Celli were made as early as the mid-1500’s. The first known maker was Andrea Amati. Only six of his celli are still in known existence today, although the exact location of three is all that’s more commonly known. Amati had two sons, Antonio and Girolamo, both of which were cello makers.
Amati’s grandson, Nicolo (son of Girolamo), is the best known maker in that family. He’s also a very famous teacher of the craft. His son, Girolamo II was also a very good cello maker, who was later outdone in fame by his fellow classmate, the well-known Antonio Stradivari.
Many of Amati’s celli were decorative. One, which is housed at the National Music Museum, is called The King. It is painted and gilded with the arms, devices and mottoes of the French King Charles IX. A crown is on the center of the back of the instrument, while figures, barely visible on the sides stand for Piety and Justice. There is also a fifth hole in the peg box. It may or may not be original, but five stringed celli were made up until the eighteenth century. These paintings were done later, probably during the 1570’s. Many other celli by similar makers also elaborate decorations on them. Not all were decorated for a certain person or royal family, as in this case.
These celli back in the 1500’s were bigger than today’s celli, with bodies of 30 or 31 inches. Today, celli are around 29 inches, and are proportionately smaller. This smaller cello was originally created in the 1690’s, but it wasn’t until the early 1700’s that most makers began to use this pattern. Many of the earlier celli by famous makers were later cut down.
This size change was undertaken so it would be easier to play and there would be less tension on the player’s left hand. Though this sacrificed some of the tone of the lower strings, most of the music at that time was written with celli on the upper strings, so this did not present a problem.
The above-mentioned Antonio Stradivari was not apprenticed to a cello maker for nothing. Though his violins are among the best known and most expensive in the world, he was also a notable cello maker. These celli are also worth in the millions today. He, like many of the great cello makers, was Italian.
In some cases, Italian violinmakers who also did celli made more money on the celli. This happened to maker Giovanni Battista Rogeri. His entire family, again, were cello and violin makers. Most of these instruments were made in the mid-1600’s.
Back in 1945, these great instruments were worth between $2,500 and $40,000 (for a Stradivarius). Today, of course, they are worth much more. Back around the middle of the century, wealthy people would buy great instruments as investments. Today, the stock market is favored.
In the nineteenth century, celli started to be made much more in mass-production rather than by hand. These instruments were much cheaper and their tone quality was not as good. Though even mass-produced instruments do require some hand adjustment, not nearly as much care is taken with them as with the great instruments.
Celli are an octave lower than violas (or an octave and a fifth lower than violins). They have a very mellow sound which contributes to the orchestra's bass line. They do get solos from time to time, though the violins take precedence as far as that's concerned. They are the second best known instrument of the orchestra.