Buying an inexpensive cello

Anna Carini said: Feb 19, 2015
Anna Carini
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
Philadelphia, PA
2 posts

I have a 4-year-old student who is starting out and will be renting a cello, and her dad who is coming to lessons wants to also get a cello and learn to play along with her. I’m so glad he wants to, but he’d rather buy his own so he can sell it after and not have to spend more money renting. He’d like to stay around $500 or less, and I’m wondering if anyone knows about whether it’s worth buying an instrument from a place like eBay or Amazon? Since he’ll just be starting out, he won’t care as much about quality, but I’m wondering if those kind of instruments are reliable?

Mengwei said: Feb 20, 2015
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
120 posts

I mainly play and teach violin but had bought a $350 cello (with bow and soft case) “to experiment with” as a casual adult beginner. The luthier who had done some work on my other instruments adjusted it and even gave me old but new-to-me strings that were still better than what it had. It worked well enough for my needs at the time even though as a lifelong string player and musician I could tell it was really a bottom of the barrel cello. A year later, I bought a better cello (with bow and hard case), again from a Craigslist seller, still under $1000, but another luthier tells me the bow alone is worth at least what I paid total. I’m basically going to be an intermediate player forever so no more upgrading! I don’t actually want the first cello anymore, but I don’t know how much anyone would pay for it, certainly not $350, unless they were uninformed, which would be unconscionable for me, and if I go too low, then it’s more useful for me to keep it around as a spare.

All that is to say that the resale value of student instruments is not that great, and I’d discourage having that as a primary factor in the purchase decision. If you manage to score a good one, maybe you wouldn’t want to sell it off. (Or maybe you would—I hope in 10 years she is so advanced that she needs a better cello than what dad might play now!)

I tell my students (parents) that when they rent or buy from a trusted local dealer, they are buying service and expertise and relationship with the business, as well as time for them to become a better player and informed buyer of their future full size instrument. (The places that I recommend apply a portion of rental fees to a purchase and also allow full value trade-ins on instruments bought from them.) If you don’t know your way around cars, you pay a mechanic to do maintenance, or to inspect a used car before you buy it, so it’s the same idea.

At least for violins, when someone brings in a “deal” with a low price tag, inevitably there is something wrong such as bridge and/or sound post not installed, bridge shaped badly, slipping or stuck pegs, horrible tinny strings that hurt even adult fingers, various parts not aligned correctly, overall feeling of cheapness in the craftsmanship. When they go to a luthier to have things fixed, they find out that they may as well have spent the repair dollars on something better to begin with. I don’t know if the cello bottom range is quite as bad, but even so, buying one sight unseen from a general retailer is risky (and even with a flexible return policy, it’s surely still a pain to repack and send it back).

Anna said: Feb 21, 2015
Anna Weaver
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Bryans Road, MD
1 posts

Purchasing a stringed instrument sight-unseen is very risky. If the seller of the instrument is not knowledgeable on instruments of that type, he or she will have no idea as to what points are key in describing its condition or quality. As Mengwei said, the cost to repair or fix-up the instrument is often money better put toward a higher quality instrument. When a student has a poor quality instrument, they will be discouraged in practicing as they can’t get quality sound from it.
For my family, we have purchased several stringed instruments from SHAR Music and have been very pleased with the quality of the instruments and the service. On their site, a cello outfit (with case and bow) can be purchased for about $700. I am sure that there are several other reputable music companies from whom a good quality student instrument can be purchased for a decent price.

Anna Weaver
Bryans Road, MD
[javascript protected email address]

Anna Carini said: Feb 23, 2015
Anna Carini
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
Philadelphia, PA
2 posts

Thanks so much for both of your feedback! I think he is going to end up renting one for now, which I am glad about.

Karis said: Apr 16, 2015
Karis Crawford
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Cello, Viola
6 posts

This might be a little old, but I thought that I would add that the only instrument “brand” that I would buy without seeing or hearing it played on the student side of things is Stentor. It is a UK based brand, but I have had students buy $70-100 violins that were actually extremely high quality and well put together for a student violin. I’m not sure how much the cello kits are going for now, but again, they have also been very high quality for the low price paid and I have always been happy with them!

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