Musical instruments are ultimate displays of craft. But what happens to form when a cello no longer requires a wooden resonant chamber to function – but uses an electric amplifier instead?

Listen in on the Piano Guys’ African style adaptation of Coldplay’s ‘Paradise’. Ever since finding about the group I’ve admired their passion and ingenious way of fusing classical music and contemporary themes, concert hall harmonies with movies and pop culture with amazing locations for shooting their videos. Above all, they share their experimentation, fun and love for fun – it’s palpable, true and maybe a bit of business savy. This time however it was the electrical cello (0:57, 1:40) that caught my eye: beautiful, isn’t it?

Below are three steps to abstraction, from the top: German handmade Fidelius cello, Yamaha SVC50SK Silent Compact Cello and NS Design CR Series 4 String:
full traditional silhuette
floating part silhuette of traditional cellominimalist design with rectangular shape and long neck

In the first version the distinct silhuette is retained. The shock factor mostly comes from the electric blue paint. In the second instrument the outline has become part Rorschach test, part visual illusion: the apparently floating sides can be either f-holes or parts of the silhuette. The third design uses classical materials but is otherwise reduced to a stylish minimum.

I’m mostly tone deaf and have certainly never played a cello but judging by the product description for the third design it still takes deep knowledge to make such an instrument. Changes will not only impact sound but the way the musician can hold and play the instrument. To take the analogy of embodied use to other fields, imagine taking a car that has a fully transparent hull for a sightseeing tour. Driving it would take some getting used to, wouldn’t it? Cameras retain a shutter sound even though no such mechanical part exist anymore. Flat touch screens give a slight vibration when typing. In some cases such affordances are necessary for good usability, in others they represent negotiable conventions that designers can challenge.

Naturally, professional musicians tend to perform to audiences. The selection of your personal instrument then becomes a statement of style. In this case my favorite design is the Yamaha: it holds a magical quality and visual pun of music on air.

And below, follow the construction of a traditional cello. “In the Adelaide International Cello Festival “Cello Challenge”, seven masters from the Australasian region, led by Frank Ravatin from France, have chosen the unusual option of combining forces to construct a cello in the white, not in ten weeks, but in ten days” (in the white = ready to be varnished). The video relays the process – and outcome in audio – in a bit over ten minutes: