Today, the cello has secured its place as one of the most popular instruments in the world at large. Indeed, more often than not, every orchestra has an array of cello players in their numbers. Of course, this means that many new cello enthusiasts are joining the fold every day.
Understandably, if you’re looking to pick up the cello as your preferred instrument, you’d want to find out all you can about it.
In light of this, we’ll be discussing one of the more popular questions we get — how many strings does the cello have? Of course, this is a valid question, as most stringed instruments rarely have the same number of strings.
In this blog post, we’ll examine the number of strings a cello has, their tone designations, and other related information. You will also discover the various types of strings that you can use with your cello and the advantages of each. So, don’t stop reading.
The Number of Strings in a Cello
If you’re reading this article, you probably already know that cello is a bass instrument from the violin. Like the violin, you will need to bow to play the cello. However, some people also pluck their strings. But, what about the number of strings?
The cello has 4 strings in a C-G-D-A sequence (from left to right facing the instrument). Its strings are usually tuned in perfect fifths, with each string an octave higher than the previous one. In other words, on a cello, you’ll have a C2 to G2 to D3, and finally, an A3 (from low to high).
Due to the range of tone on the cello’s strings, most music for the instrument on the bass clef. However, higher ranged pieces sometimes feature the treble and tenor clefs. It is probably also worth mentioning that the C on the cello is two octaves lower than a piano’s middle C.
That said, let us explore some quick facts about the strings on a cello:
- The C string on a cello has the lowest note and is also the largest in thickness. When you play it as an open note, the string produces a C2 tone at a frequency of approximately 65.41Hz.
- Next, the G string is the cello’s second-lowest string. As an open-notes, the string vibrates at a frequency of approximately 98Hz to produce a G2 note.
- The D string comes next and is the runner up the highest string on the cello. If you play the D string as an open note, it will produce a D3 sound at a frequency of approximately 146.8 Hz.
- Finally, the A string is the cello’s highest string, and of course, it also has the least thickness. As an open note, the A string produces an A3 tone and vibrates at a frequency of approximately 220Hz.
- Now that we’ve gone through that, here is another fun fact for you – the cello did not always have four strings. Indeed, the four-stringed cello is a modern-day adaptation. Let us take you through the journey of the earliest cellos.
The Earliest Cellos and Their Strings ( 5-Stringed Cello)
Do you know that cellos have been around since the 16th century? However, during these times, they featured a five-stringed design. Also, they only existed to support the bass lines in musical ensembles.
However, fast forward to the 18th century, the cello replaced the bass viola da gamba to become a solo instrument. Moreover, composers such as Joseph Hadyn and Mozart also helped boost the cello’s popularity as a solo instrument.
Some other composers who helped to secure the cello’s place as a widely sought-after instrument are J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Camille Saint-Saëns Édouard Lalo, Edward Elgar, Antonín Dvořák, and Samuel Barber, amongst others.
Today, five-stringed cellos have mostly gone out of popularity, and only a few exist from the old days.
Types of Cello Strings
In historical times, instrument makers fashioned catgut cellos strings, which are ironically usually dried goat or sheep intestines. However, thanks to technological advancement in recent times, there are now diverse options for cello strings. Of course, it may take some experimentation before you find your preferred string type. However, knowing the options that exist can help you along the way.
That said, here are the more common types of cellos strings.
1) Gut Core Cello Strings
Although other types of cello strings now exist, gut core strings have remained just as relevant in the musical world today. Indeed, most professional classical cello players prefer this type of string as they claim it produces the best sounds of all.
According to cellists who subscribe to this school of thought, gut core strings produce the warmest sounds with complex but rich overtones.
However, despite its advantages, gut core strings are also among the most stressful strings to use. For one, when you first install them on your cello, they can take up to a week, sometimes more, to settle. Furthermore, they are more susceptible to slight changes in weather conditions.
Even under moderate temperatures, gut core strings will frequently go out of tune. However, if there are extensive changes in temperature, humidity, and other atmospheric conditions, the situation worsens. If this happens, then you must prepare for extensive tuning when you want to play.
Moreover, this type of string is not as durable as others. So, if you’re a beginning or intermediate cellist, it is usually better to stick with other string options. Besides, the strings are much softer than others, making producing sounds a tad more tricky than necessary.
However, if you have a Baroque cello or you’re into classical music, then gut core strings may be the best choice for you!
2) Synthetic Core Cello Strings
The invention of synthetic core strings for cellos occurred early in the 1970s and became very popular. The basis for this type of string is to try and reproduce the sound of gut cores while sidestepping its disadvantages.
As such, when you install synthetic core strings on your cello, they can settle and stabilize in as little as two days. Also, they are more resistant to changes in temperature and humidity, unlike gut core strings.
Most synthetic core strings usually have either a nylon core or a fiber core. The nylon material is called Perlon, while the fiber is known as Kevlar. However, outside the core, synthetic core strings may have materials such as chrome steel, aluminum, tungsten, silver, and even gold.
A synthetic core string will typically respond to your bowing more quickly than a gut core string and produces vibrant tones. However, many may argue that it is not quite as rich as that of the gut core.
3) Steel Core Cello Strings
Steel cores are another popular option for strings on the cello scene. An alternative name for this type of string is all-metal cello string. You see, steel core strings feature either a straight or twisted wire, wound up with metal.
One of the most distinctive features of steel core cello strings is that they are the most durable of all the options. Also, they offer a very stable pitch when you play. But best of all, steel core cello strings have the highest volume of play. Indeed, depending on how large your venue is, you may not need to mic your instrument!
Cellists who are into jazz, country, and folk music (famous for their bright and focused sounds) usually opt for a steel core string. Besides, if you use an electric cello, a steel core string may be the best option for you.
It is also worth mentioning that steel core cello strings are the least expensive option of strings. This makes them perfect for students and beginning cellists.
Hopefully, this article has helped you learn how many strings a cello has and the intricate details about its notes. Besides, you should already have some insight into the types of cello strings that exist and the advantages each one has.
Many cellists combine different types of strings on their instruments. Usually, they use synthetic strings on the G and C while steel strings form the A and D. However, there is no hard and fast rule to stringing your instrument. You can play around with the various options and find which works best for you.
Let us know how it goes. We’d love to hear from you!