How to String a Cello
Totally stringing a cello from scratch is best left to the professionals! Look up a luthier or violin shop in your area to get your instrument set up (and hopefully get your instrument from them too!) However, putting strings on your cello, putting them back on if they slip, replacing strings/learning to change cello strings, and working with the tuning pegs are all essential cello skills. With careful attention to the details presented in this video, you will be able to change your cello strings with confidence. Replacing strings can seem scary – especially if you’ve had the unfortunate experience of snapping a string.
But use a tuning reference and carefully guide the string into place – being careful to line up the string on the peg as you tune.
A good question one might ask is “how long do cello strings last?” And the answer is that ideally you would replace your strings every 6 months, but if unsnapped they can last for years.
The reason to replace before snapping is that they wear down unevenly, so the overtone series/harmonics are affected by the wear and don’t sound properly.
Learning how to replace a string isn’t too daunting. As we show in the video, replace only one string at a time, so that the bridge stays in its position.
Unscrew the large peg in the pegbox up by the scroll (top) of the cello, and take off the old string. Open your new string, and put a small crease at the top end (without the bell).
Insert this crease into the hole of the peg, and start winding evenly until just before the end of the colored winding. Then hook the bell into the slot by the fine tuner, lower on the tailpiece (bottom black part).
Holding the string with one hand so that it can be lined up with the notches in the bridge and nut, and carefully tighten the peg – pushing in as you turn – until the string sits comfortably.
From here you can tune the instrument. For the upper strings, line up the winding to the right (facing the instrument), and for the lower strings, run the winding to the left. This keeps room for the different strings.
A couple of potential concerns to address: the first is “but I’ve snapped a string before! I’d better not try to touch it.”
You snapped a string because it was a) very old and not cared for or b) you weren’t careful about what pitch you were on as you kept turning. As long as you focus first on finding out what pitch you’re on, and tune careful to the reference, you will be fine.
The second is “but I’ve got this cello in the mail from China, and it’s all in pieces, I have to string it from scratch!” Firstly, I’m very sorry to hear you wasted money on a cheap instrument.
Find some other use for the object, it will not help you learn cello – as you will not be able to get it to play right anyway! Go to a local violin shop and rent a quality instrument properly set up.
One final fun tidbit: the cello used to be strung with gut strings (from guts of animals) and now are mostly steel. However, you can still buy gut strings, and some old recordings were done on them as well.
They are not nearly as precise as steel strings, and are especially difficult to keep in tune, or to play high up on the cello neck. However, they get an interesting tone, and much of the music we play today wouldn’t be possible on them at all!
So when you play Bach, keep in mind you actually have a more modern instrument in your hands than the composer intended.