So I've been listening to 2CELLOS and their cover of AC/DCs 'Thunderstruck'. Several times during the song they play with an unusual timbre. Bringing out some of the high frequencies and mechanical sounds you wouldn't usually hear from the cello in recorded music.

Here's an example, the melodic lines from this point:

I can't work out if this is an electronic distortion effect, a recording trick, or whether a cello could make this same kind of sound acoustically.

Are we hearing a (fairly subtle) distortion effect here? Or is this sound being produced another way?

  • Your link does not work. Is the recording in question done when they're using acoustic or electric cellos? Mar 17, 2017 at 12:49
  • Link is fine for me... & yeah, does sound like they've got a bit of amp-sim going on with it; but I couldn't say more for certain
    – Tetsujin
    Mar 17, 2017 at 13:01
  • @CarlWitthoft They are seen playing acoustic cellos, but they definitely have to for aesthetic purposes (it's music video set in, probably, the renaissance age). We might be hearing electric cellos, or the effect could have been applied to audio from an acoustic instrument.
    – AJFaraday
    Mar 17, 2017 at 13:13

2 Answers 2


To answer the question directly, yes: I do think there is some form of distortion used. My guess would be that they recorded the cellos with contact pickups as well as microphones, and the final mix is a blend of the more naturally acoustic mic'd tone and the rawer contact pickup tone. The contact pickup will pick up a lot more stray knocks, taps and upper harmonic content.

For the section that OP highlights in the video, it sounds like there is a sub-octave mixed in to the lead line (copying the original vocal line). In some sections it sounds like overt distortion, with a corresponding bass reduction, whereas in other sections it sounds more like heavy compression or limiting verging on 'brickwalling', with clipping in the signal. My guess is that a lot of production techniques went into producing this track!

As an aside I wince slightly seeing the state of those cello bows by the end of the video.

  • The frayed bows are something of a trademark for them. By the end of a live show they've destroyed several bows on stage.
    – AJFaraday
    Mar 17, 2017 at 14:56
  • Well, we bowmakers have to make a living, too. Mar 17, 2017 at 15:22
  • All very true, but think of the horses!
    – ABragg
    Mar 17, 2017 at 15:29
  • You should see Charlie Daniels' bow! Mar 17, 2017 at 15:42
  • @ABragg You do know the horses can live quite comfortably without their tail hair, right? and that one tail can produce many bowstrings?
    – AJFaraday
    Mar 20, 2017 at 9:41

While it's not a standard distortion, there is definitely an effect there in the recording process.

  • Cellos played this way will sound grungy on their own, but I agree: it's been enhanced with reverb and probably how it's miked. Mar 17, 2017 at 14:03

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