Can This Innovative Cello Turn More People into Musicians?

Slate’s design blog.
Oct. 16 2013 11:00 AM

Does the Cello Really Need a Redesign?

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The prototype for a transparent cello features integrated LED lighting for tuning and special effects.

Image courtesy Bayer MaterialScience

One curious design innovation on display today through October 23 at K 2013, the world’s largest plastics trade show in Düsseldorf, Germany, is a prototype for a cello that looks like the 23rd-century ghost of the classic wooden 17th-century instrument.

The 150-year-old German polymer giant Bayer MaterialScience has fashioned the “futuristic cello” from utterly transparent, lightweight cast resin. The company's aim was to encourage aspiring musicians to take up the cello by making what is normally a rather cumbersome instrument easier to play and carry. And to entice accomplished musicians by creating a cello body that acts as a blank canvas for a range of optical effects using integrated technology.

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A futuristic cello is made from an easy-to-mold material based on aliphatic polyurethanes.

Photo courtesy Bayer MaterialScience

Bayer MaterialScience assembled a team of designers and lighting specialists to create the ergonomic cello, canvassing both professional and amateur musicians for clues on how to innovate. They found that music students wanted color signals to let them know when they were out of tune or to flash like a metronome to help them keep time; professionals mused about incorporating lighting effects and video into live performances.

The design starts with a pretty standard electric cello neck and fingerboard into which sound and optical technology is built, from LED lighting to mini video projectors that can display photos, graphics or video on the transparent surface of the cello. The slimmed down cello belly is then formed from a lightweight material based on aliphatic polyurethanes.

The company imagines applying the technology used to make Cello 2.0 to the future design of keyboard, plucked and wind instruments. It has already helped build lightweight but break-resistant saxophones made from a colored polycarbonate blend, as well as high-gloss polyurethane piano coatings.

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Photo courtesy Bayer MaterialScience