The last installment is not so much a spend/save juxtaposition, but more of a list of stuff you can do to add value and maximize the tone of your rig: it’s everything short of buying a new axe.
Lighter endpin: there are many models, including some that claim to do everything from amplify bass resonance to remedy wolf tones. My personal favorite is the carbon fiber New Harmony hollow body endpin with a tungsten carbide tip. Mine has 8º of pitch- you might like it…or not. There seems to be conclusive evidence that changing out a heavy stainless steel endpin makes the instrument more resonant.
Thoughtfully chosen bridge: Belgian, French, or Frelgian hybrid? Each has different properties that affect playability and resonance. I went Belgian on my old cello and the thing sounded spring-loaded where before the pitches were amorphous. String crossings took some getting used to: I spent a lot of time fine-tuning my middle string mechanics. A French bridge can soften or refine a cello with a spiky sound. There is also a mixture of the two, sometimes called a Frelgian model, and all of it depends on the size and shape of your instrument, the curvature of the face of it, and whether you trust your local luthier. This is not a job for a tinkerer. Oh, and bridges are not permanent. The longest I’ve had one last was 6 years- and that seems an eternity now that I live in a place that goes from 2% humidity to tropical swampland between March and July.
Bassbar work: this is not something I’ve done, but when I was working at the violin shop, there had to be one cello a week that came in for some sort of bassbar modification (usually making it longer or reinforcing it). If you find your sound lacking depth and richness and changing strings doesn’t help…this is an option. A less drastic option is
Soundpost adjustment or replacement: it makes all the sense in the world, especially if your instrument is inexpensive or old. Wood really does move around so much, and over time, can settle into patterns that are not exactly what the maker had in mind. Most adjustments are free, and a fitting a new one may be fiddly to install, but not a bank breaker, either. Talk with your luthier about what sound you’re going for and any particular issues you struggle with.
Fingerboard planing: this is something that so many students neglect, but should be done every few years, depending on how much you play. Over time, your fingers wear furrows into the ebony, which has the effect of raising your action and the potential to ever so slightly change the note placements. I’ve seen fingerboards come in looking like dugout canoes! Get that bad boy planed and enjoy the benefits of a reliable playing surface.
New tailpiece: this is a bit of science mixed with sorcery. I understand how certain materials don’t resonate as well as others, but the difference a well placed tailpiece makes is insane. Pay special attention to the section between the end of the tailpiece and the bottom of the cello (the afterlength): this can darken or brighten tone, depending on placement.
Removing fine tuners: they’re a drag on resonance. Of course, this will mean moving to geared pegs- no sane cellist would just deprive themselves of the ability to make small adjustments, especially on the A!
Cool endpin holders: Artino is the first name that comes to mind, but there are lots of smaller outfits that have experimented with different materials to maximize resonance or even amplify the sound. When I was playing with acoustic rock bands, I experimented with a rock stop that was a wooden box about the size of a deli sandwich with holes in the front that were supposed to direct the sound. I also tried a podium that was a giant version of the same- there was a series of small divots the endpin could go into and then a resonating chamber and holes in the front. I liked it- but it wasn’t practical. Bit of an ego stroke, though: the cello sounded enormous and full.
Rehair your bow: this last one should seem obvious, but a lot of folks don’t do it nearly enough. Even if you haven’t picked up the cello in months- if you have had any fluctuations in temperature (and thus, humidity) with any tension at all on the hair, it starts to stretch out. Old rosin can make the hair brittle. A balding bow makes a fuller tone impossible. Most bows want to be rehaired every 6 months- much more if you’re playing loads. If you don’t have someone you’re bonkers in love with, most shops do a rehair-by mail (FedEx, pls) program. Just call them and work out the details in advance. My bias leans towards Perrin in Baltimore, who does meticulous and swoon-worthy work on my finicky bow. Other first hand experience I can vouch for: my friends at Benning Violins in LA, Blackerby in Austin, and Annelisa at Claire Givens in Minneapolis.