The Electric Cello Buying Guide -- 7 Key Shopping Considerations
The selection among solid-body electric cellos is a bit more limited than that of electric violins but cellists nevertheless have several great options to choose from. There are several important factors to consider when shopping for a solid body electric cello, including:
- Physical points of reference
- Pickup, onboard electronics and the resulting tone
- Number of strings
- Headphone jack/preamp for practice
- Fretted or non-fretted fingerboard
We will outline these important factors and help you figure out which features are most important for your needs and ultimately narrow your selection to the best cello for your needs and budget.
Given their seated playing position, cellists tend to require (or at least be more comfortable with) an instrument that touches all the same points of contact as an acoustic cello. These points include the lower bouts where the knees may touch, the base of the neck where the thumb rests in middle positions, the back of the cello near the base of the neck where it rests against the chest, and the upper bout/shoulder of the cello body.
Although these points of contact aren't necessary for all players and cellists can often get used to playing without them, generally speaking, most cellists will feel more comfortable the more of these points of contact their electric has. With that in mind, here is a list of cello models from most familiar to least familiar in terms of feel:
- Bridge Draco -- full body with all traditional points of contact; traditional endpin
- Yamaha SVC-110 -- full-sized body outline with all points of contact; traditional endpin
- Yamaha SVC-210 -- compact design retains knee bouts, shoulder bout and chest rest; traditional endpin
- Yamaha SVC-50 -- compact design retains knee bouts, shoulder bout and chest rest; traditional endpin
- NS Design WAV-series, NXTa-series and CR-series* -- slim body design has no knee or shoulder bout indicators; small pin in neck indicates thumb stop; uses included fully-adjustable tripod stand instead of a traditional endpin.
- Wood Violins 'Cobra' (special order only--please call) -- designed to be played standing up using a proprietary adjustable harness, the Cobra cello is great for performers who want to be mobile on stage, but it lacks an endpin as well as all the physical reference points for seated playing.
*NS Design makes an optional endpin kit that provides a traditional endpin and points of contact for the knees and chest, plus a shifting indicator at the shoulder bout position. There is also an optional small wooden thumb stop that adheres to the back of the neck of the NS Design.
**NS Design also makes a shoulder strap harness that fits their cellos. It is an optional add-on that allows the player to comfortably play standing or even walking with the attachment resting stably against their torso and holding the instrument away from the body at a proper angle.
One major advantage of the solid body electric cello is that since it does not rely on acoustical properties for tone production, the body of the cello can be far more compact. The benefit here is keeping the instrument lighter in weight and more stowable in cars, planes, tour buses, or for home storage. Some cellos we carry are designed to be very small even while playing, while others break down or fold up from playing size to become smaller in storage.
Here is our ranking of cellos from smallest to largest (based on the cello being broken down and stowed in its case):>
- NS Design CR-series and NXT-series -- narrow body design fits snugly in a streamlined padded gig bag with exterior pouch to hold the collapsible tripod stand. Note, the gig bag does not accommodate the optional endpin kit.
- Yamaha SVC-210 -- Yamaha's smallest travel cello has collapsable knee bouts and a fairly compact padded gig bag.
- Yamaha SVC-50 -- Shaped quite similarly to the SVC-210, the SVC-50 has removable (but not collapsible) knee bouts that take up slightly more room in the included padded gig bag.
- Wood Violins Cobra (special order only--please call) -- Smaller than an acoustic cello, but perhaps more cumbersome when considering the included bass drum-style harness system.
- Yamaha SVC-110 -- Not designed for portability the SVC-110 is essentially the same size as a 4/4 acoustic cello, although it is a good bit thinner and less bulky in its gig bag than an acoustic cello and therefore saves at least some space.
- Bridge Draco -- Comes in a full-sized fiberglass acoustic cello case, so zero space savings compared to an acoustic cello.
Pickups & Electronics
We've already seen the variety among electric cello designs, and the pickups that power their sound are no exception. Yamaha cellos have Yamaha's own pickups (with variations that are outlined below), NS Design cellos have their proprietary Polar™ pickup system, Bridge Draco cellos have the Bridge Violins pickup system and the Wood Violins Cobra uses the powerful Barbera transducer bridge.
All three Yamaha cello models use a piezo pickup system embedded in the body beneath the feet of the bridge. In addition the SVC-110 and SVC-210 cellos both feature a hollow resonating space in the body beneath the bridge and pickup. This compartment is closed off and will not produce feedback even at high volume, but it does allow for greater body vibration that creates more overtones and lends a more complex, acoustic-sounding tone. We find the SVC-110 to be the more acoustic-sounding of the two instruments. The SVC-50 does not have the built in resonating space, but has a nice, convincing (if not as complex) cello tone.
The Polar™ pickup system, featured in both the CR-series and NXT-series cellos, allows the player to select the direction of response to control attack, sustain, and bow response characteristics. The result is powerful dynamics, rich, full sound, high sensitivity to the bow, sustained pizzicato and extended versatility.
The CR-series cello includes an onboard dual mode preamp that allows the player to choose between full frequency response for a rich, full-blown "electric" sound or the more balanced frequency response of the traditional cello, for a more "acoustic" sound. A threeway toggle switch allows the player to select the desired pickup and electronics options. Additional controls include volume and individual bass EQ & treble EQ controls.
The NXT-series cello is passive, meaning it has no onboard powered preamp. It does retain volume and tone controls, as well as the 3-position toggle switch for bowed or pizzicato sensitivity.
The Bridge cello pickup is a piezo crystal configuration integrated into the bridge and designed to pick up both the string vibration and the body resonance generated from the hollow composite body. The result is perhaps the richest, most acoustic-sounding cello tone among solid body electrics, making the 'Draco' worth the extra cost to any player for whom rich, luscious cello tone is of primary importance (the only tradeoff being its size).
Four Strings or More Strings?
Have you ever found yourself dreaming of an even deeper bass range or wishing you could just avoid thumb position to reach the high notes? Well, 5 and 6 strings cellos make one, the other or both range extensions possible!
5-string cellos can be strung with an extra low string (F-C-G-D-A) or an extra high string (C-G-D-A-E). The default configuration for most 5-string cellos is with the low F-string, but if you're purchasing one and would rather go with a high E-string you can let us know and we'll swap the strings.
But why choose lower or higher range when you can have both? A 6-string cello [!] can be strung F-C-G-D-A-E so you can cover bass through viola range while barely having to shift!
These cello models are available in 5-string options:
- NS Design CR-series
- NS Design NXT-series
- Wood Violins Cobra (special order only--please call)
Only the NS Design CR-series comes in a 6-string version. You can shop by number of strings from the 'Cello' dropdown menu above.
Quiet Headphone Practice
A nice feature of solid body cellos is the ability to practice through headphones. While any solid body can be plugged into a practice amp, effects processor or headphone amp for use with headphones, these cellos have integrated headphone jacks and onboard battery powered preamps, making practice anywhere a convenient (and noiseless) affair:
Frets are an important tool for intonation in high volume performance settings (e.g. playing in a rock band in large venue with PA and wedge monitors). The following cello models are available with fretted fingerboards at additional cost:
- NS Design NXT
- Wood Violins Cobra
Non-fretted NS Design cellos still have a dot pattern on the fingerboard for visual reference.
Budget is usually one of the most important considerations in any buying decision. Entry level for quality solid body electric cellos starts at about $900 with the NS Design WAV-series. While you can certainly find electric cellos on the market that are priced more affordably we strongly recommend against these makes. If we felt we could endorse the tone, build quality and reliability of cheaper instruments we'd be carrying them. Instead, if spending upwards of $1,500 is not currently an option for you we would strongly recommend investing in a good quality cello pickup--you will spend less and be more pleased with the sound you get than with a bargain electric cello!
The NS Design WAV4 and WAV5 are priced below $1,000.
The Yamaha SVC-50 is priced below $2,000.
These pro-level cellos are available for between $2,000 - $3,500 (price ascending):
- Yamaha SVC-110
- Bridge Draco (standard)
- Yamaha SVC-210
- NS Design CR-4
- NS Design CR-5
These custom built or hi-spec models cost more than $4,000:
- Wood Violins Cobra (special order only--please call)
- Bridge 'Dragon' model
Despite there being a fairly limited number of models on the market there is a good variety of shapes, features and tones across a wide price range. We hope this guide has helped you in making a determination. Don't hesitate to contact us with questions or to get our personalized assistance in finalizing your cello purchase.