Guitar vs Cello: Differences

A cello and guitar are two very different instruments with an important similarity: they’re both stringed instruments. The guitar has six strings, whereas the cello has four strings. Still, these differences are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to an understanding of what the two instruments can do and how they compare in terms of difficulty, versatility, and range of tones. Here’s everything you need to know about guitar vs. cello to help you know their key differences.

What’s the difference between the guitar and a cello? A cello is a four-stringed instrument played with a bow. Meanwhile, a guitar is a six-stringed instrument played by plucking or strumming with fingers or a plectrum. Guitars make a sharp, distinctive sound, while cellos have a larger body that produces a deeper, richer sound.

What is a Cello?

Violoncello, or simply cello, is played with a bow. It has four strings that are tuned (low to high) C, G, D, and A. The cello is pitched one octave lower than the viola, which belongs to the violin family. In an orchestra, the cellos usually play in the middle of the string section or on the bass line in unison with the double basses.

What is a Guitar?

The guitar has six strings tuned (low to high) E, A, D, G, B, and E. There are also 12-string guitars with more than six strings and may have as many as 24 strings. You play the guitar with one hand strumming or picking the strings and the other hand fretting notes. While guitars are usually used to accompany singers, especially in folk music and rock and roll, they are sometimes used in orchestras as part of an ensemble.

The Difference Between Guitar vs. Cello

The cello and guitar are both stringed instruments, but the similarities end there. The cello is a member of the violin family and functions as the bass voice of that family. The guitar is a member of the lute family and functions as a chordal accompaniment instrument. The two instruments are not interchangeable.

Number of Strings

The most fundamental difference between the two instruments is that a guitar typically has six strings, while a cello has four. It’s possible to play certain arrangements on both instruments with more or fewer strings. Still, for all intents and purposes, these are the usual configurations.

The strings on a cello are commonly made of aluminum, chromium, or titanium. In contrast, the strings on a guitar are either nylon or steel.

Weight and Size

The second major difference between guitar and cello is their weight and size. A typical full-size cello measuring 30 inches or more weighs between 5 to 7 pounds, not including the hard case, bow, and accessories.

Guitars are generally smaller than cellos. A full-size guitar has an approximate length of 38 inches long, with a scale length measuring around 25.5 inches. Guitars can be taken anywhere, unlike cellos which require larger cases when traveling. Cellos also require much more room for storage and physical space on stage during a performance.

Tuning

The guitar and the cello also differ in tuning. The guitar is an instrument tuned to the following notes from lowest to highest: E, A, D, G, B, and E in standard tuning. This six-string configuration is the most common tuning for guitars.

Meanwhile, the cello has four strings tuned as follows (in ascending sequence of thickness): C, G, D, and A. The cello, like the violin, has four strings that are tuned in perfect fifths, whereas the guitar is tuned mostly in fourths. Many cello players tune their cellos with a piano because low C on the cello corresponds to two octaves below middle C on the piano.

Sound

A guitar makes a sharp, distinctive sound. It’s often used in rock music or folk music because of its ability to be heard over loud drums and other instruments. 

On the other hand, a cello has a deeper tone than the guitar, making it better suited for more classical music. Cello music also tends to be slower and more drawn out than guitar music but can still create an energetic sound when played by someone with experience with the instrument.

Guitars have a bright sound and a quick note attack. Guitarists can play notes on all six strings at once by strumming with the right hand. A cellist will struggle to play more than two notes at once due to the fretboard’s camber, making it difficult for the bow to contact more than two strings at once.

Playing Style

The cello is played vertically between the knees, with the bow in the right hand and the left hand pressing down on the strings to change their pitch. The guitar is played horizontally, suspended by a strap, or supported on the player’s knee, with fingers plucking or strumming the strings to produce different sounds.

Guitar vs. Cello: Which One is Easier to Play?

Guitars are a lot easier to learn than the cello. The big advantage for guitarists is accessibility–guitars tend to be less expensive than cellos, and learning how to play one doesn’t require as much commitment as that of a cello player. 

On top of that, while it can take years to develop enough skill to perform on stage or record with an orchestra, many people manage to learn basic chords within weeks or even days. There isn’t nearly as much pressure on guitarists in that regard.

Meanwhile, the cello is a lot more complex. Not only does it have four strings, but it is vertically played where you can’t see the fingerboard. The guitar is played horizontally across the body, and you can see the fretboard easily. 

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a beautiful and challenging instrument, the cello is likely for you. If your primary concern is finding an instrument that can be picked up quickly without a lot of dedication, then go with the guitar.

Overall, guitar and cello are two different instruments. While it may take more time to learn how to play the cello, and it may take a bit more strength for you to play guitar, playing both of these instruments can be rewarding.

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Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.