By: Eric Zeng
The thing I can tell you as a cello player in an orchestra is that the cello is often overlooked. Like literally the conductor talks to violins or even violas all the time while cellos just sit there and play along. However, the fact that the cello is overlooked doesn’t mean that it is not an important instrument.
The cello is a very important part of the orchestra. For example, a piece with just the violin main melody of the other instruments and without cello would sound very shallow. Along with being played in an orchestra, the cello can also be a great solo instrument. There are lots of solo pieces that are written for the cello and it has a large range of sounds. The cello can play the lower bass and can also go as high as a violin! Instead of strings like on the violin, which are G-D-A-E, the cello’s strings are C-G-D-A with C being the lowest and A being the highest like the Viola.
The cello’s other name is Violoncello which is the full name. The earliest cellos were made during the 16th century and were often made with 5 strings and were larger and shaped differently than modern cellos. The cello we know today was standardized by a 17th century Italian luthier called Antonio Stradivari. Back then, the cello was mainly used to reinforce basslines in orchestras. The main large sized solo instrument back then was a 7-stringed instrument that kind of resembles the modern cello called Viola Da Gamba or viol, which, in my opinion, looks kind of strange. The Viol is still around today as an instrument.
The Cello replaced the Viol as a solo instrument in the 17th and 18th centuries. Composers later gave the cello more potential by writing solo pieces for it. There are some very great solo pieces and albums for cello such as J.S. Bach’s six cello suites written for unaccompanied cello. Other composers like Dvořák, Saint-Saëns, and Elgar have also written a lot of sonatas for cello. There are also some great cellists of the 20 and 21st century like Pablo Casals, Yo-Yo Ma, and Mstislav Rostropovich.
A cello’s price can go anywhere from around 100 dollars to a few million dollars. The cheapest cellos, around 100 to 1000 dollars, are usually machine made in factories and are great for people who are just starting to learn cello. The next range is the 2000 to 9000 dollar range. Cellos in this price range are usually handcrafted by multiple people in a workshop and start to not use any artificial materials and use real wood like spruce and maple.
Next up is the 10,000 to 90,000 dollar price range, cellos in this price range start to be made by just one luthier (person who makes instruments) and are usually played by professional cellists and use better wood, better strings and just overall better parts. Even more expensive is the 100,000 to 900,000 dollar price range. Cellos in this price range are usually made by some of the best luthiers in the world and are usually played by top level soloists.
The most expensive cellos usually get is the 1-3 million price range, cellos in this price range are usually made by the best luthiers of all time like Stradivarius and are usually played by the world’s best soloists like Yo-Yo Ma.
Sadly, the cello doesn’t get as much melody as the violin does. But, it makes for a great instrument for both solo and reinforcing baselines. It can play a huge range of pitches from sounding like a bass to sounding like a violin. Overall, the cello is a great instrument and I definitely recommend listening to pieces played on it.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopædia. “cello”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 4 Aug. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/art/cello. Accessed 6 September 2023.
“Cello Price Guide (What to Expect in Every Price Range!).” Simply for Strings, Simply for Strings, 8 Feb. 2022,