An electric, or amplified, cello is a stringed instrument played with a bow in the fashion of a traditional cello. These types of cellos do not rely on acoustic resonance, however. They depend instead on electronic amplification, much the same way an electronic guitar does. These instruments have a pitch that is lower than violins and violas but higher than double basses.
Cellos that fall into the electric cello category require a pickup that provides an electrical signal. The pickup can be within the bridge, but it also can be mounted on the cello body. Another option is to install a built-in pickup. Other methods also are available for amplifying the sound of the electric cello strings, but these are less common.
The fact that electric cellos do not depend on acoustic resonance means that there is no reason to include a resonating chamber in the design of the instrument. The vertical nature of the cello remains in most concepts, but aside from this, what an electric cello looks like ultimately depends on how much artistic vision the designer has. The only restrictions a designer has are that the cello shape has to provide unobstructed access to the strings with the bow, and that the cello should be physically balanced so as to remain upright for playing with relatively little effort.
People use traditional cellos primarily in classical music, either as a solo, chamber or large ensemble instrument. The electric cello, by contrast, is used in genres such as pop, rock or jazz. Players usually coordinate with small bands of three to eight musicians or play solo. In some instances, players use the electric cello to put an edgy, contemporary spin on traditional classical pieces, but these interpretations abandon the original feel of the compositions.
A major advantage of the amplified cello over a traditional cello is that an amplified cello is virtually unlimited in terms of how many people can hear it. Normally, a regular cello is heard only for the distance the sound waves travel away from the instrument itself, although solo concert cellists may use indirect amplification to be heard more clearly. Thus, the further away from the cello one gets, the softer the listener perceives the volume to be. With an electric cello, sound travels from the speakers connected to the cello, so it is the proximity of the listener to a speaker, not the listener's proximity to the cellist, that is important.
Although some of the techniques required for traditional cello playing, such as proper bowing position, carry over to the electric cello, cello players who use amplification are more likely to use nontraditional techniques to get the effects they want in the music. They may use wah effects, for instance, which is not really possible on a regular cello. Electric cello players thus may find that they have to treat electric cello playing as a separate and distinct art compared to playing a traditional cello.