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Thread: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

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    F5G & MD305 Astro's Avatar
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    Default Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    Crazy question but I like the size and look of cello and can find one at a reasonable price. I dont want to play cello as it will just take too long for this old dog to learn that new trick. And I mostly play folk rock/americana indie stuff. But is there any reason why one couldn't just do bass runs on it to take the place of a stand up bass ? Yeah, I'm looking for an excuse to buy one. Please talk me out of it.
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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    Cello works great for Norman and Nancy Blake in their music. I love that sound.
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    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    It works for Joe Kwon in the Avett Brothers!
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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    I've seen a cello used (both plucked and bowed) in a few non-Bluegrass settings like fiddler Natalie MacMaster's band, and the Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Hass duo. It sounded great in that context.

    I think the big question is whether you're planning on using standard cello CGDA tuning or EADG like a bass? Cello tuning will require learning cello-specific fingering with lots of hand motion to cover the fifths at that scale length.

    If you tune it in EADG you'll have fingering closer to an electric bass guitar, but you'll probably need heavier than standard cello gauge strings so they're not floppy when tuned down. The acoustic volume won't be as loud as a standup bass either. You're just not pushing as much air with a shorter scale, smaller soundboard, and smaller airmass in the body at that lower pitch range. It should be fine in EADG for playing alone at home, or if amplified at a gig. I'm not sure it would work well in an acoustic jam, where you need to be heard without amplification.

    Every so often I think about picking up an inexpensive cello just to have in the house. I never followed through, because I don't want to learn cello fingering, and the idea of tuning it down in fourths seemed like a poor compromise. I did once own a 3/4 double bass years ago, just as a fun instrument to have around the house (I'm not a bass player). There's nothing like that deep boom and growl you get when pulling off the side of a fat string. So for me it's a full bass or nuthin'. Your mileage may
    vary.

    Did I talk you out of it yet?

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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    I've owned one for years, it's never been out of the bag.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    We have three cello players in our musical community. One or more of them can be counted on be in attendance at any given party or jam session. Its wonderful
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    Registered User Dave Hicks's Avatar
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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    Rhiannon Giddens had a standup bass and a standup cello in her band as of last fall.

    D.H.

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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    We have three cello players in our musical community. One or more of them can be counted on be in attendance at any given party or jam session. Its wonderful
    But they're "real" cello players, right? Cello trained, cello fingering. I don't think that's what the OP is interested in (I could be wrong).

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    Registered User JH Murray's Avatar
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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    The cello is sometimes called a 'church bass' as it often played the bass part in church orchestras.

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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    Well one is a real orchestral cello player. The other two just kind of picked it up, extrapolating from fiddle, or whatever.

    I think if a real cello player spends an hour with you, and you have a good ear, you are off to the races.
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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    Yeah, I'm one of the "real" cello players, all potty trained, or whatever that training was. Yes, you can, and the way to get a little more bang for the buck if you go pizzicato, or plucked, is to take advantage of the shorter scale length by trying to move quickly and pluck some chords. So that's a plus. The downers? Lack of that big low end, and sheer volume. If you're in a band that plays on stage, you'll need some close-micing. Gotta run out, but I have some decent videos of great pizzicato cello kicking around. The current master is Rushed Eggleston from his Crooked Still days, and then on his own. Natalie Haas, mentioned earlier,mis working on some strange high-speed flying pizzicato stuff, nit quite yet ready for prime time (she says, but it already sounds great). Anyway, short story is it's a lot more versatile than a bass just due to scale length and string thickness, but the low end is lacking big time, along with volume.

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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    How can you say anything negative about a cello? They are really on pitch with the human ear, like a guitar is,,they are used in rock and are really good for metal also....

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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    Here's a quick one while everyone's slow to leave here...

    Ben Sollee, using it in a way you might not think of:


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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    I don't think a cello and a church bass are the same instrument. The church bass, as I understand it, is usually somewhat unique nonstandard size folkie instrument, sometimes called an American bass viol, made and used in New England in the 1800s. Compared to a cello, which has a standard shape and size, or at least more standard than a folkie instrument.
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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    Still waiting, so here's this, at a workshop for our youth symphony:


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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    Cello used to be a common bass voice in country dance bands in our area. back in the 19th century. Before the electric bass guitar came on in the 1950's, cello had obvious advantages in terms of portability, cost, etc. From what I can tell, these "band" celli were usually played with a bow, rather than pizzicato. However, they were generally relegated to the role of playing what we would call "bass parts," not used melodically -- root notes of chords, simple runs, that kinda thing.

    I used to work with an electric bassist that doubled on cello, played it on a few songs -- generally simple bass lines, sometimes harmonies. It's a nice sound, IHMO.
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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    Nathaniel Smith (a real cellist) fills the bass role for Sarah Jarosz. Sounds great. He does a great variety of things, but this one is a good example of bass-like playing:


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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    I'm another real potty trained 'cellist. My take on it is a 'cello is no substitute for a bass, and a bass is no substitute for a 'cello. Each has it's own contribution. I still have my 'cello but never found it very satisfying in a bluegrass or old time jam. You don't have the contrast because you are in the same pitch range as the guitars, and you don't have near the volume of a bass. That doesn't mean there isn't a place for it in Bluegrass--it's just not going to be a one for one substitute for a bass.

    Now, the one real advantage of a 'cello is the tuning is in fifths and the notes lie in the same relationship as a mandolin. It's not hard to switch between the two. Playing a bass tuned in fourths drives me nuts, so I tend to re-tune them in fifths and then I don't have to think about it when I am playing.
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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    No matter where I go, there I am...Unless I'm running a little late.

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    Quote Originally Posted by T.D.Nydn View Post
    How can you say anything negative about a cello? They are really on pitch with the human ear, like a guitar is,,they are used in rock and are really good for metal also....
    I would never say anything negative about a cello, except for the idea of using it to substitute for a standup bass (see thread title) by tuning it down in fourths to the range of a bass. I just don't think that's going to work well without amplification. And a lot of experimenting with expensive string gauges to reach that pitch range. Maybe the OP has something else in mind.

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    its a very very long song Jim's Avatar
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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    I would never say anything negative about a cello, except for the idea of using it to substitute for a standup bass (see thread title) by tuning it down in fourths to the range of a bass. I just don't think that's going to work well without amplification. And a lot of experimenting with expensive string gauges to reach that pitch range. Maybe the OP has something else in mind.
    I had wondered as well if the OP was thinking of tuning down and decided because it was not said, he wasn't. I chose to assume playing it with fingers as a sort of Baritone. That said it is a nice voice to add to a recording , but not enough lower than a Guitar ( 2 whole steps) for me to consider it a Bass replacement. I think an electric bass is still the best inexpensive and portable substitute for an Upright Bass. However I may have gotten CAS just reading this thread.
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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    I have played with a cello player subbing for a bass and it worked well. I also know a jazz bass player who has tuned his bass in 5ths tuning and said he would never go back. He says it so much easier and the rest of the family(cello etc.) is in 5ths. Just another take to confuse the situation. We use 1/4 size or 1/2 size bass to make it easier to carry, it fits in the seat of a car like a person.
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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    Just for clarification, I don't know enough to know what I mean. I guess originally I thought of just using cello tuning and my finger memory on mandolin to try to pluck out some bass lines without bow. But it does look to be an easy conversion to bass tunings, only requiring bass strings and amplification. I was going to have to amplify no matter what so that is not really a concern to me. I was just going to use it to add color to my hack recordings and maybe for novelty effect in our band. I think I would fare better with cello tuning BUT if I converted, then our banjo player (who is an excellent bass man) could jump in on it too when he wanted.

    Yeah, mostly I just think its a beautiful instrument. Always wanted one even though I doubt I could ever get good enough on it to play it as intended. I just wondered how hard it would be to pluck out the bass lines and if it would sound good. And there appears to be a nice one for sale locally for pretty cheap.
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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    Have a listen to Leyla McCalla to see what's possible; https://soundcloud.com/leylamccalla
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    Default Re: Using Cello as a stand up bass ?

    I have heard of this conversion being done, and always wanted to find a cheap cello to try it on. All you have to do, from what I have read, is use Fender 9050L SS flat wound electric bass strings, tuned just like a bass. Full size cello scale length is about 28 inches, so not too far off from a 30 inch short scale bass. You might have to enlarge the nut and bridge grooves and maybe the tuning peg holes. That's it. Those who have tried it report good results.
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