An Introduction and Helpful Sample Paragraphs

by Hugo Pinksterboer,
author of Tipbook Cello.

Tipbook Cello is one of the first twelve volumes of the Tipbook Series - a series of handy, accessible, and highly informative books on various musical instruments. Like the other volumes in the series, Tipbook Cello offers in-depth but easy-to-read information on selection, play-testing, maintenance, and tuning of the instrument, for players in any style and at any level. This article introduces you to the book and offers a small selection of sample paragraphs with useful information on the cello.

The first four chapters of Tipbook Cello introduce the instrument to the beginner, explaining what each part does, describing what's involved in learning to play, indicating instrument prices, and discussing renting, buying new or used instruments, and where to buy or rent.

Core chapters: advanced players too!

The core chapters of the book address advanced cellists too, drawing from numerous interviews with more than 25 cello experts. These chapters focus on selecting and play-testing, maintenance, and tuning. Chapter 5, "A Good Cello," for example, covers the influence and characteristics of wood, finish, body size, neck, the bridge, the sound post, pegs and fine tuners, the tailpiece, and related subjects. Chapter 6 tells you everything you need to know about strings (main types, influence of windings, string combinations, different tensions, etc.). Chapter 7 covers bows and rosin. Chapters 9 and 10 deal with tuning (from the very first beginning to scordatura) and maintenance -- what you can do yourself, and what you'd better leave to an expert.

Additional information

Additionally, short chapters examine the cello's history and family, manufacturing processes, and some of the main names (brands, countries, makers) in cello making. A combined glossary/index turns the book into a handy reference. Numerous cross references, as shown in the sample paragraphs below, connect the various chapters and sections of the book.

Movies and soundtracks included!

Tipbook Trumpet & Trombone has over 70 clear illustrations and diagrams. Additionally. the book has 22 Tipcodes. These codes provide free access to 22 short movies and soundtracks at www.tipbook.com, covering subjects such as tuning, the difference between 440 and 442 Hz, and removing and fitting strings.

More than 25 experts

Rather than presenting one experts' opinion, Tipbook Cello is a compilation of the experiences, opinions and ideas of more than 25 cellists, cello teachers, violin makers, string and rosin makers and other experts, presenting readers with sufficient information to be able to make their own choices.

More Tipbooks

There are similar Tipbooks on various instruments, including Violin & Viola, Saxophone, Flute, Piano, and Vocals. As a cellist, you may also be interested in Tipbook Music on Paper (ISBN 90-76192-32-4). This volume covers the basic theory from learning how to read to keys, intervals, diatonic and non-diatonic scales, transposing, and odd time signatures. It is used by private teachers, by beginning and advanced players of all ages, at music schools and conservatories.


Tipbook Cello is recommended by renowned cellists such as Julian Lloyd Webber ("Admirably informative") and Quirine Viersen (www.quirineviersen.com) who says: "Fantastic: everything about my favorite instrument in one book - and I've learned a lot, even after so many years of playing!"

Distribution, prices, contact

Tipbook Cello (ISBN 90-76192-47-2, by Hugo Pinksterboer) sells for $ 9.95 in music, book and internet stores. Distribution is by Hal Leonard. For additional information please visit the Tipbook Company website at www.tipbook.com, e-mail to info@tipbook.com, or call the Tipbook Company at +31 20 665 0109.


The paragraphs below are taken from all but the beginner's chapters. They represent some 5% of the 35,000 words, 70 illustrations, and 132 pages of Tipbook Cello.

Better? (taken from Chapter 4, Buying or renting?)

Though age doesn't necessarily make cellos better, it does make them more expensive. You can easily pay ten times as much - or more - for a high-quality old instrument as for an equally good new one. More than once, the sound of a new cello was preferred to that of a famous million-dollar-instrument in blindfold tests, but this will never really influence the price of the old masters.

Synthetic varnishes (taken from Chapter 5, A Good Cello)

Low-priced cellos often have a synthetic finish (i.e., polyurethane). This glossy type of finish can be applied very quickly, using spray guns, and it's strong, hard, and easy to clean. Being so hard, on the other hand, it may reduce the instrument's sound potential, especially if it has been applied very thickly. Another drawback is that it doesn't allow for invisible repairs.

French and Belgian bridges (taken from Chapter 5, A Good Cello)

Cello bridges come in two basic models. The French type of bridge has shorter legs and longer wings; Belgian bridges, with longer legs, have less mass. Soundwise, French bridges enhance the lower frequencies of the instrument, and they may make the sound a bit mellower. Conversely, you may want to use a Belgian bridge for a brighter, more pronounced sound and a lot of clarity on the D- and A-strings, but the low register may suffer a little.

A French (left) and a Belgian bridge.

String length (taken from Chapter 5, A Good Cello)

If you measure the string length (from the nut to the bridge) of a number of instruments you may find differences too. The common string length of a full-size cello is 27.36" (695 mm). When trying out a number of instruments, you may find yourself playing out of tune on some of them. This may be due to a different string length, or to a different mensur ratio. More about this can be found in the Glossary of this Tipbook.

Backwards (taken from Chapter 5, A Good Cello)

The neck of a modern cello is tilted slightly backwards. Before the 1800s, there was a 90-degree angle between the neck and the side of the body. These instruments sounded softer, as the larger neck angle reduced the pressure of the strings on the bridge. Conversely, a smaller neck angle means more pressure on the bridge, which makes the sound bigger, louder, or more radiant.

A smaller neck angle gives a bigger sound.

Response and depth of sound (taken from Chapter 5, A Good Cello)

A cello should have a good response, even when you play very softly. If not, the instrument will be hard to play; it will make you really work for each note. If a cello has a poor response, it takes a little while before the tone is really 'there.' The C-string is the most critical one when it comes to response, as it's so heavy. This string is also most likely to lack depth of sound, followed by its neighbor, the G.

Windings (taken from Chapter 6, Good Strings)

String manufacturers use various types of windings, each with its own effect on the strings' sound and playability. To create a particular balance between the four strings, they may even use different winding materials within one set, and strings can also have more than one winding.

Nickel or chrome (taken from Chapter 6, Good Strings)

Generally speaking, a nickel winding will make for a rather soft, sweet, or warm sound. Chromium or chrome-alloy windings, on the other hand, add brightness to the sound and enhance the projection of the instrument.

Short and dull (taken from Chapter 6, Good Strings)

When should you replace your strings? When plucking them only produces a short, dull tone, they are wearing out. Discolored strings should usually be replaced too. Note, however, that silver-wound and aluminum-wound strings may still sound fine long after they have begun to discolor.

Light and dark (taken from Chapter 7, Bows and Rosins)

Many brands sell rosins in two colors, at the same price: a light, honey-like color, and a darker color, almost like licorice. You often read that light rosins are harder and less sticky (so you should use these in the summer, when the higher temperature will make them softer). This may be true of some brands - but it can be the other way around just as well. Often, only the color is different. When you start playing, that difference vanishes as well: Rosin dust is always white.

Barely noticeable (taken from Chapter 7, Bows and Rosins)

Many experts believe the biggest difference between most rosins is the amount of dust they produce during application and just afterwards: Once you are playing, the difference between the various rosins is often barely noticeable, or not at all. Most experts agree that this is even more true if you use a student or intermediate bow.

A tiny bit (taken from chapter 8, Accessories)

A wire mute can be used to make your sound just a tiny bit sweeter. To do so, slide it to a position somewhere between the bridge and the tailpiece. The closer you get to the bridge, the stronger the muffling effect. You can also offset a wire mute diagonally, so that it muffles the high strings more than the low ones, or the other way around.

A slide-on wire mute at the tailpiece.

(Dis)appearing wolfs (taken from chapter 8, Accessories)

Fighting a wolf tone is a matter of changing the relevant resonant frequencies of the instrument, which you do by adding weight. In some cases, the reverse may work as well. For example, violin makers have suppressed wolfs by shortening the fingerboard. As wolf tones may disappear by making changes to the instrument, certain repairs may also produce wolf tones. Replacing a bass bar is one of them.

Scordatura (taken from chapter 9, Tuning)

For some works, mostly modern compositions, cellos are required to be tuned differently. Such alternative tunings are known as scordatura. These tunings may make playing certain chords easier, for instance. Three examples are A, D, A, D; A, D, F#, B; and A, D, F, C (from high to low).

Peg compound (taken from chapter 10, Maintenance)

The tuning pegs need to be able to turn smoothly, without slipping back. This usually requires the periodic use of a little peg compound or peg dope. Other cellists prefer tailor's chalk, also known as French or Venetian chalk. If these treatments aren't effective anymore, you can clean the peg and peg hole with a little benzene. A stopgap solution for slipping pegs is to apply white chalk - but this will make the hole wear out faster. Some types of soap are being used too, but soap may congeal and make tuning harder.

More than carving alone (taken from chapter 10, Maintenance)

There are bridges with moveable feet that automatically adjust to the arch of the top. Even if you prefer this type of bridge, you should have a specialist install it: Again, properly fitting a bridge to an instrument involves more than carving the feet.

Sluggish (taken from chapter 10, Maintenance)

A dial-type hygrometer, which uses a hair to measure the humidity level, may become sluggish and less responsive after about a year. To solve this, leave it outside for a night, and the moist air will refresh it for a whole year. When the weather gets colder and you switch the heating back on, you can also wrap it in a wet cloth for a quarter of an hour and immediately afterwards set its pointer to 98%.

Small large violin (taken from chapter 11, Back in Time)

The instrument that eventually became the cello was not the largest of these instruments - so the Italians called it violoncello, which literally means 'small large violin…' Only much later, around 1765, was the term violoncello abbreviated to cello or 'cello. When talking about the very first cellos, people often refer to the instrument shown on a fresco from 1535 by the Italian painter Ferrari.

Indian music (taken from chapter 12, The Family)

Making variations on the cello is not a thing of the past. Today's models are usually one-of-a-kind, custom-built instruments. One of the numerous examples is a five-string cello (D, A, D, A, D) with ten bourdon strings, designed to play Indian music.

Shapes, designs, and prices (taken from chapter 12, The Family)

Electric cellos come in a wide variety of shapes and designs, often with more than four strings, and with tuning machines rather than the traditional wooden pegs. Some brand names in this field are Jensen Instruments, New Epoch, NS Design, Starfish Designs, Strauss, T.F. Barret, Violectra, and Zeta. Prices range from a thousand to seven thousand dollars and up.

Wonderful stories (taken from chapter 13, How They're Made)

There are lots of wonderful stories told about secret methods used by makers of those expensive old Italian cellos. For instance, it is said that the wood used to make them was transported by dragging it behind a sailing ship, and that it is the salt seawater that gives the instruments their special sound. Others say that the wood comes from centuries-old church towers that burned down; the wood was first broken in by vibrations from the church bells and then ripened by the fire… Or perhaps the varnish is the greatest 'secret' of those old cellos - and the secret is safe, because the materials that were used back then are no longer available today.

(Master) violin makers (taken from chapter 14, Brands and Makers)

Not everybody who uses the name 'violin maker' is a master violin maker. Some mainly do repairs of student and intermediate cellos, or they specialize in expensive instruments only; others concentrate on finishing and setting up white cellos (see page 110), and so on. The exact number of master violin makers is unknown, but there must be over a hundred of them in the US alone. Most countries have an association or federation of violin and bow makers, which you'll be able to trace on the Internet or in string players' magazines (see pages 125-127).

Direct correspondence to the appropriate ICS Staff
Editor: Tim Janof
Director: John Michel
Copyright © 1995- Internet Cello Society