How Much Should I Spend on a Cello?

Quality, Origin, and Price - The Big Questions on Finding the Best Cello for My Money

First of all, congratulations on choosing cello - often called the 'best' musical instrument because of its similarity range-wise with the human voice.  Cellos are not inexpensive, but they are worth it!  This article aims to educate you on the most important aspects of the construction of a cello, so you are well-informed and make the right decisions.

Because cellos come in all price ranges - from $1500 to millions of dollars for the great Italian collectible master instruments - it is important to remember that you want to buy a quality instrument.  No cello is truly 'cheap' that is worth performing on, so if you plan to invest in this great musical instrument, insist on quality, and spend as much as you can in doing so.  

REMEMBER ONE IMPORTANT POINT: this is NOT a depreciating asset!  Most think you are 'spending' $2000-$5000 on a cello - money you will never see again - but that's not the case.  It's important to remember that a quality cello is an INVESTMENT.  While it may not fund your retirement after a few decades, a quality instrument will hold its value, and, in the case of many StringWorks instruments in the higher end (Soloist and higher), will appreciate in value, so when you go to sell it - whether through us, another shop, or privately - you can often get back your original purchase price, or even more!  For this reason, don't shy away from INVESTING in a quality cello!

Quality - What Determines the Price of a Cello?

Wood and workmanship are the primary components in the pricing of a cello, overall.  The older, more aged the wood, and higher quality (straighter, even grain on spruce, well-flamed on maple) determines it's cost in raw materials.  A truly fine set of tonewood for cello is over $1000, just for the wood!

Origin - Where are The Best Cellos being Made?

Workmanship is perhaps the most significant, however, and these days, nearly every cello under $5000 is made in China, because they have the skilled labor and access to raw materials that other countries cannot match.  It's NOT a bad thing to be made in China - quite the contrary, as many Chinese makers have won Gold Medals in various Violin Society of America (VSA) competitions, and continue to do so.  The market was originally flooded with very low quality Chinese instruments, around the years 1995-2005, and that earned a bad reputation for the entire country's production.  However, nearly all the greatest and most trusted shops in the world, like StringWorks, have been working closely with workshops in China, and now they are producing some of the greatest instruments the world has ever seen in the 'affordable' price ranges most aim for.  Ever since post-War Germany, no other country has produced as consistent quality as China has in stringed instruments, and all reliable and trustworthy violin shops keep a close eye on every instrument that comes in, and goes out of their shop.  If we could produce such great instruments in the United States at anywhere near the same price, believe me, we would!

Price - How Much Should I Spend?

First, determine what your current level is, your current budget, and your anticipated performance level.  If you are an intermediate player, but plan to buy 'the one' instrument that will take you many years, spend 'ahead' of your budget - get the one instrument that you will grow into.  The more you spend on a cello, the greater complexity in tone you will achieve, and you will have higher quality materials and higher quality workmanship.  In cellos over $5000, typically you'll have small workshops of only 2-4 craftsmen making your instrument, versus the larger number of workshop workers on a cello $1500-$3000.  Around $10,000 and up, you're likely to get an instrument made by one person, entirely by hand, from start to finish, including the varnish and label.

Buying a cello is not like buying an expensive piece of electronics - it's a manifestation, an extension of you, musically.  It's an emotional purchase, worth a good amount of money, and one you should take seriously.  Do your research, and whatever you don't know, don't be afraid to ask!  We're happy to answer ANY questions along the way for you, even if you choose to purchase your instrument elsewhere!  Simply call us or email us and we'll be happy to chat.

Todd French, Founder/President
StringWorks, Inc.