When analysing cello set-up, we take every aspect of the instrument into account, including the arching, neck angle, bridge, sound post, tailpiece, tail gut, fingerboard and strings, as well as the general condition of the instrument.
We believe that the a cello’s set up should be treated with the greatest respect, only making changes when it is clear that the original set up is not functioning well. When an old bridge needs replacing, we follow as closely as possible the elegant, organic models passed down to us by earlier craftsmen. Our bridges are cut from a reliable and consistent stock of wood and we produce only first class cello bridges so that every piece of work contributes to our working knowledge of tonal control.
Cello Bridge Design:
The design of a bridge should be a natural compliment to the cello. A French bridge is often a good choice for bright cellos where extra depth and interest is desired in the sound. By contrast, cellos with an inherently dark sound often benefit from the fitting of a Belgian bridge which emphasises the upper register of the cello and which can also be used to make gut G and C strings sound crisper and cleaner. Depending on how they are designed and cut, it is quite possible for there to be a tonal overlap between Belgian and French bridges and in fact many cellos could have very satisfactory set ups with either bridge model. The Belgian bridge that we use is a particularly moderate design and is made from a custom bridge blank designed by Robin and not available as a standard product from bridge manufacturers.
When assessing a cello for bridge alteration we focus on the existing cello set up and try to understand the player’s tonal ideal. If the current bridge has clear shortcomings, we will consider our portfolio of bridge designs and decide which model will come closest to producing the player’s ideal sound. We will then adjust the design of this model to suit the individual instrument and player, cutting the bridge to influence darkness and brightness, resistance and flexibility.
As with every other vibrating part of a cello, the bridge will improve with age provided that it is looked after well. When fitting a bridge we always make a special wooden measuring gauge which fits between the end of the fingerboard and the bridge. This gauge is a useful tool for checking that the bridge is standing straight and, if used regularly, will help to maintain the cello’s sound adjustment and prevent the bridge from warping.
The choice of bridge design also affects the feeling of an instrument under the bow. A French bridge will offer a player more bowing resistance and the Belgian bridge less. Changing from one bridge design to another does require some adjustment on the part of the player, particularly for cellists who have spent many years playing on one bridge model. However, an appropriate change of bridge design can be a very fulfilling and/or liberating experience for the player.
Cello Sound Post Adjustment
When assessing a cello’s sound adjustment, the feel of a cello under the bow provides the equivalent of a symptom picture: Can the player get into the string easily and quickly? Is it possible to produce a “ppp” pianissimo with a good core sound and a clean start, or is the response a bit all-or-nothing, making it difficult to play softly? Does the string feel stable under the bow or ‘fizzy’ and uncomfortable? Is engagement with the string direct and satisfying or does it feel as if the string has to catch up with the bow at the start of each bow stroke? Does it feel precarious, as though the sound will crack when you play harder, or do you feel that the cello has reserves of power and tone to draw on if you need to play harder? Feelings like these give the luthier an insight into what the adjustment-related ailment might be, like a blood-pressure read-out or a pulse-rate record.
We are both cellists and although we have never played professionally, the experience of trying out a great number of different cellos over many years and working with good players to improve instruments has given us the ability to feel the response of instruments under the bow and to understand how the instrument might feel to a good player. This is a vital ingredient in being able to understand the problems players are experiencing and the outcomes they are looking for when they come for sound adjustment. Robin has a very highly evolved system for set up and sound adjustment and he keeps meticulous records so that when a player returns for a further adjustment, the history of the previous adjustment is always to hand.
It must be emphasised that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach or position for sound posts. The luthier’s first job is to interpret the feedback he/she is getting from the instrument to find out what the cello needs in terms of the tension and position of the post. Once this is established, a range of viable adjustments will become apparent and it is then time to find out what the musician needs from the instrument for their personal taste and the demands of the playing that they are doing. Players sometimes ask us how we think an instrument should be set up, but we believe that it is not for us to impose our taste. We would much rather understand the ideals of the cellists we are working with and then to offer some alternative solutions which, we hope, will give rise to a truly individual result for the player and their instrument.
Please contact us at least four weeks in advance if you would like us to work on your cello set-up. Waiting times may be longer in periods of high demand. Please note that we are not able to carry out set up work on cellos by other living makers.
For more information on cello set-up, see the Technical Articles in our Articles Library section.
Cello set-up feedback:
‘I just wanted to let you know that I have the cello in Sydney now. I am thrilled with the work you have done on it, it looks lovely and the neck is much more comfortable for me – I’m already starting to feel at home on it. Thank you so much for all your help and hard work. I really appreciate everything you have done to help me with the cello.’
‘I am still delighted with tailpiece and cello set-up work from last summer, it has made a huge difference and I believe I have found what I was searching for with this instrument. I have not looked back since!’
‘It was great to have time to experiment with the different strings – I’m sure the Montagnana is sounding better and with a more even tone.’
‘I’m thrilled both with the bow and with the wonderful new sound of my cello. And you made me so welcome; I really enjoyed meeting you. In honour of my 50th birthday next week, I’m playing with my cello quartet and I’m absolutely delighted that, ready for that occasion, you’ve made my cello sing again and provided me with a lovely bow which helps it sing even more.’
‘Many thanks for all your help in setting up my cello and selecting the strings on Saturday. Very interesting and informative, and I’m extremely happy with the tone and feel of the instrument!’
‘Just a quick email to say thank you for the cello set-up… the difference is just what I’d hoped for. It’s returned my delight and faith in the cello. The responsiveness I was after is there together with a smoothness of sound and evenness of sound. It’s just so good!!! But, most obviously NO MORE WOLF NOTE.’
‘Thank you for a superb job.’
‘Thank you very much for sorting Andy’s cello out last Friday. He’s a very happy boy who’s hardly stopped grinning since we visited. His great aunt was amazed at the transformation and can’t remember the cello ever sounding so good. It was well worth the visit.’
‘I am enjoying my transformed cello enormously! So many things are working so much better.’
‘Thank you very much for working such magic! I’m still getting used to the bottom two strings, but they certainly give me lots more power.’
‘Thank you for all your help with my cello. It sounds great and I’m enjoying playing it very much!’
‘New strings and bow seem to get universal praise – thanks for your help.’
‘The cello sounds really great at the moment – thanks again for your excellent work.’
‘Thank you once again for the superb work you have done on my cello. Everyone in the Gabrieli Consort ‘cello section were pretty jealous!’
‘Richard has enthusiastically tried out his cello and is delighted with the new-found resonance. We too think it a much richer, clearer sound.’
‘Thank you so much for your time and the invaluable insights you gave me.’
‘Thank you very much for the adjustments you did on the cello. I played in an ensemble today and I noticed a huge difference from before. I am very pleased with the result!’
‘Both my students were delighted with the adjustments made to their instruments and I thought they were sounding extremely well focussed when I heard them this week.’
‘Many thanks for making my visit so enjoyable – so thrilled at the tranformation of my cello!’
‘Many thanks for the work on both of my cellos. My Grubaugh is sounding better than ever now and I’m looking forward to playing my Desiato now. Lovely to meet you both again.’
‘Many thanks for your expertise and fine work. Part of a really nice day out!’
‘I just wanted to write to thank you for fixing my cello at the weekend. It is like I have a new cello! I cannot believe the difference that the gluing and the new tailpiece have made – and I love the new strings as well. If not a new cello, then it at least sounds like you have turned a switch inside it (the one that was set on “muffled bedroom” and is now set to “concert hall”). There is so much more ring to it and it is much more responsive. Just going to play it now if I can turf my daughter out of the music room…’
‘I was just giving the Betts a good go this evening – it is like having a new cello and I am sure that is only the start of its improvement.’
‘Many thanks indeed for the prompt delivery and wonderful set-up service – very much appreciated!’
‘Just to let you know how pleased I am with the cello set-up work. The improvement is more than I had hoped for or expected and as it settles, is still improving.’
‘I was in London yesterday, where I took up a long standing invitation from the buyer of my old cello to pay her a visit to see her “new” cello and to play it to her. I was captivated by her charm and enthusiasm, and impressed by the dedication with which she was applying herself to her new study. We spent a couple of happy hours talking about music, the cello, and adult learning. I played some Bach and some Fauré to her, after which she was persuaded to play to me; so it ended up with a bit of a cello lesson! I was delighted to find what a good job you have made of restoring the instrument. It sounded better than it ever did when I had it – more resonant, and more even throughout the range, with a more open sound at the top. And you have improved its appearance too, the cracks hardly noticeable and the varnish much more even. So once again may I thank you for the trouble you have taken over this sale. I hope we will be able to meet again one day.’
‘I was on cloud nine as I left you on Friday! The stunning repair was amazing… I’ve never seen anything like it. Your advice on adjusting the A string was so invaluable. Thank you so much for all your careful and loving hard work.’
‘I just wanted to say a huge thank you for the brilliant set up you did on the cello! It never sounded as good even in the beginning and the response is terrific!’
‘I just wanted to thank you again for all your help with my cellos – it was a HUGELY enjoyable experience. It has been a great success – I’m enjoying them both a lot more now. Best wishes to you and Sarah.’ (LSO cellist)
‘I really truly am happy with my cello set-up. Many thanks for all of the work you are doing for us.’
‘Just to say thank you again for all your help, advice and expertise yesterday – the cello is sounding great, although its volume is taking a bit of getting used to!’
‘Just a big thank you for your adjustments yesterday – it’s like a different instrument. Every time I play it it feels better – as though it’s finding its true resonance again.’
‘Just a note to say thank you for working with Josh and his cello last week. It was a really interesting afternoon and both of us learned a lot. Josh had his first lesson with his new teacher last night and both of them are delighted with the way the cello is sounding now.’
‘The cello sounds wonderful – I’m like the Evah Pirazzi slogan: I really am so happy I can’t stop playing! Thank you again, both, for everything.’
‘First of all I want to say many thanks for all your help with my cello set-up. It’s working beautifully now and I would be absolutely delighted if you could come to hear it in concert at some point.’
‘Thank you so much for all of your care and expertise over the past month. You have made such a difference to my ‘cello and I am very grateful for the time and effort that you put into doing this.’
‘Just a short note to say thank you for the wonderful work you did on the Vuillaume. I had every faith that you could bring it back to life – but in fact you surpassed my expectations and the transformation is sensational.’
‘My, what a difference the gluing has made! I’m most grateful, and feel very lucky to have such reliable and knowledgeable – and nice! – people looking after my cello.’
‘Thanks again for your help last Friday! I think the instrument sounds so much more free now. I am really happy and am very glad to have come to Ely!’
‘I just wanted to say how happy I am with my cello, and what a difference your sound-post adjustment made! It feels like the cello came back to life, and playing is so much more enjoyable now. Thank you!’
‘I just wanted to let you know how delighted I am with my cello set-up ‘service’. The quartet could immediately tell that something had been done to the cello and they all love the more sonorous tone. As do I! It was lovely to see you both again and visit a bit of cello heaven in Ely.’