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As the second-largest instrument in the stringed family, the cello can seem intimidating to new players. Keeping it steady on its endpin and propped up by the musician’s seated weight as they play can look like an impossible magic trick to those aspiring cellists who don’t fit the standard measurements. Fortunately, like many of its stringed relatives, the cello comes in a variety of sizes, as wide-ranging as its myriad tones and repertoire. With its choice of size as well as its sound and place in everything from solo rock to orchestral classical scores, the cello fits into anyone’s musical dreams.
This article gives you the details about the different sizes of cellos. First, we’ll explain the parts of a cello and how those work together to create its unique sound. Knowing these is important when you are trying to find the best cello size for your needs because it will help you make sure everything in your chosen instrument is working together properly. We’ll also give you a basic rundown of how different cello sizes affect playing tones. While every size of cello keeps the same notes range, there are a few resonation differences that are good to keep in mind if you’re working with a different size other than standard.
Then, we’ll explain how to start looking for the correct size of cello. Whether you shop for cellos in person or online, you’ll need a basic starting point to make sure you don’t waste your time on instruments that obviously don’t fit. There are several crucial reference points to keep in mind, so your cello will be sized exactly for you.
Finally, we’ll recommend our favorite instruments for the sizes of cellos we explore. It’s very common to need a non-standard size, especially for players who are beginning young, so we’ve picked out a few of the best to keep the selection from becoming overwhelming.
Parts of a Cello
The cello has a number of features that must be comfortably aligned with the musician’s size to allow for perfected playing techniques as well as general upkeep of the instrument and its sound.
- Scroll: This is the uppermost part of a cello. It’s the curled piece of wood that sits atop the instrument. Since it’s largely an ornamental flourish that the cello shares with its other stringed siblings, a cellist doesn’t need to worry about reaching it except for the occasional cleaning.
- Pegbox: Right below the scroll sits the pegbox. This is where the instrument’s strings are wound around four tuning pegs, one on each side of the instrument. The pegs are used to wind the strings tighter or looser to ensure they stay in tune; typically, a cellist will need to adjust these strings before each playing session, both practice and performance, so finding a size where you can easily reach the pegbox is crucial criteria for a cello that fits you.
- Neck: The neck connects a cello’s scroll and pegbox to the body of the instrument in one elongated piece of curved wood. The player runs their thumb across its underside as their fingers move across the top. Its bottom crosspiece attaches to the width of the cello’s body.
- Fingerboard: Overlaid on top of the neck and running down into the body about midway, the fingerboard is where the player’s fingers depress the strings to make specific notes. It’s curved to allow each string to stand out enough to be played by the bow individually. A cellist’s reach on the fingerboard is one crucial measurement needed to find the right-size cello, and we’ll go into more detail about that in the measurement section.
- F-holes: Situated on either side of the body where it curves inward, these are two mirror-image holes shaped like modern-day lowercase Fs. They’re positioned to keep the cello’s sound moving and reverberating throughout the whole instrument.
- Bridge: This is a piece of wood set perpendicular to the cello’s body between the F-holes. It elevations the strings to send their vibrations to the proper areas in the instrument. The tension of the strings is also used to keep the bridge in place with no glue or other fastenings onto the instrument.
- Tailpiece and Endpin: The strings cluster at the tailpiece, which is set near the bottom of the instrument and has small holes to catch the ball ends of the strings. It also allows for micro-tuning adjustments. The endpin is a rigid spike that is folded out of the bottom of the cello and braces the instrument on the floor to provide the musician with stability in playing position. Crucially, the endpin is adjustable to a player’s height and angle preference, which makes a cello easier to individualize once you have found the general size that is right for you.
- Bow: Although the bow is a separate piece that does not contribute to the size of the cello itself, it bears consideration because it gets bigger in relation to the size of the cello you’re playing. This is so it can make the reach across the strings as stretched across the bridge. The bow of a full-sized cello is 28 inches long.
Different Sizes of Cellos
Before we get to measuring your own size, let’s go over the different sizes available for cellos. Keep in mind that these are guidelines; there can be variations on exact measurements depending on the manufacturer or country of origin. Further personal adjustments to the instrument’s height can be made by extending or retracting the endpin a few inches before locking it in place.
- 4/4 (full cello): back height 30 inches, total height 48 inches
- ¾: back height 27.25 inches, total height 45 inches
- ½: back height 26 inches, total height 42 inches
- ¼: back height 23 inches, total height 38.5 inches
- ⅛: back height 20 inches, total height 33.5 inches
- 1/10: back height 17.75 inches, total height 29.5 inches
Certain cello manufacturers do make a ⅞ size meant for adult musicians who may be right at the edge of or just under the measurements that match up with a 4/4 size. Still, they’re somewhat rarer than the other sizes and cater to a more specific user group.
As you can see, the fraction sizes are not based on length measurements alone. Still, they are used to indicate volume relative to the full cello. This gives you an idea of how the whole instrument will fit into your playing position.
Also, note that all sizes of cello are built to sound the same and exhibit the same note range, from the smallest starting student model to the largest professional instrument; the strings are adjusted to offset resonation differences within fractions of body volume. There are some small frequency differences that can’t be overcome, but the overall sound of each size is identical.
Size Guidelines for Cellos
There are several ways to match yourself with the best cello size. These are based on various body measurements as well as the age of the cellist. Both age and measurement guidelines are important to consider. Still, we recommend always defaulting to the measurements if the two do not match up. This makes sure your cello is the best individual fit for you.
Body Measurements for Cello Size
Arm Length: This measurement shows how far you can reach directly outward to the side from your shoulder without straining. The length from the base of your neck to the edge of your wrist will indicate which cello size will be the most comfortable for you.
- 4/4 (Full Cello): 24 inches and longer
- ¾: 22 to 24 inches
- ½: 20 to 22 inches
- ¼: 18 to 20 inches
- ⅛: 16 to 18 inches
- 1/10: 16 inches and shorter
Finger Span: This measures how much you can spread the fingers of one hand — again, with straining, because any overexertion in the measurement process will inevitably lead to pain while playing. Hold up one hand and splay your fingers as if about to wave hello. Then, measure the distance between the top of your index finger and the top of your pinkie. There you will find your finger span.
- 4/4 (Full Cello): Six inches or more
- ¾: Five to six inches
- ½: Four to five inches
- ¼: Three to four inches
- ⅛: Three inches
- 1/10: Two and a half to three inches
Height: Your overall height, from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet, is also a crucial measurement to consider when choosing a cello size. Since a cello must rest comfortably on the shoulder of the musician when in use, the musician’s height makes all the difference in the playing angle. You’ll notice that these guidelines are a bit broader than the other body measurements, so always use your height along with your arm length and finger span in order to make your best decision.
- 4/4 (Full Cello): Five feet tall and above
- ¾: Four feet six inches to five feet tall
- ½: Four feet to four feet six inches tall
- ¼: Three feet six inches to four feet tall
- ⅛: Three feet to three feet six inches tall
- 1/10: Three feet tall and under
Age Guidelines for Cello Sizes
Another way to calculate the size of the cello needed is to match it with the age of the player. For obvious reasons, this is a method most used frequently in schools and other institutions that teach children as they grow up. It’s a good starting point for teachers who may not have access to students’ measurements or the resources to individually acquire them — if any student stands out from their group, cello size adjustments can then be made.
- 4/4 (Full Cello): 14 years old and up
- ¾: 11 to 13 years old
- 1/2: 8 to 10 years old
- ¼: 6 to 7 years old
- ⅛: 5 to 6 years old
- 1/10: 3 to 5 years old
Note: the Suzuki method of string instruction recommends moving through the first three sizes slightly quicker.
Parents can also use their players’ ages as a starting point. Still, to find the best fit of cello, age must be considered secondary to body measurements.
If you (or your student player) is in one of the overlapping categories of measurements, we recommend going down to the smaller size. This will ensure a comfortable fit that does not require straining when playing.
If you are a serious student or someone whose been playing for a long time and has grown into a full-size Cello, then this Cello will serve you well. While it’s expensive, it’s also a beautiful quality instrument that will give students the ability to grow their skills for a long time. This cello is made from solid aged hand-carved spruce and maple tonewoods. It features solid ebony fingerboard pegs and fittings. The varnish is oil-based and hand-rubbed, and the cello comes strung with D’Addario Helicore Strings. Coming fully set up and ready to play, the outfit features a canvas cello cover, carbon fiber bow, rosin, digital tuner, endpin stop, and practice mute.
- Solid aged tonewoods
- Fully set up and ready to play
- Quality accessories
3/4: Fiddlerman Apprentice Cello Outfit is a solid choice for a growing student. Featuring aged solid carved flamed spruce and maple tonewoods and sold ebony fingerboard and fittings. The cello comes strung with D’Addario Prelude Strings. The outfit comes with a hard canvas cello case, carbon fiber bow, rosin, digital tuner, endpin stop, and rubber mute. This cello will allow a student to grow their skills while offering a balanced, smooth tone right out of the case. Additionally, this Cello will have wonderful resale value when you need to trade up in size, thanks to quality materials and construction.
- Quality aged tonewoods
- Quality fittings
- Great accessories
- Fully set up and ready to play
1/2: Stentor Student 2 Cello Outfit is a great student-level instrument from a long-time seller of string instruments. This cello features a solid carved source top with a maple back and ribs. The neck is solid maple with an ebony fingerboard and fittings. The outfit includes a number of accessories, including a bow, case, music stand, strings, rosin, endpin stop, and tuner. You’ll have everything you need and more with this outfit; the best part is many of these accessories can stay with you as you exchange instrument sizes.
- Quality outfit with everything you need
- Solid carved tonewoods
- Stentor is known for poor quality student instruments
1/4 Cello: Hidersine Vivente Cello Outfit
1/4 Cello: Hidersine Vivente Cello Outfit is a beautiful student cello outfit. Featuring a solid spruce top and flamed maple body. The fingerboard and fittings are ebony, and the tailpiece is a classic Wittner ultralight. The outfit includes a bow, rosin, and deluxe bag. This is a great cello for the price, especially since locating cellos of this size to buy is rather difficult; however, I’d recommend renting over buying at this size level.
- Made with quality tonewoods
- Comes with a basic outfit
- Wittner tailpiece
- Its more cost-effective to rent at this level
- Bow will need to be replaced
1/10 & 1/8: Stentor Student Cello Outfit
1/10 & 1/8: Stentor Student Cello Outfit is an okay choice for both the 1/10 and 1/8 size ranges, and for the price will get you what you need. However, before I talk about this cello’s features, I want to mention that renting is a lot more cost-effective at this size level. You will need to sell and purchase new instruments too quickly for them to be worth buying. Instead, finding a rental program that will allow you to change sizes without incurring higher costs is great! You can then use that equity to purchase a 3/4 or 4/4 cello. Now on to the Cello. The Stentor Student I features a solid spruce front and maple back and sides. The fingerboard is blackened hardwood, and so are the pegs. There isn’t a whole lot of information on this Cellos other features, but it comes with a basic case and bow. It’s not great, but it’s an acceptable cello for the price point. You’ll need it for a year or maybe two before needing an upgrade.
- Quality tonewoods
- Comes with basic accessories
- Blackened hardwood fittings and fingerboard
- More cost-effective to rent, this cello has little resell value
Frequently Asked Questions
Answer: The size of your cello translates directly to how comfortably you can play it. If you have one that’s too big, you will be straining to cover all the areas of the instrument you need to use and unable to reach for some of the advanced techniques. If your cello is too small, you will learn improper posture and technique to compensate for the awkward stance it will force you into. Finding a cello that fits you properly makes playing so much more intuitive, which lets you concentrate on the important things in your musical development instead of why your back or fingers are so sore.
Answer: Wherever you can purchase a cello, there should be a variety of sizes from which you can choose. We recommend going in person to a music store if at all possible so you can chat with a salesperson who knows how to fit you to your instrument. Still, we realize that’s not possible for everyone who wants to play. The most common sizes are ⅛, ¼, ½, ¾, and 4/4 (full), so if you need a 1/10 size for a small child or a ⅞ for an adult that’s between the two biggest sizes, you may have to find a specific brand that sells those sizes, like Simply for Strings or The Luthier Shop. Amazon also has a wide selection of cellos in all sizes, qualities, and prices. If you are in a learning ensemble like a school band, your teacher will have informed recommendations as well.
Answer: Not really. All sizes of cello are designed to have the same note range and general tone — that’s why they’re built as ratios of a full instrument instead of just intervals of height. The one thing that may be a little different for smaller cellos is tuning the strings. You’ll still tune them to the same fourth-based notes as a full-sized cello, but the smaller instruments will need different tensions to get the same pitches. This will happen naturally as you go through your tuning process. There are also quite a few companies that make cello strings especially for smaller-sized models, such as Concord Musical Supplies and D’Addario Red Label.
Don’t let the cello intimidate you — there’s a perfect size for everyone who wants to play!
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