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What Is a Cello Fingerboard?

By Emily Daw
Updated May 23, 2024
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A cello fingerboard is the long, slightly curved piece of wood that runs down most of the length of a cello, the second-largest instrument in the classical string family. No two cello fingerboards are exactly alike, but most are just less than 2 feet (about 61 cm) long and made of ebony. The fingerboard plays an essential role in pitch production on the instrument.

Like with other string instruments, pitches on a cello are produced when a string of a particular length and width is vibrated. The string's length is changed when the player's fingers stop the string by pressing it against the fingerboard. Unlike guitar fingerboards, cello fingerboards do not have frets, which are strips of metal or wood that stop the strings when the finger is placed behind them. This gives the cellist a great deal of control over the pitch, but makes playing perfectly in tune more difficult. Many beginning players put tapes or dots on the cello fingerboard as guides for finger placement, but an advanced cellist must learn to produce accurate pitches through ear training and muscle memory.

High-quality cellos are crafted by hand, and each instrument manufacturer may have slightly different preferences in making his or her fingerboards. Usually, the cello fingerboard is around 23 inches (58 cm) long, 2.5 inches (64 mm) wide at the bottom and 1.2 inches (30 mm) wide at the top. Its cross-section is not fully symmetrical, with the C-string side — to the left of the instrument when viewed from the front — being slightly narrower than the A-string side. This allows the cellist to reach the lower strings while holding his or her wrist at a more natural angle.

Unlike the body of the instrument, which is often made of soft, fragile maple, the cello fingerboard is usually constructed of hardwood. Ebony is the most popular choice due to its durability and deep, dramatic color, but rosewood is another common option. By late 20th century, some instrument manufacturers had begun with non-wood options, such as carbon fiber for fingerboards. These are marketed as more environmentally friendly and could reduce the instrument's total weight by up to 10%, making a potentially more ergonomic instrument. Carbon and other alternative types of cello fingerboards had not gained widespread popularity in the string instrument community as of 2011, however.

Musical Expert is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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