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.
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.