The playing length of the strings on a 1/8 cello are 2/3 that of a full size instrument. To produce the same C-G-D-A pitches, the tension must be lower, or the strings heavier. On my little cello, both were true. The strings are just a bit thicker than on the big cello, and the tension is a lot lower. As a result, the C and G strings don’t play all that nicely. They feel flabby. So my first mod was to tune it to G-D-A-E like my big cello has been. I restrung the big one back to C-G-D-A, and put the E string on the little one and shifted the other strings over. Better, but still not great. I was starting to have buyer’s remorse. Maybe this little cello won’t sound so good after all.
Well, the next logical step was to move it up to viola tuning, that is C-G-D-A like a cello, but an octave higher. I shifted the original 1/8 strings for D and A down to the C and G positions, put my Spirocore E string on for the D, and the guitar E string on for E. That setup sounds nice and plays easily, though the guitar string is just a bit shrill. With this arrangement, the fingering is the same as the big cello, and I can play a lot of fiddle tunes at the same pitch as a violin. I’m not sure what to call this thing… a cellola? a lap cello? an upright viola? a tenor cello? Oh well, whatever it is, it’s a lot of fun.
The ebony pegs had to go – I’m sold on geared tuning! I thought about investing in pegheds for this one, but I don’t like the G peg poking me in the neck. So I went with standard acoustic guitar machines. I didn’t want to drill out the tapered peg holes, or otherwise damage the pegbox on this cello, so I made some wedges of maple to match the angles of the pegbox, and screwed the machines to those. The heads have an inside-threaded tube that fits in the hole on a guitar, but won’t fit in the smaller peg holes on this cello. I cut those down so they would be flush with the inside of the wedges. The outside-threaded bushings do fit through the peg holes and secure the machines to the pegbox. It’s easy to tune with the left hand while bowing with the right, with the cello in its normal playing position.
The next problem to be solved was at the lap end of the cello. It needed something to keep it from sliding off my knees. Trying to squeeze the lower bouts between my legs made it pop out – like squeezing a wet pumpkin seed with your fingers. I tried buckling a belt around my legs just above the knees and tucking the cello endpin under the top span. That sure held the thing securely, but it wasn’t too handy. After all, one of the benefits of the little cello is the ease of moving around the house with it. Moving around with a belt around the legs is just a bit awkward! I wanted something that would stay with the cello when I picked it up.
My wife suggested some rubber no-slip stuff that we use under throw rugs. Draping that across my lap under the cello works fine, but it’s a little inconvenient. I didn’t want to glue or tape it to the cello, so I invented a clip-on arrangement. I bent a piece of 1/4″ aluminum bar stock to match the curve of the bottom of the cello, then closed the curve just a bit so it would squeeze the cello gently. I made a similar shape from 3/16″ round aluminum rod. Then I cut a strip of no-slip rubber shelf lining (from WalMart), folded it twice and Suzanne stitched it lengthwise on the sewing machine. The aluminum bar and rod slide into the two resulting spaces in the rubber, and the whole thing snaps lightly onto the bouts of the cello, with no possibility of scratching. Since it’s clipped on the edge of the bouts, like a violin shoulder rest, it doesn’t affect the tone. It comes off easily, but won’t fall off when I carry the cello or lay it down. It holds the cello securely on top of my knees or when squeezing it lightly between the legs. Perfect engineered solution!