How to Play Electric Cello
5 free lessons for the plugged-in string player
When it comes to your acoustic violin or cello, you might have done some experimenting to find which strings work best for you. But if you’ve only recently plugged in, you might be wondering what to put on your electrified stringed instrument.The good news? “Any string will work with any electric instrument,” says Mark Wood, an electric violinist, and inventor and manufacturer of solid-body electric stringed instruments and extended-range bows. “That’s the truth, so help me god.” With electric violin and cello makers using piezoelectric pickups (or piezos), which sense the pressure and velocity of your string’s vibrations, on their instruments, plugged-in string players can use a variety of strings—even gut strings, according to Wood. “On my Viper, I have strings from several different manufacturers and I change them freely,” says Wood, whose solid-body seven-string, electric-guitar-inspired Viper model violin and otherworldly electric cellos continue to shake up the violin world. . . .
If you’ve been feeling that it’s time to add amplification to your string playing, you’re not alone. From amplified praise bands in large churches to string players in Broadway shows to those sitting in with a local rock or bluegrass band, today’s string player needs to be comfortable with electric instruments and the related gear. If you remain specialized in acoustic music, whether classical or trad or otherwise, your job opportunities are not as varied. In addition to learning technique and classical repertoire, the new string fluency includes playing electric. Begin your amplified string journey by considering these questions. . . .
The aesthetic of a futuristic bow meeting an innovative cello alone may be enough to inspire electric string players to try out a carbon-fiber bow. And that’s good because nearly every electric-stringed-instrument maker recommends a carbon-fiber bow as the perfect companion to his masterpiece for reasons that transcend aesthetics. While sound, feel, and sex appeal are largely in the eyes and ears of the bow holder, carbon fiber comes with benefits that advocates say shouldn’t be overlooked. Of course, you can use a standard wooden bow on a seven-string electric violin, for example, but carbon-fiber bow makers are starting to take note of the difficulty of reaching the extended strings and are optimizing their bows accordingly. . . .
It was in high school that I first put a microphone on my cello, and the only sound I managed to produce was howling feedback. It took years of trial and error before I got a consistently warm amplified tone that was free of feedback. Now I make my living playing amplified cello in countless bars, clubs, halls, and outdoor festivals. A cello is a magnificent resonating box designed to amplify string vibrations. It’s particularly good at amplifying low frequencies, like the kind found onstage in nightclubs. When these low frequencies build up inside the cello and get amplified by your pickup or microphone, the audio starts to “feed back” on itself. You can’t stop your cello from doing what it was designed to do, but with a little knowledge, you can control the feedback.To eliminate feedback, you must reduce the volume of your “resonant frequency” and avoid external low frequencies. . . .
For every cellist who has ever been ready to leave a dysfunctional group, but wondered what they’d need to make it on their own, there’s another who just wants to know where they’re supposed to turn when they can’t find anybody to jam with. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, there’s one answer for both questions: a digital phrase sampling unit, or special-effects pedal known as a loop station A looper is an electronic device that enables the performer—the loopist, if you will—to record one or more short musical phrases and to play back the recording while playing live along with it. In effect, it allows solo players to accompany themselves. It's an often groove-oriented layering process, like adding audio tracks in a studio, except that this action can be done onstage. . . .
This article, "How to Play Electric Cello," is part of the Strings Archive, which you can access with a paid site subscription.
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