Craft & Design Music Woodworking
Unique Design Lets Styrofoam Amplify This Cello

foam cello

When a senior year Belgian musical instrument manufacturing student at the College of Ghent attempted to create a better cello he found an unlikely ally: Styrofoam. It proved to be a magnificent sound amplifier, and the creator said that he was surprised by his findings.

On all musical instruments, something has to vibrate. In the case of the cello, the strings are creating the vibrations. Then, these vibrations spread outward to the air around the strings in the form of sound waves. Styrofoam has a closed cell structure which doesn’t allow sound waves to enter it easily and be absorbed so, instead, the sound is amplified.

After several measurements and prototypes, it was discovered that the sounds were indeed stronger with a styrofoam top. This building opportunity was one that he did not want to pass up.

The final prototype was completed with a modern flare and sophistication. The clean lines and hourglass shape transform the classic four string instrument into a contemporary masterpiece, ready for the orchestra’s first chair cellist. His goal was to create a louder cello that was easier to play. The end result was a cello with a 1.5cm thick Styrofoam top that is indeed louder and more bass-heavy than a regular wooden cello. You can hear it in action in this video.

styrofoam cello

Some cellists have compared the Styrofoam cellos sound to the robust top of the line carbon fiber cellos by Luis and Clark. The carbon fiber cellos are favored by touring cellists such as Yo-Yo Ma and Erik Friedlander. These carbon fiber cellos are durable, humidity resistant (in terms of needing to re-tune), and very attractive, but they are also quite costly.

What the Styrofoam cello lacks in durability it is said to match in its ability to hold its tune and style. Price has not yet been established for these cellos, however, the materials are at a much lower price point.

(via deredactie)

4 thoughts on “Unique Design Lets Styrofoam Amplify This Cello

  1. Nice article, Leia, but some clarification is required here (I’m a double bass player): The strings themselves don’t actually make the sound; the energy imparted from their vibrations when bowed is transmitted down through the bridge and into the top/belly of the instrument, which causes it to vibrate and create sound, much like a speaker cone’s movement. It would therefore also have little to do with the closed-cell structure of styrofoam (as wood also presents an impermeable barrier to air) and more about the lower moving mass of it compared to wood. Assuming optimum strength to thickness ratios in both materials, for an equivalent amount of energy applied through the bow, a (likely heavier) wooden top would consume more energy in getting it moving and thus less energy would remain to be converted into sound. The lighter styrofoam top will conversely require less energy to vibrate it and so a larger proportion of the energy would remain to be converted into sound pressure levels. In spite of the SPL gains, the main problem here would be durability (as you pointed out); yes, it would be cheap & relatively easy to replace, by why use a material that could be so easily damaged to begin with? The inconvenience and frequency of regular repairs might well outweigh the benefits (I doubt most musicians would carry a spare top with them nor tolerate the need to run repairs just prior to or during a performance!). Carbon fibre cellos offer the benefits of low moving mass AND durability but, even so, there’s more to the quality of the sound of a stringed instrument than just loudness; wood has tonal qualities that carbon fibre and presumably styrofoam would lack.

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Leia is a crafty mom who loves to create. Sculpture, painting, drawing, and crafting are some of her greatest passions. Her favorite projects are the ones she does with her family.

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