5 String Cello's

June 16, 2019, 7:04 AM · I know this isn't a Cello forum, but the ones I have signed up on are ghost towns. But for those of you in the know, what is more useful on a 5 string Cello, a low F or a high E?

Replies (16)

June 16, 2019, 7:41 AM · High e in my opinion. One can play the d major Bach suite with much greater ease and if you want to cheat a lot of the Elgar isn’t at the VERY end of the fingerboard just really close
June 16, 2019, 9:08 AM · Agreed! E for sure! That is,if you want to have an easier time playing most cello music.

But for an experienced 4-string player, switching to 5 strings is not as simple as a novice might think. If you watch an advanced cellist perform you quickly realize how much time the left hand spends "south" of the edge of the upper bout. The availability of an E string will change this for many players. However, for a new starter on cello (I don't want to call it a "beginner" exactly) that extra 5th in first to fourth positions opens up the possibility of playing 10 times more music without the need to expand technique.

Edited: June 16, 2019, 1:30 PM · There are at least two works in the classical cello repertoire that were composed for a 5-stringed cello (or similar instrument) with an E string - Bach's 6th suite (already mentioned) and Schubert's "Arpeggione" Sonata. Both are playable on the 4-stringer, but the added E makes things a little easier and, perhaps more importantly, gets closer to what the composer intended.

Some cellos have been converted into 5-stringers for their owners with those works in mind.

I wonder what material would be used today for the added E - steel (plain or covered) presumably.

Another point to bear in mind when having a 4-stringer converted to 5 is that the bowing angles between the strings will change, which may take some getting used to. Changes to the instrument include: major changes to the scroll to accommodate the peg for the extra string, a new bridge, a new nut at the end of the fingerboard, a new tailpiece, possibly a slightly wider fingerboard (and neck?!), and readjustment of the sound post. It all adds up, cost-wise.

Note that all this would also apply to the conversion of a violin from 4 strings to 5, in which case it may be more cost-effective to purchase a new 5-stringer, which are not uncommon in the folk music world.

June 16, 2019, 1:56 PM · Thanks for the comments all! Andrew Victor: That pretty much sums it up for me, I would be a novice on the Cello so I suppose making the switch from a 4 string wouldn't be an issue.
June 16, 2019, 2:38 PM · Bernhard Heinrich Romberg an 18th-19th century cellist made a modification to the cello fingerboard that survives to this day. Known as a "Romberg" it involved flattening the fingerboard under the C (lowest) string.

I think if you plan to modify a 4-string cello to 5-string you will have to remove the "Romberg." A cellist I played with in string quartet for some years had done this to his cello.

I have never played a 5-string cello, but I did have a 5-string violin for a few years. My experience with that led me to write "switching to 5 strings is not as simple as a novice might think." The problem I had was largely "mental" in that I think I tend to intuit the inner strings as "pne to the left or one to the right." That doesn't work if there are 3 inner strings. Since ALL of my playing is done while sight-reading music scores and generally "at speed" I never bothered to go back to basics on a 5-tring instrument. For me, life is just too short for that. If I were a lot younger, who knows. Having played Schubert's "Arpeggione" Sonata on cello and viola, I could not see the point for me - but I'll admit I have not even attempted Bach's 6th cello sonata and have played only part of the 5th.

June 16, 2019, 3:40 PM · The arpeggione sonata was composed for apreggione not five string cello. But the e string helps as the sonata on the arpeggione is not at all virtuosic so having it as the easiest possible to play makes it probably more musically correct
June 16, 2019, 4:17 PM · Andrew, I would probably go with a NS Design WAV5. I own 4,5, and 6 string basses and can switch without making any mental blunders. About the only thing that messes with my mind is when a band leader makes a last minute key change, whether I'm playing bass or acoustic/electric guitar, that definitely screws with me.
June 16, 2019, 4:23 PM · What size cello is this?


June 16, 2019, 5:49 PM · Jeffrey - that's a cello de spalla.

I vote for the low string but it depends what you want to do. I multitrack string parts and have found that my low F is good for bass parts - only a half step away from a bass but I can tune down if needed. If you are concerned about finding written repertoire and playing that then go for the high E. If you are playing in a band and will occasionally be playing bass parts then go for the low F.

June 16, 2019, 6:19 PM · I'm going to focus on original material, I just love Hildur Guðnadóttir, she's a huge inspiration for the direction I'd like to go in.
June 16, 2019, 7:55 PM · If you are doing looping like her then definitely low F!
June 16, 2019, 11:01 PM · There is nothing new about the idea of a five string cello. But there are not many around. That's curious, don't you think?

If you are recording, you can use "effects pedals" to get the lower octaves. This works well. I use a Boss ME-208 for this.

Why don't the good Celtic cellists use five string cellos? Natalie Haas, among many others? You would think that the E string would open up fiddle music in the first four positions, just as it does for the fiddle.

Have a look for Daniel Plane, on the internet. In the past few years he has acquired a five string cello, and in at least one video, he plays very nicely, and doesn't use the top string!!

Good technique helps provides most of the advantages you would expect of a five string cello.

Edited: June 17, 2019, 10:50 AM · I don't have one, yet, but there is a similar discussion about the 5-string viola, with a high E string. That would make it possible to have a large Viola that wins the audition, and still be able to play Richard Strauss orchestra parts. 5-string Cellos or Violas or Basses need to be custom built, it's not just changing the bridge, nut, tailpiece, but the extra string puts more pressure on the top plate, and needs more support.
June 17, 2019, 1:24 PM · You mean Jeffrey? :)
June 19, 2019, 6:55 PM · Here is Daniel Pane, clearly using the 5th string.


Now, why isn't this more common?

June 21, 2019, 5:35 AM · Has anyone tried out the NS Design Composite bow? I actually went with the WAV4 Cello as opposed to a 5 string

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