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Don Rickert Musician Shop

Violoncello da Spalla Conversion by D. Rickert


Violoncello da Spalla Conversion by D. Rickert

3.00 LBS
Generally less than 30 days
Calculated at checkout
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Product Description

For the cost of a 5-string chin cello, you can have a pretty good violoncello da spalla.

Is a decent violoncello da spalla costing about $2500 even possible? Read on . . .

Are you frustrated because your budget does not allow a decent violoncello da spalla. Or, maybe, you want to explore what you can do with a violoncello da spalla before committing to a top-of-the-line master-built instrument.

In any case, the price of our standard violoncello da spalla is a hurdle for many who are interested in this wonderful instrument.

I could argue until I am blue in the face that, at $7500, our standard violoncello da spalla is a bargain. I mean, it only costs half of ones that we make completely in our Georgia workshop. Or, only about 1/3 the cost of one from Dmitri Badiarov in the Netherlands. Bargain or not, we know that $7500 (or even the discounted “pay in full up front” price of $5700, is on the wrong side the price-point threshold for many enthusiasts of the violoncello da spalla.

There may be a way to make it happen.


For the cost (or, in some cases, even less) of a 5-string octave-strung viola you can have a well-made violoncello da spalla that even sounds pretty good, to boot. For a base price of less than $2500, we are now providing the service of converting low cost fractional-sized 4-string string cellos to quite passable 5-string violoncellos da spalla. Just to be very clear—you do have to cover the cost of the instrument to be converted. If you already have such and instrument, that cost would be $0. To be realistic, it is going to be more like $400 or $500. Even including the cost of the base instrument, that is still less money than we used to charge for a 5-string octave viola (when we still made them).

The Conversion Process


Step 1: Starts with a readily-available fractional-sized cello

Either you provide us with a new or used instrument to convert or we will obtain one for you. Of course, you will be billed for one that we acquire for you.

Generally, the base instrument will be a 1/10 size (1/8 size Suzuki); however, a 1/8 size (1/4 size Suzuki) can work.

A 1/10 size (1/8 Suzuki) cello has a body length of about 18”. The most common size, considered by many to be the correct size, for a violoncello da spalla is an 18” body. The larger 1/8 size (1/4 Suzuki) has a body length of about 20”. A larger 20” instrument will work just fine; however, the smaller 18” instrument is easier to handle and play. In fact, there are many more string options for the larger 20” instruments than for an 18” instrument; furthermore, the overall sonority may be better for the larger instrument.

You will find more details about base instrument acquisition below.

Step 2: Inspection

We inspect the instrument thoroughly to ensure that it is structurally sound. If it is set up for playing, we will give you an opinion on its sound quality before proceeding.

If there are cracks or any need for an internal repair, such as a cracked bass bar, the cost or repair would not be justified. In other words, the repair would cost more than the cost of the instrument.

Step 3: Neck removal

Of course, strings and fittings are removed first. You are welcome to have what is left of the neck. You should know that the ONLY safe way to remove a neck is to saw it off and then chisel out the remaining wood in the mortise. In other words, the neck will not be reusable. The same usually goes for the fingerboard, which often has to be sawn off as well.

Step 4: Neck replacement

We replace the neck with a custom-made correct 5-string neck and a baroque fingerboard.


Fittings, Strings, Etc.



  • Fingerboard: Baroque type with black walnut or ebony face and maple sides. The fingerboard width at the nut is an ample 32 mm to 34 mm, depending on player preference.
  • Pegs: Ebony “baroque” (aka “old English”) pegs
  • Tailpiece: 5-string baroque type to match the fingerboard
  • Bridge: We make and install a correct 5-string violoncello bridge.


  • Standard set: Marchio Rosso by Dogal (C, G, d, a); SuperSensitive Sensicore (e’)
  • Optional set: Custom-gauge Supersensitive Sensicore

What about the bass bar?

The bass bar does NOT need to be relocated for the wider spread of the strings. Why? Because the distance between the feet of a 5-string violoncello bridge is the same as that of a modern 4-string bridge. The modern bridge tapers inward towards the top; whereas the violoncello bridge fans outward, more or less like a viola da gamba. So, even though the top of the violoncello da spalla bridge is wider, the spacing of the feet is the same as a modern fractional sized bridge.

Modern 4-String 5-String Violoncello da Spalla
modern-cello-bridge.jpg bridge-stege-1-gambe-1.jpg



  • Wittner Fine-Tune™ planetary tuning pegs
  • Gut strings

How Will the Completed Violoncello da Spalla Sound?

A fractional cello that is converted to a 5-string violoncello da spalla will generally not sound a whole lot better than the unmodified instrument. In general, it will sound somewhat better, as the generally substandard strings found on fractional cellos will be replaced with good strings. The good news is that the better-quality student instruments, such as the ones suggested below, sound pretty good with the right strings and setup.

How to Obtain a Cello to Convert


Find a used one

You may find a used one at a violin shop with a substantial rental program. You are more likely to find such shops in or new larger cities and towns.

Often rental instruments are “retired” from rental because they have scratches, minor dings, worn varnish or peg holes. Parents of all of those child prodigies only want instruments that look like they imagine a new Stradivarius would have looked, regardless of how well they play or sound (forgive the editorial commentary). Retired rental instruments will work fine for a violoncello da spalla conversion, as long as they are structurally sound. You can often find pretty usable base instruments for as little as $400.

Buy a new one

A Franz Hoffman™ 1/10 or 1/8 size cello from Shar Music (about $1000 new) or an Andreas Eastman VC200 (about $1500 new, if you can find one) will sound pretty good. These are both Chinese instruments, which are fully-carved and well made from nice wood.

Have us obtain a new one for you

Often, we are able to obtain really nice new Chinese-made cellos on par with either the Franz Hoffman or the Andrea Eastman in the $800 to $1000 range.

What about cheap cellos found on eBay?

You will undoubtedly be able to find suitably-sized cellos on eBay for far less. If you try to source one this way, all we can say is “watch out.” You should let us know what you are thinking before actually buying a cheap eBay cello. We will do our best to check it out for you.

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