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Using an old cheap cello, as an EUB?

Discussion in 'Electric Upright Basses (EUB's) [DB]' started by Doug D, Mar 14, 2012.

  1. hi, I've got an old englhardt cello that I gave $40 for a while back and was wondering about using it as an EUB......i.e. changing strings to ???, adding an underbridge piezo style pickup and running it all through a roland x mini-cube....

    any suggestions?

    anyone have any experience doing this?
  2. burnunit

    burnunit obsolete Supporting Member

    Nov 17, 2007
    Charlotte, NC
    Cleve Eaton played a cello for a while around Birmingham some years ago after his Baby Bass was damaged in a car accident. I think he just miked it though.
  3. the scale length on a cello is about the same as a baritone guitar, around 27-28 inches so it'd be even shorter than a short scale bass like the old Gibson EB-3 and Fender Bass VI which were 30 inches IIRC.

    The shortest EUB scale length I've seen commercially was/is made by Dean and that I believe has a standard 34 inch scale.

    The short of it (as it were :D) is I don't think it'd be worth doing. Enjoy it as a cello or look into converting it into a piccolo (type) bass :cool:

    And please send my regards to Johnny Ray's, miss their ribs and banana cream ice box pie :crying:

    Edit: check this out, I'd look at doing something like this but obviously as a 4 string, use K and K contact pickups (see Gollihur Music):

  4. wow....sounds like both of you guys know b'ham pretty well.

    I had heard about cleve's cello but never saw it. did get a chance to see his baby bass at jason's shop when it was in for repair. it has a huge slab of pine in the middle because of some damage way back?

    but that brings up a good point: what is the scale length of the ampeg baby bass?

    and speaking of the Kydd's, thats what started me down this path actually. we played a weekend deal where another band's bass player let me try out his kydd. I think it was one of the 30" scale length basses and it was amazingly simple and sounded fantastic.

    so is a picalo or 30" bass tuned differently than a standard?
  5. jon3673

    jon3673 Supporting Member


    I had brunch today where Cleve Eaton’s group was playing, so we chatted for a while. He told me that the "cello" he has is actually an experimental baby size bass that was made for him (so it is tuned E-A-D-G accordingly). However, he doesn’t use it much anymore. In fact, he doesn’t even use his Ampeg Baby Bass very often. Mostly, he plays a 7/8 size Juzek.

    I think that the standard string length for an upright bass is 41.75”. The string length on my 7/8 size acoustic bass measures 42”. The string length on my elec upright bass measures 41”. A 1/2 size bass string length is 38.4” and a 1/4 size bass is 35.5". With strings at 28”, your cello would be more like a 1/10 size bass (as used by a 3 to 5 year old student).

    I hate the sound of the KYDD elec bass. It may as well be a Fender lap bass! Eminence is the only electric upright that I could find which would even approach producing a sound similar to that of an acoustic bass.

    I’m planning on taking my Eminence to a violin shop up in Nashville and have it modified with a new neck and fingerboard in order to make it physically feel more like my 7/8 size upright, but it will never sound anywhere as good.

    That being said, if you were to modify your cello, by placing a regular size bass neck and fingerboard on it (along with an extended end pin to make it tall enough to play standing), well, it might actually be a good sounding instrument (when amplified).

    But let's face it . . . . we do strange things down here in B'ham!

  6. good to see another member from Birmingham. PM me if you get a chance.
  7. faerografo


    Nov 12, 2009
    i guess there must be some things to consider before doing the cello to eub conversion
    your bass invention could break , i mean the body couldnt resist because of the string tension, so maybe you will need is to
    add a piece of wood inside where the bridge is resting over.this will help to prevent all the pressure because of the thin of the cello construction

    some years ago we did an experiment we made a special bass neck but insted of upright bass measure we did for a normal electric bass guitar. the sound was great but isnt the same because of the string distance and of course the widt.

    gretings friends


  8. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
    As stated above, a 1/10 scale bass is 28" - same as a cello. I have a 1/10 scale DB. My son started on it at age 7.

    One can get 1/10 scale bass strings, bridge and tail piece. Maybe these will fit a cello. You might need to alter the tuning pegs as a 1/10 scale bass has machine tuners. Also the bodies are shaped differently.

    My kid did some gigs with this little bass with a bridge pick up and it worked fine. He plays a 1/2 size now. ;-)
  9. SBassman


    Jun 8, 2003
    Northeast, US
    Would love to see more dialog on this idea.

    In another thread, we had a guy string a cello with Thunderguts strings - which are a pseudo-nylon version of strings for the 21 inch scale UBass.

    By the way, the UBass proves that, when going electric, big bass tone can come out of a very small body.

    I was wondering if weedwacker strings on a cello, with a pickup, would also work. As I said - this guy using the Thunderguts on a cello got really good tone out of it.

  10. nicechuck


    Jul 9, 2007
    I also have 2 of those older Englehardt 1/2 size cellos and bought one to send to a friend. Hadn't considered using them as a bass coz I have an upright and 5 electric basses.
  11. If you can get 1/10 size bass strings on it, go for it. Nothing much lost. You'll need some bridge-foot pickups to make it sound decent. The body is rather small, won't resonate well and lots of cellos don't sustain well when plucked.

    If a short-scale EUB is something you're interested in, try saving up some money for an Ergo. I had great luck with mine, I reversed phase on the under-foot pickups to get a more percussive URB-style attack and better arco response. Even a custom 7-string cello, not in his standard repertoire, cost me $750. There are cheaper options available if you would like something with fewer strings. I'd guess that he would be willing to build an EUB closer to 27.5" scale (cello scale) if you ask nicely; he's quite reasonable.

    I can verify that my instrument, built at 28" scale, does indeed get a good bass tone with the proper strings on it. Indeed it's a bit more plunky than a full scale bass, through no fault of the instrument builder; there's only so much that can be done at short scale. However, I've learned to work with its strengths and avoid its weaknesses. Most people can't tell the difference when I play bass.

    Of course, you have the cello now, and don't have much to lose, unless you have to start paying for mods like a new nut, new bridge, pickups, tuner mods, and the like.

    Disclaimer: I'm a happy Ergo customer who's actively trying to send business his way, because I like what he built for me. But it's in the spirit of sharing something I like, I get no sponsorship or kick-backs from it. :->
  12. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    A few years ago I messed around with restringing a cello to act more like a bass played pizz and regardless of the strings (short double bass sets and cut off electric bass sets) it always sounded more like a cello than a bass. I did have an old laminated cello body I intended to put a 34" scale neck on (with the intention of using extra long TI Jazz Flats) but I never got to it. I'd still like to see that instrument built someday, i think it could work very well.
  13. SBassman


    Jun 8, 2003
    Northeast, US
    Acoustically or with a pickup? No tries with nylon strings, correct?
  14. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    Both acoustically and with a Gage. Didn't ever try nylon strings.
  15. jtl1380


    Oct 12, 2010
    Phoenix, AZ
    It's always going to sound like a cello regardless of what you do for a few specific reasons.

    1) Scale length, Shorter scale length would never allow notes as low as the E string on an upright. You'd need super heavy guage, low tension strings for this, at which point they'd be so floppy that they'd sound terrible.

    2) Body size/shape, Each member of the string family is designed and built to have a specific voicing and character with each instrument being approximately double the size of the next smallest. In the same way that you could never get a viola to have the same kind of resonance and projection in the baritone/tenor range as a cello, you couldn't get the massive bass response from a cello sized body that you get in an upright. Also, there is a fairly drastic shape difference between the 2 with an upright having a much larger lower bout to specifically project bass tones.

    3) Available string gauges, The closest thing you could probably get to produce as low and deep a tone as possible would be something similar to the Kala UBass strings mentions previously. Even at that though, those strings are voiced to electric bass tuning an octave up from the double bass.

    At best you might be able to get your cello to sound very similar to a UBass, but with more acoustic projection and the ability to play arco. This could be done by just stringing the cello with a FCCG set of strings, but tuning EADG. Of course, you would need to have some new tuning pegs made and possibly some reinforcing of the top. You would also need a new nut and bridge carved. You might also need some alteration done to the tailpiece as well b/c no cello fine tuners would fit the low F string and the tailpiece might not either. Once you also factor in the price of the pickup that you'll be using ($100-250 or more), strings, mods to the instrument, etc., you're probably looking somewhere in the range of $750-1000 investment to get a unique sounding (but not altogether double bass-y) instrument.

    With all of this said, I would love to see (and hear) that instrument.
  16. jonadams


    Jun 29, 2012
    >>Even at that though, those strings are voiced to electric bass tuning an octave up from the double bass.

    I'm not sure what you mean. Isn't the low E string on both double bass and electric bass E1? Just as low E on a guitar is E2? I strung a 1/2 scale cello with the Ubass strings and that (E1) is the pitch I'm getting. It was a cheap cello and I'm not getting as big sound as an upright but the pitch is there. Not much in the way of modifications; drilled larger holes in the tuning pegs, a little filing on the nut and bridge. I'm quite happy with it.
    T_Bone_TL likes this.
  17. the great Ray Brown used to do this. if i'm not mistaken, i believe that Kay actually made him a signature cello that he used to tune like a bass. i heard that he used electric bass flatwound strings on it and i'm pretty sure that there is a really good version of him playing Baubles, Bangles and Beads on The Ultimate Ray Brown CD, where he is just going off! killer tone!
  18. Hell yeah, just drill out the neck, throw a length of rebar in there from the scroll out the endpeg hole, seal it place with Portland cement and let 'er stick out however long you want to prevent hellacious neck dive. You can use the extra length to take out the odd 4x12 to balance the guitars with the bass, or to nudge the drummer back into the groove as warranted. BTW, if there's too much feedback, you can pour what's left of the sack of cement into an f-hole (in which case you might need to use leftover rebar to fabricate a worthy neck strap).
  19. There are indeed _strings_ of short scale, that can sound nice and full, _in the right circumstances_.

    My E-cello has 28" scale and I have had a custom F and Bb string made for it. That is, F a half step above low E on a 4 string bass, and Bb a half step below the low B on a 5 string bass.

    They are definitely more plunky than an electric bass at 34+ inch scale. They are definitely "floppy", very low tension. However they are entirely usable and sound a lot like an upright bass. You won't get E-bass 10-second sustain when plucking them, but there are plenty of creative ways to use these notes.

    HOWEVER, you're not likely to get the same resonance/sustain on an acoustic cello, in this range, as you do on an upright bass. Even in normal tuning, pizz on a cello doesn't _generally_ sustain as well as on an upright bass. most violins, violas, and cellos give you a quickly decaying "plunk" when plucked. Some of it has to do with the size of the body. Some of it has to do with bridge design, and bracing of the insrument. Some of it is because for the upper members of the bowed string family, that's the sound _desired_ in classical music, so they're made that way on purpose.

    I once had an acoustic cello that _did_ sustain very well on pizz notes, a William Harris Lee cello. It was a bit freakish compared to other cellos, in that regard; I've not since had an acoustic cello that does this well. It behaved more bass-like than other cellos--its low end was rich, the upper range did no project as well. I'm still sorry I sold it.

    I see no reason a nylon or other synthetic string _couldn't_ be made that works. But you're really on your own making it work. You _need_ a certain amount of tension in your strings to hold the bridge in place on an acoustic instrument, or the sound post is in danger of collapsing when the instrument is bumped. I have doubts as to whether 4 rubber or nylon strings will be effective in that regard.

    It really comes down to, how much fiddling are you willing to do? Why do you want to do this to a cello--because you want to put an otherwise wasted cello to use? Because you want to explore shorter scale for its own sake? Because you want to tinker with strings? I'm not mocking those reasons; those are all legitimate reasons to try this kind of experiment.

    You _can_ get low F strings for 5-string cellos; that's a half step higher than the low E on an upright bass. Those are a semi-standard inventory item on the strings websites. Perhaps you might enjoy tuning it in 5ths, low to high F - C - G - D ? It would be a lower barrier to entry, and would involve things you can get off the shelf.

    I'd say that you could even tune that F string down to E, and get the rest of the strings in "heavy" gauge (cello strings are available in light, medium, and heavy gauge), and tune it a half step down: E - B - F# - C#.

    That seems an easier way to get a cello useful for playing bass lines.
  20. jtl1380


    Oct 12, 2010
    Phoenix, AZ
    Sorry...I'm claiming temporary insanity on that one :bag: