.: week 1.project proposal.eCello :.

We may be coming to a new golden age of instrument making.
--Yo-Yo Ma

As a classically trained cellist and technology enthusiast, I have always wanted to build myself an electric cello that is particularly "in tune" with the individual player (pun intended). Therefore, I would like to build an expressive cello (eCello for short) that recognizes the movements of the player and the tempo of the music being played. The cello will contain an LCD screen and display visualizations, patterns and colors that are related to the music being played. Furthermore, I would like to program an embedded computer to record sessions that could be played back later.

Cheap electric cellos typically have two problems: they either sound terrible due to low-quality magnetic pickups or they have an unnatural geometry for a musician that is accustomed to playing on a standard cello. To address the sound quality problem, I will be designing a custom piezoelectric pickup which are typically used for amplifying acoustic instruments. If time permits, I will also design a magnetic pickup, which provides a more "grungy" tone - normally used in electric instruments, and I will see if mixing the piezo and magnetic signals can yield some novel and interesting sounds. In order to make the cello feel natural to experienced cellists, I will repurpose a neck and fingerboard from an old cello. These pieces would be difficult to fabricate due to extremely complex curves. Using the standard textbook on Making Stringed Instruments (as well as my knowledge of the cello), I will fabricate the body of the cello to feel as close to a standard one as possible. Lastly, the sides of the body will fold in to make the cello compact to ease transportation.

Mockup of Electric Cello Electric Cello with sides retracted

Technical Tasks

  • Plane body together
  • ShopBot main body piece (mahogany)
  • ShopBot of sides (mahogany)
  • 3D printing of body and side accents (black plastic)
  • Engraving of tailpiece (graphite)
  • WaterJet sidepiece fasteners (metal)
  • WaterJet/Laser hardware for body
  • Clear finish on body
  • Pickups
  • PCB Design
  • PCB Fab
  • Electronics programming
  • Software
  • Construction and Integration


  • ShopBot
  • WaterJet cutter
  • Laser cutter
  • 3D Printer


  • SolidWorks - 3D Design
  • Adobe Illustrator - 2D Design
  • Eagle - PCB Design


  • Mahogany for body and sides (72" x 10" x 1.75")

Switches, knobs, etc. to use as templates

Project lifecycle

  • Concept Design (9/20)
  • Budget/Schedule Approval (9/28)
  • Purchase supplies (10/05)
  • Woodwork / machinework (10/26)
  • Electronics (11/09)
  • Software and design modifications (11/23)
  • Present final project (12/13)

Items to repurpose from old cello

  • Fingerboard and Neck
  • Bow
  • Pegs
  • Fine tuners
  • Endpin
  • Endpin strap
  • Bridge
  • Strings


  • Used cello ($150)
  • Mahogany (body and sides) (Already Purchased)
  • Clear Coat finish ($30)
  • Material for 3D Printing ($75)
  • Miscellaneous Metal ($50)
  • Electronics ($326.40)
    • Pickups ($130 (piezo) + $120 (humbucker) = $250)
    • Switch ($12)
    • Pots ($14.90)
    • Jack ($9.50)
    • 2 Accelerometers ($23.60)
    • LCD Screen (Already Purchased)
  • Total: $634.40