Making a Cello: Sound & Design

Labeled, “Samuel Zygmuntowicz, 2003, New York.”

By Samuel Zygmuntowicz
as told to Naomi Sadler

The design for this cello began at the suggestion of cellist David Finckel, with the goal to create an agile soloist instrument. I felt that there was a gap in the cellos, the need for a compact instrument with the agility and playability of a smaller model but also with a great bass response. The main design criteria were a shortened string length for ease of fingering, rounded shoulders for improved access to upper positions, open C bouts for bow clearance, and a wider waist to enhance the depth of tone.

To begin, I studied the Guadagnini owned by Carter Brey, which is the best Guadagnini cello I know, with incredible projection but also great playability. Another compact cello that attracted me was the Guarneri ‘filius Andrea’ owned at the time by David Soyer. It is slightly longer in the body and wider in the waist than the Guadagnini, so I incorporated those dimensions to improve the bass response.

Aesthetically I used elements of the Guadagnini’s scroll and f-holes, along with the open C-bouts with corners that don’t hook very much, to give greater ease with the bow…

“The top is spruce from Simone Sacconi at Rembert Wurlitzer’s workshop,
which is really something special.”

….Read more below

“Think first in
tonal & playability terms,
then hang the design on top”

Although I took inspiration from two different instruments in the design, this cello wasn’t meant to look like a combination of Guadagnini and Guarneri, but rather like an instrument by a classical Italian maker that you couldn’t quite place.

This was one of the first times that I started with a blank piece of paper to design an instrument, and marked out where I wanted the corners, the bout proportions and body stop, and then drew in the outline based on those target dimensions. It was an exciting project and really helped to open up the design process for my making. It started me thinking

about an instrument much more functionally, in terms of what I wanted it to do and feel like for the player. I wanted to think of it first in tonal and playability terms and then hang the aesthetic design on top, rather than the other way around.

The top is made of old spruce from the collection of Simone Sacconi at Rembert Wurlitzer’s workshop, which is really something special. I didn’t antique the varnish, but because it’s been played a lot it’s taken on a nice natural patina and has its own personality. It was bought by a cellist who used it for many years and has recently retired.