If you’re curious to find out more about the anatomy of a cello, below, you can read about all the parts that a cello is made of, as well as the function that each one performs. There are many types of electric cellos and acoustic cellos, but they all share the same basic anatomy, so give this article a read if you have the time.
The main part of a cello is its body, and a traditional instrument generally features a spruce top with the back, sides, and neck being made of maple. Other woods can be used for the back and sides, such as willow and poplar.
Traditionally, the back and top of the cello are hand-carved, and the sides are made by heating the wood and then bending it around forms. The body has wide top and bottom bouts and a narrow middle that’s created by two C-bouts, with the f-holes and the bridge just below the middle of the body.
The ribs or sides of the cellos are designed to hold the top and back of the cello apart, and they create the space that’s required for the cello’s signature sound to develop.
The top and back are the parts that provide much of the volume and tone. They’re constructed of two large pieces of single wood that are arched and held together by the ribs. The most common type of wood for the top is spruce, while the back is generally made of maple.
The age and quality of the wood can influence the sound that the instrument produces, and cellos are easily influenced by their environment since heat and humidity can change the quality of the wood. However, a cello that is well made, maintained, and played frequently will always improve with age.
Cellos can be found in both full and fractional sizes, and compared to the viola and the violin, this instrument is much more complex to size properly.
Neck, nut, and pegs
The neck is the part of the instrument that extends from the body, and that holds the strings and fingerboard in place. The fingerboard is the part of the neck that the strings run over. The neck and fingerboard are carved from sturdy maple, but some manufacturers use other types of wood as well.
The nut is also known as the string nut, and it is the part of the cello that directs and holds the strings down the fingerboard to the tailpiece. It can be found right at the top end of the fingerboard, and its purpose is to keep the string at the exact height from the fingerboard and in perfect alignment to maximize the instrument’s playability and tone.
The nut features small grooves that are carved at its top, and the strings are placed into the grooves before they can wind around the pegs. Ebony is usually the material used for the nut, but other hardwoods can be used as well, such as rosewood and boxwood.
The pegbox is what holds the tuning pegs in place so that the strings can wrap around them and be easily tuned by the player. After going through the pegbox, the other ends of the strings are anchored at the tailpiece. Each peg is often narrow in shape, and this allows the player to adjust the hold of individual pegs.
For a higher string pitch, you need to twist the pegs and tighten the tension, while for a lower pitch, the tension of the string needs to be looser. The pegs are very delicate, and they need to be handled with care since it is very easy for an inexperienced player to tighten the string excessively, which can cause it to break.
The strings are the primary way in which the player interacts with the instruments, and when they’re played, they vibrate and transfer that vibration to the body where it is amplified. The standard cello has four strings that are usually tuned to C, G, D, and A, with the C string being the lowest in pitch.
To play the strings, the player needs to draw a bow across them, or if one needs to produce single chords, notes, or other sound effects, the strings can also be plucked with the finger. While the traditional cello string is made of sheep’s gut, there are very few that are still made of this material.
Modern cellos are wound with strings made of metallic materials, such as chromium, aluminum, and titanium. Players can use a mix of different types of string on the instrument, depending on the type of sound that they intend to create.
The bridge is found between the f-holes, and it is held in place by the tension of the strings. It is the part of the instrument that holds the strings just above the cello to allow the vibration to transfer to the top of the instrument and straight to the resonant cavity of the body.
What’s more, the bridge also provides the needed space between the strings so that they can rest evenly above the neck. The bridge is not attached to the cello permanently, and it is kept in position by the tension of the strings. If it starts to lean too much toward the neck, you should straighten it as soon as possible.
Players can also adjust the height of the bridge to suit their playing style. Adjusting the bridge can be a daunting task since, for proper sound transmission, it needs to be hand-fitted against the body. Beginners shouldn’t try to attempt it since it is best to leave this task for the hands of a skilled luthier.
Located on either side of the bridge, the f-holes are the small openings that are carved into the top of the cello, and they help direct and shape the sound of the instrument. They also allow some of the sound from the resonant cavity to escape to the listener.
The size, placement, and effect of the f-holes have changed a lot over centuries. They affect the tone quality of the instrument by focusing on the production of sound and allowing sound waves to escape.
Tailpiece and endpin
The tailpiece is the part of the cello that anchors the strings to the body on its lower end. It can have just one or multiple fine tuners. The tailpiece is usually made of ebony or another type of hardwood, but nowadays, it can also be made of steel or even plastic.
The endpin supports the instrument in playing position, and it is usually adjustable and retractable. Older endpins were usually made of wood, and they could be removed when not in use.
The fine tuners are usually located on the tailpiece of the cello, usually on the A string. They allow for even more precise tuning of each string that not even the tuning pegs can achieve. Some cellos can have fine tuners installed for all of the four strings.
Tuning the strings is done by a very small level that can be adjusted using a small thumbscrew. Fine tuners can be built-in to the tailpiece of the instrument, or they can be individually affixed at the end of each string.
The saddle is a very small block of wood that is usually shaped like a rectangle and crafted of ebony. Its purpose is to spread the force of the string tension that’s exerted on the body of the instrument and direct it toward the endpin. It is positioned at the end of the cello in front of the endpin.
The cello also has two parts that are not as easy to see since they are found on the inside. The first one is the bass bar, and it is made of a small strip of seasoned spruce, and located inside the cello, on the left side of the top. Its purpose is to shape the waves of the vibrations coming from the strings to produce more resonant and deeper bass tones.
The soundpost is the other essential internal component, and it runs between the back and top of the cello. Its purpose is to transfer the vibration and maximize the tone and resonance of the instrument.