E String

26 Mar

After the Quartsemble concert, my cello was feeling dull. I know it’s not just because the instrument is cheap. Sam has played it for me a few times and it sounds great in his hands. I just have more work to do. But the soaring violins and sweet viola I heard at that concert, not to mention the lively fiddle tunes Peter is playing, have left me wanting more out of my cello… maybe more than is reasonable to ask!

Anyway, I got the idea to tune it up a bit. I don’t play much on the low C string, and when I do, it doesn’t sound that nice to me. So the next experiment is to raise the range of the cello and get some more top end. If you have a good cello, and you are a good cellist, you can do a lot more at the top end of your A string. But that’s beyond me right now, so I’m cheating.

estring.jpg I borrowed a guitar E string from my son, shifted the G, D, and A strings over and loaded the E on top. Now I have a sort of octave violin-cello. Playing this was great fun. The E string almost sounded like a violin. Not a fine violin, though. The solid steel guitar string was rather shrill – especially noticeable when crossing from the wound cello A string. There are some 5 string cellos around, particularly electric ones. So I was able to find an E string for the cello, albeit a rather pricey Spirocore string. This string sounds a lot better than the guitar string.

With the cello tuned up, there’s a new world of sound – of music – to explore.  This sort of experimentation should be the pursuit of someone who’s already mastered the standard ways of making music on the cello, but I guess I’m a restless wanderer. Or is it just the engineer trying to improve the process, so the unskilled musician can do more with less work? The latter is probably more true, but I’m learning and having fun, and… I haven’t quit!

  1. Quintin

    March 14, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Thanks for this article! I am 21, and just bought a cello (I had only played piano as a child for a few years, so I’m new to string) in October of last year! After watching “The Pianoguys” on youtube, I really became interested in cello. Likewise, I have given a lot of thought to trying to switch my strings out, shifting them down and adding an E-string. I ran across this article while searching for one. :)
    I think I shall be frequenting your site here. Thanks!

  2. Cellist

    November 18, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    I have a question…. Why did you decide to use an E string and get rid of your C? I must admit, I’m definitely a bit of a tradition brat so I’m reluctant to any changes when it comes to cello, but I was wondering why you decided to add an E. You should try shifting to 4th position, then you have all the notes you need plus a C string. As a cellist we have access to so many notes and as the cello has such a beautiful range (heck we can even use artificial harmonics to achieve notes two-octaves higher). I just think its kind of a pity to remove the lovely C string.

  3. Niels

    March 20, 2014 at 11:19 am

    thanks for the story – the only one on the web I could find about chosing a small cello on purpose, and tuning it differently. I am doing the same with an old 1/4 cello. Experimenting with tuning down to GDAE. Low tension basically because there is no soundpost :) It can be played like an acoustic bass guitar – sounds a whole lot better imo!
    Like you say, lots of fun.

  4. De

    September 23, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Wow! I am not the only quixotic fool who is trying to learn a bowed instrument after the age of 50! I took up the fiddle at first, but after 3 years of intermittent playing and a repertoire of about 30 tunes, I find the shrill high end fatiguing to listen to (right next to my ear, ow) and the playing position abominably unkind to my ageing back and shoulders.

    First I tried building an octave fiddle, which was quite fun — nice cello-ish timbre but the playing position was still unpleasant. So now I am warily considering buying a 3/4 cello (‘cos I am short and have stubby fingers) and tuning it to GDAE so I can maintain the same fingering for my repertoire and more easily play with other folkies.

    I figure I’ll never develop — at my age and with muscle-bound hands used to manual labour — the sheer speed expected of a good folk fiddler, so why not switch to a slower, more sonorous instrument and concentrate on waltzes and airs (my favourite pieces anyway).

    Currently I’m seeking a suitable used student 3/4 cello… tough decisions to make. I’m pleased to discover the blog of someone on a strangely similar path :-)

  5. Frank

    August 6, 2017 at 6:47 pm


    I wonder how you’re getting on with your E-string cello, a few years on. I play the Tenor Violin (in addition to cello); it’s an instrument designed to be tuned GDAE, and has a much shorter string-length, similar to a 1/4-size cello. You can find more here: http://singingwoodsviolin.com/newfamily_3.html