In early 2020 before the world…well, you know…I purchased a ticket to see the Ambient Orchestra performing David Bowie’s final album Blackstar front to back. As a Bowie fanatic and a musician/songwriter, I was ecstatic to hear how Evan Ziporyn had arranged David Bowie’s masterpiece to be performed by an entire orchestra.
The vocal melodies were performed by the cellist Maya Beiser. It was one of the most phenomenal concert experiences I have ever attended. Beiser’s playing that night was unmatched and gave me a newfound respect for the cello.
Regardless of your own inspiration to start playing or to master the cello, you’re looking for the right one for you. You’ve come across the Cecilio CCO 200 and need to know more.
Bottom Line Up Front
The Cecilio CCO-200 is a mass-produced instrument. Each cello is not personally hand-crafted with special, tailored measurements. They all follow the same blueprint. For that, they simply cannot compare to higher-end cellos.
However, for a student/beginner musician, the cello is your best option at this price…with a caveat.
- Don’t purchase online if you can avoid it. Many of the negative reviews on Amazon cite damage to the cello/accessories upon arrival that could be attributed to damage sustained in transit. While the purchase comes with a warranty, I don’t envy the hassle of returning a cello.
- Consider the cello to cost more than the ~$270 list price. Reviews on Amazon cite displeasure with the quality of the cello’s accessories (cases, bow, strings). Spending some more money to upgrade these components will do wonders for the sound (or its protection in the context of the cello’s cases).
The Cecilio brand is named for the martyr, St. Cecilia, the Patron Saint of music and musicians. From their Facebook page: “It is said that St. Cecilia heard heavenly music in her heart when she was married.
We like to hear heavenly music and we have a passion for inspiring musicians to make music, no matter what age…” According to the front page of KK Music’s site (the owner of the Cecilio brand), they are more focused on beginner musicians, regardless of how young or old these beginners are.
Cost Breakdown and Construction
The Cecilio CCO-200 will run you $269.99 on Amazon. That ~$270 will purchase a whole kit:
- the cello
- padded soft case with adjustable backpack straps (and pockets!)
- a Brazilwood bow (with unbleached Mongolian horsehair)
- cello stand
- rosin cake (a rosin cake is used to give the bow hairs a better grip on the cello’s strings for a clearer sound)
- a bonus set of strings.
- two cases
- “CHC-50C form-fitting lightweight hard case: velvet interior, two bow holders, a padded neck restraint, a bridge-protector, and hard plastic wheels”
- padded lightweight soft case accessorized with two backpack straps and pockets
The CCO-200 cello has a hand-carved top made of solid spruce wood with the pegs, neck, and body made of solid, flamed maple. The wood is finished with a “high-luster varnish” for a pleasing shine in addition to “hand inlaid purfling.” While purfling does nothing for the sound of the cello, it does add a little pizzazz, aesthetically.
(Purfling may also help protect the cello. It’s advantageous for a superfluous layer of wood (albeit, a small layer) around the edges to be a buffer for any damage rather than any damage directly being applied to the body of the cello whose shape and construction affect the sound.)
The tailpiece is constructed of a metal alloy with “four integrated fine tuners.”
To prevent damage to the cello’s body and bridge en route, the bridge will not be setup pre-shipment. You will need to either set the bridge up yourself or take it to a professional music technician before playing it.
Before shipment, each cello is personally inspected by Cecilio’s technicians to ensure they are engineered properly to meet Cecilio’s “high-quality standards.” Each purchase is supplemented with a 1-year warranty to insure against any manufacturer’s defects.
The CCO-200 cello comes in four sizes. The size is a measurement of the length of the back of the cello:
- 4/4 – Full-size cello – Back measurement of 30 inches or larger. For those approximately 5 feet tall (or taller)
- 3/4 – Back measurement of 26 – 27.25 inches. For those approximately 4.5 – 5 feet tall.
- 1/2 – Back measurement of 23 – 26 inches. For those approximately 4 – 4.5 feet tall.
- 1/4 – Back measurement of 20 – 23 inches. For those approximately 3.5 – 4 feet tall.
- (Some other models have another size, 1/8, more suitable for those shorter/younger).
A cello too large may prove difficult for the cellist to balance (which is already balancing on a relatively small tailpiece). The different models that Cecilio offers (CCO-100, CCO-300, etc) are not named for a correlation to the cellos’ size, but to the material that compose each model’s parts (pun intended).
When considering the right size cello, hand size is an important factor to consider. Too large a cello can cause undue tension in the fretting hand which can affect your ability to play cello, both in the short- and long-term. If unsure which cello is the right fit for you, err on the smaller side.
Okay, enough horsing around! I need to know, will Nana be impressed by my playing of Three Blind Mice on this cello?
So, the CCO-200 is not going to match up to the cellos that cost tens of millions of dollars (yea, those exist), but chances are, if you’re considering buying a cello that costs just a few hundred, you may not yet* possess the talent to make the most out of those cellos anyways.
Some cellos can sound like a car with poor suspension. What I mean by that is the bow running along the string sounds like it’s being forced off the string multiple times within the same note, as if each note possesses multiple transients (the initial peak of sound, the attack), much like a car with poor suspension can feel like it’s being launched off the road.
The notes can sound grating and heavy, even those played in the higher ranges.
The Cecilio CCO-200, however, sounds great. It possesses a round, smooth tone. The notes are clean with great resonance to boot. Furthermore, across the ranges, the CCO-200 retains its tone. The low strings and high strings possess the same timbral quality.
*YET! I believe in you!
Playability is not just a factor of talent. Even the best instrumentalists will struggle on a poorly-engineered instrument. (It’s not my fault I blew it at the recital, DAD) For cellos, a couple of things need to be in working order. The Cecilio CCO-200 engineers these well.
The bridge is, arguably, the most important component of the cello. Proper placement will preserve the cello’s intonation (the ability for all notes on the fretboard to be in tune -or at least out-of-tune by the same degree).
Proper construction will ensure that the strings are at appropriate heights above the fretboard (a feature of the cello is the lower strings are higher off the fretboard than higher strings).
Furthermore, the distance from the strings to the fingerboard is not uniform across its whole, in a couple of ways. The fingerboard is slightly concave parallel to its length as you move from the head to the body.
And to accommodate the lower strings on the cello that need more space to vibrate (ie the string’s transit), the strings are raised higher off the neck.
The CCO-200 hits these measurements. The bridge puts the strings high enough off the neck so as to produce a great tone, but close enough so as to not make it uncomfortable to play.
Pros and Cons
- Price. $270 is certainly a worthwhile investment to play one of the most popular instruments in history.
- While not the best accessories, the cello does come with a handful of accessories that make the $270 look like an even better bargain
- Smooth, round tone. A great tone for a beginner cellist.
- Great playability. Beginner instrumentalists won’t have to fight against the instrument to produce a great tone whereas more advanced cellists will be able to get the most out of this cello.
- If purchased online and delivered to you, the cello cannot be played as soon as it is taken out of the box. The bridge needs to be set up
- Some components of the cello as it comes are subpar. Extra money will need to be spent to help this cello reach its true potential: strings, tuners, and the bow.
- Lack of attention to detail. Cecilio is more focused on providing (and mass-producing) instruments for beginners. There are small details regarding the cello’s construction that inhibit the cello from creating a tone that can compete with the capabilities of professional cellos.
Alternatives to Consider Purchasing
The CCO 200 is not the only cello by Cecilio. They produce 5 other cellos: CCO-100, CCO-100+HC, CCO-300, CCO-400, CCO-500. The CCO-100 is most similar to the CCO-200 in regards to its construction (spruce top, maple body and pegs, alloy tailpiece with four integrated fine tuners). The CCO-100 also comes in the colors black, blue, and purple with an additional smaller size 1/8.
Cecilio also makes electric cellos: CECO-1WH Pearl White and CECO-3BK Ebony (an electric cello)
There do not exist many companies that produce cellos in a similar price range with a reputation like Cecilio’s, but following are some comparable cellos in terms of price and similar accessories (bag, rosin, strings, bow).
However, these cellos do not ultimately stack up, tone-wise and playability-wise. Also, compared to Cecilio, these companies do not have the repertoire of different models that Cecilio has:
An acoustic cello with basswood body, maple top, aluminum alloy fingerboard, blacked wood tuning peg and tailpiece. This cello is only available in full-size.
The gloss-finish on this cello’s wood may affect the bridge’s stability causing, at best, your cello to fall out of tune more frequently/lose its intonation, and, at worst, damage to the bridge, strings, and/or body.
This cello is only available in full-size, but does come in a variety of colors: matte natural, retro, white, natural color, black, and matte golden. This cello’s tone is a little dull and the engineering isn’t the best to prevent the cellist from (accidentally) playing two strings at once.
An acoustic cello with a basswood body, solid maple top, solid wood fingerboard, a composite tailpiece with four tuners, and wood tuning pegs. This company is also focused on creating instruments for beginner cellos and is perhaps most comparable to the Cecilio CCO-200.
This is pretty self-explanatory. How much money do you have to spend on a cello?
A couple hundred? Looks like the cheapest cello for you
Three to four hundred? Cecilio CCO-200 might be a good fit for you (assuming you take my advice about spending a little extra money to upgrade the accessories)!
A few thousand? You’re probably ready to move up to a professional cello.
This could go both ways. If you know that you’re going to commit to the cello for a lifetime, maybe it’s best to buy the cheapest cello at first and learn what you specifically need from a cello before saving up and buying a higher-end cello that is catered to your needs.
On the other hand, if you envision yourself committing to the cello for a lifetime, maybe you want a cello that’s a little more advanced to make your first few years of practicing and performing more enjoyable.
A lot of companies only produce cellos in full-size. A child or a person a couple of deviations-below-mean-height will need a smaller cello.
Method of Purchasing
Personally, when it comes to musical instruments and equipment, I prefer to buy in-store and personally transport my purchases from whichever business to my home.
Regardless of any warranties/protections, returning instruments/equipment can be a real hassle (and costly!)…especially something as large as a cello. If you’re like me, your option of cellos may be limited to what you can find in store/second-hand
New vs Used
Do you need a brand-spanking-new instrument? Or are you willing to invest the same amount of money into a higher quality but used instrument? This can be a gamble especially for an instrument made primarily of wood, like the cello.
Wood is more susceptible than metals to damage, even long-term wear-and-tear simply from the atmosphere of where the instrument is stored (humidity, ‘extreme’ changes in temperature). A new instrument will likely come with a warranty of some sort whereas a used instrument may come down to who/what you buy it from.
Answer: Straight from Cecilio themselves, “Seat the child (or yourself) so that the knees are bent at a ninety degree angle. The instrument should rest such that the upper rim of the cello body rests on the sternum (breast bone), and the left knee contacts the curve below the lower bout corner. The C string peg (for the thickest string) should be near the left ear, with the neck a few inches away from the shoulder, and the left hand able to reach both ends of the fingerboard with ease.”
Answer: Many cellists don’t have the luxury of practicing in a space that is conducive to the noise of a cello. Cellos are loud instruments designed to be played in concert halls with little amplification assistance.
As such, electric cellos are an attractive option for cellists to practice with at home. The manufacturers of electric cellos know this and design their cellos to replicate the feel of their acoustic counterparts.
Answer: Cecilio tops many lists of “Best Beginner Brands” (or some similar phrasing). Their price is accessible to those who are just starting out.
Their instruments’ tone is generally referred to positively (While they can’t quite match up to the premier brands, beginning instrumentalists don’t yet have the skills to make a very expensive instrument sound like…well, a very expensive instrument).
Their engineering is advanced enough to allow beginners to learn how to play an instrument (well) while simple enough to keep the costs of their cellos down.
Final: Buy or Pass?
If you’re beginning on the cello, buy it. It’s not the cheapest cello you can buy as a beginner, but it’s not that expensive even when compared to an orchestra’s entire repertoire. And for the price, there isn’t really another cello that can match the Cecilio CCO-200’s tone and playability.
If you’re a more advanced cellist, unless you’re really strapped for cash, you’re at a point where you should invest in a higher-grade cello. More advanced cellists can bring out the subtle nuances in a professional cello that make or break a performance.
Looking for more interesting readings? Check out: