Is it possible to buy a decent, non-plywood cello in New York City for $2000?
December 14, 2012 6:24 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to buy a decent, non-plywood cello in New York City for $2000?

...and, if so, what is the best way of finding one?

I played the cello for a number of years as a child and am getting back into it now (again). I'm better than a beginner. I don't have a teacher right now to help me look at cellos. I bought a "student cello" without researching it, from a place on Long Island that sells instruments to schools, about 10 years ago, for $750. It was a piece of crap and before long the whole top burst open and I was told it wasn't worth it to repair.

So now I'm doing some research and I've learned that I *don't* want a(nother) plywood instrument; that reasonably priced cellos are often made in China; that some brands are horrible and some are not (by reading a previous post on AskMeFi); that I need to try out a cello before buying it; and that good cellos are *probably* a lot more expensive than $2000 but maybe one is not impossible to locate, especially in New York City.

Any more tips as to the best way to find the best cello for my price range? Any suggestions as to what I should be looking for when I audition craigslist-mediated cellos?

Thank you.
posted by DMelanogaster to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
oh! I forgot to add: HOW can I tell if a cello is plywood? for example, this one.
posted by DMelanogaster at 6:26 AM on December 14, 2012

How to look at the grain and tell.

You can also take a little magnifying lens (10x would suffice) and look at the edges or in the f holes, like it's mentioned in the link. Plywood layers would be impossible to miss with a lens, even if the edges have been varnished.

Since even cellos made of solid wood have different species for every part of the instrument, here is some info on how things should look:

If you go down this page, you will see how the transversal cut of actual wood should look. conifers (pines, cypress, etc.) will have rings or layers that change in color gradually, like the picture on the left. Softwoods (anything that isn't pine or its cousins, like mahogany or cedar) would look similar to the picture on the right. Don't pay attention to the white stuff that surrounds the pores in that picture. The shape of that tissue changes for every species. Pay attention to the uniform presence of pores. Pores are difficult to have in plywood because everything is compressed and glued.
posted by Tarumba at 6:45 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Solid top and back" implies non-plywood. That means the sides are probably are plywood, but that may not affect the tone as much as the top and back which do most of the vibrating. "Hand carved" would be the next step up in human crafting. You can sometimes tell just be looking inside and at the edges of the f-holes that an instrument is plywood. One of my guitars has a visible knot like you see on plywood that would never be on a solid piece of wood, and on the opening you can tell it's layers.
posted by mzurer at 6:47 AM on December 14, 2012

As a former cellist, it's way simpler than that. The lip of the edge, where the top overlaps the sides, will typically be much thinner -- even almost sharp -- on a plywood cello than on a solid one. The solid one is probably closer to 1/4 inch thick (that's a pretty rough estimate with neither cello nor ruler nearby...), while the plywood is closer to maybe 1/8.

If you've got an older and even slightly worn instrument, it's easy to see the grains on the edges where they're softly worn away.

Often a plywood cello will be much heavier than a solid one, though that depends on the maker. I once owned a cheap Kay (factory-made Chinese instrument) that was like a tank, especially in the lower part.

Find a good teacher, whether it's a private one or an orchestra director from a nearby school. Any worthwhile seller will let you borrow the instrument for a test drive. Take the cello to that person and see what they think.

Remember that you need an instrument that matches who you are as a player. An instrument that warms to your style and is good enough to encourage your progress is wonderful, but there's really no need to go all out.
posted by Madamina at 7:45 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yikes, I just bought this cello.

I loved the sound. I paid a lot less for it than what he was asking.

I'm so happy! (gotta go practice)
posted by DMelanogaster at 1:18 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Late to the party, but I asked a friend who works at a violin shot in Manhattan:

sadly, in new york, the answer may be no. you could probably get something decent for not too much money, if you knew what you were looking for, but then you would have to spend big money in new york to get the cello up and running well.

Glad to see DM bucked the trend and found something she likes!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:24 AM on December 15, 2012

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