First of all, congratulations on choosing cello - often called the 'best' musical instrument because of its similarity range-wise with the human voice.  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 $1,500 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 that is worth performing on is truly 'cheap', so if you plan to invest your time and treasure 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 (Maestro and higher), will appreciate in value, so if you ever had 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?

As you can imagine, quality is the most influential factor in determining a cello's price. But what differentiates a high-quality instrument from a lesser one? The answer lies in how the cello was made and the materials used to make it. 

Wood and workmanship are the primary components in the pricing of a cello. A cello made by a skilled luthier using higher-quality materials will ultimately carry a higher price tag. The older, more aged the wood, and higher quality (straighter, even grain on spruce, well-flamed maple) determines its cost in raw materials. A truly fine set of tonewood for cello is over $1000, just for the wood! Any cello under $1,000 often features laminated wood instead of spruce, maple and ebony. 

But why do factors like materials and craftsmanship matter? It’s a combination of tonal production and visual beauty.  Higher quality materials showcase the beauty of the wood, from the perfectly grained spruce to the gorgeously flamed maple, which often can pass for art without even making a sound.  The higher grade of wood, the more beautiful the appearance. 

While great materials and craftsmanship combine for a quality instrument that catches the eye, their impact goes beyond aesthetics. Cellos are musical instruments, after all, and some of the most important qualities of a high-end cello are playability and tonal quality. Select woods and more detailed craftsmanship enable much easier sound production, and reveal depth, resonance, and colors unable to be produced on lesser instruments.  The wood vibrates more efficiently and more “accurately,” as a cello really is an acoustical body, made possible by physics. Without the right wood and skilled workmanship, you’ll fight the instrument (or “cello shaped object”) in many ways. 

So, for the most part, the more you spend, the higher quality results you will get – both visually and tonally.  But remember — price isn't everything. Many players find success using relatively inexpensive instruments that feel just-right in their hands. 

Origin — Where are The Best Cellos being Made?

Workmanship is the     foundation of any cello you might consider, 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 any reliable and trustworthy violin shop keeps 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!

We also have workshops in Romania and Italy, and other shops will feature instruments from Germany and Czechoslovakia. 

Market Standards — How Much Does a Cello Cost?

The price of a cello can vary widely depending on some of the factors we discussed above. Luthiers and store owners know that every player has a different budget in mind when shopping for a cello. 

Some players are just starting out with the instrument and want a budget solution in case they decide it's not for them. Some may be life-long hobbyists looking for a middle-of-the-road selection. Professionals may want a truly impressive instrument for performances or even a showpiece to pass down from generation to generation. 

There are different instruments for every category of player, but exactly how much does a good cello cost? Ultimately, cello price ranges fall into three levels:

  • Student: A student cello has everything learners need to practice the essential skills like bowing and fingering without the sparkles of a luxury instrument. Most are factory-made rather than hand-crafted to maintain low production costs. Fully carved student cellos generally cost between $1,200 and $2,500, with laminated options down to around $500.
  • Intermediate and advanced: As cellists grow as musicians, they'll find value in selecting an instrument that is more rewarding to play and offers better tonal quality. Intermediate and advanced cellos feature stronger wood and are usually handcrafted by a much smaller group of craftsmen, resulting in much higher consistency, better playability and stronger sound projection. These cellos usually cost between $3,00 and $10,000. 
  • Professional: Professional cellos seek to achieve perfection in craftsmanship and material quality. The most experienced players can appreciate the effort that renowned luthiers put into every element of the instrument. Professional cellos feature the best wood to produce the fullest tones with a broad dynamic range. Many professional cellos sell for $10,000 or more. 

Price — How Much Should I Spend on a Cello?

As you shop for a cello, you may find yourself pulled in various directions. Perhaps you are drawn to the most beautiful professional cello in the shop, and you can't help but feel the temptation to bring it home no matter the price. On the other hand, you may decide to look for the most affordable option available instead. 

At the end of the day, you want to purchase the best instrument for your specific situation, so keep a level head and take some time to understand your needs. Here are some things cello shoppers should think about.

First, determine what your current playing level is, your current budget, and your anticipated performance level, or musical goals. Honesty about where you currently stand as a player and how much you feel you can grow can help determine the amount you should spend. 

Next, recall what each price tier offers. 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 $5,000, 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 their hands from start to finish, including the varnish and label.

So, where do you stand as a cellist? If you are a beginner, put less pressure on yourself to learn by starting with an inexpensive instrument. Advanced players and those who feel confident that they'll play their new cello for the rest of their lives may be ready to spend more on the perfect instrument. 

The intermediate level is where things begin to change. Many intermediate players start to recognize the difference that a more expensive instrument can make. While it may not be time to purchase a professional-grade cello, there are mid-range options that can truly enhance your enjoyment of the instrument. 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. If you estimate that you'll reach your peak as a cellist sooner than later but still want an instrument you can enjoy as a hobbyist, remain firm on your budget ceiling. A reputable shop will allow you to upgrade and trade in your cello if you find yourself “outgrowing” your cello - a good predicament in which to find yourself!

Buying Your First Cello — More Things to Consider

Quality and price — two of the most important factors when shopping for a new cello — go hand-in-hand. But there is more to consider to get the best deal on an instrument you love, and keep it in the best condition for as long as you own it. As you browse different instruments from various sources, keep some of these factors in mind: 

  • The cello's size: Cellos come in different sizes, starting at the full size of 4/4 and scaling down all the way to children's sizes like 1/10. 
  • The way the cello feels to play: Playability is often a matter of preference and instinct, so try different options to see which you like the most. It's entirely possible that a less expensive instrument will feel better in your hands.
  • The places you'll play the instrument: Do you plan to bring your cello to performances, or will it stay at home? Gigging cellists may choose a road-worthy instrument over an expensive option that will bring additional stress. 
  • The seller: Are you shopping with a reputable seller? Read some reviews to know which sellers you can trust and look for longstanding reputation and warranty.
  • Financing options: Many shops will accept trade-ins or offer payment plans to help you afford your new cello. 
  • Maintenance options: After you leave the shop, it's smart to plan for how and where you'll have your instrument serviced. 

Cellos From StringWorks 

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! 

At StringWorks in Geneva, IL and online at stringworks.com, we're happy to answer ANY questions along the way for you, even if you choose to purchase your instrument elsewhere! Simply call us at 630-454-5714, submit an online contact form or email us and we'll be happy to chat.

Updated 8/18/2021


     Todd French, Founder/President

     StringWorks, Inc.