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Cello problems

Q: I have a cello that is not an expensive one and I have had problems. The tail piece came loose and I had a local luthier fix it.The bottom seam had pulled loose about a sixteenth of an inch too but he said that was OK and nothing to worry about. About a year later the sound started getting bad and very dead sounding with a slight buzz to it ( a dead nasal sound). I took it to another luthier and he said the seam was the main problem and he would re-surface the finger board and reset the sound post. The sound was better but still wasn't good on the high string and was kind of metalic sounding (harsh) I wrote him an email and he said the strings I had on there were dead. Well I bought a new set and the sound improved tremendously and the A string sounded better and some of the notes actually resonated much better. However, there is still a problem with the sound in the upper ranges that are much more noticable when I use a pickup because it amplifies it more. One night last week I took it to church and tried to record it and the high end was really harsh sounding and the low to middle notes sounded great. Very rich sounding and the F (second finger on the D string) really resonated very strongly. I checked the luthier's setting of the sound post and it is at 1mm south of the treble bridge foot and 4mm inside the outside edge of that foot. (left side as you look at it from the playing position.)

        I can not afford to buy a good cello but I can't help thinking that I could get a lot better sound from this one. What route do you think I should go from here. I replaced the bridge before the last luthier looked at it and he checked it and did some trimming to it also.

        The cello is a Romanian Josef Lazar model 44 from
Thanks for any advice you can give me on this.
Bob Watkins
A: One thing jumps out of your enumeration of your cello's woes: "About a year later the sound started getting bad and very dead sounding with a slight buzz to it (a dead nasal sound )". This is the classic description of dead strings. Strings should last about a year of hard use. As the windings loosen from wear you can get little buzzes and a muffled tone. You replaced the strings and got a big improvement. The harshness of the new A string might just mean that you chose the wrong A string for your cello.  You might try a Larson A. They are less bright and "ringy" than some other brands. I like Larsons on the A and D and D'Addario Helicores on the G and C.

        If there are joints loose on your cello, they should be reglued. Push and pull to check for movement in the joints. The seam where the two lower ribs meet, the seam that the end pin is drilled through, can be open, but firmly glued to the tail block. It looks ugly but will not move and is probably as strong as if it was done right.

        There is much testimony about how moving the sound post a mm this way or that makes all the difference in the world. Picture the topography of the inside of your cello. If your sound post is, accidentally cut too short, you can still make it into a perfect fit by moving it closer to the edge. If the post is too short, but is standing in the traditional place, the top will squash down to meet it. This can give a nasty nasal tone. By moving the post around, shopping for a "sweet spot," what you are actually doing is shopping for the spot where your current sound post fits best. I get the best results by making a post that fits perfectly in the traditional spot.

        It is, of course, hard to tell without playing the cello myself. There are lots of little things that could suck 3% of your sound here and 5% there. But, the one thing that fits all the symptoms is the strings. 
Steve Mason

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