1/8 Cello

10 Apr

The E string has been fun, but it hasn’t made the big cello into a fiddle. I envied my son’s freedom to snatch up his violin and go play anywhere he felt like it. And my fingers still struggle to move fast enough over the vast expanse of the cello’s fingerboard. I play the violin now and then, but it’s not so comfortable for me. And it’s enough different from the cello that I know I can’t pursue both very successfully. So another crazy idea was born. Why not get a child-size cello and play it on my lap, like the old fashioned Viola da Gamba. I envisioned the gamba players in Baroque paintings, lounging on grassy banks by quiet lakes, viols on their laps, serenading their lovers.

First, I made a crude mockup of an 1/8 size cello out of foam insulation board, just to see how it would sit on my lap and where the bow and left hand would end up. The position seemed pretty comfortable. Then I stuffed a pencil under the strings on my big cello at the spot where the bridge would be on the little cello. An 1/8 cello is really a 2/3 cello – all the dimensions of the full size instrument are scaled to 2/3 of their full size, so the playing length of the strings is 18″ instead of 27″. With the playing length shortened on the big cello, I tried fiingering songs and grew more excited. It seemed ideal – the fingers weren’t crowded as on the violin, but I could reach so many more notes easily without shifting or stretching.

child_cello.jpg So I started looking for a little cello. The first cello was an experiment, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to stay with it now. This second cello would also be an experiment, since I didn’t really know for sure if I would like playing a little one. I couldn’t find anyone else out in the wide web world that was doing the same thing. I was willing to spend a bit more, and I really wanted a nicer instrument, but there was the chance it would be a flop. So I was looking for a bargain this time – a nicer used cello outgrown by a child. Apparently everyone must rent the little ones and trade ’em up as the kids grow. No 1/8 cellos on eBay for several weeks. But then I found this one locally on Craigslist.

The ad said “Beautiful Cello handcrafted by Reuning & Sons of Boston. Asking $425 or best offer, original cost $1200. Comes with case & bow.” Well, obviously this wasn’t handcrafted in Boston. It only took a quick look at Reuning.com to know any cello they made would have cost a lot more than $1200. They do carry Chinese student instruments, so I guessed that this was one of those.

I bought it today. The seller said her sons had taken Suzuki cello but didn’t continue, so she couldn’t trade up for a larger cello. This one was about 10 years old. I loved the look and feel of it, and it sounded pretty good after about half an hour of tuning with those lovely ebony pegs. There is no label inside, but the cello is very pretty – carved from solid wood, real purfling, ebony fittings, etc. And in mint condition. I wondered whether a five year old could ever have touched it! She sold it for $350 and I think we were both very happy. A few miles from the seller’s house, I parked the car and played for a while. Imagine playing a cello inside the car! This is going to be fun.

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  1. Gilmar

    December 31, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    Hello, I’m brazilian musicist and I read your article…I remember another greek cellist liviyng here ‘m Brazil…he plays a 7/8 ancient cello and he says from your instrument “the so called lost tenor”…please read the article (use the google translate or equal program to convert portuguese to english languages…hugs!


  2. jimmymc

    January 1, 2011 at 8:07 am

    Very interesting article – thank you for sharing it! It’s strange that we have so standardized the instruments today, when we try to be so innovative in everything else. But as he says in the article, “…the desire for uniformity, or standardization a single model (which would facilitate the lives of cellists), forced the four-string piccolo violocello to leave the scene…”.

  3. Bill Larson

    October 25, 2012 at 12:19 am

    I found your website about the same time that I bought a fixer up cello.
    I bought the Finetune pegs. they;re great! And recently an Incredibow, which I love. My thumb was kicking up.
    The pegs are useful because I like the sound of gut strings which need a lot of adjustment.
    Can’t quite picture playing that 1/8 cello on your lap?
    Talk about a late starter, I’m 72.
    Thanks for the information you provided.
    Bill Larson