Refugee from the BG forums needs cello advice...

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by amper, Mar 17, 2006.

  1. amper


    Dec 4, 2002
    Hello, everyone. This is my first venture into the DB forums...

    A couple of years ago, I became obsessed with the idea of getting a cello-like sound out of a bass guitar, so I had Warwick custom make me a 30" scale fretless Corvette Proline. After experimenting with various tunings and strings, I've ended up with a set of D'Addario Prelude 4/4 medium tension cello strings on this instrument, tuned in regular cello CGDA tuning. The sound is very interesting, although a bit short on sustain, because the silk wrap at the ball end is over the bridge a bit, due to the differences in scale length and construction.

    Now, after doing a search on "cello", I see that there are quite a few cellists and former cellists here on TB, so I thought I'd look for help here.

    My big question is, now that I've got my instrument set up, where do I go from here? I'm not familiar with fifths tuning, so learning my way around that would probably be a good thing to tackle, but I'm not really sure how to go about it, other than noodling.

    I'd like to also figure out some music that I can play. My eventual goal is to use this instrument in rock and jazz settings, but I'm not opposed to classical pieces. Of course, I immediately went out an bought the Schirmer's Bach Cello suites book, but I'm not sure if that was such a good idea (bit advanced for a newbie). My inspriation for all this is Yo-Yo Ma's performance on "The West Wing", (who I'm sort of related to...not that I have any illusions that I will ever sound like him).

    I have been a musician for over 30 years, with formal training on piano, organ, and voice. My reading skills are a bit rusty, but it's coming back to me. The main problem is, I have no experience at all with cello technique, so the fifths tuning thing is very non-intuitive at this point.

    An article about Joel Quarrington also got me thinking about bass fifths tuning, so I'm hoping to also use any skills I pick up with that idea, although on bass guitar, not DB.

    Any words of wisdom for me? Here's a pic of my instrument:

  2. Hi Amper: I tune in 5ths. A quick response to your questions: I play 95% DB. Thomastik & Velvet make strings for DB 5th tuning. Or you can mix & match solo & regular tuning strings as Joel Q. does. As for EB: To the best of my knowledge, I don't think cello strings will work on EB as you found out from the windings, string length, etc.. I tune my EB in 5ths with Ernie Ball Roundwounds. Not my favorite string, but they have the best selection in single gauge strings. Here's my string selection: Low C is a 125, G is a 90, D is (standard) 70, and for an A, I use 40. The 40's break frequently, so I found the 35's in GHS work well, but a little thin.
    Get your bass set up by a luthier to fit these strings. Nut, bridge height, etc. It makes all the difference.
    Bachs Cello suites are the best for getting a feel for the tuning, not to mention chops. Just keep playing first movement in G & work your way up.
  3. Istar


    Apr 5, 2005
    Antwerp, Belgium
    I never get why people go through so much effort and troubel just to make one instrument sound like another. Spending all this money on rebuilding a bass ,learning a new tuning. relearning sight reading. Al this just to play an instrument that sounds kinda like a cello. It’s already impossible IMO to make a BG sounds like a Double Bass let alone a cello.
    And imagine how far you would be if you would have just bought/rented a cello and got a teacher. And trust me cello technique is difficult, you really need a teacher for that. I often accompany my girlfriend to her cello lessons and technique wise it’s a very difficult instrument. This is largely do to the fifth tuning and the size of the instrument. which is the same thing you’ll be struggling with. And there are MANY ways you can hurt yourself when doing it wrong.

    Even If you still wanna build this thing I`d advice to get some cello lessons from a pro teacher. And get some building help from a good luthier. I know mine build a BG which when amplified sound amazingly well like a DB and I do think he would be able to build a cello like BG as well if he really wanted. His website is though I doubt your gonna travel over here just to build a cello bass guitar. :p

    Wishing you all the luck in finding the sound you want !

  4. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I agree and I have read through this thread a few times and cannot see the point - there is no way an electric, solid-bodied, Warwick bass is going to sound anything like a Cello ...:confused:

    OK - longer scale strings and tuning on 5ths may make it different and more of a challenge - but nothing like the actual sound of a real Cello.
  5. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    Go to your public or community college library and look for cello technique books. Of course, you'll probably gain nothing practical from the exercises and discussions on right hand technique (bowing), but you'll definitely gain a lot for the left hand in learning the common fingering strategies offered for 5ths tuning cellos.

    Plus, since your scale length is only 30" you'll have less trouble near the nut than cellists do and so will likely not need so much to focus on pivoting with your thumb to (in virtual reality terms) stretch the hand...nor will you need to know thumb position technique.

    PS nice bass
  6. amper


    Dec 4, 2002
    For fifths tuning on a regular scale BG, I decided to go with mixed and matched sets of Rotosound Jazz flats. I got one heavy four string set, one light four string set, and one regular six-string set, out of which I can make two sets of fifths tuning sets--one tuned a fifth below cello (FCGD), and one tuned an octave below cello (CGDA).

    The gauges are:

    F = 105 (regular E from RS776LD, up 1)
    C = 80 (light A from SM77, up 3)
    G = 50 (heavy G from RS77LE)
    D = 30 (regular C from RS776LD, up 2)


    C = 130 (regular B from RS776LD, up 1)
    G = 100 (light E from SM77, up 3)
    D = 75 (heavy D from RS77LE)
    A = 45 (regular G from RS776LD, up 2)

    It's expensive, because it leaves me with six strings left over in various gauges, but I supposed I could use some of them to make a four string set for regular tuning.
  7. amper


    Dec 4, 2002
    I'm a little confused by that statement. What about the cello's scale length (which is generally in the 28" range, would cause a cellist to have trouble, where a 30" scale might not? I would have thought that an even shorter scale length would be easier up near the nut, since the reaches would be shorter?
  8. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    Scales. I played 'cello years ago, and set it aside for 20+ years. Getting it back out, I got myself going again by playing scales. In my heyday I could go back and forth between 4ths and 5ths tuning with no problem.
  9. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    Hm I thought the standard for average plywood cello was 34" and bass 42". At any rate, that was the background I was working with in my post.

    Feel free to dismiss what you find irrelevant or incorrect. It wouldn't be my first time I'm sure.
  10. amper


    Dec 4, 2002
    Most sources I've seen quote a 4/4 cello as having a 695 mm scale length, which is about 27 3/8". I've seen some at 700 mm, as well.
  11. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    Hey, you're right! Cool man thanks for the correction.

    Well then, you'll definitely find whatever standard cello technique for the left hand to be more useful than I suspected earlier.

    There was some rock guitar guy (I think he played for Ozzy Osbourne at some point) who would wrap his arm around the neck to fret with the thumb (not like Jimi Hendrix, but like Yo Yo Ma in the upper positions where the neck has disappeared)...maybe you'd dig the whole thumb position thing too.

    At any rate, I still recommend you check out what the libraries have to offer. Good luck!