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vnams

What cello adjustments might help me?

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I've posted this to Pegbox instead of Fingerboard because, although my issue is playing, I suspect my solution lies in my equipment.

 

I started playing cello about a year ago. The most difficult part I've found is getting a nice tone at the start of each note. I'm not sure how to explain it, but the bow grabs the string and holds it for a bit before it lets go. It is worse for the low strings, for when the bow is closer to the bridge, for playing higher tones on each string, and for slurs. So, slurs on the higher notes on the C string sound really really bad.

 

I am not sure how to resolve it. I've tried various things suggested by my teacher but they don't seem to work. It's frustrating because I know that I can improve other parts of my playing by practising. But practising doesn't help if I don't know what to practise.

 

Then last week I tried my teacher's cello (with my bow) and it was wonderful - this issue almost completely disappeared. So, it is mostly an equipment issue, not me. I have an inexpensive (read cheap) laminated student cello. I cannot afford to buy a good quality solid wood one yet.

 

But, is there anything I can get adjusted or done to my cello by a luthier that would help? What would be the biggest differences between my teacher's cello and mine that would cause this issue?

 

Thanks,  a newbie

 

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Have you tried taking it in for a tune-up? New instruments do settle and may need some adjustments. It might cost a bit...but just think of it as an annual routine maintenance expense no matter what quality of cello you play.

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In my experience almost any properly glued up cello can have reasonable string response, even plywood ones. Most of them won't ever sound very good, but they can be adjusted in such a way that you will not develop bad habits (bad string response is a definite route for developing bowing technique problems on the long run). But what does your teacher say about your cello? I am a cello teacher and am always willing to help when my students show interest in improving their instrument.

 

All of the above advise could help. But there is a clear order in which I personally would try them.

 

First a couple of things you can check for yourself. Have the strings eating into the wood of the fingerboard? That can cause bad string response. Is the bridge crooked? that is another thing that causes bad string response.  A warped bridge can be straightened by yourself, if you are handy, using steam, but if you don't know what you are doing, leave it up to the pro.

 

If those are not the cause, then I'd get the cello to a professional lutier, have it checked for open seams. If that is all fine, Then I would get the fit of the soundpost and bridge feet checked. They should fit perfectly, most experienced lutiers would to this using a technique called chalk fitting. If they don't fit well, you will probably have bad string response and quite likely also not the best sound possible from your instrument. Another thing that can cause bad string response in cellos (in my experience especially in new ones) is a sound post that is set with too little tension. If that is the case, it likely means that the sound post needs replacement as it should be longer than it currently is.

 

Only after having had those things checked I would start trying out different strings, as experimenting with strings can be very expensive and unsuccesful nonetheless. Yes, lighter gauge strings might help... but sometimes heavy gauge helps, oddly enough. What brand are your current strings? Strings often have much to do with preference. Very bad string response as you describe it is not a preference, but a problem, and unlikly solveable with better strings alone.

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Have you tried taking it in for a tune-up? New instruments do settle and may need some adjustments. It might cost a bit...but just think of it as an annual routine maintenance expense no matter what quality of cello you play.

What kinds of things to luthiers do for tune-ups?

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In my experience almost any properly glued up cello can have reasonable string response, even plywood ones. Most of them won't ever sound very good, but they can be adjusted in such a way that you will not develop bad habits (bad string response is a definite route for developing bowing technique problems on the long run). But what does your teacher say about your cello? I am a cello teacher and am always willing to help when my students show interest in improving their instrument.

 

All of the above advise could help. But there is a clear order in which I personally would try them.

 

First a couple of things you can check for yourself. Have the strings eating into the wood of the fingerboard? That can cause bad string response. Is the bridge crooked? that is another thing that causes bad string response.  A warped bridge can be straightened by yourself, if you are handy, using steam, but if you don't know what you are doing, leave it up to the pro.

 

If those are not the cause, then I'd get the cello to a professional lutier, have it checked for open seams. If that is all fine, Then I would get the fit of the soundpost and bridge feet checked. They should fit perfectly, most experienced lutiers would to this using a technique called chalk fitting. If they don't fit well, you will probably have bad string response and quite likely also not the best sound possible from your instrument. Another thing that can cause bad string response in cellos (in my experience especially in new ones) is a sound post that is set with too little tension. If that is the case, it likely means that the sound post needs replacement as it should be longer than it currently is.

 

Only after having had those things checked I would start trying out different strings, as experimenting with strings can be very expensive and unsuccesful nonetheless. Yes, lighter gauge strings might help... but sometimes heavy gauge helps, oddly enough. What brand are your current strings? Strings often have much to do with preference. Very bad string response as you describe it is not a preference, but a problem, and unlikly solveable with better strings alone.

Thanks, I'll try these out.

 

 

How would a sound post affect string response? I don't know anything about it, but wouldn't the sound post mostly affect the quality of the sound after the string has started to vibrate? 

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Hi Vnams - been there too - only it was 50 years back with no handy group of friendly people only a keystroke away.

 

May I suggest that most of your problem will disappear in time as your bowing arm, wrist and fingers gain both strength and the ability to carry out micro-adjustments of pressure.

 

In the immediate term why not experiment with changes in bow hair tension, amount of resin on the hairs and finding the "sweet" spot where each string responds best. This last can make playing quite interesting when you find that the best spot differs by 12 mm between two adjacent strings. (mismatch is always an excellent reason to change a string)

 

As to practising - it takes time and endless repetitions - like 40 minutes of playing just the opening microseconds of the G that opens the Lalo Cello Concerto. I wanted it to shout "I'M HERE!". Like a wolf with its hair raised and baring its teeth  as opposed to slurring in quietly like a puppy crawling in on its belly. Once mastered it was never a problem again.

 

Good luck - edi

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Vnams,

A very common problem. Please check your after length. This is the distance between the fret of the tail to the top of the bridge.

If you measure your string length, from nut to top of bridge, your after length should be 1/6 of that number commonly. I would suggest adjusting the after length to 1/5 of the string length. This will certainly take care of your issue.

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vnams, I'm only a cellist, and there are much more knowledgeable people around here, especially what the actual mechanics is concerned. You have to be aware what the sound post is concerned, that there are basically a couple of parametres that you can use for influencing the way the instrument sounds and responds, that are individual preferences. These are mainly the sound post placement that usually is somewhere between directly at the lower end of the bridge foor and maximally about 9 millimetres south of the bridge foot. This is a sort of green zone that one can try out in order to see what it does, without it being structurally problematic on most cellos. Then there is the tension, and tension relates to the moving of the sound post closer to the centre lline of the instrument or further away from it. Closer to the centre line gives a looser fit, further away will give a tighter fit. Now, if you need to place your sound post closer to the centre line for a good sound, but the sound post fit becomes too loose for it, you will need a longer post. Also here there is a certain minimal amount of tension needed (if the post stays put without string tension, that is enough, but if it falls over, it is too little) and a certain maximum, which might actually mean a tesion that somewhat presses the plates apart. In my experience It seems that on new instruments often a little more tension is beneficial to how the instrument works, whereas old ones very often need hardly any tension. 

 

Then tere are a couple of things which are not about prefence, but about structural functionality. The sound post needs to fit perfectly so that the pressure that is put onto it is carried on the whole surface. That way it doesn't cause structural damage to the top and back plates of the instrument. A badly fit sound post might dig into the wood, especially into the softer top plate wood, and even might cause a sound post crack.

 

Now, why a bad fit of the sound post ends AND the bridge feet is crucial to the sound I cannot scientifically explain, but I can only tell you how I think it functions in my flawed wording. When you bow, you set the string in motion. The vibrations of the string and bow are transmitted through the bridge onto the body. Now, most of theses vibrations you want to be transferred as directly as possible to the belly of the instrument (also here there are preferences possible, a bridge somewhat acts like a mute, and that is good that way, some vibrations are not necessarily good for the sound, and some people like a certain type of sound more than another, hence the great diversity of bridges available, and for cello two different basic designs: the belgian and the french, they filter the sound differently), so that the belly starts resonating as quickly as possible, and the delay is as short as possible. From your description I understand that you are complaining about a delay in response time of the cello: it takes long before the cello starts resonating properly. If the bridge feet and sound post are not fitting well, they will act a little like a spring, cushioning the transfer of the energy, sucking up some, and increasing reaction time of the instruments body. Before trying anything else, you want to rule out this as a cause for your problems

 

BTW, there are many factors which can dampen the vibrations of the string. Jerry Pasewicz correctly identified another factor that could be the cause of your problems. But it might also not be a factor, the problem is: there are things that are beneficial to the one instrument, that are not good for the next one. Shortening or lengthening the afterlength Mr Pasewicz talks about can on some instruments help string response and even tone, but on some it acts like a mute. Likewise, for instance, the tailpiece weight, on some instruments a light tailpiece helps heaps, and on some you need a little weight to function at their best. Strings preferences belong to this categorie of "tweaking" options. Those can only be determined with the particular instrument at hand, but in my opinion it only makes sense to start trying those things out after you have established that all the crucial, elementary setup (bridge feet and sound post fit belong to that), that on all instruments universally needs to be done correctly, is done properly.

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This is where you go for cello questions:

 

 

http://cellofun.yuku.com/


 

Since you do not know what is wrong, we will not be able to help you other than suggestive hand-waving.  Find a luthier--most with a single glance can point out improvements.  Most instrument adjustments are beyond the skills of the player. 

 

Mike D

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vnams, I'm only a cellist, and there are much more knowledgeable people around here, especially what the actual mechanics is concerned. You have to be aware what the sound post is concerned, that there are basically a couple of parametres that you can use for influencing the way the instrument sounds and responds, that are individual preferences. These are mainly the sound post placement that usually is somewhere between directly at the lower end of the bridge foor and maximally about 9 millimetres south of the bridge foot. This is a sort of green zone that one can try out in order to see what it does, without it being structurally problematic on most cellos. Then there is the tension, and tension relates to the moving of the sound post closer to the centre lline of the instrument or further away from it. Closer to the centre line gives a looser fit, further away will give a tighter fit. Now, if you need to place your sound post closer to the centre line for a good sound, but the sound post fit becomes too loose for it, you will need a longer post. Also here there is a certain minimal amount of tension needed (if the post stays put without string tension, that is enough, but if it falls over, it is too little) and a certain maximum, which might actually mean a tesion that somewhat presses the plates apart. In my experience It seems that on new instruments often a little more tension is beneficial to how the instrument works, whereas old ones very often need hardly any tension. 

 

Then tere are a couple of things which are not about prefence, but about structural functionality. The sound post needs to fit perfectly so that the pressure that is put onto it is carried on the whole surface. That way it doesn't cause structural damage to the top and back plates of the instrument. A badly fit sound post might dig into the wood, especially into the softer top plate wood, and even might cause a sound post crack.

 

Now, why a bad fit of the sound post ends AND the bridge feet is crucial to the sound I cannot scientifically explain, but I can only tell you how I think it functions in my flawed wording. When you bow, you set the string in motion. The vibrations of the string and bow are transmitted through the bridge onto the body. Now, most of theses vibrations you want to be transferred as directly as possible to the belly of the instrument (also here there are preferences possible, a bridge somewhat acts like a mute, and that is good that way, some vibrations are not necessarily good for the sound, and some people like a certain type of sound more than another, hence the great diversity of bridges available, and for cello two different basic designs: the belgian and the french, they filter the sound differently), so that the belly starts resonating as quickly as possible, and the delay is as short as possible. From your description I understand that you are complaining about a delay in response time of the cello: it takes long before the cello starts resonating properly. If the bridge feet and sound post are not fitting well, they will act a little like a spring, cushioning the transfer of the energy, sucking up some, and increasing reaction time of the instruments body. Before trying anything else, you want to rule out this as a cause for your problems

 

BTW, there are many factors which can dampen the vibrations of the string. Jerry Pasewicz correctly identified another factor that could be the cause of your problems. But it might also not be a factor, the problem is: there are things that are beneficial to the one instrument, that are not good for the next one. Shortening or lengthening the afterlength Mr Pasewicz talks about can on some instruments help string response and even tone, but on some it acts like a mute. Likewise, for instance, the tailpiece weight, on some instruments a light tailpiece helps heaps, and on some you need a little weight to function at their best. Strings preferences belong to this categorie of "tweaking" options. Those can only be determined with the particular instrument at hand, but in my opinion it only makes sense to start trying those things out after you have established that all the crucial, elementary setup (bridge feet and sound post fit belong to that), that on all instruments universally needs to be done correctly, is done properly.

That explains things - I had previously thought that a slow string response was just because of the strings. But seeing how the vibrations go to the belly makes it clearer.

Thanks, Vilis

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Vnams,

A very common problem. Please check your after length. This is the distance between the fret of the tail to the top of the bridge.

If you measure your string length, from nut to top of bridge, your after length should be 1/6 of that number commonly. I would suggest adjusting the after length to 1/5 of the string length. This will certainly take care of your issue.

Jerry,

 Thanks. This is a fast thing that I can try.

Vilis

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On 10/20/2013 at 6:31 AM, Jerry Pasewicz said:

Vnams,

A very common problem. Please check your after length. This is the distance between the fret of the tail to the top of the bridge.

If you measure your string length, from nut to top of bridge, your after length should be 1/6 of that number commonly. I would suggest adjusting the after length to 1/5 of the string length. This will certainly take care of your issue.

Jerry, forgive the newbie question, but what is meant by the "fret" of the tailpiece?

Also, when measuring from the nut, do you mean the edge of the nut closest to the fingerboard, or the edge of the nut closest to the scroll?

Thanks,

Eric

 

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18 hours ago, EricZ said:

Jerry, forgive the newbie question, but what is meant by the "fret" of the tailpiece?

Also, when measuring from the nut, do you mean the edge of the nut closest to the fingerboard, or the edge of the nut closest to the scroll?

Thanks,

Eric

 

The fret of the tailpiece is the strip of wood that runs perpendicular to the strings.  When measuring string length you measure from last contact....so toward the fingerboard.

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