There are things to spend on, and things to skimp on. Here are my thoughts on getting the most bang for your cello buck.
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!
First of all … the photo is priceless!
Great suggestions, Emily. Your site is so informative.
Why thank you. 🙂
Any advice on a good cello stand? I’m currently shopping for one that let’s me leave my endpin out (cuz I’m lazy!)
My current cheap stand seems to be putting scratches on my cello!!
The good cello stand is the pricier one. It’s called a box or cradle stand, and it is lined with velvet/velour so it’s super gentle to the face of your instrument. I see them online for $169. These do NOT allow you to leave your endpin out, but are so cool, I don’t mind. The other kind of stand, which is sort of like a guitar stand gone wrong, usually retails around the $50 mark, and I have one of those, too. Ingles is the brand, I think. Not so handsome, but I have not gotten any scratches and it has a hook for you to rest your bow on. I say, go with the pricey one: it makes your cello look like a piece of art when it’s not playing.
Not so recommended is the wall mounted electric bass hook. It is really easy to bonk the back of the cello on the wall, but it looks sweet when it’s up. Very minimalist. Minimal on protection, too, though.
Love your list, Emily!
I agree on most, esp. the Larsen A, not sure about the dampit (it might have warped my first cello), and I have about 4 Manhasset stands (originally one for each of my kids and me, and a folding legs travel version). But for hauling around, I really love the Yamaha lightweight stand–because it is lightweight, and that makes a big difference for me. It’s expensive, though, maybe $75.
My teacher has been kind and supportive to me, re: bartering for lessons, and I appreciate that she does it–and that you do it!
I never thought that a dampit held enough moisture to do anything exciting like warp a cello. I may have to research this a little, because I don’t want to be evangelical about anything that could be harmful. I shall return forthwith!
I just got the tailpiece and endpin replaced at Benning. I got one of those Wittner built-in tuner dealies and whatever endpin Emily has, which was apparantly one of their more expesive models they had. Even so, with parts and labor it came to under $200. When I practiced last night, I noticed it made a world of difference – no more weird cello torque or “shrinkage” with the endpin, and no buzzing from the fine tuners. Plus, now the tone projects even more. Still, it’s the last $200 I think I’m going to spend on my firewood-grade cello, but if it makes my practicing sound better, it’s money well-spent.