Do cello endpins influence an instrument’s sound?
Thirty years ago, endpins were regarded merely as a metal ‘spike’ to support a cello on the floor. After the introduction of carbon fibre endpins in the 1990’s the playing community discovered the tonal impact of using a lighter endpin and the last ten years have seen a massive expansion in the range of carbon fibre endpins available. This has coincided with a strong counter-revolution in the production of high-mass metal endpins such as the Manson Super Spike and the Mitsuke range from Japan. In this article we report on a series of tests we carried out on a selection of 10mm diameter endpins. Our tests demonstrated that the weight, materials and design of endpins do have a considerable effect on a cello’s sound and playability.
It is important to point out here that our tests were entirely subjective: they were carried out on a small number of cellos with a small number of players and the results for each endpin varied significantly depending on the design of the cello used, the taste and playing style of each cellist and the space in which the endpin was tested. Our tests took place in our music room in Ely and while we are accustomed to observing the aspects of sound in this space which we associate with good projection, this is not an infallible indicator of the actual result in a larger space.
So please don’t regard our feedback as an objective judgement on any endpin; we simply pass on the subjective impressions noted down during our sessions. The only way to discover the best endpin for you and your cello is to try a variety of endpins on your instrument. The exciting reality is that modern endpins offer yet another way for cellists to explore and evolve the sound of their instruments.
Metal versus carbon fibre. During our tests we observed that the relative weight of an endpin has a distinct effect on the tone and projection of a cello. When you reduce the overall mass of a vibratory system such as a cello by using a light carbon fibre endpin rather than a metal alternative, you create more freedom for vibration in the cello as a whole. The general observation of players using carbon fibre endpins is an increased awareness of resonance in the cello. This resonance is experienced under the player’s ear but, depending on the cello used, is not always projected out to an audience. Solid, strong cellos which have a very centred sound are most likely to benefit from a carbon fibre endpin; if you are seeking an intimate sound for your cello, carbon fibre is also likely to be a good choice. Conversely, it is clear that a solid anchor beneath a cello in the form of a heavy metal endpin enables some cellos to project more effectively (just in the way that high quality loud speakers are designed with very heavy boxes or bases, so that the energy put into the speaker ends up moving the air, not the speaker.) Strong players wishing to project their sound powerfully may well benefit from the strength, rigidity and solidity of a heavy metal endpin.
Metal types The types of metal used in an endpin also have an effect on the way the endpin vibrates during use and therefore on the resulting tone and response of the cello, due to the varied density and stiffness of each metal used. This phenomenon has been imaginatively explored by Junichi Mitsuke in his range of six metal endpins which use different combinations of brass, iron, tungsten, titanium and carbon (see table online). Klaus Bender has also explored ways to influence sound through the design of his Berlin endpin which can be rotated to make the endpin vibrate in different directions. For details of materials and metal densities, please see the tables below.
Endpin length When testing endpins it is worth experimenting with the length of the endpin protruding from the cello; if comparing several endpins it’s also worth measuring the length of endpin you normally use and ensuring that you use the same length with each endpin tested in order to achieve a more accurate comparison.
If you wish to experiment with the widest possible range of new endpins, you will need a fitting which takes a 10mm diameter endpin. You will also need a well engineered fitting in order not to damage a carbon fibre end pin. The best design is the Bois d’Harmonie endpin fitting; the Bender fitting is also well designed but can become clogged with carbon fibre dust over time. Any endpin fitting which has a screw which presses directly onto the pin should only be used with a metal pin as the screw tip will eventually damage the carbon fibre shaft.
Endpins tested. This summer we tested the range of six metal endpins produced by Junichi Mitsuke in Japan, the Manson Superspike, the New Harmony carbon fibre endpins (both hollow and solid) and the Bois d’Harmonie carbon fibre endpin. The lengths and weights of the endpins we tested are shown in the table below.
We know several players who use the Mitsuke Triple Brillante endpin so we used this as a control while testing endpins on a Montagnana model cello by Robin. We also tested selected endpins on a Banks, a Betts school and another contemporary cello.
Mitsuke Triple Brillante (TB) gave the Montagnana added power, core resonance, projection and what the player described as ‘fizz’ – an exciting edge to the sound. Clarity was also improved: individual notes in chords could be heard clearly, as could notes high up on the C string. Banks player 1 found the TB rather heavy on the C string, not allowing the notes to ‘breathe’. Banks player 2 said that TB gave ‘good upper partials and projected well and was fairly malleable but lacked depth’ and was a bit smooth for their taste. On the Betts School (a strongly built cello previously fitted with a tubular Titanium endpin) the TB added ‘strength, brightness, “fizz” and a rich resonance’ and also gave the player added cushion under the bow. On another contemporary cello (previously fitted with a carbon fibre endpin) the TB added real clarity, making the cello quicker to respond in all registers. It sounded brighter on the A and more precise, rich and colourful on the C. We also tested the TB on a newly completed Guadagnini cello and the player said that the cello sounded richer and brighter and more played in, as if the endpin had a ripening effect on the cello.
Mitsuke Brass and Carbon (BC) sounded softer and smoother than TB on the Montagnana copy and lacked the heavy core given by TB. On the A string it was clear, strong and brilliant but was less distinct in the lower register on this cello. Banks player 1 said BC sounded bright and powerful on the A string but was less clear on the C string. Banks player 2 found BC creamier and warmer in the bass than TB but thought the treble a bit nasal and closed. On the Betts School, BC gave the C string more focus but the A string was a little veiled and deadened by comparison.
Mitsuke Brass and Tungsten (BTu) was more malleable under the bow on the Montagnana than TB but thinner in the upper register and overall offered less support than TB; it felt as if the cello’s sound could be suppressed if the player leaned in too hard. It offered a warmer, richer and softer sound than TB in the lower registers and required less muscular effort but didn’t project as well as TB. The player thought it might be successful in a chamber music context. On another contemporary cello the player felt there was a loss in clarity and resonance compared to TB, particularly on the C string but the sound had a ‘soulful, sweet’ quality. On the Banks BTu sounded rather ‘narrow, blatant and prescriptive and not particularly clear; a bit coarse in the bass.’
Mitsuke Quartet (Q) felt similar on the Montagnana to BTu but had extra edge and texture and an almost nasal tone. The player found it more flexible to play than TB and that it also gave more support under the A string than TB. He liked the effect on the C string and the overall impression was ‘warm and friendly, flexible but with some edge and excitement’. On another contemporary cello Q sounded ‘warm but a bit muddy and rather narrow in the upper register’. On the Banks, Q felt ‘warm, gentle, rich, full, broad, spacious; a weighty velvety sound, good upper partials, malleable’.
Mitsuke Brass and Iron (BI) had considerable brightness and depth on the Montagnana but was slower to respond than TB. The player felt it had a ‘more baroque, flowing response’ than TB, responding well to softer gestures rather than to an attack from the bow, with a nice sense of bow cushion. Tonally it lent ‘a rich, deep, pure clarity’ to the C string and felt more ‘intimate and noble’ than the Manson Superspike. Banks player 1 said BI was good all round; it gave added resonance and more colour, edge and body to the sound. Banks player 2 found BI ‘rich, warmer than TB, with good upper partials, a noble, dignified sound with a fresher edge than Q.’ In his view, it offered the most interesting tonal palette of all the endpins he tried, with a clean response and sunny sound. On the Betts School BI created a rich, creamy bass but sounded rather thin on the A; overall BI created too much darkness in the Betts cello. On another contemporary cello BI had a hard, quite grainy sound and the player found it difficult to reach the core of the sound with his bow but he found the response good, with a clear edge and good clarity.
Mitsuke Brass and Titanium (BTi) had a similar effect to BC on the Montagnana; the overall effect was attractive but on quite a small scale, giving an intimate, approachable quality to the sound. On another contemporary cello the BTi was very resonant, with a spacious, flexible response, particularly on the C string.. On the Banks BTi gave a nice balance but sounded more metallic than BTu, with a ‘slower response, restricted under the bow, a bit two-dimensional in sound.’
Manson Superspike (MS) sounded very bright and powerful on the Montagnana but had a colder tone with fewer dimensions and less depth and colour than TB. The player also felt it didn’t sustain the sound very successfully. Banks player 1 said MS sounded very bright and gave power to the A string but was less clear on the C string than TB. Banks player 2 found MS ‘big and beefy, more metallic than Bender Berlin but a bit dark/muted in treble register. You can sculpt the sound but it has fewer colours than BI.’ On the Betts the MS was powerful but a bit deadening; although clear, the sound lacked uplift and didn’t ‘take off’.
New Harmony Carbon Fibre Hollow (NHCFH) sounded ‘clear, bright, broad and open’ on the Montagnana, ‘if a bit dimensionless and with delayed response in the bass.’ The listeners, by contrast, thought the endpin cloaked the sound and that it allowed less resonance to project into the room. On another contemporary cello the NHCFH gave an open, broad response on the A string and had a lot of texture but the overall response was quite difficult for the player. On the Banks, NHCFH sounded free and resonant but not particularly clear; the cello felt slow to respond on the C string; the player also found the cushion too soft.
New Harmony Carbon Fibre Solid (NHCFS) sounded better on the Banks than NHCFH. The player felt it had reasonable depth and colour, a clear treble response but was a little rough in the bass. The player felt it also gave excess resistance and a slow response on the C string.
Bois D’Harmonie Carbon Fibre (BHCF) was powerful on the Montagnana A string and rather grainy on the C but was more responsive and focussed than NHCFH. There was a better response on the C string than the other carbon fibre endpins but overall the player felt he was struggling to get on top of the sound – the cello didn’t support his bow so well and he felt as if the sound was escaping in all directions rather than staying under the bow. Banks player 1 found BHCF was clearer and more treble in response than NHCFH but lacked a sense of solidity and reliability on the C string. Banks player 2 found the BHCF a good all-round endpin: calmer, smaller than TB but more centred and with more overtones than NHCFS. ‘A bit nasal in upper register but good projection, quick to respond, malleable. Harder to handle than BI and Q.’
For a review of 8mm endpins see here
For more technical cello articles click here