How much cello can I get for $500?
December 27, 2005 12:40 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to buy a cello for around $500. I know nothing about celli.

New or used -- I'm okay with either. I imagine I could do better with a great used find, but, again, I know nothing -- what would I be looking for? Watching out for? How does a clueless person know a good used cello from a bad one?

And as for new, what's my best bet, and how good of a bet is it, in this price range?

Anywhere I should be looking in particular? Local classified, Craigslist, local music stores that carry that sort of instruments: check. Where else?
posted by cortex to Shopping (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
$500? Used. Very, very used.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:52 PM on December 27, 2005

Response by poster: My primary concern is a functional, playable instrument. I don't care if it's ugly as all hell, so long as it holds together and functions as it ought to.

So very, very used is fine with me. Can you be more specific?
posted by cortex at 12:55 PM on December 27, 2005

Well, at that price, any good instrument is going to need some serious refurbushing to become playable (or at least usable) If you check ebay, you'll see that you can actually find new instruments at that price. Many of these, though, are not full-sized instruments.
You might try a local shop that deals in cellos. Be earnest and explain what you intend and they might be able to steer you toward a musician or school that has retired an instrument.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:04 PM on December 27, 2005

IANALuthier, but look for cracks and damage, including on the bridge. Make sure there's a sound post inside and that it looks okay. Ask the owner how they've been taking care of it, if it's had recent maintenance or been re-finished, if they use the Dampits or whatever and keep it at an appropriate temperature / humidity.

If you're serious, bring your own bow / strings, etc. and if it sounds bad, see if those improve things. If the pegs are stuck you can use chalk or baking soda to unstick them. Don't take all strings off at once, one at a time.

Don't worry about the bow that comes with it, synthetic bows are cheap, just as good as the carved wood ones (symphony players use them frequently because the "good ones" are too expensive to have lying around or for practice) and need to be re-haired periodically anyway, so it's not that important.

The important thing is how it sounds. If you've found one with a good sound, take it to a luthier beforehand and have it appraised, I'd say. Good stringed instruments need to be insured anyway and can be good investments. They last for hundreds of years and appreciate in value if cared for.

That's the extent of my limited knowledge. But $500 does sound pretty cheap for a cello. Would you consider renting one to learn on?
posted by Marnie at 1:05 PM on December 27, 2005

Rent one. Seriously. Most High School music teachers can recommend a good place to contact in your area. If you're looking to learn a stringed instrument, buying a POC/used one is not the way to go.
posted by shoepal at 1:08 PM on December 27, 2005

I helped a friend check out some carbon-fiber cellos a few months ago, and a brand new one was going to be a minimum of $5000. Quality wooden instruments are at least that much.
posted by briank at 1:08 PM on December 27, 2005

I don't think $500 will get you much of a playable cello, honestly. I used to play a long time ago, and I think the full size cellos that I had in high school cost more in the $1500-$2300 range for a fairly decent student-level instrument. I think renting one to learn on would be a better idea, as Marnie suggests.
posted by gnat at 1:08 PM on December 27, 2005

yeah, for $500, you may just be better off getting a cheap student cello (generally made in china). the sound isn't fabulous, but it will be a good enough instrument to learn on. as someone who knows nothing about the instrument, you're not going to have the skills to assess a good used cello vs a bad used cello, and may be better off starting with a new student cello, then trading up.
posted by judith at 1:08 PM on December 27, 2005

I'd say that "very, very used" means that you're going to run into a lot of instruments that need work. A cracked bridge might not be too much of an issue since that's easily replaced (although much costlier on a cello than a violin bridge) but I'd make sure that there is no body damage. Any vibration along a loose seam or crack is going to kill the sound. Marnie is completely right to recommend appraisal. With that price range you're going to be looking for either very cheap recent cellos or rummage sale type instruments where the owner has no clue what it's worth.

Note that with most stringed instruments, unless it was of particularly poor quality to begin with or has sustained damage, older is going to be more expensive than newer. Also be prepared to shell out a lot of cash for strings. $500 is pretty cheap for a cello -- a quick look at ebay really makes me wonder what people are selling for $300 and less.
posted by mikeh at 1:15 PM on December 27, 2005

I'll add that learning on an instrument that sounds like crap can be a serious deterrent to persevering. And violin/viola/cello can sound like a cat in heat anyway if you're a real beginner. Better to rent a decent one for a while, then later invest more when you're ready.
posted by Marnie at 1:15 PM on December 27, 2005

Response by poster: Okay -- from what you're all saying, it sounds like new cheap chinese student cello better fits my desires. There's an admitted compulsion to go out and buy one, here, so renting doesn't much appeal.

So: cheap student models. Good, bad, ugly? Any particular stand-out makes/models? Anything I should avoid like the plague?
posted by cortex at 1:19 PM on December 27, 2005

Response by poster: I'll add that learning on an instrument that sounds like crap can be a serious deterrent to persevering.

I can appreciate this notion -- but I've played pretty happily on both good and lousy instruments for years, so I'm not as worried about it as some folks might be. Unplayable is my concern. Playable but nothing to write home about? Sure.
posted by cortex at 1:22 PM on December 27, 2005

You are asking in the wrong place. Go to the Internet Cello Society Forums and ask the experts.
posted by pracowity at 2:25 PM on December 27, 2005

look at craigslist, ebay, bulletin boards, but also you should befriend a cellist who can look the instrument over for unrepaired (or poorly repaired) cracks, unglued seams, etc. if you were in san francisco i'd be happy to help you out! since you're not, i'd suggest going to your nearest music department (psu?) and find a friendly-looking cellist who can help you out. it's hard to thoroughly examine a cello without some years of experience seeing healthy and unhealthy instruments.
to second what others have said, $500 is awfully low, even for a student quality instrument, but hopefully you'l luck out somehow. good luck and have fun!
posted by purplefiber at 7:05 PM on December 27, 2005

What level of cellist are you? Student, professional, active amature?

The Gliga violin factory in Reghin, Romania makes serviceable low-price cellos, violins, and violas. There distributor web page lists a "Gems" intermediate model at US$ 998. Gliga targets school markets. The workmanship is OK, the wood can be good if you are lucky. Entry level Gligas are not worth the money, however, unless you are seven years old. A lot of US Violin suppliers import from Gliga. This shop in the USA markets better quality ones under a different name. (If you are interested call and ask about special ordering.)

Here in Hungary I once organized a decent cello for US$600 by having a Reghin cello imported without any laquer, which we then did here in Budapest. A professor at the conservatory was rather amazed at the quality.

Now, if you live in Europe, a visit to the Gliga factory shop in Romania would get you a decent cello for around $500. The prices at the factory are significantly lower. While I was there last October a German high school music teacher pulled up in a mini van and bought a load of cellos, basses, violins and violas for a lot less than she would ever get them in Western Europe even at wholesale rates. An Australian concert violinist I was with basically went nuts buying violns and violas as well as bows at the outlet.

To give you an idea of how much the factory price is vs. the wholesale price, I bought one of these - a viola set - for US$ 200. I was thinking of it as in investment for future sale, but I ended up likeing it to much and using it for recordings.
posted by zaelic at 4:13 AM on December 28, 2005

I am a professional cellist and I can confirm that you will not want to play a cello priced at $500. Your only real option is to rent for the time being. Cello is not something that one can learn on their own, and if you do eventually buy, you will need the help of an instructor in picking out an instrument.

I would strongly suggest not buying an instrument that you have not tried out first. The minimum for a playable instrument seems to be around $1000, and it will almost certainly be a Chinese instrument. The Chinese are making some remarkable instuments these days.

For a rental, you might try stringworks.
posted by free pie at 9:04 AM on December 28, 2005

Response by poster: This is exactly the sort of reasonable gestalt of collective opinion and experience that makes me happy that AskMe exists. Thanks to everyone; I've got some pondering to do.
posted by cortex at 10:13 AM on December 28, 2005

Response by poster: We didn't get a cello, for the record.
posted by cortex at 8:52 AM on June 28, 2006

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