Why Beginners Should Avoid Cello-Shaped Objects

Living in what is now an International economy comes with a lot of benefits, AND a lot of drawbacks. Competition for your attention (and your dollar) is fierce, and your time to make an informed decision is limited. If you don't know much about stringed instruments, you may be inclined to shop in a way that has worked for you in the past for other major purchases; by name brand, by vendor reputation or accessibility, or by price. We would like to warn you that purchasing a cello is not like purchasing a washing machine or a lawn mower.

You will soon find that comparing one maker to another is difficult. Understanding their model numbers and how they related to other makers is nearly impossible, and it's often very difficult to find meaningful information about the cellos you are considering. You may be confused about why there are cellos for under $500 on some large websites, and the cello whose sound byte you like on our website costs $5,000. What's the difference, you will undoubtedly wonder.

The difference will come down to workmanship, quality of the woods, and quality of the parts, and the 'setup'.

Workmanship: A good cello will be hand-made of well-dried, solid carved woods by an experienced and talented luthier. The top will be spruce, and the back and sides are typically maple. An inexpensive cello may be made of solid woods, but for under $500 I can guarantee you that it is not hand-carved. More likely it was run though a CNC machine. Wood is a living thing, and since every tree is different, a true craftsman will bring out the best of every piece of wood by his or her experience with the plane and the chisel, and his ear. A CNC machine will treat every piece of wood the same and crank out one piece after another without any consideration for the variations inherent in the wood. Plus, many of these inexpensive 'cello-shaped' objects are actually made of plywood, also called 'laminate' or sometimes referred to as 'crack-proof'. Good cellos are never made of plywood. 

Quality Well-Seasoned Wood: The finest makers have huge stockpiles of wood, often handed down from one generation of family makers to the next. Spruce is the gold standard for the top plate, and maple is standard for the back, sides, and neck.  The wood needs to dry for a minimum of 10 years to ensure that the wood is stable and is not going to crack once you start working it. This sort of collection is invaluable. Cheap cellos are not made of well-seasoned wood. The cost of purchasing quality, properly dried wood would far exceed the retail price asked for these cello-shaped objects. The wood selected for the neck is extremely important as the stability of the neck overtime will greatly affect its tone and playability. Many cello-shaped objects have really thick, heavy necks to off-set the substandard wood used. We call them 'baseball bats'. Sometimes the neck is not even wood, and/or isn't set on the cello straight! The wood selected for the fingerboard must be ebony, and well-seasoned. We have seen cello-shaped objects with all sorts of other wood used for the fingerboard, such as mahogany (and the super cheapie pictured here advertises a fingerboard made of aluminum alloy!!). If the cello you are considering buying says it is 'crack-proof' that means it is plywood. If the fingerboard and pegs are 'solid wood', it's anyone's guess what that wood is, but I can guarantee you it is NOT ebony.

High Quality Parts: Most new shoppers (and a lot of experienced cellists) have no idea of the importance of the parts on the cello, but a good cello is a sum of fine workmanship, quality parts, and a professional setup. The ebony parts; pegs, nut, fingerboard, and saddle all need to be properly dried, and properly shaped and fitted. A poorly planed fingerboard can result in unwanted buzzing. Improperly dried pegs can result in a cello that will not stay in tune. A poorly fit and slotted nut can also result in unwanted buzzing, or string height that is too high. The bridge is one of the most important parts on the cello, and is often one of the cheapest parts on these cello-shaped objects. A low quality bridge will sound horrible, and not maintain its shape over time.

Professional Setup: The setup is how all these parts are applied to the cello, and made to work properly together. Our shop is known for expert, professional-level setup of cellos. We have professional cellists seek us out for our cello setup alone.  Every replaceable part, such as the tailpiece, endpin fitting, bridge, nut, pegs, etc. will affect the tone, projection, and playability of the cello. Without proper setup using high quality parts you are unlikely to have an instrument that will be a pleasure to play. Cello-shaped objects are not likely to have a professional setup. It would add too much to the cost.

The Beginner Syndrome: Many beginners think that since they are 'just beginners' that they will not need a quality instrument, or that they won't even notice the difference. If you can hear, you will notice the difference. Cheap cellos come with really cheap strings, which truly sound atrocious. Cheap cellos also come with a load of yet-to-be-discovered problems, like pegs that won't hold, fingerboards that buzz, and frisky wolf tones. The frustration level of those who have made the mistake of going cheap is undeniable. These 'instruments' will not make a good  partner in learning, and many students quit because of the low quality of the instrument they are attempting to learn with. 

We have people come into our shop all the time with these cello-shaped objects hoping we can help them. Sometimes we can, but it usually costs more than what they put into the instrument in the first place. A cello's setup is at least as important as the quality of the workmanship and wood selection of the cello itself. Quality parts and a professional setup are what make a good cello sound great.

We don't carry cello-shaped objects for many of the reasons already stated, but the main reason is that we don't consider them musical instruments. They are things that look like musical instruments that will give you many hours of headaches, and a lot of regret.

If you are serious about learning to play, or you are shopping for your child who is already playing, it's important to realize that the quality of musical instruments is definitely price dependent. You don't have to spend thousands of dollars to find a good cello, but expect to spend close to $2,000 minimum (in our shop, this will also include a hard case for instruments sized 1/2 and up, and a hand-selected bow). Cello is NOT a budget instrument. It is one of the more expensive instruments to take up. You can get a decent beginners guitar for $200-$300. You can get a decent beginner's trumpet for $400-$500. But to get a decent cello, expect to pay at least $2,000. Spending less may end up costing you more in the long run in parts that need to be replaced or upgraded, or setup work that needs to be done.

If you have any questions about your cello, or a cello you are considering purchasing at our shop or any place else, feel free to reach out to us for advice. You can use our Contact Us page to email us directly.

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