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C E L L O S
Cellos for sale
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Video Gallery
Cello set-up
C E L L O  E X C H A N G E

Cello exchange
S T R I N G  T R I A L S
String Trials
A B O U T  U S
Cello specialists
Biographies

Feedback from cellists
Travelling to Ely
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Tailpieces and Tailcords 

Experimenting with tailpieces and tailcords can be very rewarding, especially if you have already worked on other aspects of your set up such as the bridge, sound post and strings.  The intimate relationship between the tailpiece, tailcord, bridge and strings mean that the weight, length, materials and positioning of the tailpiece and tailcord all have a direct influence on a cello’s sound. 

When the cello is played the bridge twists, rocks and bends in an extraordinarily complex dance.  Ideally the tailpiece - like any good dance partner – should be light and responsive, allowing the bridge to move freely; the heavier the tailpiece is, the more it will dampen the sound of a cello. 

One of the worst tailpiece scenarios is a traditional wooden tailpiece fitted with four heavy metal adjusters, the weight of which act as a mute on the bridge.  A better solution for a cellist looking for a more open response from their cello might be a light plastic tailpiece with integral adjusters or, if the player has a generous budget, a hand made wooden tailpiece with lightweight integral adjusters.  For details of a selection of tailpiece models, see the chart below.

The length of the tailpiece is also an important factor.  If the tailpiece is too long and comes very  close  to  the saddle, leaving a very short tailcord, the rotation of the tailpiece will be inhibited and will suppress certain vibrational modes in the cello’s response.  If the tailpiece is positioned too close to bridge, it will act in a similar way to a mute.  Fortunately, different models of tailpiece do vary in length and some manufacturers produce tailpieces in different lengths to suit different cellos (see chart below). 

Experimenting with tailpieces is very similar to experimenting with strings.  Like strings, tailpieces have subtly different resonant properties which influence the tone and projection of the cello.  Depending on its length, mass and the material from which it is made, each tailpiece has its own vibrational frequency which can be harnessed to strengthen the performance of a cello.  For example, if a tailpiece produces Bb when tapped, or if any of the strings between the tailpiece and bridge produce a Bb when plucked, this will enhance the resonance of Bb on the cello.

The most common materials for tailpieces are plastic, aluminium alloy and ebony, although boxwood, rosewood or pernambuco are also used.  Many players find that wooden tailpieces offer the most attractive sound.  Wooden tailpieces are, however, many times the price  of  their  plastic  and  metal  cousins.


Tailpiece Designs
The most popular plastic tailpiece is the Akusticus, as it is light and short enough to suit most cellos – and is also inexpensive.  There are drawbacks, however: the Akusticus is aesthetically unappealing and the steel tailcord with which it is supplied is very difficult for luthiers to adjust.  Another good plastic tailpiece is the Wittner Ultra which is considerably longer than the Akusticus and can suit bigger cellos.  The Wittner standard aluminium alloy tailpiece can be rather heavy for some instruments.  Both Wittner and Akusticus tailpieces are made with integral adjusters.

Very fine wooden tailpieces are made by Bois D’Harmonie in a wide selection of materials and sizes.  They are all available with light-weight integral adjusters and can be used to good effect with Kevlar or, if a smoother sound is desired, nylon tailcord. 


Tailcords
Traditionally, tailcords were made from natural gut.  Few modern players now use gut tailcords as they tend – like gut strings ‒ to break unexpectedly.  The most common replacement for gut is nylon which is much more reliable than gut but its elasticity tends to make cellos sound rather smooth. 

Steel tailcords have been in regular use since the 1970’s as their greater strength and rigidity provides more clarity of sound than nylon.  The popularity of the Akustikus tailpiece may be in part due to the fact that it is supplied with a steel tailcord, unlike the Wittner tailpiece which is supplied with a nylon tailcord.

The latest high-tech tailcord material is Kevlar, a braided synthetic fibre which is five times stronger and stiffer than steel.  Kevlar’s stiffness gives exceptional clarity, brilliance and definition to a cello’s sound and greatly improves projection. 

Tailpiece Case Study  We were recently visited by a cellist friend who wanted to experiment with tailpieces to improve his sound.  His instrument had  a Wittner aluminium alloy tailpiece with a nylon tailgut.  The Wittner tailpiece was much too long for the cello and was positioned so close to the saddle that the tailpiece was not able to vibrate freely. 

We fitted an Akusticus tailpiece to the cello (using a Kevlar tailcord rather than the standard steel tailcord supplied with the tailpiece) which fitted the cello better and made the instrument considerably more open and resonant.  We then fitted a Bois D’Harmonie 220mm ebony tailpiece with integral adjusters.  The cellist felt that the wooden tailpiece gave the cello a warmer, more Italianate sound so he settled for this tailpiece, with a Kevlar tailcord.

Below is a table showing the weight, length, materials and tailcord details of Akusticus, Wittner and Bois D'Harmonie tailpieces.

 
 


Tailpiece


Weight


Length


Materials


Tailcord Supplied
 

 Akusticus

 77.2g

 223mm

 Plastic

Steel

 Wittner

103.3g

 240mm

Aluminium

 Nylon

 Wittner Ultra

 81.4g

235mm

 Plastic

 Nylon

 Bois D’Harmonie(standard length)

 70.2g (ebony)

 
235mm

 
E, B, R, P*

 
None

 Bois D’Harmonie (other lengths)

  
various

200, 220, 250mm

  
E, B, R, P


None

 * E = ebony; B = boxwood; R = rosewood; P = pernambuco
N.B. Akusticus and Wittner weights include the tailcords supplied with these tailpieces.


This article was first published in our newsletter News for Cellists of which there are three editions a year.  To receive our newsletter by post (UK only) or email, please contact us.

© Robin Aitchison and Sarah Mnatzaganian 2007. 

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