admittedly, you can train your hands to be more flexible. But why suffer through that when you can change the size of your cello?
For instance, a 4/4 cello may have a string length of 72cm or greater, while a 7/8 model usually has only 68cm. While the 4cm difference may not seem like a lot, spreading this distance over the fingerboard can make a significant difference in playing comfort. If you’ve been struggling with a full-size cello before, on a 7/8 cello, you’ll suddenly seem like you have longer arms!
With most of the strain in your left arm gone, you will find that you can play much more conveniently. As such, you can improve your cello skills much faster!
Deciding the right size of cello for you is a vital part of the instrument purchase process. One that you cannot afford to compromise on as it sets the tone for your experience with that cello. As such, we hope that our cello sizing guide has given you valuable insight into how to pick the perfect instrument for you.
Remember, you will spend a significant amount of time playing on your cello. So, don’t rush into making a decision. Take your time and make your decision so you can enjoy playing your instrument.
Have fun shopping, and then playing!