There are different types of electric cellos, as well as different types of acoustic cellos. In both electric and acoustic variants, the types are determined by size, style, height, materials, and strings. But what about the difference between acoustic and electric? Which is better? Are they both just as good? Stick with us till the end to find out.
Acoustic cellos have been around for ages. They have left a huge mark on human history and on the music scene as we know it. Go to any classical music concert, and you’ll be amazed by this instrument’s mellow and intriguing tone. Just like classical music itself, the acoustic cello has become a staple of human culture and art.
Electric cellos are relatively new players in this game. Just like electric guitars took a while to get truly appreciated, the same journey will probably have to be taken by electric cellos as well. They may not produce the same mellow tones as acoustic ones, but they do have certain advantages over them.
For starters, the price plays a big role. While intermediate to advanced cellos go from anywhere near $2,000 to over $10,000, electric cellos are much more affordable even if you include the amplifiers and accessories. They are usually priced in the $1,500 to $4,000 range. And for beginners, electric cellos are much easier to practice on.
Electric cellos are sturdier
Acoustic cellos are made of wood. And even high-quality hand-made wood can be quite delicate. Drop your cello and chances are it will break or at least crack. They are also susceptible to temperature changes. Sure, that doesn’t mean regular cellos will succumb to absolutely anything, and they don’t need constant protection.
However, when compared to their electric counterparts, they are far less sturdy. Even electric cellos that are made of wood are sturdier than acoustic cellos simply because you’re not dealing with a wooden husk, but a solid block of wood. And because electric cellos don’t rely on the acoustics of the shell, they can be made much thinner and transportable.
The unique sound qualities of electric cellos
Now, this is where things get interesting. The acoustic cello is highly appreciated for its mellow tone and the unique sound it provides when played by expert cellists. Despite this, objectively speaking, electric cellos have quite a few advantages over their acoustic counterparts. First and foremost, you can’t change the volume on an acoustic cello.
Furthermore, micing an acoustic instrument is fraught with challenges. Those awkward squeaks and rumbling notes that only disappear after what seems like ages of fine-tuning. You don’t get that problem with electric cellos. You get a punchy, strong signal from a solid body electric instrument, instead of an acoustic one with a hollow chamber.
Moreso, if you want to record the sounds you’re playing, the electric cello is yet again superior. On acoustic cellos, recording the sounds they output can get tricky. You need a quality microphone and a soundproof room. Sure, some models can also plug into a jack directly, but even then you might have some trouble with the signal.
Electric cellos completely eliminate these problems. Plug the jack directly into the sound receiver and play as you normally would. That’s it.
Getting to play in an orchestra
As mentioned earlier, people have a certain bias toward classical cellos. You’ll rarely see an orchestra where the cellists play electric cellos. At least at the time of writing. Who knows what’s possible in the future? But the fact of the matter still remains the same. If you want to play in an orchestra, your chances will be quickly diminished if you prefer to go electric.
There are people who play in a philharmonic who also buy electric cellos. However, those people do so because they usually play in other bands as well, or simply because they like practicing and recording their sessions digitally. Despite this, electric cellos are capable of outputting “classical” sounds if tuned properly.
How’s the “feel?”
Now that we got people’s perception out of the way, let’s talk about the feel. More specifically, the way an electric cello feels when you’re playing it. And how it compares to the feeling that an acoustic cello gives you. Aside from the weight or the size, they don’t necessarily feel too different. Companies are trying their best to make them as familiar as the acoustic ones.
Yamaha, in particular, has designed a few of its electric cellos to resemble acoustic cellos as much as possible. The people who work for the brand are aware that many cellists prefer electric cellos for practicing, even though they play acoustic cellos at concerts. That was their main motivator to start working on the “feel.”
The strings, their strength, and the arching and angle of the fingerboard should all feel the same. You can even buy attachments that imitate the thickness and depth of acoustic cellos if you want to. If you do this, then the only real difference you will notice is the same difference you’ll notice between two different models of acoustic cellos.
Choosing the right amplifier for you
When you’re playing on stage, you’ll usually have an ample sound system that will take care of the sound as long as the sound engineers do their job properly. However, for practicing at home, it is much more convenient to get an amplifier. It is important to note that amplifiers for electric cellos fall into two major categories: full-feature models and high-end models.
The full-feature model has things such as onboard effects, a flanger, a phaser, and chorus, plus some basic amplifier modeling and distortion. You can go wild with it and let your imagination run freely. However, all the features can get cumbersome. Some people prefer a simpler and cleaner solution rather than having too much. As they say, less is more.
The high-end model is almost the opposite of the full-featured model. It mostly has a basic reverb and an equalizer. However, it will output a clearer tone, which is ideal if you want to focus on the naturality of the instrument. It’s perfect if you want to imitate the acoustic cello as much as possible without having to deal with its downsides.
Why do people prefer electric cellos for practice?
Not everyone has an opera house or a professional studio at their disposal to practice in. Most people, especially beginners who don’t have much money yet, prefer practicing at home or in their garage. Of course, they have to be careful not to disturb their housemates or neighbors. If you have an electric cello, you can just plug your headphones in while practicing.
Otherwise, they won’t make much noise. It’s a good way of keeping it quiet, especially at night. A lot of musicians prefer practicing at night because their creative juices start flowing when most of the world goes to sleep. Well, that and the fact that it’s generally easier to play and learn, as we’ve already mentioned at the beginning of the article.
Let’s recap the main things a little. Electric cellos are easier to learn and master. They are far more affordable than their acoustic counterparts when it comes down to models of the same skill category. Even those who play on acoustic cellos generally prefer practicing on electric ones because of their silence and other advantages.
So, with all that out of the way, why do people still choose acoustic cellos instead of electric ones? The answer is simple. Acoustic cellos have been around for ages. They first appeared in the early 1500s and were popularized by numerous orchestras and composers all over the world.
Just like the violin and other instruments from the viola family, they have grown on people. Their mellow tone is more satisfying to pull off, and they’re viewed as a piece of art in the classical music world. The craftsmanship put into them requires remarkable skill and patience. People prefer things that are hand-made rather than instruments made by machines.
In all these senses, acoustic cellos surpass electric cellos with ease. However, if you don’t necessarily care about them, an electric cello will do just fine. Good luck in choosing your next model!