Obtaining a cello and bow:
1. Use a reputable string instrument dealer in your area. Check with a music school or with local cellists or violinists who can recommend a dealer.
2. While I suggest buying a cello, because it represents a greater commitment on your part, you can also rent cellos from dealers for about $50.00 a month.
3. Get the right size for you. Cellos for small children are available in a one-quarter size. They are also available in half, three-quarter and 4/4 sizes (the last, for adults.)
4. The age, national origin and reputation of the maker strongly affects the price. Cellos are available from about $500.00 to six million. If you cannot afford a fancy name, do not worry. Choose by the cello’s sound and condition.
5. Do Nots: Do not buy over the internet. You cannot see or hear it, and will have difficulty returning it if necessary. Do not buy a plywood instrument. The body should be made of maple for the back and ribs and spruce for the front. Do not buy a brand new instrument, unless you are sure that the wood has been properly aged.
6. The front of the body should be arched in the middle, and slightly indented around the edges, not almost flat.
7. A cello that has cracks in it may be fine, as long as they have been glued. Check its condition, and ask the dealer to show you any repaired cracks. The edges may have been worn down. Make sure the instrument still has some overlapping edging around the lower ribs.
8. Listen to its sound. Every cello has its own voice. Let the dealer pluck the four strings slowly in turn and listen to the vibrations die away in the room. A good instrument will sound resonant on all four strings.
9. Then let the dealer play a slow scale on all four strings. Is the sound mellow, rich, resonant and smooth from string to string?
10. Then listen to the same scale played on another cello. You will hear the particular voice of an instrument more easily when comparing it to another. Make sure the two are played with the same bow, because the bow has a huge effect on the cello’s sound. Usually, when you buy a cello, a bow and soft cello case come with the instrument.
11. Since the bow strongly affects the sound of the instrument, if you are offered a choice, listen to several before buying one. A more expensive bow may not always be better for you, since it should be the right weight for your particular instrument, your body and the unique way you use it.
12. The only way to find the best bow for you is to try using it. The bow should respond quickly – jump easily – but not be skittish. If it’s too heavy, the sound is dull, sodden; too light and the sound is thin and reedy. Again, extrinsic considerations like the bow’s national origin, the maker’s reputation, and the appearance of the frog and silver ornamentation will affect the price, but your aim should be to find a bow that sounds good and feels comfortable.
13. Bows vary widely in price, as cellos do. Some by famous makers cost $60,000 or even more! Again, your budget and your ears should be your guides.
14. Most important: don’t be afraid to buy an instrument and bow. You can always sell them again if you’re not happy playing the cello. Meanwhile, just imagine all the pleasure this venture into music will give you.
Reposted from November 2007
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