I’ve learned a lot of musical instruments over the years, ranging from the drums and electric guitar to the bassoon and the violin. It’s been a magical musical journey, but without a doubt, my favorite instrument I have learned has been the cello.
From the stunning visual aesthetic of the instrument to the deep and rich tones it produces, the cello has a special place in my heart. However, I will always remember how difficult it was to get started. It took me months of research before I purchased my first cello, and this was due to the lack of information available to me at the time.
If you’re considering buying your first cello, don’t worry because times have changed. There is a ton of information available online these days to help you, and I’ve compiled the best bits into this guide. Read on to learn how to find the best cello for beginners!
Do Your Research
If you’re reading this, you have probably already made up your mind about purchasing your first cello. That’s great, but you will want to ensure that you have thoroughly done your research to ensure that the cello is the instrument for you.
You should start by familiarizing yourself with the sounds that the instrument produces. This could consist of listening to some solo performances online or attending a string ensemble concert in your area. The cello is indeed a stunning-looking instrument, but the sound and feel of playing it are far more important.
Back in high school, I had a friend that dreamed of learning a cello. He’d seen a picture of one in a magazine and thought it looked cool, and he quickly convinced his parents to buy him one as a Christmas present. He’d only had the cello a few weeks when he sold it because it “wasn’t very good at playing high string solos”.
Duh! A cello has a pretty low-frequency range when compared to violins and violas, and if my friend had done his research then he would have been fully aware of this. I remember he also didn’t want to learn western notation or follow the rules of classical music, two things that are pretty essential when it comes to cellos.
Don’t be like my friend! Do your research, familiarize yourself with the instrument, and see if you can find a cellist friend who can show you what the cello is capable of. You’ll thank yourself later when you purchase your first cello, knowing exactly what you are getting into.
Budget vs. Quality
So, you’ve done your research, and you are confident that you want to pursue learning the cello – fantastic! It’s now time to start shopping around for an excellent beginner’s cello, but there are so many to choose from that it can be a bit intimidating.
As a beginner, there are two key things that you should consider when looking to purchase your first cello – budget and quality. It should be pretty obvious that the higher quality a cello is, the more expensive it will be. That’s just life. You can find cellos as cheap as $300, but others will cost you thousands of dollars!
You need to think about this decision carefully. It can be very tempting to find the cheapest cello that you can find to get you started, allowing you to try out the instrument without spending too much cash and upgrading in the future if you love it. On the other hand, new cellists with cash to splash might be tempted to jump in the deep end and buy the most expensive cello they can find, preventing themselves from having to upgrade in the future.
I would recommend that you find a nice middle ground. There is absolutely nothing wrong with purchasing a cheap cello, and it’s a great way to get your foot in the door when you’re on a budget. However, it is undeniable that pricier cellos are going to sound better, and this is due to the types of wood used and the craftsmanship behind the instrument.
Going all-in on a super expensive cello is a bad idea for beginners, in my opinion – after all, you might not enjoy playing the instrument! I would recommend you search for a cello costing around $500 as a beginner. It’s not going to ruin your bank account if you decide that the instrument isn’t for you, but it will provide years of gorgeous tones if you stick with it. Only then should you consider treating yourself to a higher-end model!
Finding the Right Size
Once you have decided on the budget that you are willing to spend on your first cello, it’s time to find the size that works for you. This is essential, as a poorly fitted cello will be uncomfortable to use and may put you off learning the instrument entirely. Luckily, most cellos are available in a variety of sizes, so this shouldn’t affect your previous buying decision.
If you are an adult looking to start learning the cello, you are in luck – cello sizing for adults is pretty simple. You’ve got two choices, a full-sized 4/4 cello, or the slightly smaller 7/8 cello. If you are of average height or taller, you’re probably going to be fine with the 4/4 cello. This is the standard for adults, having a total height of over five feet and a back length of 30 inches or more.
However, if you are below average height or have particularly small hands, the slightly smaller 7/8 might be more appropriate. Some adults even choose ¾ cellos in rare cases, but 4/4 and 7/8 sizes are generally all you will need to look at.
If you’re looking for a cello for a child, I’m afraid things are a little more complicated. There are five key sizes that you will want to consider: 1/8, ¼, ½, ¾, and 7/8. The smaller the fraction is, the smaller the cello will be in both height and back length, and this makes the cello a suitable instrument for a child of ages four and up.
For a full list of the dimensions of each cello size, take a look at the table below. It should help you find the size that is right for you. However, don’t take the age ranges too seriously. The comfortability of the instrument is far more important than what is considered to be “normal.”
|Cello Size||Age Range||Cello Height||Cello Back Length|
|⅛ (smallest)||Four to Six Years||Under Four Feet||17.75″ to 20″|
|¼||Five to Seven Years||Under Four Feet||20″ to 23″|
|½||Seven to Eleven Years||4 to 4.5 Feet||23″ to 26″|
|¾||Eleven to Fifteen Years||4.5 to 5 Feet||26″ to 27.25″|
|7/8||Fifteen Years to Adult||Five Feet or More||27.25″ to 30″|
|4/4 (full-sized)||Adult||Five Feet or More||30″ +|
If your child is in between sizes, it’s generally a better idea to go for the smaller size. This way, the child will be able to begin learning immediately, and if they grow over the next year, this won’t prevent them from continuing to play it. However, some people prefer to purchase a cello that their child will grow into.
Whilst this is also an option, you should bear in mind that they may not be able to play the instrument comfortably. A child can always play a cello that is too small for them, but they may not be able to play a cello that is too large for them!
Test Cellos Out in Music Stores
All of the information regarding the budget, quality, and size of your first beginner cello is very useful, but it is hard to wrap your head around without seeing the cello for yourself. This is possibly my biggest piece of advice of all, test some beginner cellos out in your local music store!
No online information is going to be as useful as sitting down with a professional cellist in a music store, testing out some different cello models, and figuring out which size fits you most comfortably. It’s the job of music store staff to help customers find an instrument that they are happy to purchase, so don’t feel bad about pestering them with your questions!
I was 13 years old when I saved up my allowance to purchase my first cello, and I was completely adamant that I must have a 4/4 cello. I was going through that stage of thinking I wasn’t a child anymore but an adult, and I refused to consider that a 7/8 or ¾ cello might be more appropriate for my height.
Thankfully, my parents took me to a cello store to test these sizes out, and low and behold, I was way too small to even think about holding a 4/4 cello. In the end, I walked out of that store with a ¾ cello and a changed attitude, but if I hadn’t done this, I’d have ended up owning a cello that I wouldn’t be able to play for years!
Always test cellos out in a store – it’s an exciting part of the process, and you will learn a lot about the instrument as you do so. You can also grab all of the important accessories whilst you’re there – let’s take a look at what you’ll need to write on your shopping list.
Finding Accessories for Your First Cello
You’ve got the hard bit out of the way, but it’s not quite over yet. To start learning the instrument, you’re going to need to purchase a few accessories. Some of these are optional, but some of them are essential – your shopping list should consist of:
- Spare Strings
- A Bow
- A Spare Endpin
- A Cello Stand
- A Cello Stool
- A Hard Cello Case
- Cleaning Products
You’ll be happy to know that you won’t have to worry about strings – every cello will come pre-strung, so you can begin practicing straight away! This is the same with the endpin, it should be included with the instrument. However, strings and even endpins eventually break, so it will be a good idea to get yourself some spares so that you can tackle this situation when it arises.
Next, you might need to consider purchasing a bow. If you’re lucky, you will find a cello bundle that includes everything you need to get started (including a bow), but if this is not the case, you won’t be able to play a note without one!
Those are the most obvious and essential accessories out of the way, but the next few items are also very important. Firstly, you should consider purchasing a cello stand, a cello stool, and a cello case.
Your new cello was probably pretty expensive, so you will want to ensure that you can store and use it safely without the risk of causing any damage. A stand prevents the instrument from falling over when you are out of the room, a hard cello case will ensure that you can transport the instrument to music class safely, and a cello stool will ensure that you can play the cello in a comfortable position without damaging the instrument.
Finally, there’s the boring bits – rosin and cleaning products. You may have never heard about rosin – it’s a gooey resin material that is applied to cello strings to lubricate them for the perfect amount of friction. Without rosin, your cello strings won’t resonate as beautifully as they should, and I’m sure that your local music store will help you pick a good one.
Cleaning products are also a great idea as it allows you to keep your cello in excellent condition. However, don’t even think about applying any old household cleaning product! You will need to consult the music store to find a cleaning product for cellos that suits the specific wood of your instrument. This might sound boring, but you’ll thank me later when you maintain the shimmering beauty of your cello!
What to Expect as a Beginner Cellist
Before I round things off, I thought I would take a minute to address the challenges and expectations that you will face as a beginner cellist. Much like any other musical instrument, there is a huge amount of new knowledge to learn before you master this instrument, and it can easy to lose sight of your goals. It may be a bit intimidating initially, but I like to break it down into bite-size chunks to make things easy to chew on. The following three questions and answers should help you understand what to expect as a cellist, the challenges you may face, and the level of practice that mastering the instrument will require.
What are the Benefits of Becoming a Cello Player?
The benefits of becoming a cello player are vast – you can expect a great sense of reward from learning a new skill, in addition to accessing a whole new range of opportunities, from concert performances to film scoring! The cello is a highly versatile instrument that is used not only in classical music but in jazz, rock, and other contemporary styles, and cellists are few and far between.
I only learned the cello with the hope to play in a classical orchestra, but in addition to doing this, I ended up recording cello parts for online videos, film, and I even taught the instrument at workshops! It’s not all about concert performance – cello players will always be needed for musical projects, and I never could have expected such an exciting career path from such a simple musical instrument purchase! Learning the instrument will also help to develop your listening skills, songwriting skills, and your ability to express yourself through music, it truly is a gift that keeps on giving.
How Long Would it Take to Play Professional Cello?
I regularly hear aspiring cellists wondering how long it will take them to play the cello professionally – it’s easy to get ahead of yourself, but the fact is that it takes a long time to learn this instrument even to an intermediate standard. Cellists generally take between two to five years in order to be proficient at playing the cello, but many professionals practiced for ten years or more to get to their current standard!
However, the length of time that it will take you to learn the instrument is obviously not fixed – some people find they have a talent for the instrument, whereas others may struggle with the basics. Regardless of your situation, practice will always be the key to becoming a professional cellist, and practicing for as little as 30 minutes a day will massively increase your speed of learning.
You should always remember that learning the cello should follow the idiom “quality over quantity”. Thousands of hours of practice will get you nowhere if it’s low-quality practice, whereas smaller quantities of concentrated practice hours with excellent teachers will see you making rapid progress in no time!
Is the Cello an Easy Musical Instrument to Play?
Finally, I wanted to bring up the learning curve of playing the cello. Many people see the instrument as simple looking considering that it only has four strings, believing it to be easier than learning other instruments with more complex appearances. Unfortunately, I have to tell you that this simply is not the case – the cello is a difficult musical instrument to learn, and it’s even more difficult to master! I’ve been learning the instrument for over ten years and yet I still feel like I am learning new things every day!
However, please don’t let this put you off! The difficulties of playing the cello all come down to learning the basics, refining your technique, learning to interpret western notation, and keeping a critical ear. If this all sounds alien to you, don’t worry, because this is exactly what excellent cello teachers will help you with. The instrument will be particularly difficult if you have never played a classical stringed instrument, and it may be easier if you have already learned the violin or the double bass.
Regardless of this, the easiest way to make the learning process less difficult is to practice, practice, practice! Keeping your momentum up will help you become a better cellist every day, and frequent breaks could mess up your technique and cause you to regress in skill. Keep your practices consistent and regular, and I’m sure that playing the cello will be a piece of cake in no time!
I always recommend heading to your local music store and getting recommendations or trying out different cellos. I also understand that not everyone has access to music stores, and they turn online to find instruments. It’s easy to find cello-shaped objects on Amazon and other retailers. Still, it’s challenging to find real cellos that you can learn with.
I’ve rounded up some of my favorite picks from retailers and brands I know and trust. I’ve included something for everybody and based my choices on reviews, personal experience, and price to quality ratio.
Top Pick – Tower Strings Entertainer
The Tower Strings Entertainer is my top choice for a budget cello, it’s not nearly as cheap as the Cecilio cellos, but it’s a significant step up in quality and longevity. Even better, it’s from a company and a brand that I’ve actually had experience with. This cello is made from aged solid spruce and maple carved tonewoods, with ebony fittings and fingerboard and an aluminum tailpiece with built-in fine tuners. Along with a hard case, bow, rosin, endpin stop, mute, and tuner, you get everything you need to play in the case.
This cello comes hand setup and tested in their Miami workshop, which is my favorite thing. Online instruments often come without a proper setup or a poorly done one. A good setup makes an instrument sound better and is easier to play.
- Quality checked and hand setup in the US
- Comes with high-quality accessories you can play right away
- Set up with quality student strings
- Comes with a quality hard case instead of a gig bag, better protection.
- Backed by professional musician knowledge and guarantee.
- Expensive compared to renting
Budget – Cecilio CCO-500
Cecilio has a few cello models for price and quality; I like the CCO 500 the most. This budget option is meant to get you through the first couple of years of lessons. For the beginner, it’s a solid option with some tweaks. A complete setup from a luthier, a new set of strings, and a new bow will take this cello to the next level.
This cello follows the basic pattern with spruce and maple tonewoods with ebony fittings and 4 fine tuners. The outfit includes a hardcase with wheels that I like quite a bit, which never happens with Cecilio cases. The outfit comes with a bow, rosin, cello stand an extra set of strings.
- Has a hardcase instead of a gig bag!
- Comes with a stand and decent rosin
- Great for new students
- Needs a full setup, new strings, and a new bow adding to the overall cost
- Suffer from quality control issues
- The fingerboard may need replaning, which can get expensive for a new instrument.
- Will only last a few years
Step Up – Ricard Bunnel by Kennedy Violins
I know Kennedy Violins from the budget and student model violins they sell on Amazon. They also sell cellos if you head over to their primary site. The Ricard Bunnell is a great beginning to intermediate student cello. Its made from the typical spruce and maple tonewoods with ebony fittings and fingerboard.
The bridge is hand-carved, and the cello is tested and set up by hand with Prelude strings in Vancouver, Washington, before shipping. This is largely why I recommend Kennedy. Similar to Fiddlerhsop, they take the time to make sure the instrument they send out are of decent quality, comfortably playable, and ready to go out of the case. The outfit includes a brazilwood bow, choice of soft, hard, or foam case, and rosin.
- Quality checked and set up in the US before shipping
- From well-known retailers of musical instruments
- Comes with quality accessories that don’t need replacing
- Good student strings
- Will be able to stay with a student for quite a few years
- More expensive than other similar quality cellos
Expensive –D Z Strad Model 205
If you really want to step it up in tone and price, the DZ Strad 205 is a great choice. Made from hand-carved aged tonewoods and fittings. This cello sounds and looks beautiful; the hand oil varnished adds a nice antique touch. These cellos come mostly set up, but the bridge will need installing. They direct you towards a video to do this, which is generally fine, but I’d rather a luthier do this, so it’s in the right spot. However, since I trust that the rest of the cello is well set up, you can try it if you feel comfortable doing this. The outfit includes a case, bow, and rosin.
- Well made with quality tonewoods
- Comes with a basic case and bow
- Looks and sounds beautiful with a lovely even tone
- Very expensive
- Comes with the bridge uninstalled
Prodigy – Ming Jiang Zhu 903
Another expensive pick would be great for a student looking to upgrade to something they will keep for many years to come. The Ming Jiang Zhu 903 is handcrafted at the Noble Heart Workshop in China. Made from aged tonewoods and ebony fittings with antique varnish. This cello sounds fantastic and looks just as impressive. It’s expensive, but if you want a cello you will play for a decade or more, then this is one to check out. It comes hand setup by Fiddlershop, so it will arrive ready to play. Unlike other instruments, it doesn’t come with any accessories.
- High-quality cello from a very well known maker
- Will stay with a student for years
- Set up my actual luthiers
- Sounds and looks beautiful
- Very expensive
- Doesn’t come with a case or bow
So, we’ve taken a look at the budget, size, testing process, and accessories that you will need to consider when purchasing a beginner cello. That’s a lot of information to process, so I’ve decided to provide the answer to a frequently asked question in each area. I hope you find them useful!
Answer: Cellos sell for anything between $300 and many thousands of dollars, but it’s best to grab a beginner cello at around $500 if you can afford it, finding a nice balance between budget and quality.
Answer: 4/4 and 7/8 cellos are generally best for adults, and 1/8, ¼, ½, and ¾ cellos are more suitable for children, but the best way to find the right cello size is to test some out with a professional in a music store.
Answer: The most essential accessories for playing the cello are, of course, strings, a bow, and an endpin, but you should also buy yourself a cello stool, case, and stand, in addition to rosin and cleaning products.
Well, that just about covers everything that you need to know regarding finding the best cello as a beginner! I can relate to how overwhelming the situation is, but hopefully, this has helped break things down for you into bite-sized chunks.
I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but my number one piece of advice is to test out some beginner cellos in a music store! You could read every article on the internet regarding beginner cellos, but nothing will compare to the experience of spending a day testing different sizes and models.
Finally, I just wanted to wish you the best of luck on your musical journey as a cellist! It blows my mind that I have been playing this instrument for over 20 years now, yet that precious day when I bought my first cello is so clear in my mind.
I hope that you have as wonderful of an experience with the cello as I have, and just remember that whilst the first steps will be tough, practice and determination will have you playing the instrument in no time!