Have you ever bought a musical instrument, got it home, and within a few days realized that you have made a mistake? Don’t worry; we’ve all been there. But, when buying an instrument like a cello, that experience can be even more excruciating.
There are some tips for buying a cello that we should consider. But before we get to them, let’s take a look at the wondrous instrument you are thinking about playing…
Where Did the Cello Come From?
I suppose we really didn’t need to ask the question. If we are talking about stringed instruments, you don’t need to look too much further than Italy most of the time. And in Italy, we can narrow that down to Cremona. And even further to the “Casa Amati.” The House of Amati.
Andrea Amati set up his Violin making school, and grandson Nicola was the man who taught Antonio Stradivarius, Andrea Guarneri, and others. From this school in the early 1600s came the cello. It was larger than it is now in its early days. It was Antonio Stradivarius who reduced the size to the instrument we recognize some time in the mid-1600s.
Johann Sebastian was the first
By the time of JS Bach, it was established as a vital part of the music world. In fact, he wrote the first dedicated pieces for the instrument with the Bach “Cello Pieces.” It is now a fixture in works of music, orchestras, and string quartets all over the world.
A Special Instrument
It is fair to say that musicians who play stringed instruments fall in love with them. There seems to be a bond that develops between musician and instrument. You can see it by the way they use it.
Quite often, they don’t play it; they caress it. Nowhere is this more evident than with the Cello. If you have chosen to play it, you are in for more than a musical experience.
Rich and deeper than a Violin or Viola, it is the closest instrument in the orchestra to the human voice. The tones swirl around you. Even when it is played in its higher registers, the sound seems to come from somewhere deep. It encourages in some way a physical relationship with the instrument as you hold it and play.
Even the way it looks inspires musicians. If you love the shape of the Violin or Viola, the Cello has the same but just gives you more of it. Set in the bass regions and used mostly as a supporting lower register instrument, it is now irreplaceable.
Before you rush out and buy your Cello
Having decided you want to know how to play the Cello, there are a few decisions to be made. The first one is how are you going to buy it?
It is probably a mistake to buy a second-hand one from an advert without seeing it and preferably playing it. As a starter, you might not be able to do that. It is also possibly a mistake to buy a new instrument, one you have never played. How much you are willing to spend will be something to consider as well. A further consideration is, do you rent or buy?
Rent or Buy?
As I said in the introduction, it is very easy to buy an instrument after playing it for half an hour in the shop with a salesman in your ear. And then you get it home and within a day or so find it’s not right. That is where renting an instrument can pay dividends.
Reasons for Renting
- There is no commitment other than the rental price.
- You will save yourself the initial outlay, which we shall look at further a bit later.
- If you find you don’t like the instrument, you can take it back.
- From a reputable organization, you will be able to try out a variety of instruments.
- You can get the size right, which is another issue I will look at later.
- You might even be able to use the payments for rental as a deposit on whatever you might buy.
Reasons for Buying
- You may not have access to a reputable renting option close at hand.
- You may already know exactly what you want and what size, having tried out a few instruments.
It is a choice. If you are not sure, then renting is a good option. If you know what you want and where to get it, then buying is also an option.
As with violins, you can buy a cello in a range of sizes to suit the player. There are full-size, known as 4/4 size. You can also buy 3/4, 1/2, and 1/4, and 1/8 sizes. And there are even 1/10 cellos.
The size of the cello will be determined by the size of the player. People will vary in size, and therefore you cannot say a particular size is for a particular age group. The most important thing is that they are comfortable playing it.
As a general rule, a full-size cello is 48 inches long. That will probably only be suitable for a mid-teen and an adult. A ¾ size cello which is slightly smaller at 45 inches, might be best for smaller adults and early teens. For smaller sizes, you will need to measure the child with the instrument allowing for some future growth.
As I have already said, the most important aspect of sizing the instrument is that the player is comfortable. They must be able to hold it, get their arms around it and be able to keep it stable. And remember, this is an instrument that most of the time will be bowed. Stability in an upright position is therefore vital.
If you are buying for someone else, especially a child, buying an instrument that is too big could put them off for life as it will be too difficult for them to manage.
A cello is not a cheap instrument to buy. Yes, there are cheaper models. But with this sort of instrument, the standard of the manufacture goes down quite sharply in line with the price. You may find that you have to plan financially for an investment such as this.
There are three grades of cello roughly in line with the three levels of playing development. Instruments for the starter and very early improver are a lot cheaper than those for intermediate and certainly professional players.
Cellos for professional players will easily be in five figures. Antique vintage instruments; don’t even bother to look. But if you are an intermediate or a pro, you will know that. There is, therefore, no point in discussing prices at that level. It is for the beginner that I am going to focus on. It is at this level that mistakes can be made.
Some look nice
Of course, they do. And if you go into a shop as a complete novice, you wouldn’t know what was good and what wasn’t. Cellos in this price bracket, and we shall talk about what the bracket is in a minute, are usually made by machine.
Higher quality instruments are made by hand. You will get cellos for beginners that are hand-made but be prepared to pay for them. Needless to say, the quality is usually better if they are.
How Much Will You Have To Pay?
How long is a piece of string? You will see Cellos for beginners as cheap as two or three hundred dollars. Likewise, you will see them at two thousand and above. It doesn’t take a lot to realize which is better.
If you see a cello for under $500, I would be a little wary, especially if it’s as cheap as $200-300. So, in my opinion, you will need to spend between $500-1000 to get a playable instrument. And, of course, that will last and sound reasonably good.
One Last Consideration
To end my tips for buying a cello, there are some things you are going to need. A bow would be a good idea. It won’t sound very good without one. You will need Rosin to treat the hair on the bow, and you will need a case and preferably a cello stand. A digital tuner would also be useful if you haven’t got a piano to hand.
An example of a cello package with a reasonable quality instrument is this Cecilio CCO-500 Ebony Fitted Flamed Solid Wood Cello package. And a better quality instrument, but no package, is this Cecilio CCO-600 Ebony Fitted Hand Oil-Rubbed Highly Flamed Solid Wood Cello. For some useful reading, there’s The Art of Cello Playing: A Complete Textbook Method.
Looking for a Great Stringed Instrument?
We can help you find what you’re looking for. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Electric Cellos, the Best Electric Violins, the Best Cremona Violins, and the Best Student Violins you can buy in 2023.
And don’t miss our handy guides on How to Tune Your Cello, How Can I Learn to Play the Violin on My Own, How Many Different Types of Violins Are There, and Tips For Tuning Your Violin for more useful information.
Tips For Buying A Cello – Final Thoughts
You could not have chosen a better instrument to play. The sound of the cello is like nothing else. Depth, warmth, emotion, they all just come pouring out of it. Enjoy.
Until next time, let your music play.