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Cello Setup Explained

Introduction

The Cello setup is imperative to the sound and playability of a cello. A cello that hasn’t been set up or has been set up badly will be harder to play, and the sound will be inferior. For someone learning to play the cello, this will severely impair progress and lower morale, thus disadvantaging the player considerably. We sell our cellos as a result of our Luthier set up, the proof is in the playing. We are predominantly a workshop first and we are not lead by marketing or gimmicks. If you asked your teacher, “What should I consider when buying a cello” their answer would always include, “make sure you have it set up correctly.”

We are commonly asked, “Surely, the cello is set up fully in the factory, right?” New Cellos leave the factory with a basic setup leaving room for adjustment by a luthier. With cellos being a wooden instrument, the only way to adjust them is by taking wood away, for example, lowering the bridge. If the bridge were too low, we would have to start with a new bridge as we cannot put the wood back once removed. Most cellos advertised online, and in general high street music shops are sold as they came from the factory. You may see different setup descriptions advertised, we have listed some common ones and what they entail at the bottom of this page.

Our Cello Luthier Setup

Our cello setups are carried out by our time served and experienced luthier and take many hours to complete to our exacting high standards. For the new Cellos that we sell and hire out, we take the factory finished cello and set about improving its tone and playability by way of adjusting and refitting the components of the instrument. We have listed below each step of the set up that we carry out.

Beginning: We start with your new cello wholly stripped of its component parts and give it a thorough check over.

Cello Pegs: Cello pegs that have been roughly fitted or poorly fitted can cause problems with the pegs slipping or sticking, making tuning troublesome.

We start fitting or refitting the cello’s pegs by reshaping the ebony cello pegs to an exact taper. With geared pegs, we don’t alter the taper as they are manufactured to a specific taper already. Adjusting the taper of a geared peg would damage the peg. We then ream the peg holes in the cello’s pegbox to that same taper, usually 1:25. The amount we ream out dictates the distance between the pegbox and the peghead. With both ebony and geared pegs, we then alter the length of the peg by cutting the excess protruding peg shaft from the other side of the pegbox and finish the peg ends to give a pleasing finish.

Top Nut: The Top Nut is the piece of ebony that the strings travel over before the fingerboard, and it creates the top of the stop length. We reshape the Top Nut to set the correct height and string spacing. We carefully create the groves in the Top Nut to fit the strings that we fit the cello. The strings shouldn’t be pinched, and only 50% of the string’s diameter should be sitting into the groove. Poorly fitted Top Nuts are a prevalent cause of string breakages and strings that sit too far into the groove can mute the cello.

Fingerboard: We check and reshape the fingerboard to take out any high spots and create the correct radius/curvature and relief. Reshaping the fingerboard improves the playability and eliminates any buzzing from the strings. We call this ‘Shooting’ the fingerboard, and it is achieved by carefully using a block plane.

Bridge: Our luthier refits the bridge by reshaping the bridge feet and re-cutting the bridge top. The bridge sets the height and spacing of the strings at the bottom end of the stop length. We shape the feet to fit the top (front) of the Cello perfectly, ensuring that the energy transfer is as good as can be and that the bridge is stood at the correct angle. Recutting the bridge top sets the optimum string height and spacing. The grooves on the top of the bridge, just like the Top Nut, have to be shaped so that the strings are not pinched or sat too far into the bridge. Poorly fitted groves can mute the cello if the string is seated too deeply into the groove and can also be a cause of string breakages.

Soundpost: The soundpost is a length of spruce dowel that is placed inside the cello and held there by friction and not glued. The location and correct placing of the soundpost is key to the sound of the instrument. We refit the soundpost to get the best sound performance from the Cello. A roughly/badly fitted soundpost can cause several problems like the unevenness of tone across the registers and can affect the projection and power of the cello.

Tailpiece: We check and refit the cello’s tailpiece and tailwire to ensure the correct height (from the bottom of the cello) and placement of the tailpiece.

Endpin: We check and refit the cello’s endpin to make sure that the endpin cone is fitted correctly and that the endpin functions properly.

Different Types of Cello Setup Explained

Factory setup: Factory set up is the most minimal of setups; the cello will have had the strings fitted and tensioned. In this instance, the cello will be very poor to play. You will find this setup advertised, most commonly by online retailers who fundamentally are shifting boxes.

Bronze, Silver, and Gold Setups: These cello setups are carried out by the distributors of stringed instruments. Bronze is equivalent to the factory setup as described above. Silver set up is defined as adjusting the bridge and soundpost in addition to the Bronze setup. Gold setup includes a strings upgrade (strings at extra cost) in addition to the Silver setup. These type of setups are most commonly found advertised by online retailers and general music shops. The problem with these setups is that just adjusting the bridge alone will not result in a good setup.

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