Cello Reference Sheet

Cello tuning

From low to high, the cello is typically tuned in fifths. I play a 5-string cello with a low F (F1 on the piano scale). A typical 4-string cello has its lowest string is tuned to C2.

  • F1 - 43.65353 Hz

  • C2 - 65.40639 Hz

  • G2 - 97.99886 Hz

  • D3 - 146.8324 Hz

  • A3 - 220.0000 Hz

Scale and string length

Scale length refers to the length of the string between the nut and bridge, also known as its vibrating length. On a 4/4 (full-size) cello, the scale length is usually between 27.17" and 27.4" (69-69.4 cm).

The length of a full-size cello string itself is about 40" (101.6 cm).

String gauge and tension

The D'Addario strings (NSS510) on my 5-string cello are thus:

  • F - 0.0815 in (2.07 mm)

  • C - 0.0540 in (1.37 mm)

  • G - 0.0390 in (0.99 mm)

  • D - 0.0340 in (0.87 mm)

  • A - 0.0305 in (0.77 mm)

They are "medium tension" with stranded steel core, flat-wound steel strings.

Using bass strings on a cello

Flat-wound bass strings are available usually in sizes by 0.005. However, bass strings are designed for a 34" scale length instead of 27", the cello's usual scale length. Although shorter-scale basses exist—I have two of them: a Kala U-Bass (scale length 21") and a De Rosa violin-shaped bass (scale length 30").

Todo

I haven't done this yet, but flat-wound bass strings of a similar diameter as regular cello strings should work just fine...

Tuning a bass like a cello

You can, of course, tune a bass like a cello, and in fact, have a bass with a 30" scale length, which isn't as far from the usual cello scale length.

A bass scale usually goes like this (an octave lower than the four lowest strings on a guitar):

  • E1 - 41.204 Hz

  • A1 - 55.000 Hz

  • D2 - 73.416 Hz

  • G2 - 97.99886 Hz

The lowest string on a bass guitar is only one step lower than my cello with it's low F string, so I could try tuning it like this:

  • F1 - 43.65353 Hz (tune E string up 1 step)

  • C2 - 65.40639 Hz (tune A string up 2 steps)

  • G2 - 97.99886 Hz (tune D string up 4 steps)

  • D3 - 146.8324 Hz (tune G string up 5 steps)

Because a cello is tuned in fifths rather than fourths, the higher strings get progressively further away from bass tuning, and really stretches those top two strings!

However, by detuning the low note on a bass to C1 (an octave lower than a regular cello), I get a setup much closer to standard bass tuning. In fact, I don't even need to change the D string tuning:

  • C1 - 34.65 Hz (tune E string down 2 steps)

  • G1 - 49.00 Hz (tune A string down 1 step)

  • D2 - 73.416 Hz (same as normal bass)

  • A2 - 110.00 Hz (tune G string up 1 step)

I've tried it and it works quite well on both my basses, though that detuned low string gets a bit floppy—having a higher-tension string might help.