(Yet) Another Issue With My Set Up

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For once, something isn’t broken or just plain old wrong with the cello. In fact, everything about here is within the range of what’s “normal” for a cello. So, leave it up to me to think of something else that needs to be fixed (If it ain’t broke, find something wrong with it!)

During one of the many visits my cello and I have recently had with our luthier, he mentioned that her bridge is a little farther away from the top of her body than average, although it certainly is within the realm of what’s acceptable. This extra distance is about 5mm, which also translates into about 5mm extra length on the strings. Then today I was playing some 1/2 position extensions and I realized I can’t actually extend the difference between, say, E flat and G on the D string. No matter what I do, I’m a couple mm short. It’s not a problem exactly — it’s easy enough just to shift the rest of the way — but I’d really love not to have to deal with it.

Then I was working on my 2 octave B flat major scale. Due to the laws of physics, it gets harder to push the string down as you go up the fingerboard, but I nearly can’t push it down all the way. I can do it, but I end up getting really tense and everything starts sounding really crunchy. The distance between the fingerboard and string is, again, “normal.” But that can be changed up or down a couple mm either way as long as there’s enough wood on the bridge.

I called my luthier (poor guy can’t get rid of me) and he said that yes, these things could make a difference. A small one, but still a difference. But when I’ve been wishing things were different by a mm or two, a small difference is all that needs to be made. So, I’m bringing her in next week to see what he can do for her to make her just a tiny bit more comfortable for me to play. If only I didn’t have short stubby little girl fingers I wouldn’t have to pester my poor luthier so damn much…

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11 responses »

  1. Lol, I’m imagining you’ve got your guy on speed dial, and he doesn’t have caller ID 🙂

    Wondering, would a 7/8ths suit you?

  2. Ha! Speed dial is for wimps — I have his phone number memorized! And my number is a blocked number, which would explain why he still answers his phone. I think the music store also might hate me, since this work is all covered under their five dollar a month maintenance plan. 😀

    I’m sure a 4/4 is just fine, so long as it is set up in a way that suits me. I’ve actually heard of 4/4 cellos being modified so the nut is extended over the fingerboard along with the bridge being moved up for people with particularly small hands. I don’t think that will be necessary, nor should I need a smaller cello. There are plenty of modifications that can be made to make larger cellos easier to play. My teacher also has told me I have the least flexible fingers she’s ever seen, which is more of the problem than their shortness. I can deal with this for now, but I think a smaller model (but still a 4/4) might be in order if I ever get a better cello.

  3. I’m with you. After a wicked bout of tendinitis brought on by intense practice of the Coriolan Overture on a slightly too large cello (among other factors) I became a fanatic about string length and bridge height. When I was trying cellos I took a tape measure along – nothing over 27″ nut to bridge made the cut. And 3-5 mm height over the fingerboard is plenty – just enough so the strings don’t buzz.

    • Yeah. That’s what I’m trying to avoid is injury. It’s been fine until now, but it’s becoming extremely difficult in 6th position to actually get the strings down all the way. I’ve had more flexible strings on the uppers before, but they sounded absolutely awful on my cello (okay, they were pretty, but not even my teacher could get anything louder than a mp out of them, so I’m sticking with my Jargars on this cello.) I measured the string height at 6mm, which is “average” (for the A) and I think it’s just too damn high. That can be changed about 2mm in either direction (so I’ve read) which I’d like to do. Heck, even just 1mm would make a big difference, but 2 would probably make me happier once I’m learning thumb position. (As a side note, I wonder if excessive string height is part of why all the kids I know who are in junior high complain so much about thumb position. I can imagine that someone who just sized up to a 4/4 and still has growing hands must find this incredibly difficult.)

      From nut to bridge measures 695mm — again “normal” — but that’s 27 and a quarter inches. My luthier said he can move it back those extra 5mm, which he’ll do for me next week. And check that string height, which I’d like him to lower, even if we have to re-plane the fingerboard (again) so there is no buzzing. Whatever it takes to prevent injury.

      It seems like every day I wish I could get a different cello more than I did the day before, but unfortunately that’s not an option right now. When (if) I get to go shopping for a new one, I’ll bring a tape measure along. Not that these things can’t be adjusted, but if I really like a cello and it’s outside my acceptable range of measurements, I can always ask to have it tweaked a little bit.

      If only I’d gotten my mother’s long elegant arms and hands…

  4. Every little bit helps! Instrumental teachers will often tell you, it’s better to learn correct technique on a well set-up instrument than to learn compensating technique on a worse instrument that you would have to fix later!

  5. What’s weird here in Davis is that no one ever bothers have their instrument set up to suit them. It’s really crazy for people renting (like me) not to have the instrument tweaked because the local shop offers a maintenance plan for five bucks a month which covers all the work (I only pay 5% of the cost.) I’ve saved several hundred on repairs this way. 🙂 I suppose if everyone took advantage of it, though, the maintenance plan would cease to exist. And yes, I agree with your statement about learning correct technique rather than compensating technique. At this point my cello’s set up isn’t technically wrong. It’s just not what’s most comfortable for me.

  6. I think most people (or at least their parents) have absolutely no clue that those things can/should be done. I also think my luthier (shoulda linked to him a while ago!) now thinks I’m crazy, which perhaps most people aren’t willing to risk. 😛 I’m really itching for 5 less mm of stop length and 4mm string height for A & D. Or heck, 5mm would be nice. but 6 and 8mm for my hands is just too damn difficult to play. Especially with the less flexible strings that work best on my cello. Taking her on Tuesday and should get her back that evening. At least my luthier is still nice to me even if he thinks I’m crazy 🙂

  7. He doesn’t just do Baroque, he almost exclusively makes Baroque instruments. He’s also known for converting modern instruments into whatever people want. Every time I visit him I wish I played violin or viola so I could try out his instruments, though!

  8. Pingback: The Adult Beginner

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