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1/10 cello strings... is there any best solution?


Tazling
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First off, let me admit that I'm a grownup, that I started off playing fiddle (with no ambitions, just for pleasure) and then had to back away from it due to shoulder/neck problems (a long story).  I also found the treble sound very shrill and a bit unpleasant up close.  I tried building an octave fiddle from a cheapie large-body violin, and that was easy on the ear... but still physically painful.

I then tried the cello, which was way more comfortable, but a lot more work :-) and not portable. I spend a lot of my summer on a small sailboat, where a cello would be definitely de trop and at some risk of injury.  That's when I have the most leisure time to practise and learn new tunes.

So I became interested in "lap cello" instruments like gambas -- but they are very specialised and quite expensive... except for Ebay-from-China gamba-shaped-objects which I'd be scared to buy unseen.  (Unless someone here has a solid recommendation for a particular seller.)

Gradually I came around to scale celli for kiddies, like a 1/10 Euro (a bit bigger than a viola -- maybe comparable to a viola pomposa?).  The dimensions seem fairly comfortable and I think I could play it sitting in a chair or crosslegged, like the erhu and some other bowed Eurasian instruments.  I don't care much about playing with other people, so tuning is not that critical;  I could pick any pitch to get the best tone, and still read as if violin-tuned (not having perfect pitch is sometimes a blessing).

A kiddie cello is attractive partly because it's a standard (not exotic) instrument, available in various price ranges, usually not too spendy because it's only a student instrument.  They are easy to find, and even fairly easy to find used.

So far so good.  But the next problem is strings.  None of this will be worth while, and I won't want to play, if it sounds awful.    I have read a few forum posts that suggest the standard strings installed for child learners are pretty bad -- muddy, too heavy for the small instrument.  But what alternatives are there?  the Euro 1/10 cello seems to have a vibrating string length unlike any other.  The obvious alternative would be viola strings, but... seems like even the full 16.5 viola string would be too short.  Alto gamba seems about right for length, but those are fairly rare, expensive, and most I have seen are all-gut (oh dear, high maintenance).

 I'm just a giddy amateur, very casual (as you can tell) -- the very opposite of expert in any of this stuff.  If anyone can reassure me that 4/4 viola strings do indeed fit, say, an Eastman or Stentor or Hoffman 1/10 kiddie cello, then I may have the courage to pursue acquiring one.  Or if you have a source for steel core gamba strings.  Or if you have some other string that would suit... 

You are also, of course, free to ROTFL and tell me this whole idea is ridiculous :-)  But in my own defence:  I am not quite alone in my madness.   I was inspired by http://cello.godiskind.com/2010/04/18-cello/ -- someone whose relationship with music seems similar to my own.  I could, actually, blindly follow his recipe for strings (http://cello.godiskind.com/2010/10/strings-strings-strings/) but he was using a 1/8 instrument not 1/10, which might change things slightly.  And besides... it's always better to get multiple opinions.

Insights, warnings, hoots of skeptical laughter or viola jokes all welcome :-)

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FWIW I think all string instruments should be played vertically. Violin under the chin is one instrument I can never make any progress on. I say play whatever works for you. Have fun with it, and I hope it works out for you. 

I haven't gone down below 1/2 size cello so I don't have any actual advice for you.

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As a cello teacher, I have a lot of experience starting 1/8th size instruments. Helicore strings and Larsen strings sound quite good for this size. For all instruments, so also such small instruments, it is very important that they are well made (no tank like stucture!) and that the setup is very good. Badly fitting sound posts or bridge feet will have a very negative effect on the performance of the small cello. Much of the bad reputation of small instruments comes from the fact that people don't bother doing these things right cause the instrumenta are "just for kids" anyway.

You could consider doing a violoncello da spalla kind if thing. a nice performance example. Gut strings for such an instrument are made by Aquila strings.

Have fun and good luck!

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55 minutes ago, Brad Dorsey said:

What about just using a large viola strung with viola strings?

That's what I suggest too.  If you like playing vertical instruments a large viola with an end pin is easy to play.  If you're playing for your own enjoyment then I suggest a Carleen Hutchins "Tenor violin" which is between a viola and cello in size and is played one octave below violin tuning.  Bob Spear at Singing Woods Violins makes modern versions of them.

I think it's a mistake to have really small fractional size instruments played with normal tuning.  Their short strings are heavy and hard to bow well.  

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1 hour ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

 

I think it's a mistake to have really small fractional size instruments played with normal tuning.  Their short strings are heavy and hard to bow well.  

With that notion, you are living about 10 years or more in the past. I really suggest you try out a well set up 1/8th cello with helicore strings. Easy to play. Ofcourse, nowhere near as loud as a bigger cello, but a good sound and an unproblematic string response.

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So @baroquecello -- you feel strings for small frac instruments have improved a lot over the last decade?  That would be good news.

I did think about violas played vertically... but had read some reports that it's hard to keep them from twisting when bowing, because the body is just a little skinny for really gripping with thighs or knees.  I will have a look at the "tenor violin" though, which sounds very attractive.... (googles)... oh, ouch, out of my price range.  But if I like the kiddie cello enough to move up someday, the tenor violin might be a good "cadillac" upgrade.  Not being a pro, I find over $2K for an instrument is pretty daunting :-)

Meanwhile I know a string instrument shop in Ontario (I'm in Canada) that has been excellent in the past, so I think I'll talk to them about an Eastman kiddie setup.  Maybe I'll get lucky and score one used :-)

Edited by Tazling
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Yes, strings have improved a lot for fractional instruments. Older strings usually simply were fatter and shorter versions of budget 4/4 strings, of which the 4/4 versions were also really not that good. That attitude has really changed, as you can see from the fact that serious brands like Larsen, Jargar, D'addario and Thomastik now make smaller versions of their better string lines too. On cellos, I've no experience with anything smaller than 1/8th, for which I like Helicore and Larsen. Helicore works better on lesser quality cellos or cellos with a string response problem, on good ones, Larsen sounds a little more refined. Earlier and budget fractional strings like pirastro piranito or red label or D'addario preludes are not ok below 1/2 cello size, in my opinion, and give you that bad playing experience which you heard of.

My son started off with double bass when he was six. He had a 1/10 plywood double bass which sounded terribly. It came with no name strings, so I ordered D'addario Helicore strings for it. With those strings, it actually sounded like a double bass, and the strings responded. The e string (lowest) was a little too thick for the small hands, but the other ones worked well and helped my son make a good start on the instrument.

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38 minutes ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Yes, strings have improved but a I still feel that 1/10 cello with a 17.75inch (45m) body length doesn't sound or play as satisfying as a similar size viola. 

Yes, compared to their good quality full size counterparts, smaller instruments will not sound as loud and fine. However, if someone (say a child) wants to play an instrument because it likes the tonal range, you can try convincing it with a viola tuned instrument, but you will not succeed if the child wants a cello tone. Moreover, you wrote "I think it's a mistake to have really small fractional size instruments played with normal tuning.  Their short strings are heavy and hard to bow well. " (underscore is my work) and that is simply not up to date anymore, at least not starting 1/8th cellos.

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