Are you ready to invest in your first cello? That's an exciting place to be. Enhance your shopping experience using these five insider tips regarding what to look for - and what to avoid - as you search for the best cello for you and your playing ability.
1. First-timers should rent first, buy later
Some people know exactly which instrument they want to play from the get-go. However, the more common story is that string instrumentalists start out on one instrument and slowly migrate to another based on the intuition of their more experienced ears and selves. For this reason, and because even the most basic, decent quality cello will cost around $1000, we recommend renting first and then buying once you know you're a bona fide cellist for life (or at least for the next several years).
There's another benefit to renting a cello, and that is the ability to try out different cellos over time, which is a smart way to explore your options - as you play and develop - before settling on the cello that feels like it was made for you. Most music stores offer rent-to-own options. Once you find the cello you like best, those rental payments will act as a cello mortgage until you've finally paid off your balance.
2. Plan your budget accordingly
As referenced above, cellos aren't cheap. For most families, planning is the best way to slowly accumulate enough in the budget to prepare for a significant investment. Like levels of string musicianship, cellos come in three different categories:
- Beginner cellos. These cellos range from $200 to $2500. However, anything less than $1000 is probably such poor quality (unless it's used and from a generous, reputable source) that the sound is terrible and it's more likely to have tricky tuning pegs, not to mention more prone to damage. They are typically machine made, but the right quality instrument should still produce a decent sound and consistent tone.
- Intermediate to more advanced cellos. Intermediate and advanced cellos range from $500 to $10,000. After two to three years, students begin moving from the "beginner" to the "intermediate" category. Of course, this timeline varies depending on a student's innate skill and their personal commitment to practice. Clearly, you won't need to (and shouldn't!) buy a $10,000 cello for an intermediate-level middle school student. However, if your diligent student is passionate and continues showing promise for two- to three-years, it's worth investing as much as you can - with reasonable respect for the student's lifestyle. The cello could serve him/her for the rest of their lives. Intermediate- and advanced-level cellos are typically handcrafted by a luthier and intentionally designed to produce beautiful sounds, express music more dynamically and to project while performing.
- Professional cello. As a professional cellist, you'll spend $10,000 or more for the right cello. These cellos comprise the contemporary luxury or collector-worthy antique cars of the string instrument world.
If you opt for a more expensive model, consider an instrument insurance policy.
3. Make sure you select the right size
Like violins, cellos come in four different sizes to accommodate younger/smaller players. These include 4/4 (full size), 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 and even 1/10 cellos. Petite teens and adults often find 3/4 cellos provide more ease and comfort when they play.
If you're purchasing a 1/10 or 1/8 size cello (typically a child 4- to 6-years old) we hope that the child is intrinsically interested in the instrument. While virtuosos and children in highly-musical families often begin at this age, you never want to risk burning a child out before they have the chance to fall in love with their instrument.
The following are general guidelines. Always size a cello to the player with a cello instructor or knowledgeable music store salesperson.
- 1/10 (29.5-inches) for children 4-5
- 1/8 (33.5-inches) for children 5-6
- 1/4 (38.5-inches long) for children 6-7
- 1/2 (42-inches long) for children 8-10
- 3/4 (45-inches long) for children 11-14 (and smaller adults)
- 4/4 (48-inches long) for children and adults 14-years and up
4. Comfort matters more than size
You need to be comfortable and able to reach the necessary hand/finger positions - not to mention accurate bowing - while playing. Since we all come in different proportions, physical accessibility and comfort is a priority over matching size to age or height.
5. Try and try again until you find the best fit
Keep trying different cellos within your price range. Even if their size and dimensions look the same, string instruments are alive in their own way. Each has its own feel and you'll have an idea after a bit of trial and error, which cellos feel best to you as you play.
Locating a reputable music store near you is the best way to ensure all your future cello needs are met.