Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Cello Endpins- The Long, The Short, and The None

By Kevin Berdine, cellist, and Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins

Although the endpin is, seemingly, the least interesting part of a cello, have you ever seen a cello without one? Well, the humble endpin was not always a fixture of the cello. In fact, when we look throughout history, we can see that its use evolved quite a bit (and is still evolving)! 

In Vanscheeuwijck’s Violoncello and Violone chapter from “A Performer’s Guide to 17th Century Music” he shares that early artistic depictions and literature examples point to three main types of playing postures, de gamba (between the legs), de spalla (on the shoulder), and de braccio (against the chest). Additionally, many early paintings show players resting the instrument on the ground or on another object or even being strapped to a standing player. These early violoncellos and violons were larger than our modern-day instruments and were expected to play much less virtuosic music. As music demanded more virtuosity, instruments became slightly smaller and performers required more dexterous freedom. Such needs necessitated different playing postures which led to experimentation. It wasn’t until Stradivari’s Model B cello (about 1700) that the modern dimensions became relatively standard. 

Paul Katz, while discussing ways to be relaxed while playing the cello shares, “that as the cello gets flat like this (demonstrates with cello) you can just rest your arm on it. You can use your arm weight. We always talk about playing with arm weight. But, the more vertical the cello gets, the more difficult it is to capture the weight of the arm. So I believe that when things are too vertical people start to press . . . There’s a difference between resting and feeling weight or pushing down with your muscles.” He goes on to share that there is a point when the cello becomes too horizontal and it becomes a hindrance to the left hand. “I think what we want to do is get the cello to come up and flatten, but only to the point that the left hand is comfortable back here.” The endpin plays a very important part in allowing players to find the right balance between horizontality and verticality, thus equalizing the left-hand comfort with right-arm weight.

The balance experimentations involved many variables including, but not limited to:

  • No endpin with cello resting on ground

  • No endpin with cello resting on other objects

  • No endpin with a strap that attaches to cello and player
    • Even the Davidoff Stradivari Cello, currently being played by Yo Yo Ma has repairs on the back to cover holes where a strap had been used in the distant past. The former player of this Davidoff, Jacqueline Du Pre, shared, "That this cello was used by monks in religious processions is proved by a hole which is not refilled it its back. Through it the monk secured a looped cord which he slung around his neck: he was then free to pace in slow procession playing the instrument suspended on his portly front."

  • No endpin with cello resting on player's ankle of calf
    Wade Davis performing without an endpin

  • A fixed length endpin inserted into cello 

  • Adjustable length endpin inserted into cello

  • Adjustable endpin installed and stored in cello
  • Adjustable endpin installed at an angle and stored in cello
  • Adjustable endpin that bends of is hinged installed and stored in cello
On a personal note, my very first cello came with an adjustable endpin that I had to insert into the cello. Although quite beautiful, it was not nearly long enough for me. While saving money to purchase a new endpin, I fashioned a fixed length endpin out of an old pool cue. It worked quite well, but storing it was not convenient, and there were times I forgot to bring it to rehearsal. Throughout this process my own endpin struggles mirrored the historical evolution:
  • I played with no endpin when I forgot my endpin (this did not work for me at all)
  • I played with no endpin and rested cello on other objects (this worked well depending on whether I could find a suitable object that lifted the cello just to the right height and angle)
  • I tried to play with the cello resting on my leg (I was not able to figure this out)
  • I used the adjustable inserted endpin that came with my cello (the concept was great, but the height did not work well)
  • I rested the inserted endpin that came with the cello on other objects (although cumbersome, this worked quite well as it allowed for a bit of flexibility)      
  • I utilized the "pool cue" fixed length inserted endpin (this worked very well, but storing it and remembering to bring it to rehearsals was a real struggle for my adolescent mind)
  • Lastly, I continue to play on the installed adjustable endpin (this works best for me as it allows me to adjust height, not have to worry about finding an object to rest the cello on, and avoid forgetting my endpin)
Today, in addition to the continued balance experiments, we see material experiments meant to further enhance the acoustics of instruments.
  •  What endpin material enhances the sound of an instrument?
    • Metal
    • Wood
    • Carbon Fiber
    • Plastic 
  •  Does a hollow endpin improve the resonance? Furthermore is the improved sound about the         resonance chamber afforded by a hollow endpin or is the weight really more important?
  •  Does the platform that one plays on impact acoustics?
  •  Does the endpin rest impact acoustics?

Given its extreme importance in making the cello more comfortable to play for both the left and the right hands, you could reasonably believe that a good amount  has been written about its usage and history. But, you'd be wrong! There are snippets written about the endpin in many pedagogical method books and histories of the cello, but there has not, until recently, been any exhaustive examinations. To learn even more about the humble endpin, please check out William Braun’s “The Evolution of the Cello Endpin and its Effects on Technique and Repertoire” published in 2015.   

Here at Fein Violins, we almost always use a hollow Carbon Fiber endpin. That seems to sound best with our cellos. 

And we've noticed one other important point- that little rubber tip on the end of the endpin? Take it off when you're playing! Unless the keeper of the wood or marble floors will throw a fit. Even then, take it off and use an Artino Endpin Anchor. It will sound tremendously better!

Need a great sounding cello? We have them for sale- Fine Cellos from Fein Violins and we rent them also. Email (mail@feinviolins.com), text (651-333-8993), or call (651-2280783). We'll be happy to hear from you!


“The Evolution of the Cello Endpin and its Effects on Technique and Repertoire” Braun, William. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Doctoral Document. 2015


Cello Technique: A Result of Cello Construction and Its Effects on Virtuosic Playing in the works of Dvorak and Pärt













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