Making Matters: Building a five-string cello


David Folland gives some practical tips, based on his recent experience of building a five-string cello

Cellists are aware that Bach’s Cello Suite no.6 BWV1012 was written for an instrument other than the four-string cello. It may have been the violoncello da spalla, essentially a small cello played like a viola. Using a five-string cello with a high E string greatly facilitates the playing of this suite. This cello, which originally had gut strings, required a shorter body and string length than a standard full-size cello; using a gut E string works much better at a shorter length because the tension can be lower. Tensioning a full-length gut E string to pitch can strain the limits of the material, so most five-string cellos are sized similarly to a 3/4 size, which can compromise their size of sound. However, with the advent of modern composite strings, several string manufacturers now produce a high cello E string that is very suitable for use on a full-size cello, enabling five-string players to produce a bigger and more powerful sound, particularly on the G and C strings…

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