I want to learn double bass but I don't have the budget to buy an instrument yet; however, I do have an old cello lying around. Is it ok if I tune the cello in 4ths so that I can start learning finger patterns?

(I'm not proposing tuning the cello to the pitches of the double bass, just that the strings relative to each other are in 4ths, not 5ths.)

  • 1
    It's just the fingerings being closer together on a cello: might be a shock later, when you switch to bass. Jul 20, 2020 at 2:04
  • Yeah I thought about that, but kids regularly adapt from smaller violins and cellos to the full sized instruments, and bassists also learn upright after playing on electric, so I think I can learn to adapt when I need to.
    – abelian
    Jul 20, 2020 at 3:12
  • 6
    "OK" in what sense? OK for the instrument, or OK as in effective preparation for double bass? The main thing that comes to mind is that you'd want to get different gauges of strings, since if you tuned up the lowest string, it might snap, or if you tune down the highest, it might be too floppy. But cello strings are expensive, and at that cost you might instead buy a cheap electric bass so you can practice finger patterns on it.
    – Max
    Jul 20, 2020 at 4:28
  • 1
    Maybe get a cheapo fretless bass? The scale is between cello and double bass so not exactly the scale of a double bass, but probably a better way to transition. Jul 20, 2020 at 20:31
  • Agree with @Max. Strings could be an issue. It's better than nothing, at least you can start getting calluses!
    – kat
    Aug 23, 2020 at 3:55

2 Answers 2


I strongly recommend renting if you can't afford even a beater bass. Even if you do tune a cello in 4ths, the resonances will be different. And more important, the bow hand positions and pressure/speed behavior when playing on bass strings, on a bass, are radically different from a cello.

It's not like switching from a half-size to full-size cello, where only the fingering spacings change. As the comments and answers said, the finger patterns will be quite different as well.


Historically there have been some jazz bassists who have also played cello and tuned it in 4ths, I recall Oscar Pettiford was one of them. He even recorded it a few times.

As @Old_Brixtonian mentioned the scale length is VERY different. The scale length of a 4/4 cello (27.375”) is shorter than even that of a short scale electric bass (30”) and a 3/4 upright is around 42”. If you have some low tension strings for your low register you can probably get away with tuning it an octave above the bass or just do as you see fit.

As for fingering, keep in mind that on the bass we only use 1, 2 and 4 on the left hand and shift more due to the distance between the notes so even if it feels cramped I would suggest you get used to doing that. It’s not going to feel anything like playing a bass but if you simply want to get used to playing an instrument tuned in 4ths it should suffice. Good luck!

  • I was wondering is there a danger of damaging a cello with unusual tunings? Electric guitars are down with it but I can imagine vioins, cellos perhaps being torqued? by non-usual tensions?
    – Fattie
    Jul 20, 2020 at 15:31
  • 3
    @Fattie It’s a possibility especially if you’re tuning higher than normal and I wouldn’t do it with a high quality instrument.. Since the OP is mentioning using an “old” cello (which I assume means more of a beater instrument and not a beautiful Italian instrument from the 1800’s) as long as they keep it in a range close to the original tuning and try and use low tension strings for individual strings tuned higher than the norm it should be fine. There’s no substitute for a bass, even a cheap one though. Jul 20, 2020 at 16:05
  • thanks johnB. I just realized OP is talking about an upright double-bass right? (not an electric, gene simmons, "bass"). I guess, even a beater must be fairly expensive then :/
    – Fattie
    Jul 20, 2020 at 16:51
  • Yes, the cheapest I’ve ever seen is $700-$800 new or $500-$600 used and that’s a crapshoot in terms of quality. About $1500 is about the least you can spend and expect to get something playable that’s not going to fall apart in a few months. Jul 20, 2020 at 17:10
  • Unreal. Thanks. Completely random question, do they make the upright string instruments in Cremona, or is Cremona more "just violins as such!" (It's where my favorite pizza I know of is :) )
    – Fattie
    Jul 20, 2020 at 17:37

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