Cello size is an interesting topic. Players come in a wide range of sizes,and 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 unbelievable disadvantage; they have to work much harder, stretching more to reach intervals and adopting additional techniques that their larger colleagues just don’t need to think about.
The dimensions of an instrument have implications for its tone and its playability, 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 other words 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. Having made several cellos of this model I find that they have a purity and focus to the sound in the higher registers that larger bodied instruments dont have. On the other hand the low C string, while warm and direct, is nor as broad as that of larger cellos. The sound carries quite easily over an orchestra. These cellos have been of interest to younger players not yet fully grown, smaller adults and older adults whose hands are no longer as nimble. I have also sold them to “normal” size players who just preferred the unique qualities of the sound
A compact Guadagnini model cello next to its “standard” big brother, a Forma B Strad
My version of a Guad can be viewed here: Guadagnini model cello