Spend on: initial beginner cello
Going the $200 cello route is like Russian roulette. Sometimes you get a cello that plays, other times you’ll be out the $500 you were trying to save because you needed a new bridge, tailpiece and gut, longer endpin, fingerboard adjustment, and a set of decent strings. You don’t need to spend more than around $850 if you’re set on purchasing your first cello. I personally would advise renting for 3 months and then seeing where you are at that point.
Save on: First bow upgrade
You can get a great, straight, simple bow for $100-$150 at most string shops. Sure, you can spend more and have more of your frailties addressed. But at this level, do you really want a piece of equipment that masks technical issues? I think not. Get a fabulous sound on a $125 bow, and you’ll marvel when you move up to the next level.
Spend on: a Larsen A
This A is my all time favorite, and the difference it makes is huge! It has a way of massaging some of the pops and pings cheapie As like to spring on you. There are times when it’s you, and there are times when it’s your string. Best eliminate the bad string so you can really get to work.
Save on: rosin
I like Millant-Deroux. But I have been known to throw some Sherman’s on my bow, and it does just fine. Plus the wood enclosure sure makes it harder to shatter.
Spend on: light maintenance
Get your fingerboard planed and your existing bridge adjusted. Have them look at the soundpost placement. Check out the eye of the bow screw to make sure it’s not threadbare. Doing little things like this can make the cello sound its best, and can put off the expense of upgrading to a new instrument for a good long while.
Save on: humidifiers
Dampits rock. Showering with your cello in the bathroom (door ajar) is a great way to saturate it when the weather goes crazy dry, and you don’t have to spend so much money on humidifiers (which never seem to last more than a year) and filters (which you buy tons of and then the humidifier dies and is of course discontinued).
Spend on: solid head stand
Manhasset. That’s it. None of this silly rickety folding business. Even for gigs, in the back of your car. Get one with folding legs if you like, but the head should be solid and full sized.
Save on: stand light
No need to go to the poorhouse for one of the luxury models. I am enamored as the rest of you with the new, soft LED stand lights, but my $180 can be spent much better for now. Universal Klip Light is the way to go. Cheap, cheerful, and it bathes the music in a benevolent, crisp light.
Spend on : hard case
Transporting the cello exposes it to so many insults. If you’re not knocking the bridge on a narrow door jamb, it’s getting tripped over by a hurried colleague. I actually heard of someone’s cello getting marked by a dog. Soft case. Not good. If you’re not too worried about the sun, then any color should do. For me, I recommend paler shades because I don’t carry my cello in the trunk and it gets bombarded by the mean sun’s rays.
Save on: wheels on said case
They add a lot of weight and usually a couple hundred bucks. Not many sidewalks, ramps, or even airport floors are smooth enough to provide a safe ride. Sling it over your shoulder or carry it in alternating arms. Hey, get a cart to diffuse the bumps. I suppose if you have the Blue Whale flight case, that’s cushy enough, but you get my point. Park close, and carry your cello.
Spend and save on: lessons
Regular lessons that are short are better than longer lessons that are sporadic. If you are used to 1 hour lessons and hit budgetary issues, talk with your teacher about it. Believe me, musicians are all too aware of the nature of a market driven economy. Maybe 45 minute lessons? Maybe barter. I sometimes give whole months for free for hard working students. It’s good karma, and a very direct contribution to a cause I believe in!