Convert bass to OVERSIZED cello? A "5/4"cello?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Common Tater, Feb 9, 2018.

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  1. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    I know a lot of people could be confused at the intent in the title so I'll try to make this as clear as I can from the start. I am NOT considering converting a cello into a small upright bass. That's been done. I don't want to go smaller, I want to go BIGGER. I used "5/4" as a kind of indication of this size as a kind of extrapolation above 4/4, 3/4, and 1/2 cellos.

    Why? Because I'm a big guy and I might want to play cello. How big am I? I'm in the 99.6 percentile in height. That means if I was in a room with 999 other Americans then I'd be taller than three, maybe four, of them. Another answer is that after seeing attempts about cello to bass conversions I thought it might be fun to at least see what it would take to spin that around and see if and how "super-sizing" one could be done.

    For this discussion, at least to start, I'll discuss four variations. A cello conversion based on a "full size" bass or "reduced size" bass, and with each a "bass like" EADG tuning and with a "cello like" CGDA tuning. I'll define "full size" as something that's 4/4, 3/4, or 7/8 scale, meaning a 44 to 41 inch scale length. I'll define "reduced size" as a scale length of 34 to 39 scale length, which means a scaled size of 1/2, 1/4, or 1/8. I'm stopping at that low end of scale length because these lengths of strings should be pretty common for the most part, and if we go much further in going short then it's just starting to look like a cello.

    If I'm not mistaken the open G string on both the cello and bass will sound the same note when plucked. If I find a "standard" five string set, with EADGC strings, then I'm off to a start for an oversize cello set of strings by setting aside the E and A strings. The D string will be in first and tuned down to C. The G string is put in and tuned to G, of course. The C string would be tuned up to D. What of the fourth (A) string? I don't know.

    If we want this same "full size" bass to sound like a cello, and be tuned EADG like a bass, then this might be much the same as the first. Get an EADGC five string set, set aside the E and A strings, install, and then tune. What of the fourth (G) string? I don't know.

    With a 1/2 or 1/4 size, and CGDA tuning, then maybe we can more easily find strings. We could use "full size" strings and cut them down. That could mean still using an EADGC five string set but setting aside only the one E string. Cut down the A string to fit the shorter scale and tune to C. Same goes for the G, D, and A strings, just being cut down from the A, D, G, and C. Can this be done? Finding strings for a shorter scale length of 34 inches (like on upright basses that use bass guitar strings) might be easier than a longer 39 inch scale (as on a common 1/2 bass).

    A "reduced size" bass taken an octave higher, into the cello frequency range, should be doable. Again starting with a "standard" five string set, set aside the E string, cut them down, install, and tune.

    If I'm mistaken and this kind of conversion has been done before, and I suspect it has, then I would appreciate bringing that to my attention. Would I actually try to do this? I don't know. I might just for grins. It's an excuse to buy another bass, even if I don't leave it tuned as a cello.

    Again, if I want something that sounds like a cello then why not just get a cello? Did I mention my height? Also, if I tune it EADG and I have a same size bass (as a bass) then I'm playing a cello (-like instrument) and not having to learn new finger positions or anything, I'd just play.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2018
  2. You don't have the discipline for cello. Tall people have played cello, you don't have to make things up. You are probably a troll.
    wathaet likes this.
  3. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    Solo string sets (F#-B-E-A) are higher in frequency but no more than can be had with a five string set (E-A-D-G-C). Is there such a thing as five string solo string sets (F#-B-E-A-D)? If so then that makes this an easier task to complete.

    I'm working under the assumption that tuning to a slightly higher frequency is not going to damage anything. Also, that tuning lower is not a problem. I'm assuming tuning lower is unlikely to cause any damage as that is lowering tension. Can't go too low though, at some point the strings just get too "flabby" to play, correct? Is there a rule of thumb on this? Like going one higher and two lower is safe? People drop tune all the time so there must be plenty of "room" going lower in frequency. How much "room" is there going up?

    If I'm doing my math right I can get a 34 inch scale length (1/4 size) bass to sound like a cello by doing the following. I get a 44 inch scale 5 string E-A-D-G-C set. Toss out the low E string. Put remaining 4 strings on bass. I should be able to tune this as C-G-D-A but that fourth (A) string would probably be really tight. Too tight?

    To just get a 1/4 size bass up an octave as E-A-D-G, into the cello range, I'd do much the same as above. Get a 44 inch 5 string set, toss out the E, and string them up on the 1/4 bass. I'd then have to tension every string up a bit tight. Again, too tight?

    I went to school for engineering, not music, so I'm basically working on pure physics here. I'm looking for someone that can verify my math. If the math checks out then I might actually try this with a real instrument.
    ColdEye likes this.
  4. ColdEye


    Oct 22, 2015
    San Diego, CA

    Do you need a KitKat?
    lowfreqgeek and Common Tater like this.
  5. You are not going to get a bass string to hold the high A. The highest around is a super sensitive F that actually only tunes to Eb before snapping. This, and the fact that the pick ups failed is why I gave up my 7 string EUB.
    For the low end you could use a thick D like a Spiro Stark for C, any G for G for the high D you would need a solo C that tunes to D - some one has to make one. You are out of luck with A.

    The good news is that you sit to play 'cello so it doesn't matter.
  6. At least. Like a matcha KitKat from Japan.
    oldNewbie likes this.
  7. Your calculations are not correct. The linear mass of a string, together with its rigidity, is what affects the pitch of the sound. You can not get the right tone by changing only the length of the string. You also need to change its thickness.

    You are not the first who would like to adjust the bass 5th. I do not know the specific solutions, but it seems to me that now you can find any strings - for any length and any tone.
  8. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    I'm confused on how you can claim both that my calculations are incorrect and that you don't know how to do the calculations yourself. I agree that the note a string will play is dependent on the length, thickness, and rigidity. These three things are used all the time on a bass to get the notes we want. We'll set a range of frequencies by choosing the thickness of the string we put on the bass, and each string will have a different thickness. The rigidity is a function of the thickness and other construction factors but also it's tension, which we can adjust with the tuners. The maximum length of the string is determined by the nut and bridge of the bass but the vibrating portion is varied by placing our finger on the string and holding it to the fingerboard.

    I verified my math to myself somewhat on my fretless bass guitar. Even though it doesn't have frets it does have fret markers so I'll refer to those in my description. If I take a string intended for a 4/4 size bass with a 44 inch scale length and put that on a 1/4 size bass with a 35.5 inch scale length then I've reduced the vibrating length to about 80%. Similarly for a string for a 3/4 size bass with a 42 inch scale length on a bass with a 34 inch scale length, like the NS Omni Bass, I've reduced the length to about 80%. Translating that to my bass guitar puts me at 27.2 inches, real close to the fourth fret.

    The fourth fret on the A string gets me a C#. If I tune up that string to a C then the fourth fret gets me the E I'm looking for. This is just one string of four that is temporarily tuned up this high so I'm not likely to damage anything like this. Tuning up all four strings this tight permanently just might. So I could instead take the D string and tune that down to a C and now at the same tension but at 80% the length I'll have an E.

    I will agree that I can get any string for any tone but I still have to figure out what those strings might be. I also don't want to have to go through the expense of custom strings, especially if I can just get something off the shelf that will do just as well.

    If someone sees a problem with my math then I'd appreciate a post with corrections.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2018
  9. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    One thing I noticed growing up is that stuff for tall people, specifically clothing, got easier to find over time. I suspect that oversized musical instruments as a commodity might come soon. My guess on why it's easier to buy tall clothes now as opposed to really just a few years ago has to do with more tall people and better communication. There more tall people not because people are growing taller, although I suspect things like improved nutrition and medicine has added to that somewhat. I think it's just a bigger population. The spread of the Internet has now allowed more people with products for tall people to find the tall people to sell to. There's just more profit in selling stuff for tall people than there used to be.

    To get musical instruments to tall people does have one added problem, which I discovered here. Making a bigger instrument means needing different materials. Making a shirt or pants an inch or two longer doesn't stress the material much more, but doing that to a string on an instrument would. We are seeing improvements in materials all the time. Getting a string to hit the right note at a given length was likely not all that difficult for a very long time now. What has been difficult, at least by my estimation, is making these strings cheap enough to put on a musical instrument.

    I believe I may have proven a 30% oversized cello is possible with only a 1/4 size bass, a set of common strings, and some time to put them together. If you want to get closer to that 15% to 20% oversize cello then it might be possible to go with a 1/8 size bass and recompute the strings you'd need.

    If this kind of conversion becomes popular then I expect a market to emerge for instrument makers and dealers to offer 5/4 size cellos.
  10. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I usually resist the urge to be pedantic, but since you asked...

    Actually no. It means that 3 or maybe 4 of them would be taller than you, or at least that the statistics favored that outcome.
  11. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    That is so interesting that I posted this question so close in time to your search for it. Out of curiosity I did a quick search myself and I see what you mean on no real solution to this being out there. I did see some mention on larger cellos but they keep the same scale length as a standard cello, which is not really helpful if the problem is having large hands getting around on the fingerboard.

    I've followed the development of 3D printing somewhat and I doubt that we'll see a 3D printed cello, especially an oversized one, any time soon. What is also getting better and cheaper, along with 3D printing, is CNC machining. If someone isn't already making cello parts on a CNC mill then it will come soon. It would be trivial to tell a computer to scale every dimension up by 20% and mill that out, assuming the output still fit in the bounds of the machine.

    Whether or not a 5/4 cello would fit a player comfortably depends on how it's defined. If "5/4 cello" is defined as "1/8 bass" then seeing if one fits is just a matter of finding a 1/8 bass to try out. A bass is not technically a violin family instrument and so it's shaped a bit differently. I'm sure that this is not only because of tradition but also some very real limitations of the materials used, as well as the sound people are looking for or expect.

    I'd expect converting a 1/8 bass to an oversized cello would be easier in some ways and harder than others to converting a 1/4 bass. I did my earlier computations assuming a EADG tuning, like a bass. I did some quick thinking on doing CGDA on a 1/8 bass and it is probably doable. I just had a problem finding what the scale length on a 1/8 bass would be. The only answer I found was 80 cm, which would be about 31.5 inches. The 1/4 bass is a pretty standard size but 1/8 is not, so that's still up to some interpretation. Assuming 31.5 inch scale length it might be a bit difficult to find a string that does an A3 but the other strings shouldn't be too hard. Again, if my math is correct.

    I'm glad you posted a response, it's nice to know I'm not the only one pondering this.
  12. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    Right, I got that backwards. I'd be taller than all except 3 or 4 of them. Nice catch.
  13. I don't think you understand the true "size" of the bass. The body is just about projection and sound, an EUB is a more accurate view of the true "size". It is the length of the finger board and the height of the strings. That is physical aspect of it.

    If truly find that your have such large hands you have trouble playing in tune with traditional technique you would explore a longer string length. This goes for your ideas about both bass and cello.
    Like your other posts you are worrying over problems that have not presented themselves yet. Get a cello and a cello teacher. Your cello teacher will tell you how to deal with the instrument and your height. There have been very tall 'cellists before. The issue will be solved by an endpin, not a made up instrument.
    6'5-6'6 is not in the least abnormal for double bassists. Again, your issue will be solved with an end pin and possibly (though probably not) string length. If you sit the whole thing is even more of a non-issue. You just need to find the right stool.
    The right stool is probably lover than you think so both feet can be flat on the ground.
    VictorW126 and Tom Lane like this.
  14. What did your 'cello teacher say? How did they address it?
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  15. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    So, I'm literally flabbergasted by the idea that @DAMON Smith is the VOICE of reason... because Damon speaking the first thought is atypical, at best.
    Interestingly... to only myself... after I thought to post this, my next thought was to not post it because... my thoughts will be unwelcome and unappreciated.
    Last thought on this: there haven't been any tall violin players? Violin? A lot smaller than a cello, no? Truly that puts this thread to bed for any reasonable musician. Violin --> cello. Which is smaller? Duh, duh, and double duh. Please tell us about your HUGE fingering issues... not.

    Damon's right: you're inventing issues for not playing an instrument.

    One last thought, none of this will deter the OP in any way! So, carry on!
    VictorW126 likes this.
  16. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    I think you are taking this far too seriously.

    Did I overplay how tall I am? Abso-freaking-lutely I overplayed how tall I am. Do I want to play the cello? No, I don't want to play the cello. I might want to play something that sounds like a cello though. Would I buy a cello? Perhaps. In fact I might buy two. I'd have them both tuned EADG like a bass, one with short scale bass guitar strings so it sounds like a bass and the other with more conventional strings so it sounds like a cello. I've seen some really cheap cellos and if I can tune them up like a bass then it might be something fun to have around. The only thing though is that a cello is considerably smaller than a bass so I suspect that it would throw off someone that's used to playing something much larger.

    Did I mention I'm an engineer? I'm sure I did. Part of being an engineer is sitting around thinking of ways to solve problems. Sometimes that means solving problems that have been solved but finding a solution that's better. What does "better" mean? It can mean cheaper, faster, lighter, or in this case bigger.

    I've considered a smaller than 3/4 bass for a lot of reasons. It'd be lighter, easier to transport and store, and I believe easier to play sitting comfortably. Getting a 1/2 or 1/4 size bass is pretty trivial, or so it seems. The NS Omni Bass looks like a popular EUB and is effectively a 1/4 size bass. If I can get a 1/2 or 1/4 bass and make it sound like a cello for only the cost of some stings and a bit of my time then it might be some harmless fun to try. All I'm really asking here is if someone has already tried something like this and see if someone would like to check my work.

    Is this an absurd idea? Perhaps, but then so is putting bass guitar strings on a cello to make it sound like a bass. The number of people so short that they can't even play a 1/4 size bass must be very small. Probably about as small of a number as those too tall to comfortably play a 4/4 cello. In spite of this absurdity there does seem to be quite a few people that have converted cellos into teeny tiny double basses. Why not consider spinning this around?

    Oh, and I do believe that the violin is far smaller than a bass or cello. I'm pretty sure some very tall people play the violin too. I also did a quick search on the internet and there seems to be something of a small industry in creating oversized violins. This might be just taking a viola and using lighter gauge strings so it can be tuned like a violin. It can also mean some custom made oversize violins for tall people. The violin is a more popular instrument than the double bass or cello and so finding people to buy these must be easier and so there is a market to make them. Why not the same treatment for the cello? If only for the sake of novelty?

    This is just an idea I'm considering. Again, if it costs me nothing but a set of strings and a bit of my time then I might actually do it for grins and giggles. If this helps someone to better enjoy playing music because they can find an instrument they find comfortable to play then that's even better. It's almost like I've engineered a solution for someone.

    Maybe instead of typing all that I should have just asked if you need a KitKat.
  17. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    I think someone scared off Mr. Bryanton. This post of his was here just a minute ago but doesn't show after I refreshed the page.
    My "wingspan" is about 205 centimeters. I too have trouble finding a good way to hold a bow. The bow I'm renting from the university is not all the great, even beyond being too small for my hands. I think I should just invest in a bow real soon so that I'm not putting my hand in an uncomfortable position to satisfy the instructor on how a bow should be held. I understand that there is certainly a wrong way to hold a bow, but the "right way" that is in the textbook was created for people with smaller hands.

    I haven't even tried to play a cello but just looking at some in a music shop I can see that with my arm length it's quite possible I could tuck one under my chin and play it like a violin. Well, the end pin would certainly be a problem. Other than that though, it might be possible.

    Oh, maybe I just discovered how all those tall violin players find violins big enough for them. They just take a cello, remove the end pin, and get a chin rest for it.
  18. Ok, let's deal with it.

    1) 1/8 bass is a double bass, not a cello. This means that its body is tuned to the sound of a double bass. You can not just tune the strings. You need to configure the plates, sound post, bass bar, etc.

    2) The shape of the bass does not match the shape of the cello. The bass has another neck, other shoulders, another bridge and other proportions. I think your cello-teacher will refuse to teach you on such an instrument.

    3) The string for the high tone should be thinner than for the low. The cello does not use bass strings, and the violin does not use viola strings, although with a reduced length of strings, this would be logical. Just think, why. Really before you no one has guessed to do so?

    4) The choice of instrument is individual. If this is entertainment for you, do as you please. If you take the matter seriously, then just contact the teacher and he will solve your problems.
    Tom Lane likes this.
  19. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    Let's do that.

    Everything is a compromise. We've become so used to compromise that it's considered "standard" to use a 3/4 size bass. I realize that this is sub-optimal, quite possibly a bad idea. I might even damage the instrument if tried. That's why I'm asking. This seems like a pretty natural question for me. I've seen "big" violins before, why not a cello?

    I don't have a cello teacher. I do have a bass teacher though. I'll see some cello solo music and I thought it might be fun to try to play it in the right octave without having to learn a new instrument, try to play so close to the bridge that I might run out of fingerboard, or whatever. The point is to be able to play cello music without having to get a cello teacher. If it doesn't work then it doesn't work.

    I'm not sure what you are getting at here. Of course the strings are different. I'd like to try putting cello strings on a bass, just like people tried putting bass strings on a cello, but the strings are too short. It's trivial to cut a string down, making it longer is not. Since that's not possible then I'll have to get more creative.

    Of course this is entertainment. Why else would anyone play music but to entertain?

    I've seen people do cello to bass conversions before and no one get real upset about it, why should this be anything more or less serious? Do you need a KitKat?
  20. 5/4 cello is a big cello, not a small bass! I explained why. Just read it again.

    A cello is a difficult instrument. As in the case of a double bass, you need a teacher.

    p. s. Someone, explain the joke about KitKat. I do not understand it.
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