Makers used aluminum to build musical instruments including violins, double basses, mandolins, and guitars, from the second half of the nineteenth century through the 1940s.
This is a rare example of an aluminum cello, made for the G.A. Pfretzschner workshop, c. 1930. Its label reads:
This cello made under personal supervision
G. A. Pfretzschner
Although we don’t know much about G.A. Pfretzschner, he is a member of a well-known family of craftsman and dealers from Markneukirchen. Violins and bows bearing his label occasionally appear for sale at dealers and auction houses.
This cello was likely not made by G.A. Pfretzschner himself, or it would bear his label, rather than the label “made under personal supervision / and / exclusively for” Pfretzschner.
The cello was sold by the Skinner auctioneers at sale 2892B in Boston on 22 May 2016 as lot 42. It sold for $492. Its condition at the time was described as
repaired neck break, chipped and checked paint
The Use of Aluminum to Make Musical Instruments
This is an extremely rare example of an aluminum cello.
Neil Merrill experimented with aluminum as a material for making instruments, and from 1894-1898 the Aluminum Musical Instrument Company catalogue listed aluminum guitars, mandolins, fiddles, banjos, and zithers – but no cellos. They were aluminum-bodied instruments with wooden bellies and necks. The Smithsonian has a 1932 aluminum violin made by the Aluminum Musical Instrument Company, Inc., in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Unrelated to Merrill and his Aluminum Musical Instrument Company was ALCOA: Aluminum Company of America. With Ann Arbor music teacher Dr. Joseph Maddy, director of the National High School Orchestra Camp at Interlochen, ALCOA made double basses and violins of aluminum.
With this surge of interest in aluminum bowed strings, German makers built aluminum instruments for export to the USA, too, but they have been described as inferior to the American-made instruments, as they were
riveted together. The American ones were welded. – Keith Cary
Look closely at this cello, and you will see rivets at the corners of the instrument. They are even clearer on Frances-Marie Uitti’s 1929 Pfretzschner aluminum cello that she bought on eBay. You can also see the rivets for the bass bar on her cello. Her cello lacks the fake painted wood grain seen on the instrument in this exhibition and the violin in the Smithsonian.
The Sound of a Pfretzschner Aluminum Cello
Here is a video of Frances-Marie Uitti playing her Pfretzschner aluminum cello: