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A smaller cello: Guadagnini Model
Cello size is an interesting topic. Players come in a wide range of sizes, typical adult hand spans (including both men and women) range from 7.5" to 9.5", a variation of 27%, yet the "acceptable" string lengths for a full sized cello run from 685mm - 697mm, a variation of only 1.75%. Smaller players are at an unbelieveable disadvantage; they have to work much harder, stretching more to reach intervals and adopting additional techniques that their larger colleagues just dont need to think about.

An upper size limit for playable cellos was found to be an instrument with a back length of about 30" (762 mm). Bigger than that and even the larger players couldn't comfortably manage them. It was felt that the tonal payback just didn't justify the extra work and discomfort playing them, so instruments over 30" were cut down to size. But what about the lower size limit? As cellos get smaller they do get easier to play, so at what point does the sound quality drop off so much that the greater comfort and ease in playing is outweighed by the loss of tone? This is a hard question to answer. As far as sound goes there are many stories of smaller instruments that "sound like a house", in otherwords the sound is not necessarily compromised in a smaller instrument. Concerning comfort; your opinion as to whether an instrument is too large or too small to be to be comfortable or playable is likely to depend on your size and on what you are used to playing on.

I wondered about this for a long time and eventually decided that the only way I would find out anything was by building a smaller instrument. I chose for my model an instrument by the prince of small cellos; G.B. Guadagnini who throughout his career made smaller sized cellos, instruments which have always been much sought after and used by soloists such as Natalie Clein, Steven Isserlis and David Geringas.

My version of a Guad is made in poplar. I find that there is some small drop off in the breadth of the C-string, but this is amply repayed by a more pulled-together, focused quality to the tone which projects well while still being warm and colorful. If you find that you are working harder than your colleagues it might be worth trying a smaller instrument.

Gudagnini Model Dimensions:

Body length: 713mm (28"),
Bouts:343mm, 228mm, 425mm.
Rib height: 105 mm
String length: 673mm (26 1/2")

ruggieri__head_3204ruggieri_top__3204_ruggieri_back_3204Ruggieri model cello in maple
Francisco Ruggieri worked in Cremona and came from the generation before Stradivari, in fact Ruggieri is a possible contender for the honour of having apprenticed the young Stradivari. Ruggieri is thought to have been a pupil of Nicolo Amati. His instruments show the influence of his master in the round shaped C-bouts and in the short, vertical f-holes with their tapered wings. He is credited with having built the first purpose-designed cellos; instruments up to that point would have been adapted viola da gambas.

It is interesting to compare the architecture of the Ruggieri model cello with that of Stradivari's "Forma B" model, today's cello industry standard (see below). As far as I can tell, the air volume in the bodies of the Strad and the Ruggieri are about the same. The lower and middle bouts are also similar. Stradivari gave his cello a slightly longer back, narrower top bouts and longer C-bouts. Overall, the Ruggieri has a squarer, bolder look than the elegant Strad.

The benefit of this extra breadth in the plates is evident when you play the instrument. This model has the powerful, growling C-string which is the foundation of the instrument's strong, rich sound.

This example in well-figured maple with an antiqued orange varnish won a silver medal for tone at the 2004 VSA international violin making competition.


willow_ruggieri_headwillow_ruggiri_topwillow_ruggieri_backRuggieri Model with willow back
This example is perhaps more similar in style to the work of Francisco's son, Giacinto, whose instruments had a freer, more earthy finish. Tool marks give a feeling of movement and dynamism, varnish puddled in small nicks and facets add to the visual texture. The back is a single piece of willow. The varnish is a ruby-red and antiqued. A nice Ruggieri touch, which I have used on other cellos, is a cherrywood scroll and even matching cherry purfling.

Willow and poplar backs tend to produce warmer sounding instruments. Willow, being so light, also gives something of the feel of early instruments.


strad_head_2505strad_back_2505_strad_top_2505Stradivari "Forma B" Model
Strad's "Forma B" model is the quintessential cello design, copied in the millions in workshops and factories around the world. He arrived at this design having experimented with both larger and smaller body sizes. The narrow, rounded top bouts with the elongated C-bouts make a slim, elegant body which allows easier access to higher playing positions. For a violin maker one of the nice things about this model is the ease with which the arching flows from the outline. On earlier models, like the Ruggieri, the short C-bout causes a sudden cut into the arch, which must be handled carefully to avoid "pinching " the arching near the top of the f-holes

The Forma B model gives a pure and strong tone, especially in the upper registers