The cello, or violoncello, is the second largest member of the violin family of musical instruments. It is tuned an octave below the viola and serves both as a melodic and bass instrument in chamber and orchestral music.
The body of the cello is approximately 76 cm (30 in) long and is much deeper than those of the violin and viola. The cellist is seated and supports the instrument between his calves, with its lower end raised off the floor by an endpin. The strings are tuned a fifth apart at C2(65.4 Hz), G2(98 Hz), D3(146.8 Hz), A3(220 Hz) if tuned in equal temperament to the A4(440 Hz) standard.
The first people to make cellos were the renowned violin makers Andrea Amati (1581–1632), Gasparo da Salò (1549–1609) and Paolo Maggini (1581–1632). With a body length of 80 cm their instruments were bigger than today’s standard instruments.
The cello (violoncello) is the tenor and bass instrument of the violin family (violin, viola, cello). In the 19th century the cello advanced along with the violin to become the most important bowed instrument for solo works. In the 20th century cellists began to specialize more, concentrating more on solo, chamber or orchestral playing.
The Piatti was one of the best cellos that the renowned violinmaker Antonio Stradivari ever made. The Hills
brothers observed, “The Piatti bass is indeed an admirable example, by itself a worthy monument of the maker. As a whole, it is above reproach and the more one contemplates such an instrument, the more one is struck by the complete harmony which reigns throughout”. The head and back of the Piatti were made of maple from a tree in the Balkans that produced a “rich, resonant sound” and had “beautiful delicate markings.”
Francesco Alborea (1691-1739), better known as Franciscello, was the first known cellist to use thumb position, an “invaluable contribution to the technique of cello playing." Very little is known about Franciscello, except that his contemporaries called him “supernatural.” Johann Joachim Quantz, when he heard Franciscello playing, said that “only an angel could play like Franciscello.”
Electric cellos are becoming more and more popular. Typically they are used for performers of jazz, pop, country, new age, etc. They are stringed instruments that are basically a cross between an electric guitar and an acoustic cello. An acoustic cello can be made into an electric cello by adding a pick-up that runs to an amp.
Straight electric cellos are available in several designs. They can be made from a variety of materials and include the pick-up built into the instrument. Much like an electric guitar, they can also have a variety of effects such as reverb, delay, or distortion.
Despite the evolution of stringed instruments by the 17th century to include the viola di gamba, the cello and the violin, the gut string was still used. For the cello, these strings were made entirely from gut using various winding techniques to vary its weight to allow for different tensions. But it took to the early 20th century for technology and innovation to catch up and allow for the steel string to be born (a steel core string with another metal spun on the outside).
Gaspar Cassadó, the Spanish cellist and composer, was perhaps the earliest well-known user of [steel] cello string. Other famous cellists who subsequently “switched” to steel core strings included Rostropovich, Piatigorsky and Fournier to name but three. During this time the cello string evolved to include hybrid cello strings (gut core and metal winding) which attempted to provide a compromise between the gut string’s warm sound and the steel string’s stability and volume.