Buying a Cello

If you read my blog, I tested a few cellos recently   I thought I would share some of my thoughts selecting a cello from my two rounds of cello testing.

  • A cello purchase is a major expense.  Even a student cello will cost $1K plus.  Take your time evaluating cellos.
  • Don’t buy a cello on first play. It may sound amazing at the shop but may sound differently at home or elsewhere.  If the shop allows, do a take it home to test.
  • Because a cello costs more, does not make it better (you know…”if it costs more it’s better” syndrome). Also…Knowing a cello is more expensive, you may play it differently, with better form and such.  Comparing them side by side over time can help with this.
  • If possible, bring a cello playing friend and or a good quality audio recorder so you get an idea of what a cello sounds like from the audience perspective.  Cellos can sound very different from the other side.
  • If you have a teacher, bring the teacher with you or take the cello to the teacher so he/she can give you an opinion.  Also…you will be able to hear the cello played by a good cellist.  This was THE major factor for me keeping my cello.

You may not be able to take a cello home for trials. If this is the case, I would take this approach.  This is what the guitar seller used when helping my daughter select her classical guitar.  Also…this approach can help you narrow the selection of cellos to take home for trials.

  • Let the shop know your budget.  At the low end of the budget, I would state an even lower number :-). Don’t forget about the cost of a bow and or case.
  • Have the shop bring out a many (if not all) instruments in your price range.
  • Don’t let the shop tell you how much each cello costs because as I mentioned above, knowing how much something costs can change your perspective of the instrument.
  • Play them all…Play the same music and scales on each instrument.
  • Have a cello friend listen and or record what you play on a good quality audio recorder.  Don’t record directly from your mobile device unless you have a good quality mic attached to it.  It is best to listen back on headphones / ear buds to get a good sense of what the cello sounds like.  Device speakers are usually pretty bad.
  • Eliminate the cellos that you do not like and discuss with the shop why you like one over the other.  The shop should be able to provide suggestions on other cellos to try that may provide more of what you are looking for.
  • After you’ve narrowed the cellos you like to a few, tell the shop what you like and don’t like about the cellos.  They may be able to make adjustments to sound post and bridge or maybe change strings to change the cello to your liking.
  • Play the adjusted cellos again.

Hopefully at this stage, you can break out your credit card and take home a cello or have just a few cellos to take home to try.

To me, buying a cello is an emotional process.  Hopefully, the tips above will help it make it less of an emotional decision for you.

Follow up:

I posted a link to my blog post on the Facebook Group, The Internet Cello Society,  and Mr. Philip Taggart (please visit his site: https://www.studiophiliptaggart.com/) was kind enough to provide the following to add to this post:

  • Although this does not apply to brand new instruments, make sure that the cello is in perfect condition and you know what it is. Unknown or damaged instruments Have a much lesser value because sound is subjective and condition and provenance are not.
  • Even for new Instruments, make sure the dimensions and proportions are correct. My first great cello came from Chicago, but the neck was out of alignment and it needed a neck reset. They did it for free with a smile on their faces, but I’m annoyed with myself that I did not notice it at the start.
  • Look for wolf notes. Every cello has a wolf, ideally that wolf is on an out of two notes so you’ll never play it. But find the wolf on your cello wherever it is, and make sure it is manageable. If the D string has a wolf, avoid the cello. There are lots of cellos in the world, and you don’t want to be constantly dealing with a wolf.
  • Finally, make absolute sure your teacher is not financially involved in the transaction.
    if the teacher is insisting on this shop instead of that shop or pushing a particular instrument “from a friend” make very sure you ask him outright if they are getting anything out of the transaction. That’s a reasonable question and too few people ask it.  

Thank you so much Philip! This is such wonderful advice and thank you for allowing me to add it to my blog.

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