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Report: Building my left-handed cello

As a cellist playing both left- and righthanded instruments, I dared to build a left-handed cello together with my partner under the guidance and with the help of a luthier. As this instrument, which at first glance appears to be right-left symmetrical, has some asymmetries in the details, the mirroring of which required a lot of attention contrary to routine, I would like to emphasize these in my report.


Laila Kirchner with her new self-made lefty cello

My previous left-handed instrument was a student cello from the Berndt & Marx violin making workshop. I set it up to suit me by turning a good bridge from my right-handed instrument upside down, putting good strings on it and inserting a carbon spike. It is well played, but has its limits in terms of sound. When I asked my trusted cello maker to rework it, he advised me to build a new instrument instead. I kept that in mind at first. After it had been working in me for a while, I came back to the suggestion and we planned the construction. It was also his first left-handed instrument and we discussed what would be important. As I had been bowing right-handed for a long time and had already built an instrument for this purpose, the righ-handed is also the usual construction method for me.

The symmetrical ribbed rim, which defines the outer shape of the cello, can also be used for a left-handed instrument without any problems. The top and back are also symmetrical on the outside. The latter also from the inside.


The decisive moment in working on the body began with the fitting of the bass bar. This serves to reinforce the top in order to withstand the high pressure of the C string on the bridge and is placed underneath accordingly. As a matter of routine, the luthier used the plane on the right to demonstrate the next step. However, as I had already thought through the inner arrangement several times, I noticed it immediately and was able to correct it to the left. After that, I could always recognize my top by the bass bar.


Planing the bass bar
Planing the bass bar

The basic shape of the neck and scroll is also symmetrical. However, the transition point at the lower end, where you pull your thumb off to get from the neck to the thumb positions, is slightly more notched on the gripping side. I therefore made the adjustment for my right hand from the outset. As I concentrated a lot on this area, the upper part of the neck was somewhat neglected and I had to thin it out and adjust it again towards the end.


Filing the neck foot for the right thumb
Filing the neck foot for the right thumb

We chose a round shape for the fingerboard and later cut it off on the left side to create an edge for the strongly vibrating C string. As I liked a rounded fingerboard at the lower end towards the C-string, the luthier made a corresponding cut. Suddenly my partner realized that it was on the wrong side. Fortunately, the fingerboard was still above the standard size and could be straightened and rounded to the other side.

Edge on the fingerboard and peg arrangement (center)
Edge on the fingerboard and peg arrangement (center)

Some left-handed players have the pegs arranged like right-handed instruments or play on modified instruments where the lowest peg does not hit their own head. However, as I was already used to a mirrored new construction, I wanted to keep the conventional design. I like the occasional transmission of vibrations from the peg to my temple.

Inserting the soundpost felt very unfamiliar and irritating for the luthier. When he tried to correct it later, he repeatedly searched in vain on the wrong side.


Rare insight: The lefty sound-post
Rare insight: The lefty sound-post

Sometimes he uses ready-made bridges because they have a good shape and a nice sound. In this case, he had to use a new bridge blank and cut it to size because all the existing ones were adapted to right-handed instruments.

The strings had to be strung in the correct order. We started with the outer strings A and C. Then I accidentally stretched the D string next to the C.

When I wanted to play the instrument for the first time, I wanted to loosen the spike screw on the left, as I usually do when playing this way. Of course, this had initially been placed on the right, but could easily be turned to the left once the strings had been unwound.

What is still not mirrored and therefore always requires a rethink, but is already part of my routine from the previous instrument, is the alignment of the screw threads of the fine tuners. Tuning with them always seems to me as if I have to turn them in the wrong direction. I hope that fine tuners with left-hand threads will also be produced in the future.


It has become a beautiful instrument with a great warm sound and I am very grateful that we were able to build it under his guidance. Although I didn't go into it with any concrete ideas, it meets my wishes and motivates me to play. My suspicion that the other instrument presented me with tonal limitations has been confirmed and I am very motivated to play my new cello and develop its and my potential.


The result!
The result!



 

Read here Laila's detailed interview or visit her website.




Instrument pictures, text & translation: Laila Kirchner

Cover picture / first photo: Alexander Englert

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