All The Main Types Of Cellos (Shapes, Sizes & Fun Facts!)

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Regardless of which type you’re talking about, the cello has not stopped growing in recent years due to its enormous versatility!

Within the family of stringed instruments (to which the violin, viola, and bass also belong), most cellos are copies of those built by Cremona a few hundred years ago, but with slightly different sounds and playing characteristics depending on the manufacturer.

There are different types of cellos: large, small, acoustic, electric, wood, carbon fiber, classical and baroque. The differences are sometimes subtle, sometimes substantial.

So let’s take a look at what types of cellos exist, which one is best for you, and the music you make!

Types Of Cellos & Their Uses

Acoustic Cellos

First of all, the most common cellos, the ones you see in orchestras, chamber ensembles and generally in music stores, are acoustic cellos.

That is, they are made of wood and if they are well made, they sound great. 

But, of course, within them there are differences. You can find acoustic cellos of different sizes: the standard size, 4/4, is about 48 inches, or 122cm. Smaller sizes are available, often used by children beginning to study.

In that case, generally, measures that represent 7/8, 3/4, 1/2, ¼, 1/8, and 1/10, with respect to the original measures are used.

On the other hand, the prices of acoustic cellos vary greatly. Wood and workmanship are the two factors that cause these prices to change.

While the most accessible instruments are made in factories and built with low-quality woods, the most expensive cellos are made by luthiers.

A luthier is an expert in the construction of this type of instrument, using top quality woods.

So what prices are we talking about here? Well, a cello for a beginner who does not want to risk making a very large investment, can go approximately from $500 to $1500.

This instrument, as we said before, is made in a factory with low quality woods, and will not sound as good as a more expensive model. 

A cello for intermediate to experienced players requires an investment of up to $3000.

It is possible (but not guaranteed) that this type of cello is made by a luthier, making it much better than factory produced cellos.

Carbon Fiber Cellos

These cellos are a bit more difficult to find, but they have gained some popularity in recent times.

The difference is, of course, that they are not made of wood, but instead of carbon fiber.

This means they do not need cornices, which are the indentations found on the sides of the cello, and which are used for support.

As this is a very strong material (much less fragile than wood), cornices are simply not necessary with these types of cellos.

The sound is somewhat different, possibly not as rich as an instrument made by a luthier, but with good strings and a good bow, you can achieve at least a decent sound!

The price? You can find it on Luis and Clark’s website for no less than $7,000. The strings, bow, and all the accessories used for acoustic cellos are also suitable for this instrument.

According to this site, some of the advantages of this cello are:

  • Ergonomic design for comfort and to prevent common cellist injuries
  • The cornice-less design allows it to be played closer to the body
  • It’s more comfortable to play than traditional wooden cellos as there’s no sharp edge from the cello neck rubbing

Electric Cellos

Electric cellos are a great option for those who want something a little less “uncomfortable”, at least in terms of size.

Not only that, but they are also suitable for practicing in high-density living situations where the slightest noise can upset a neighbor.

These instruments are plugged into an amplifier (or, failing that, you can use them with headphones), and if they are of good quality, they can produce a complex and beautiful sound

As we said above with carbon fiber cellos you’ll find that strings, bows and other accessories are common for these cellos as well. 

One of the most recognized brands that makes electric cellos is Yamaha, and you can find these for around $3,000. 

According to Yamaha’s website, these are some of the features of their electric cellos:

  • Unique resonating chamber
  • New “tighter and brighter” sound
  • Folding lower bouts for maximum portability
  • Studio-quality on-board preamp and built-in reverb
  • Made of Spruce and Maple with Geared tuning pegs

Electric cellos are an excellent choice for playing not in orchestras or chamber music, but in bands with other amplified instruments (like electric guitars).

Having an electric cello also means you can experiment with different pedals and amps for a unique sound!

5-string cellos

A rarity, to say the least, but one that is becoming less and less rare!

Recently, many cellists have been placing special orders to luthiers to make a cello with an extra string.

The particularity is that there is a key choice to be made regarding if the added string will be lower or higher pitched. It all depends on if you prefer to play lower or higher notes!

One possibility is to add a lower string (which is usually a B note), and thus have the possibility of getting closer to the bass register. 

On the other hand, if one chooses to add a higher string (usually an E note), the cello “steps” a little more on the viola’s register, giving you access to higher notes.

Usually, playing high notes on a cello is very physically demanding on the player, so an extra high string makes this much less taxing.

Baroque cello

The baroque cello differed in form only slightly from the modern cello: it had a shorter and slightly more upright neck, a shorter fingerboard, a shorter and thinner bass-bar, a thinner sound post, a lower and differently shaped bridge, and usually no end-pin. 

Although the modern cello is by far the most widely used, many opt for the baroque cello when studying music from that period.

In fact, many musicians and enthusiasts consider the most extraordinary works composed for the instrument to be the Suites for solo cello by Johan Sebastian Bach.

To perform these works as faithfully as possible, many cellists choose this cello.

One disadvantage to the baroque cello is that gut strings are used, so the sound projection is somewhat lower.

Small Scale Cellos

In addition to the full-size cellos, there is a large number of smaller cellos, which are named according to the scale in relation to the original (4/4):

In decreasing order, there are 7/8, 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 and 1/10 cellos.

Although you may think that it is a different instrument, with a different sound, the qualities are the same! The size changes and, as a matter of physics, so does the sound projection.

A larger instrument, generally, will generate a richer sound.

Beyond this, there are no major differences: the only thing to keep in mind is that you will need a bow, case, and strings with a matching scale.

Choosing the right size cello will depend on the following factors: your height, the length of your arm and the size of your hand and fingers.

There are several guides you can access to find out what size cello is right for you, depending on these variables.

On the other hand, a more general way to calculate the size of the cello can be the age of the player. Here’s a rough guide you can use with this in mind:

  • 3-5 years old – 1/10 scale
  • 5-6 years old – 1/8 scale
  • 6-7 years old – 1/4 scale
  • 8-10 years old – 1/2 scale
  • 11-13 years old – 3/4 scale
  • 14+ years old – full size cello

Summing Up

Beyond the fact that they are all variants of the same instrument, each type of cello has its own particularities and characteristics that may suit some players better than others.

In a general way, we can say that if your intention is to dedicate yourself to classical or contemporary music, you will need an acoustic cello.

This is particularly true if you want to play with an ensemble or orchestra.

(We take a look at what exactly contemporary music refers to in What Is Contemporary Music? (Key Features & Examples)

On the other hand, if you want to play in bands or experiment with the cello, an electric cello is the way to go.

You should also consider an electric cello if you want to practice frequently without annoying your neighbors or housemates.

If your favorite music is from the baroque period, that is, music composed approximately between 1600 and the death of J. S. Bach in 1750, the baroque cello is worth considering.

Even though it looks the same as a standard acoustic cello, the sound is different, as are the strings and the bow, which are slightly lighter and requires a different way of holding it.

Finally, it is important to remember that there is a cello for everyone and for everybody!

The cello you choose depends on the cello player you want to be. If you’re still not sure, just look at the musicians who have influenced you and what type of cello/s they play.

There are also thousands of videos on YouTube demonstrating the different types of cellos if you want to hear them in action.