Cello hole repair
April 6, 2008 8:47 PM   Subscribe

[LuthierFilter] So there's this hole in my beloved cello...

Yesterday I slipped, fell, and landed on my (hard-cased) cello. Unfortunately, this has resulted in some distressing damage.

Can anyone out there in the Hive Mind give me any ballpark idea of what this might cost to repair, and what might be involved? Time frames /etc would be gratefully appreciated too. Alternatively, is this even repairable?

For reference, the instrument is fourteen years old, and bears the label of a known (but not renowned) Australian violin maker. Last verbal valuation I got was "oooh about $AU 20,000? Maybe more". Also, I understand there are a number of variables here -- I'm just after a rough idea of what might be involved, so that I am not entirely at the pointy end when Mr Expensive Repairer decides he needs a new car this year
posted by coriolisdave to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Ugh. Sorry.

First off, you over-paid. That is the fact of life for any orchestra player that buys a high-end instrument (I'm guessing that was a Chinese cello purchased "in-the -white" and refitted by a local builder). That's the way the industry works these days. There are no MAPS or real list prices: You pay what they ask or what you want to give up.

About your cello: Highly figured maple on the back sides and (surprisingly) the neck. It looks like a one piece back (but the photo can't confirm). That's some AAA shit right there. Again, not a good shot, but it looks like someone took the time to put an Aubert bridge on it (it's kinda speckled). The ebony Guarneri-esque "repair" arch on the heel is nice.

You got a punch on the upper bout "Do" side through a solid (non veneer) wood. Strads have been rebuilt from splinters. That repair is nothing (Assuming you have the missing bits). But we haven't addressed your local economy.

Where I live that repair would run you 75-200 dollars. But that same cello would have set you back 2000 to 3000 dollars. See? String people fabricate their market. The market I live in is way undervalued. Apparently yours is more dear.

So if you want that cello, fix it. Whatever their price. You have demonstrated a willingness in procuring that instrument to spend whatever. Live with it. Perhaps you will help build the legacy of that particular ax.
posted by sourwookie at 9:24 PM on April 6, 2008

Time frame: 10 days.
posted by sourwookie at 9:25 PM on April 6, 2008

Response by poster: I am seriously in awe at this point. Thank-you sourwookie :) For the record, we actually paid $7000 for (about ten years ago) -- the valuation seems to reflect the local luthier's penchant for overcharging. What makes you say it's a Chinese import?

Also, if you don't mind the question -- what's a "speckled" bridge (hell, an Aubert, for that matter?) and the "repair arch"? Perhaps the best question at this point is -- how do you LEARN all this stuff (short of selling yourself in bondage to some dirty old man in cremona?)

there are more photos here if you're interested -- it's a two-piece back
posted by coriolisdave at 9:41 PM on April 6, 2008

Alright, someone said it was worth about $20,000 AU. Is that what you paid for it? I'm guessing not. Just a hunch. Did a previous owner pay that much for it? No? Is it an iconic cello? Was it played by Pablo Casals? See, it's value is very arbitrary. Even in mint you could never sell it for $20,000 unless Ivan Hussey made it his main ax for decades.

When it comes to orchestral strings, the value is determined by what the player is willing to spend vs. what the seller will part with. There is no "Blue Book" or pricing guide for this.
So a cello appraised at $20,000 that actually sold for $5,000 is worth (surprise!) $5,000. Get it?
posted by sourwookie at 9:44 PM on April 6, 2008

Oooh. I'll go look at the photos.
posted by sourwookie at 9:47 PM on April 6, 2008

Response by poster: Oh, and final follow-up question: is this likely to alter the sound of the instrument significantly?
posted by coriolisdave at 9:48 PM on April 6, 2008

Response by poster: I am the first owner of the instrument (if the label is to be believed). And I ain't no Casals ;) I have a suspicion (borne out by other events) that the person who valued it is simply trying to push the value of all local instruments upwards, so that he can justify charging $40,000 for one of his own hand-made jobbies. (Which is where his celli start).

He didn't mention that it might be a chinese knockoff, though, whereas other luthier's mentioned it. Other luthier's have agreed with his valuation, though, so long as it's NOT a chinese rip-off. How the same instrument, with the same sound, can be worth either $7000 (chinese!) or $20,000+ (australian!) is beyond me ;)

Frankly, I think it's all one big joke and just want my cello back in working order!
posted by coriolisdave at 9:53 PM on April 6, 2008

Best answer: Your cello is Chinese. Just trust me on this. Not a big deal, in this day and age the Chinese are building better violins (violas cellos) than anyone else. It's actually not a factory deal, they have a luthier culture going on. Seriously, the best in the world are coming from China*

Your pegs are boxwood or rosewood. Not unusual, but matching all fittings (fingerboard, pegs, tailpiece, chinrest) is how its done. I used to see rosewood pegs on student grade Englehardts and old Scherl & Roths. But your tone wood appears to be ace (there is no shot that gives me an idea of your top spruce grain (and it better fucking should be a solid spruce top at that price or I'm moving to Australia to fleece you all).
posted by sourwookie at 10:01 PM on April 6, 2008

*lark, skylark, palatino, and other crap notwithstanding
posted by sourwookie at 10:02 PM on April 6, 2008

Response by poster: I take it that boxwood/rosewood is less ideal than matching blackstuff (one assumes ebony, but who knows at this point? ;). I'll endevour to take a shot of the top for you, and update the post later tonight (if you don't mind revisiting to give your opinion).

Shit, who knows? Maybe you SHOULD move here -- from the sounds of things, I wouldn't be surprised if you made a mint!
posted by coriolisdave at 10:08 PM on April 6, 2008

A good repair will not hurt your tone. Bass side, upper bout, not a big deal. Honestly, you can change your tone more (better/worse) by moving your soundpost or dicking with your strings (they looked like steel core in the pictures. Switch to Perlon with an Aluminum/Silver wrap) like a Yarger A with a Larson set.

If you are a working cellist, you would have addressed string issues a long time ago.
posted by sourwookie at 10:08 PM on April 6, 2008

Shit, who knows? Maybe you SHOULD move here -- from the sounds of things, I wouldn't be surprised if you made a mint!

I take a great amount of pride in being the straightest shooter in the string world I know. I learned it from my boss. Unfortunately, it works to our detriment.
posted by sourwookie at 10:12 PM on April 6, 2008

Response by poster: The strings are actually all Larsons (A and D are soloists). You're correct in thinking I'm not a pro -- enthusiastic amateur, with occasional pro leanings perhaps. When I win the lotto I'd love to spend the money figuring out which strings actually work best on this beast -- unfortunately, with string prices over here equally steep ($150/larsen A) that's not something I can afford to do yet ;)
posted by coriolisdave at 10:25 PM on April 6, 2008

Ach. I keep getting tripped up by Larson's red silks: The same as Super Sensitive crap-core.

Well then, good string choice with the Larsons. All other issues aside, if you're happy with the cello get it fixed at whatever Australian rates are and keep playing. A hole in the bass upper ribs won't kill it. Enjoy.

(and it looked like in a picture there was lightness in the 1/2 - 1st position A and D. Please tell me that wasn't paint wearing off.).
posted by sourwookie at 10:49 PM on April 6, 2008

*full disclosure--I'm not a cellist.
posted by sourwookie at 10:50 PM on April 6, 2008

Response by poster: Further photos of the top are now up

Unfortunately, looks like the fingerboard may be painted. Sigh.
posted by coriolisdave at 2:25 AM on April 7, 2008

What appears to be paint on the fingerboard may be a stain. Ebony is seldom uniformly black, and certain luthiers (I'm speaking from the guitar-building side of the craft) use a black stain.
posted by No Mutant Enemy at 2:42 AM on April 7, 2008

I'm not sure that there is any reason to think your cello is Chinese. It might be but from looking at these pictures there's nothing that would be conclusive there.

If you want to know if the fingerboard is painted on, you could scrape the underside a little bit with a razor blade. If it's painted maple, it will be white. However, I don't think it is, as I can see some striation in the wood that looks like ebony (ebony tends to have lighter colored waves in it).

Honestly I'm not sure where this thread is going. Have you had the cello for 14 years? If you have, my guess is it's definitely not Chinese. It looks like at worst a pretty ok instrument. You are getting a lot of weird and not-pertinent advice.

Yes, it's very repairable. Depending on the value of the instrument, it could involve taking the top off (sort of expensive) and repairing the rib from inside (best repair). If it's worth less, it could be done from outside the instrument. Make sure you keep every bit. Put them all in a bag and seal it. And you want this done by someone who really knows what they are doing. A great luthier would be able to do this repair so that you would never know it happened. But that costs quite a bit.

My guess is that in New York, on a really good but not insanely expensive instrument, this would probably run you in the range of $600-1000. Anywhere else, all bets are off.

Good luck!
posted by sully75 at 4:09 AM on April 7, 2008

Sourwookie: threads like this are what the Internet is for. Thank you.
posted by rdc at 9:43 AM on April 7, 2008

Clarification: I have no reason looking at the pictures to think the cello is Chinese. But statistics...

At this point, you can't tell by looking. I stress this again: When it comes to orchestral strings; the best these days are really coming from China. This isn't the type of thing made by 9-year-olds in a factory. There is a serious "Luthier Culture" happening. We are talking about tradespeople trained by tradespeople in a series of apprenticeships.

I do know that that the traditional European and Slavic violin culture is falling way behind. Players and teachers in the know are eschewing Romanian and Chzeck and German violins and rightly so. The Chinese product seriously rocks. Importing european tonewoods, ace top graduating, spruce selection and bookmatching, scroll carving, bass bar tuning. Hell, those Chinese know what they're doing*.

Bottom line: They are producing some crazy-fine instruments.

Why did I suspect Chinese for that Cello?

-They do produce fine enough product no one will question.
-Australian. Sure. There are some Austalian luthiers, but really-who?
-Statistics: I'm in the industry. Those outside will never guess how many are Chinese. Teachers and Dealers mis-represent them all the time. Chinese luthiers make their product available "in-the-white" and savvy string people refit them, refinish them, and set them up and claim them as works of their own.

How much does this happen?

All the freaking time. Teachers will broker a "European" instruments finished in this manner for thousands of dollars (and get a freaking cut as a teacher). --Did I mention that teacher kie about this all the time?

Dealers will sell a Chinese (again, a great violin) to serious violin players who have a (meaningless) eye to pedigree for a massive markup thinking they are buying something from Mittenwald or Romania or Russia or Italy or *gasp* France!

Statistically, almost all modern concert grade axes I encounter are Chinese; sold for a huge mark-up and represented as someone else's work. No matter. The instrument is ace, the wood came from the right place, and who cares about the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes, it sound and plays well*

*again, ignore Lark, Skylark, Palatino, Cecilia, and most Eastman. Hell, of all people, Yamaha got it down.
posted by sourwookie at 10:38 PM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It's Fixed! -- I got it back yesterday. Only took four months! From different angles you can see the cracks, but it's a pretty good job.

For the record, I got seriously gouged on price -- $AU 4000, paid for by the lovely insurance lady. The luthier took the top off, carefully jigsaw-puzzeled the bits back into place, and pressed them out from the inside*. Then he fed the repair varnish for a few weeks until it stopped drinking it.

Other makers in my area would have done it cheaper, but none of the others with whom I spoke sounded like they'd even attempt to make the repair 'invisible', or thought that it was possible to make it invisible, so.. Mr Expensive it was ;)

* Hopefully he's sending me some in-progress photos, which I'll post if and when they arrive.
posted by coriolisdave at 6:24 PM on August 9, 2008

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