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
    It just means to calm down. As in, have a piece of candy because it might make you feel better.

    I agree, a 5/4 cello is a big cello. However, I don't see one being sold anywhere, so let's consider alternatives. This is not that different than what I've seen about people tuning violas as big violins. There aren't that many 5/4 violins but we can find a viola and play around with the strings to get something that works for people that find a violin too small.

    What's bigger than a cello but yet very "cello-like"? That would be a 1/2, 1/4, or 1/8 double bass. It's not a cello, but really close. Does it have to be tuned CGDA? Or can I have it EADG like a bass? It can be either, people do either tuning and more on the cello and bass. It's up to you.

    Well, this gives us options. I'd like a 1/2 or 1/4 bass that's tuned EADG but plays in the cello octave, which is one way to approximate a 5/4 cello. Mr. Bryanton, assuming he returns, seems to be interested in a 1/4 or 1/8 bass that's tuned CGDA and in the cello octave as his preferred way to approximate a 5/4 cello.

    I'm looking for something I might translate what I'm learning with my bass lessons so I can play some cello tunes in their intended octave. Mr. Bryanton seems to just want a big cello, that's tuned like a cello, sounds like a cello, but perhaps looks like a bass only because a true 5/4 cello does not exist.

    I've pretty much abandoned the idea of a larger cello, based on a 3/4 or 4/4 bass. Unless there's some strings out there to experiment with this cello, perhaps more like a 6/4 or even 7/4 cello, isn't going to happen. Maybe with three strings it might but that's no fun.

    Perhaps even don't call it a cello, just recognize it as one of several kind of ways people have tuned their bass. Call it "cello tuning at octave" on a 1/4 bass if it makes you feel better. I did some searching on this website and I haven't seen this kind of dust raised on alternative tuning for fractional basses before. Others might see this and call it a "5/4 cello" though. Just like people that see a cello tuned in the bass range as EADG might call that a "1/16 bass". It's not a bass, it's a 4/4 cello with an alternate tuning. Being a bit imprecise on what it's called doesn't make anything to get upset about.
    VictorW126 likes this.
  2. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    That thread is 10 years old, so what I'm pondering is far from new. I'm also not the only one asking this question as it's not too difficult to find similar discussions sprinkled across the internet. He poses the question on if it would be to his benefit to find a larger than 4/4 cello. While some seemed to agree it might, the difficulty in finding such an instrument means that even if it might be preferred to find a larger instrument, it would be far simpler to take the time to learn on a 4/4 cello or play on a bass.

    I'm not posing this same question, or rather not only this question. What I'm also posing is another question that's asked in forums like this, the question goes something like this, "I know how to play [stringed instrument X] but I'd like to get the sound of [stringed instrument Y], how can I do that with the least effort and expense?" People have answered questions like this with violins that sound like cellos, and cellos that sound like basses. It seems almost trivial to go down in frequency but going up seems less than trivial. Have you seen a cello that sounds like a violin? I haven't, but it's not too hard to find a violin that sounds like a cello.

    I'd rather get back to how we might do this bass to cello conversion, rather than why someone would want to, but I'll discuss this because I feel it is important and with the hope we can move beyond the why and get back to the how. With that in mind let's look at the question posed in that linked discussion. The question posed was, "Would I benefit from a larger than standard size cello?" I believe that this is true in many cases, and provably true.

    Consider two fraternal twins, a boy and girl. At 10 years old they express an interest to play the double bass. Would anyone give these children, being about 4 feet tall, a full sized bass to play? I doubt it. They might get a 1/10 bass or a cello tuned EADG. Would we expect the girl at 18 years old, and 5' 11" in height, to still play a cello tuned EADG as she moves off to college? Of course not. We would not expect the boy, now at 6' 5" to either. As they get older, and taller, they'd get larger instruments. Perhaps this tall young woman would choose to play a 3/4 bass and the young man a 4/4 bass because that is what they find comfortable. Is either in the "wrong" for choosing as they did? I don't think so.

    Suppose it was a cello they decided to play instead of the double bass. These twins as 4' tall children are unlikely to be taught to play a full sized cello. They'd probably be started with a 1/2 cello and then be moved to a larger instrument as they grow. When they start the boy would have a 4/4 cello be as tall as him but as a 6' 5" adult it would come as high as his belly button. If the young woman would be more comfortable with a 4/4 cello than a 1/2 cello or 3/4 cello, then would not the young man be more comfortable with a 5/4 cello than a 4/4 cello? I would think so. In fact it seems that there are people that have been seeking this elusive 5/4 cello for at least 10 years.

    The question of the oversized cello was posted on a forum for cello players, as it should. This is not a forum for cello players, it's for bass players. While I'm sure cello players might find this discussion interesting the primary focus is on the related question posed earlier, that is of I know how to play [stringed instrument X] but I would like to get the sound of [stringed instrument Y], how do I get there with minimal effort an expense? In this case instrument X is a bass and instrument Y is a cello.

    Is using a 1/4 bass as a 5/4 cello less than optimal? Of course it is. Also less than optimal is a 3/4 cello but that is done routinely for people that stand a bit shorter than most. Also less than optimal is playing an instrument that is too small for the player. What is also less than optimal is converting a cello into a small bass. Some people do this because they are short, even as an adult. Some people do this because they find it entertaining to try. For the sake of entertainment let's ponder how one might convert a bass into a cello. If you don't find that entertaining then that's fine, just don't try to take it away from those that might.
  3. They already have 'cello strings made to tune EADG, they have had since the at least the 50s.

    I doubt inventing problems that don't exist to solve is well thought of in that field, maybe it is, though. The first step would be to consult a few tall 'cellists and 'cello teachers.
    Not people who don't play the instrument who are probably making lots of incorrect assumptions about it.
  4. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    I thought about this some more and ran a thought experiment through my head. Imagine I had a capo for a cello and I wanted to shift the frequency of every string up one octave, where would I put this capo? Right in the middle of the bridge and nut, right? A typical 4/4 cello will have about 27 inches between the bridge and nut. If I put the capo in the middle of the length of the vibrating string then how much distance is there between the capo and the bridge? 13.5 inches.

    A viola is tuned one octave higher than a cello. What is the typical distance between the nut and bridge on a viola? Something like 14 to 13 inches, right? That's about where that capo is on the cello from before.

    A violin is tuned one fifth above a viola. What's the distance between the nut and bridge on a 4/4 violin? Something like 13 to 12 inches. What notes would be played on the open strings of a cello if I put a capo at 12.5 inches on the cello? Well, it might be a bit off tune but it would sound a lot like the open strings on a violin. Looks like these three violin family instruments did not change anything from one instrument to the next except length of the string.

    If I take a set of strings from a 5 string 3/4 bass, cut them to size, and install them on a five string 1/8 bass what notes would I get on the open strings? I'll assume the 3/4 bass has a 42 inch scale length and the 1/8 bass has a 31.5 inch scale length. I will also assume we've put the strings to the same tension. The 3/4 bass would give E1, A1, D2, G2, C2. The 1/8 bass with nothing different but the length of the strings is, B1, E2, A2, D3, G3.

    I'd have EADG on both basses, just shifted by one string from one to the other. To get them tuned the same but by a difference of one octave then I'd do so by getting rid of one string on each. I did in fact change the thickness of the strings, but I did so only by how I placed the set of 5 strings on 4 stringed instruments. That is also what I stated I'd do from the beginning.

    A set of 44 inch (4/4 bass) strings that were in fifths and had five strings, CGDAE, cut down to 31.5 inches of a 1/8 bass would give me a four of them as CGDA in the same octave as a cello, no? If someone makes this set of strings then this project of making an oversized cello just got real easy. That is unless I missed something important. Did I?
  5. When you cut bass strings they unravel. The end that goes in the tuner is far smaller than the rest of the string.
  6. Exactly! Question: why does the alto have strings thinner than the cello? (1.08mm [viola] vs 1.71mm [cello] for C-string) What for?

    By the way, compare the G-strings on a cello (SL ~ 700мм, Ø 1.17) and on a DB (SL ~ 1050мм, Ø 1.31). This is the same note on an open string. Should not a string on a double bass be thinner?
    Or compare the violin and viola strings. String G of violin 0.75mm, and in viola 0.79mm. This is the same note on an open string. And the length of the string is more for violas!
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2018
  7. For some reason I did not hear such conversations from pianists. They play on standard instruments regardless of their height and finger length.

    The size of the instrument is selected based on its acoustic characteristics, and not based on the convenience of the musician. This is not a bicycle and not skis, which are selected exactly according to the size of the athlete.

    The contrabass and viola were in a situation where most musicians are physically difficult to play on a full instrument. Therefore, the viola is less than what should be in terms of sound, and for contrabasses the most popular is the size 3/4 (аlthough even 4/4 is not optimal in terms of sound).
  8. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    I believe I have you halfway there to where you need to understand where I am coming from. You see the note played, that's good. You can see the length of the vibrating portion of the string, and it's gauge. It seems you are missing the tension on these strings.

    Why is the string both thicker and longer but playing the same note? Because the tension is different. I'm having a real hard time finding the gauges on strings to do my own computations.

    I'm not sure how to create and experiment for you that uses something that you have the materials for, and is not likely to break a string or do other damage. What you'll want to do is remove as many variables as possible by setting them all the same. If you have two strings of the same gauge on a viola and violin then you should be able to tension them the same but the note each will sound will be different by one fifth. Then press the string into the fingerboard on the viola at a point that creates a length of vibrating string as on the violin. They should now sound the same note. Same length, same gauge, same tension, same material, will give the same note.

    All else the same but tension then tighter equals higher, looser equals lower. All else equal the thicker the lower, the thinner higher. Can you get the same note with two strings of the same length but different tensions and gauges? Sure, you can do this by tuning a low string up and a high string low, but go only as far as you dare to, I can't be responsible of breaking any strings. I tuned my A and D strings to a C, and if you want to demonstrate that yourself then just remember I'm not buying any strings if you break any.

    I might be able to better explain this after some sleep, it is late.
  9. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    If you haven't seen people, both short and tall, have trouble playing piano then you haven't looked very hard. I kept having my piano instructor insist I sit closer, but I'd hit my knees. People with small hands would have to play chords that lacked a note, they'd play it arpeggio, keep to simpler music, or find a keyboard with smaller keys.

    Every instrument is a compromise between the acoustic qualities and the convenience of the player. There is no such thing as an ideal instrument. The double bass is full of compromises. As is the other related instruments. And people create variations on these themes all the time to address these compromises, like C extensions, more than four strings, scaling them up and down in size, tuning in fifths vs fourths.

    I've explained the problem several times now. I'm not sure how explaining it again would improve your comprehension. Perhaps I should take some pictures from one of my practice sessions to demonstrate the problem.
  10. Co.


    Sep 10, 2006
    Yes, please!
  11. No problem!

    String Tension:

    Double Bass 3/4 SL~1050mm w Steel Strings 3/4 "Medium" (approximate value)
    G 275 (N)
    D 286 (N)
    A 296 (N)
    E 301 (N)

    Double Bass 1/2 SL~975mm w Steel String 1/2 "Medium" (approximate value)
    G 251 (N)
    D 274 (N)
    A 280 (N)
    E 282 (N)

    Double Bass 1/4 SL~900mm w Steel Strings 1/4 "Medium" (approximate value)
    G 227 (N)
    D 240 (N)
    A 249 (N)
    E 256 (N)

    Double Bass 1/8 SL~800mm w Steel Strings 1/8 "Medium" (approximate value)
    G 203 (N)
    D 208 (N)
    A 222 (N)
    E 223 (N)


    Cello 4/4 SL~700mm w Steel Strings "Medium" (approximate value)
    A 158 (N)
    D 142 (N)
    G 131 (N)
    C 128 (N)

    Cello 4/4 SL~700mm w Steel Strings "Hard" (approximate value)
    A 169 (N)
    D 152 (N)
    G 141 (N)
    C 141 (N)

    p. s.

    Bass Guitar 34" SL=864mm w Flat Steel Strings Std Tension (approximate value)
    G 210 (N)
    D 231 (N)
    A 187 (N)
    E 159 (N)
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2018
  12. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    Here's my big paw on my electric piano. That's not necessarily a comfortable position that'd I'd want to play with any regularity but it's still demonstrative of being able to play chords that others might not be able to play. I realized after I took the photo that I should have put a ruler in the frame. If it helps it's 10 inches from the outside of the C to the outside of the F keys I'm playing here. I suspect the keys on my keyboard are a bit smaller than those on a typical baby grand.


    So where's the problem? My knees are a bit over 26 inches off the floor while wearing socks, and my shoes will add an inch or two to that. I could not find how much room is under the typical piano keyboard but I found with a quick search on the internet that a Steinway will have the tops of the keys at 28.5 inches from the floor. Do the math on that.

    If I think of it I'll take pictures when I get to campus and I'm practicing on the bass.
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2018
  13. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    That's the tension, length, and note played but not the gauge of the string. Also, the material and construction of the strings may not be consistent. That does show something though, with a shorter string the tension is lower. With lower tension, all else equal, the note played is lower. That means that I may not have to reduce the thickness of the strings to get the same note on a shorter scale length, instead I'd reduce the tension.

    This explains the ease by which people were able to put bass guitar strings on a cello, keep the same tuning, and still have something playable. With shorter strings they would not need as much tension to be playable. It also explains why some kept the tuning pegs instead of machine tuners. Tuning pegs are cheaper but can't hold as much tension and are not as easy to tune. In the case of converting a bass to an oversized cello there would be tuning machines anyway so this is likely a moot point, a tuning machine can replace tuning pegs but tuning pegs may not be a suitable replacement for tuning machines. This kind of a conversion may not be as difficult as I originally thought.
  14. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    I found a string diameter calculator. It calls itself a guitar string diameter calculator but I'd think it's safe to assume this applies to any instrument that fits within the limitations of the calculations. It will give warnings if limits on string diameter or tension are exceeded.
    Link-> Guitar String Calculator

    I played with some numbers assuming a scale length of 31.5" (1/8 double bass), 34" (electric bass guitar and some EUB), and 35.5" (1/4 double bass) and found that strings should at least be feasible. The calculator would not allow tensions above 220 newtons which limits the utility for this purpose but still gives "ballpark" values.

    The website also has a string tension calculator that I haven't played with much yet.
    Link-> Guitar Tension Calculator
    VictorW126 likes this.
  15. Co.


    Sep 10, 2006
    Look at my hand. I'm 5'5''.

    I'm pretty sure, you don't need a special sized bass or cello. I think you need a teacher to show you a solid foundation on left hand technique and body posture.
    VictorW126 and damonsmith like this.
  16. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    Impressive. Can you play a chord like that? How wide are your keys?

    It's also not about need, it's about comfort. If it's not comfortable then that distracts from the enjoyment. Would it be comfortable for you to play a piano like you just demonstrated? I mean you can reach those two keys at the same time but can you do that with any kind of rhythm and regularity?
  17. Most musical instruments are awkward and uncomfortable for anyone until the person gets used to playing them. If the mechanics of playing bass or 'cello were obvious to engineers we would go to them for instruction instead of bass and 'cello teachers.
    VictorW126 and Silevesq like this.
  18. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    Interesting perspective. So, if a person finds a 4/4 cello uncomfortably large they should just grin and bear it? What of a 4/4 bass? I'm pretty sure that the 3/4 bass is rather popular. Why would wanting to play a smaller than typical instrument be acceptable but wanting a larger than typical instrument be a demonstration of poor instruction or motivation?

    I was poking around the forum and saw this post.
    Fifths Bass in chamber music

    This is of a cello player that found a fifths tuned 1/4 bass very enjoyable. She does this because it allows her to play like she's learned with the cello. So I ponder the possibility of playing the occasional cello, but to make that transition easier I'd like the instrument to more closely approximate the size and tuning of a bass. She doesn't seem to attract the hate like I have. In fact her post got some people to give her some likes on what she wrote.

    This discussion has really gone off the rails from the original question. I'd like to get this back on track but I'm also fascinated on the psychology of the replies I'm getting. If this seems like such a silly idea then why bother to post a reply? Or even read the title of the thread and click on the link to read more?
  19. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    Just for grins I thought I'd see if I could top my previous reach on the piano keyboard.

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