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Thoughts about cellos (part 2)

The sound of a cello


When can you say that a cello sounds good?

When it has a balanced sound and similar in color on the whole scale. Loud but not very bright. If it speaks easily when is barely touched by a bow, it improves the comfort of the performance.

The cello should not have too many wolves. Wolves? Yes, this is not a typo. This is what we call the effect that appears most often on the f or f sharp note in a lower octave. It is a dull, repeated sound, sometimes it clicks like a burst from an automatic rifle and stands out clearly from other sounds. We cope with it by hanging a weight on the strings below the bridge, or attaching the weight to a magnet on the upper plate. But this only moves it to another place on the scale, between sounds, and slightly dampens the disturbance. It is better not to have wolves; sometimes one has this good fortune.

And the sound depends on, among other things, from the soul setting. What is the soul? It's the soundpost that stands between the upper and lower cello panels, and moving it half a millimeter can completely change the sound of the instrument. However, sound is most affected by the type of wood and the thickness of the panels, as well as their shape. The wood for the top panel is usually spruce, for the sides and the bottom sycamore maple or even laminated wood is used.

Before a luthier takes the wood in his hands, it must be seasoned for a period sometimes extending to several dozen years. Good wood is not cheap, enthusiastic luthiers line up at auctions such as when information circulates around the world regarding the demolition of an old wooden belfry somewhere in Italy. It is said that wood for instruments should come from a tree that should not hear the noise of the wind and the stream. It should develop under conditions of slow growth, have dense rings and be straight as a arrow.

The best material for the bow is wood from Brazilian Fernambuk, it must have a density and at the same time flexibility. It is also true that some quite serious musicians sometimes import carbon fiber bows from China. In addition to these factors, the bridge on which the strings rest is very important - what material is it made of, what is its height. It also affects the comfort for the musician, the strings running too high above the fingerboard are just a daily struggle with pain, and the risk of breaking your hand.


What other materials are used in the cello?

Of course, metal for strings is common, although there are also enthusiasts of traditional intestinal strings. They give a less supportive, dark sound. The endpin is the leg of the cello and is made of metal. The fingerboard is ebony giving it such hardness that you don’t need a steel bar, which guitarists sometimes can't believe.

The bow cannot work without hair. Clean bleached horse hair. Bleached is used, or raw giving a sharper sound. Rosin, a piece of special resin, is very important as nothing will be heard without it. Without rosin the bow will slide over the string instead of catching it.



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