Cellos are not just a large violin, though they are part of the violin family. A standard cello will have four strings tuned a fifth apart: C, G, D, and A. Compared to a piano, the C string is the second lowest C on a piano and it goes up from there.
Cellos are classified by size, by quality, and what materials they are made out of. Read on to learn about all of the different types of cellos.
While it may seem like a smaller cello would have a different sound than a larger one, that is not the truth. Smaller cellos only exist to allow smaller cellists to play. The different sizes accommodate people of various heights, with various arm lengths, and other factors.
Unfortunately, cello sizes vary by country, so it is important for someone just starting out to get proper measurements to see what they need. The size is based on the length of the back of the cello.
A 4/4 cello is a full-size cello. Its back is usually 30 inches long on average, though sometimes it is larger. A 7/8 size cello has a back that ranges from 27-30 inches. A ¾ size cello has a back length ranging from 26 to 27½ inches.
They get smaller from there in sizes. A ½ cello, which is not actually half the size of a 4/4 cello, but more like 23-26 inches, is the next size down. After that is the ¼ cello, which is 20-23 inches. Then there is the 1/8 cello, ranging from 17¾-20 inches. And last, the smallest cello, a 1/10 cello is a cello smaller than 17¾ inches.
In some instances, someone may need a cello larger than 4/4 and will need to either find an old cello that was made with the older dimensions – though those cellos are usually several centuries old – or they get a cello custom-made to accommodate a longer wingspan or hand breadth.
Levels of Cello
This is largely determined by price and material. There are four levels of cello ranging from beginner to symphonic performance.
When first starting out, it is very common to buy a beginner cello. These are characterized by being cheaper and more affordable for students just starting out. Another characteristic is a shorter bridge which lets the strings sit lower and cause the player less fatigue.
One problem with beginner cellos is because their materials are cheaper, they lack the full sound and resonation of a more expensive cello. They also have limited dynamics and might be slow to respond to the player after a time.
Many smaller cellos are made with the beginner in mind, with the thought that smaller people tend to be beginners.
There is nothing wrong with buying a beginner cello. However, expect to replace the cello after a year or two if you intend to keep with it. It may also be noted that beginner cellos might turn some players off of continuing because of the cheap make.
Intermediate cellos are middle-of-the-line when it comes to cost. They have a notably bigger and more full sound compared to beginner cellos. The bridge is set to standard height to allow the strings to resonate more. They are also usually paired with higher-quality bows which means the player will get a quicker response.
It is possible to start with an intermediate cello, especially if a player is starting later, or simply wants to have a better sound from the beginning but does not want to invest in a performance-level cello just yet.
This is actually the most common type of cello. They are typically constructed by hand and each one is tested and verified to ensure the richest and most even sound. These are designed for serious students at all levels. They have a beautiful sound to play well in a solo or blend well in an orchestra.
Many serious symphony players, professors, and other professional musicians will seek out cellos made of the best materials and otherwise customized to their needs. This is an expense and something to save up for, but the quality is worth it.
Types of Cellos
Cellos can be divided into types such as acoustic, electric, carbon fiber, among others. Different types will give different sounds and have various benefits. No one is better than another, it comes down to the cellist’s personal preference.
This is your standard cello. It means they are not plugged into an electric outlet. Their sound is made entirely by the acoustics of the cello itself. They are made from various types of wood.
Carbon Fiber Cellos
These cellos are made from carbon fiber, hence their name. It is a strong material that allows for a fuller sound. Their sound makes them popular, as does their coloring. Notably, they do not have any cornices, the indentations or lips on the sides of the cello. Being made of carbon fiber negates the need for cornices.
These are cellos that are plugged into an outlet and make the sounds of a cello but through electricity rather than the acoustics of the wood. They have their own unique sound but are also better at competing with drums and electric guitars.
Electric cellos notably do not have to look like a cello at all, though many do have the silhouette of a cello to identify them or help the cellist hold them.
You should also learn acoustic cello first before moving over to electric.
Acoustic cellos can be made out of many different woods. To the average player, this will not matter more than color or sheen. However, more experienced players may want to experiment with different types of wood or even keep multiple cellos with different sounds.
Maple is the most common type of wood you will find acoustic cellos made out of. There are 120 different types of maple around the world. The colors range from pale brown that is almost white to deep reddish browns. The grain pattern is curly, wavy, or quilted.
Basswood comes from trees in the Linden family. It can be gathered from about 30 different trees. The wood is characterized by having a warm tone. The coloring is usually lighter and lacks grain patterns.
Spruce is another common wood for musical instruments like cello because of its strength-to-weight ratio. It comes in many different colors. Spruce is also the best choice of wood for the top, or scroll, of the cello even if the body is made out of different woods because it can withstand heavy tension.
Poplar wood gives cellos lighter cream colors and yellowy-brown colors. Sometimes the cellos will be gray or even green in tint.
There are at least four-hundred different types of willow trees, making it another popular wood for makes of cello. Cellos made of willow wood can withstand more moist climates due to the nature of the wood.
Ebony is a thicker wood with a fine texture. The color is not always black, it can sometimes be polished to be multi-colored, making it a striking wood to use for a cello. Ebony will often be used for the pegs and fingerboard of a cello regardless of the body material due to its density.
While there are many different types and classifications of cello, they are all cellos. For someone just starting out, it might be a good idea to pick up a beginner cello to learn the basics, but accept that a replacement is coming. You can also start out on an intermediate cello for a richer sound.
Cello size is very important and you need to have one fitted to you to have the best experience. If you are ever going to pick up an electric cello, make sure you know the basics of an acoustic one first. And, know that it is completely possible to customize your cello for the right amount of money.