If you’re looking to replace the tailpiece on your cello, there are several considerations you should have in mind. However, you should ask why you are interested in changing the tailpiece specifically. While there are many types of tailpieces from various materials and cuts, they have a minimal impact on the overall tone of the cello. There are some things to consider before resorting to changing your tailpiece and some instances where change can be a good thing.
BottomLine Up Front
People change out the tailpiece of their cellos for various reasons ranging from purely aesthetic to needed repairs. Most things on string instruments will affect the overall tone a small amount. The tailpiece is no different, with harder materials producing a brighter sound and more flexible materials producing a darker sound. The shape can change the tone, too. Still, overall the change is insignificant compared to changing the instrument’s strings or the angle of the bridge. If you want a new tailpiece, there are tons out there to choose from.
My top pick is the Wittner Ultra tailpiece with four built-in fine tuners. It’s one of the most popular among student and intermediate players.
What is the tailpiece?
If you’re reading this guide, then you probably already know. Still, the tailpiece on a cello holds one end of the strings, the other end being connected to the pegs in the pegbox. Violins and violas, and double basses also have tailpieces.
On the cello, the tailpiece will usually have four fine tuners. It is much easier to make minute tuning adjustments with fine tuners on a cello instead of the pegs because a tiny turn of the peg can affect the pitch more than you may want.
Why replace the tailpiece?
If you want to replace the tailpiece simply to get a better tone from your cello, then there are several things I would check or try first. Replacing the tailpiece isn’t overly complex, but it should be carried about someone who has experience. Removing the tailpiece will cause the bridge to fall; this isn’t a massive problem if you know how to set a bridge. It can pose a risk for new players or those not confident in their skills. If the bridge stays down for too long, the tension that holds the soundpost up will loosen, causing it to shift or fall. This is when you need to head to your luthier and have them reset your soundpost in the correct position.
Your Strings are to High
You may think that the strings are too high on your instrument, and it hurts to press down. This is not the tailpiece’s fault. If you take your instrument and this complaint into your luthier, the first things he will measure are your bridge height and the groove depths in the nut of the fingerboard and the bridge. If he finds them too high, he may file them down. Do not attempt to do this yourself! Again, if you mess up, you will need to have a new bridge fitted, which is much more costly.
You Want to Change the Sound
You may read online that a warmer or darker sound can be affected by the tailpiece of your cello. This is true. However, there are many more options than you should try before going at the tailpiece. Hardly anyone replaces a tailpiece for this reason. Try several different sets of strings first. After giving them time to settle in, you may notice a quicker response or a warmer color. Strings can greatly affect how your instrument sounds, and replacing your strings is something you can do yourself. Pro Artes, Obligatos, and Dominants are warmer strings that will help bring out the tone you are looking for.
If you’re not satisfied with that, then you may want to go into your luthier for a soundpost adjustment. Do not try this at home! Again, you can cause serious damage to your instrument. You should never, ever try to move the soundpost by yourself, or you risk knocking it over. Most luthiers do not allow their apprentices to adjust the soundpost until a year or more of training. Having your instrument professionally adjusted is well worth the money.
If your soundpost has been adjusted as best as it can be, and you’re still not pleased with the sound, perhaps it is time to try another cello. By going into a shop and comparing your instrument against others, you can see its strengths and weaknesses. Another thing to try is to have a friend play your instrument while you stand on the other end of the room. The sound will be much different than what you’re used to.
At any rate, there is hardly any reason to replace your tailpiece just for the tone. Special tailpieces are being created these days that offer the promise of a different color or a faster response. Still, they do not think that a new tailpiece is going to make your instrument sound astronomically better. You can be the judge of how much more sound you can pull out of your instrument with strings and adjustments, but every instrument has its limitations.
When to replace the tailpiece
When would it be a good idea to replace the tailpiece?
There Is A Crack In It
If your tailpiece has a crack of some kind in it, it is time to take it into the luthier to see if it will be an issue. You must let your luthier look at it sooner rather than later because you do not want your instrument to have more serious damage later if you do not take care of the issue when it arises.
The Fine Tuner are Broken or Stiff
Some cheaper instruments will come with poor-quality fine tuners. These often break even if the tailpiece itself is fine. If your fine tuners are replaceable, you can simply take them off and put a new one on. However, if you have built-in fine tuners, you will need to replace the entire tailpiece. Fine tuners are there to help tune your instrument to precise measurements. Cellists tend to keep all of their fine tuners because getting enough friction with the bigger pegs can be challenging. If a Cellist decides to play with gut strings, they will likely remove the fine tuners, as gut strings won’t make a big enough difference.
Cellists are humans, and we like it when our stuff looks nice. This is true for our instruments, and some varnishes just don’t jive with the standard fittings. Sometimes, we also just have our preferences. That’s fine, and it’s completely normal. Suppose you really want a different aesthetic for your cello. In that case, changing the fittings is a great way to achieve a fresh new look with your familiar musical companion. If you look for new aesthetics, you will likely want to change the entire fitting package, including the pegs. This can be a great chance to give yourself a nice upgrade in that department. It’s also the most bang for your buck.
Tailpiece Material & Types
There are several tailpiece materials, but I typically see ebony, aluminum, plastic, and carbon composite. You can find tailpieces made from all kinds of hardwoods. Typically the tailpiece will match the color or wood type of the other fittings. Some players may mix and match, but it doesn’t always look good. Carbon composite has become more and more popular over time because it’s lightweight and durable.
There are several tailpiece styles, but the most common is the Hill style, which is carved with a straight end, meaning all strings are the same distance from the fingerboard. The French model is similar, but the tailpiece is carved differently. The harp style changes the angle, so the G string is the farthest away from the fingerboard, and the E string is the closet. You can also get decorative tailpieces with carvings for flair, but these are expensive and unnecessary for most.
Most luthiers will carry a small stock of quality tailpieces in various styles. However, can you also order them online and have them to be fitted or do it yourself. I decided to go all out when I did my fitting change and put new pegs in, largely to get rid of my fine tuners. New pegs require a trip to a Luthier for installation, so my fittings were installed professionally. If you are changing the tailpiece for aesthetic reasons, you will get the most bang for the buck by installing new pegs. My fittings were installed for free with the new peg installation.
These tailpieces are recommended based on reviews, my own experience, and their availability online.
The Wittner Ultra Composite Tailpiece with 4 built-in fine tuners is the most popular among students and advancing cellists. For its low price, quality and reliability, you really can’t beat it. It’s also incredibly light and made in Germany. I usually stray from built-in fine tuners because I’ve had them break on me, but Wittner could convince me if I didn’t move to geared pegs. These tailpieces are super durable, made from carbon composite, similar to carbon fiber bows or instruments. The included fine tuners are of excellent quality and so easy to use. My biggest annoyance with changing strings is my fine tuners having a mind of their own and pulling my string off track if I’m not careful. Wittner takes care of this by making sure the fine tuners have fully encased the tailpiece.
- Super lightweight carbon fiber
- 4 built-in quality fine tuners
- Inexpensive compared to other similar tailpieces
- Will easily blend in with ebony fittings
- If a fine tuner breaks, you have to replace the whole thing
Suppose you aren’t a fan of the Wittner or don’t like composite material. In that case, this plastic tailpiece from Weidler Akusticus has a striking resemblance to the Wittner and even includes 4 fine tuners. Plastic is a pretty lightweight but rigid material, so this cello will produce a brighter sound. This tailpiece is slightly more expensive than the Wittner; it’s also made in Germany. The only thing I like about this over the Wittner is how sleek it looks, and the other design of the built-in fine tuners is less pronounced.
- Similar design to the Wittner
- Built-in fine tuners
- Plastic Material
- Sleek less pronounced design
- More expensive than the Wittner
If you are looking for a standard tailpiece, the Hill Model from Fiddlershop will do the job. Available in various woods with pegs to match, you can’t go wrong with a simple tailpiece. While there are no fancy materials or even fine tuners, you do get a beautiful tailpiece that will look great on anything. It’s available in Ebony, Boxwood, and Rosewood. I’m partial to the Rosewood tailpiece.
- The basic design will look good on anything
- Available in multiple wood types and finishes
- The fine tuners must be purchased separately
Wittner is most known for its space-age carbon composite tailpiece. Still, they also make lovely Aluminum tailpieces with built-in fine tuners. These tailpieces are identical to the carbon ones but are slightly heavier than the carbon ones. This won’t matter a lot for most, and they can purchase either one depending on preference or what’s in stock. The aluminum tailpiece is more expensive than the carbon one, which is something to consider.
- Identical to the Wittner Ultra in style
- Made from quality Aluminum
- Great for students
- 4 Built-in fine tuners
- More expensive than the Ultra
- If a fine tuner breaks, a new tailpiece may be needed.
If you really want to go fancy with your tailpiece, you can. The ConCarbo French Style tailpiece combines all of the benefits of a carbon fiber tailpiece in an excellent French design. This tailpiece is resistant to temperature and humidity. It’s very lightweight and even comes with 4 fine tuners. They offer a hook or lever style, which is chosen doesn’t make much of a difference; it’s entirely up to personal preference. The type of it is a carbon weave, which is reminiscent of the Glasser Carbon fiber violin and many weave carbon fiber bows. I like that style, especially if you already have a carbon-fiber cello.
- Super lightweight
- French-style tailpiece
- Snazzy look that matches other carbon fiber weave accessories
- 4 included fine tuners of your choice
- Very expensive
Here are some FAQs
Answer: This is subjective to your taste and style. Most student and intermediate cellists prefer a Wittner tailpiece. The best tailpiece is the tailpiece you like the most, whether it’s the cheap one that came with your cello or a fancy space-age one.
Question: What are fine tuners?
Answer: Fine tuners are small gears that tighten or loosen the string in tiny increments to achieve a precise tune. Most Cellists use them even as professionals, but violinists will remove most of them or get a violin that doesn’t have all four.
Question: How is the tailpiece installed?
Answer: Simply put, the tailpiece is installed by putting the loop on end over the endpin button on the bottom of the cello. Then you balance the tailpiece with tension using the strings put on the end and strung through the pegs in the scroll.
The idea of a “best cello tailpiece” is a little bit silly. Professional cellists are not sitting around looking for the best tailpiece to have. When you see people talking online about tailpieces influencing the sound, it’s because it influences the sound in a small way, just like every other thing you could experiment with. The small amount of change is worth exploring for some people. Changing the tailpiece can be simple for someone experienced in adjusting fittings on violins. Still, it’s a task I wouldn’t recommend undertaking for beginners. Generally speaking,, changing the tailpiece is something most people never do unless needed or want to change all of their fittings.
Aesthetic reasons are a perfectly valid choice for changing out our tailpiece. It’s ultimately why I chose to change out mine; when I could have used ebony geared pegs, I chose rosewood because I liked it more. This led to a change in all of my fittings, regardless of why there’s a tailpiece out there for everyone. The Wittner is a favorite, but others prefer a traditional wood tailpiece, and some want to go crazy with space-age tech.
As a closing note, never be afraid to ask your teacher and luthier about these things – that’s what they’re there for!
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