Things to Know Before Buying a Cello

Cello performance in Berlin. Getty Images, Redferns Collection

Playing the cello is an expensive hobby. They come in a variety of price points, so how can you be sure you’re making a quality purchase? Buying a cello can be an intimidating process if you’re new to the instrument. Here are some tips to help you make the right decision for you:

Start with a Budget

Having a specific budget to start with is essential when purchasing any musical instrument. Low-priced cellos may be sufficient for those who want to try it out but are not sure if they'll stick with it. Keep in mind that even a beginner’s cello will cost about $1,000. Toy cellos cost about half of that, but you get what you pay for: cheap materials, poor finishing, and bad tuning pegs. Average-priced cellos are for those who are serious about learning to play, while the pricier, high-end models are experienced players, performers, and professionals.

What You Should Look For

A good cello is hand-carved out of maple and spruce and properly glued together. Both are extremely important for the quality of the sound. The fingerboards and pegs should be made ebony or rosewood. Fingerboards that are made of cheap wood, are stained or painted black create unwanted friction and make it extremely difficult to play. The endpin should be adjustable, the soundpost should be properly positioned inside the cello, and the nut should be correctly placed. The bridge should be properly cut – not too thick, not too thin – and fitted perfectly to the belly of the cello. The tailpiece can be made of plastic, metal or wood, such as rosewood or ebony. Quality is essential. 

Pick the Right Size

Cellos come in a range of sizes to fit the size of the player: 4/4, 3/4 and 1/2. If you’re taller than five feet, you should be able to play a full-size (4/4) cello comfortably. If you’re between four and a half feet and five feet tall, try a smaller (3/4) size cello, and if you’re between four feet and four and a half feet tall, go with a 1/2 size cello. If you fall between two different sizes, you’ll be better off going with the smaller size. The best way to figure out your size is to visit a string shop or music store and try them on yourself.

Explore Your Options

As with any purchase, how you buy a cello depends on your personal preferences. $1,000 is a lot to spend on something you might be bored within a few months, so you might want to consider renting the instrument first. The retailer may offer rent-to-own or trade-in programs. Maybe you’d like to buy a used cello, but be very careful when doing this. You may want to buy a new one. Browse your local music shops, online stores, and newspaper ads to see what brands fall within your price range. Whatever you do, don’t buy the first cello you see. Take your time, do some research and make the most informed decision possible.

Cello Accessories

When you buy a new cello, it usually comes with a bow and case. You may also want to buy extra strings, music books or sheet music, and a cello stand. Don't forget to buy rosin and an endpin.

Bring Along a Pro

Whether you’re renting, buying used or buying new, it’s always advisable to bring along a pro: your cello teacher, a friend or relative who plays, a professional, etc. It’s nice to get a trusted opinion from someone who isn’t looking to make a quick sale. Let them test the instrument, listen to their opinions and take their advice into consideration before you buy.