NS Design NXT 5-string cello: the first impressions

My new cello arrived yesterday and so far I have played if for about 10 hours. So it's time to recount my first impressions about this instrument. As I mentioned before, this is the 5-string version with high E string. Also the model is NXT. There is also the more expensive CR model but since I'm playing my cello through Line6 effects pedal, I didn't consider the added cost of on-board pre-amp necessary. Apart from that, the differences between the two models are mostly in materials and finish. Unfortunately to my knowledge no-one sells NS Design instruments in Finland so I had to buy blind without trying and comparing the different models.


Everything was very neatly packed and arrived without a scratch. The instrument looks gorgeous. It's way smaller than acoustic cellos, and also way smaller than most electric ones I have seen. The craftsmanship looks flawless. It's manufactured in Czech Republic, by the way. The instrument comes bundled with a tripod stand and I also got the frame strap system for it. The strap allows me to move around while playing, much like with guitar. The bridge height in this instrument is adjustable via two screws through the body and the neck has a truss rod like on electric guitars and basses. The tuners seem to be standard guitar tuners, which is a huge improvement over traditional cello tuners! They have 12:1 ratio and while not the most accurate tuners out there, they make my life way easier and there is no need for extra fine tuners that most cellos have.


First I tried just the playing feel of the instrument without amplification. The 5th string becomes natural to use very fast and doesn't take much adjustment. I read somewhere that on 6-string models it is hard to avoid hitting adjacent strings when applying heavier bow pressure but that is definitely not the case here. The strings are relatively close to fingerboard which makes the instrument very easy to play. With acoustic instrument one might want to have higher action but here I haven't found any reason why I would want to raise the bridge.


The hard part comes from the lack of any traditional contact points that cellos usually have. The neck has a small pin under it, marking the 1st finger in 4th position. This I find somewhat odd as in my opinion it should be on 2nd finger mark as that's where my thumb is when playing in 4th position. Consequently I find I'm staring at the fingerboard all the time while playing, just to know where I'm going. This will probably pass with time, though. Luckily the fingerboard does have similar dot markings that guitar and bass fretboards also have. I'm sure purists would complain about it but the added benefit of those dots is improved intonation, so it's definitely worth it to have them there. 


The support systems did take quite a bit of adjustment. The tripod stand feels a bit fiddly and the whole thing is shaking and moving when doing vibrato. Experimenting with different playing positions I found a somewhat good setting but it still isn't quite optimal and I tend to keep my feet on the feet of the stand just to stabilize it. When using the floor effects pedal that's obviously not an option. For that I have the frame strap system. The strap system seems fun to use but feels kind of unstable at first. After some adjustment I think I have found a position that works for me but the cello does move more than I would like. I'll have to experiment more with the strap system and see if I can get it a bit more stable somehow. NS Design also have a (sort of) traditional kind of endpin system available and I might end up getting one at some point as well.


So, how does this thing actually sound? Just awesome! Big gripe I have with most electric cellos is the phasey sound that gets really ugly when doubled. The NXT has none of that. I tried recording some stuff on Cubase and I found I can build sections without getting phasing. Like with any electric cello, added reverb is important. The piezo microphone sounds very smooth and has very even frequency response. There are knobs for volume and tone. The volume knob has something they call JackPot, which is basically an on/off switch for the circuit so you can take it out of the equation completely. The tone knob has very wide range and even with passive electronics, its effect to the sound is much more obvious than on most guitars. I find I prefer it set somewhere below middle. Fully open the sound gets more nasal but the range of sounds available is very large and should suffice in most applications. There is also a switch for arco/pizzicato mode. Basically it determines if the piezo microphone should respond to horizontal vibrations (like when bowing) or vertical (traditional pizzicato). I find the pizzicato mode gives a very long sustain, way longer than what is usually heard on cello pizzicatos. Thus I prefer to use it more as a special effect and do my pizzicatos using the arco setting for more "plucky" sound.


TL;DR: All in all I'm very happy with my purchase. The sound is gorgeous, it's well built and it's very light to play and handle. My only gripes have to do with the somewhat unstable feeling support systems. 


Next up: trying it with the effects pedal!




May 15, 2016 @06:43 pm
I'm still liking the NXT5 a lot and use it on daily basis. When I change the strings next time I'm going to experiment with softer strings as volume isn't an issue. I play it through Line6 HD500 guitar multi-effects pedal. I'm sure the low F string will sound good. The only reason I went with high E was that since our music has plenty of synth basses I probably wouldn't get to use the low F much. If your budget allows it and/or if you don't want to use a pre-amp or multi-effects pedal with the cello, you might want to look at the CRT range as well. They have built-in pre-amps and more ways to adjust your tone from the instrument itself. Marko / Chaos Research
May 15, 2016 @04:55 pm
Interested to know if your still liking/using the NXT5, looking at a version with the low F string, thoughts? Graeme

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