Searching for a new Cello? Your kiddo asking for one for Christmas or their Birthday, and you need to find a beginner Cello? A little overwhelmed?
I was, too, the first time I started searching for a Cello, especially since it’s meant as a gift. The last thing I wanted was for my fiance to receive a poor-quality Cello as a wedding gift. So I went down a rabbit hole and learned a lot about finding a quality Cello, but I also learned a lot about what to avoid. Specifically, what instrument brands should be avoided.
You’ll be surprised to find out that the top brand to avoid isn’t a brand but an entire category of unbranded instruments.
Cello Shaped Objects (CSOs)
If you’ve played the violin before then, you’ve likely heard the term violin-shaped object or VSO. Cellos are subject to the same misfortune of being mass-produced and sold by Chinese companies. These instruments are often built by machines using poor-quality wood and other materials.
They are essentially incredibly annoying toys. Any student can expect to sound rough at first, but these instruments won’t allow a student to grow. In fact, the poor quality of the instrument will hinder their growth. That is why they have been dubbed Cello-Shaped Objects. They may look like a Cello, but they sure don’t sound like one.
The sad part is CSOs are often front and center, with these companies paying for larger advertising space or just being really good at keywords in their posts.
They will often ping higher than quality instruments on Google; this creates a revolving door of purchases but no long-term customer base. The exact opposite of what you should be looking for when purchasing an instrument.
How to Spot a CSO
Despite CSOs being front and center, they are honestly pretty easy to spot once you have figured out the keywords. CSOs biggest market is online, which is both good and bad.
It’s terrible because prospective buyers get duped when they don’t know anything about the instrument. Still, it’s great because certain keywords can tell us if it’s a quality instrument.
So here is a list of what to look for in a crappy Cello listing
- Made out of anything other than solid spruce top and maple back and sides. These two kinds of wood are the tried and true wood of the orchestral string family. More importantly, the Cello must be made out of solid woods. If solid wood is not specified, you risk getting an instrument made out of inferior pressed wood. It’s essentially an Ikea Cello at that point, and we all know Ikea furniture doesn’t last.
- Fingerboard materials are unspecified or made out of anything other than ebony. Some cheaper student instruments have maple fingerboards, which are okay but don’t offer the same durability as ebony. For a serious student, invest in a Cello with an ebony fingerboard. This will also increase resale value. Crappy instruments will have unspecified wood. This typically means it’s any random cheap wood they could reliably carve into a fingerboard, and then they dyed it black.
- Fittings made with unspecified wood. Similar to fingerboards, these pieces are touched often and need to be made out of durable wood. Unlike fingerboards, there is a lot more leeway in obtaining quality fittings made out of other types of wood. My personal favorite is rosewood, but boxwood, ebony, and maple are also used regularly. Ebony is the one I often see and is a mark of good quality. Painted or dyed wood is a huge red flag and common on CSOs.
- Lamination: This might be up for debate a little bit. Many students, especially young ones, start out renting an instrument. Most of these instruments are made out of laminated wood. This increases the durability of the instruments and makes them nearly crackproof if dropped or hit accidentally. Cellos are really big instruments, and they honestly get in the way, so I see the point to this. However, lamination dulls the sound of the Cello and contributes to the heaviness of the instrument. A simple varnish is more preferred and worth spending extra money on. This will also increase your resale value in the future, as laminated Cellos will not age in the same way. While this isn’t an ultimate red flag, it does come up in some of our avoided brands.
- Come in various colors: Cheap colorful instruments are really attractive for young kids and adult students alike, but they are rarely quality instruments. Some may get you through the first year, but they aren’t worth the money unless you have a small child who will outgrow their instrument quickly. You’ll need to upgrade too quickly as the components will fail and won’t be worth replacing.
- Cello accessories like bows are made from weird types of wood. There are three main materials for bows in the orchestral family, brazilwood, carbon fiber, and Pernambuco. Student instruments will likely come with brazilwood bows because they’re cheaper but durable and sufficiently bendy, perfect for bows. Carbon fiber is my favorite bow material and is typically bought with intermediate-level cases. The one exception is typically Fiddlershop, they are very proud of their carbon fiber bows, and they should be. So they include one in most outfits regardless of level. I personally own 3 and plan on buying a new fusion one soon.
- Parts of the Cello are named incorrectly. A competent instrument dealer should be able to properly name the parts of the instrument in their listings.
Top Brands to Avoid
So we’ve talked a bit about what to look for in a listing. Here are some examples:
Cellos that are Unbranded
This was the category I mentioned earlier. It’s to vast to narrow down to specific sellers. Simply put, these Cellos will hit all of those criteria above and then some. This one, in particular, is made out of basswood and composite maple/spruce wood.
Solid wood fingerboard and pegs could mean anything but mostly like dyed cheap wood, along with an aluminum or cheap pull string, which I believe is the tailpiece. This is an unplayable instrument. However, it’d make a great canvas if you are an artist.
Lykos is a brand that shows up high in the Amazon search results. At first glance, you’ll notice that the Cello comes in various fun colors, including shiny blue. Once you start reading the description, other red flags will quickly show up. The instrument is made out of basswood and maple, with no mention of solid woods in the body.
The fingerboard is made out of “solid wood,” which could mean anything, but it is likely dyed black. The bows are made out of arbor, the tuning pegs are “blacked wood,” and lastly, the tailpiece is called a pull string.
More than likely, Waful and Lykos are in cahoots with each other and source their crappy instruments from the same manufacturer. The specs between these two Cellos are identical. Both crappy and both likely made from the same machine, they’ll make your ears bleed.
I was on the fence about including Stentor in this line-up. They make some quality instruments when you start examining their intermediate and advanced lines. However, I can’t ignore the fact that their lower-end model has some design ‘choices’ as the kids say these days.
While made from solid spruce and maple, the fingerboard and pegs are made out of an undetermined black dyed wood. There is no mention of the material the bow is made out of either.
Similar to Stentor, I included the lower-end Cecilio Cello‘s on this list because they aren’t quality instruments. Cecilio is one the largest instrument dealers in the world, thanks to its low costs and ability to ship nearly anywhere. While I’m a big fan and admire their higher-end lines for affordability, the student lines leave a lot to be desired.
If you are serious about learning the Cello invest in one of their intermediate to advanced Cellos. It’ll be a few more hundred more, but you’ll grow with the instrument longer and have a higher resale value. The CCO-500 and CCO-600 are my favorites.
Brands I’d Buy in a Heartbeat!
Cecilio CCO-300 and Up
As I mentioned earlier, the higher-end Cecilio Cello’s have some great bang for their buck. I’d consider the CCO-300 the bare minimum for quality, longevity, and resale value. While the CCO-500 is preferred. The CCO-600 is top quality, but to be honest, for the price, I’d rather spend a little more and purchase the Tower Strings Cello from Fiddlershop.
I’m a Fiddlershop fanboy. I’d happily be a walking billboard for them. So when I recommend orchestral strings, this is the first place I go. They have everything you could think of and then some. Their cheapest model, the Tower Strings Entertainer, will bring you a Cello with solid carved spruce and maple tonewoods aged for 2 years.
Ebony fingerboard and pegs, aluminum tailpiece with built-in fine tuners, hand-carved maple bridge, prelude strings make up the rest of the Cello. The outfit includes a lightweight hard foam case, Fiddlerman carbon fiber bow, Holstein premium rosin, endpin stop, practice mute, polishing cloth, and tuner.
Their customer service and a standard one-year warranty on the instrument and all accessories is standard. Mostly I love them for their customer service and promise to stay affordable. Their instruments aren’t the cheapest you can get, but they have the best quality for the price.
They’ve hooked me up in the past with both gifts for being a customer and for messing up an order. I haven’t bought strings in 3 years, but I have strings.
Eastman is another favorite brand of mine. My beloved violin Winston is from them, and the quality is top-notch. This is a well-known brand in the orchestral string family. They make a large number of rental Cellos. This does mean that their lower-end models come with laminated wood.
However, you can choose an Andreas Eastman VC200 or Galiano VC3G and receive a beautiful varnished Cello. In my opinion, it is worth the upgrade, as these two models will grow with you longer. Leave the laminated Cellos to the rental companies.
DZ Strad is another well-known instrument company prominently found on Amazon. Despite being largely online, they offer expensive quality instruments. Their cheapest Cello is made from solid carved hand-oiled or varnished wood.
Along with solid hand-carved ebony fingerboard and pegs. Along with so much more! With an instrument like this, you’ll be set for years, but it comes at a high price.
Answer: You have a couple of options. You can set the bridge yourself or take it to a luthier for a setup. If you’ve never touched a string instrument before or have never adjusted a bridge, do not attempt this. I’d personally set mine myself, but I have confidence in my ability to do that.
If you have some experience with bridges, refresh with a few youtube videos before you try and be careful. If you have any doubt take your instrument to your local luthier or music shop so they can do it. Better to spend a little bit on a setup than to damage your instrument.
Answer: Sometime around 1550, in Northern Italy, the first modern-style Cello was seen. However, the instrument has ties to the lyre and the harp, which are much older instruments. Andrea Amati gained the most recognition for producing Cellos for King Carles IX of France. In 1770 Antonio Stradivari determined the size of the standard Cello that we see today.
Answer: This is highly dependent on how often you play your instrument. Generally speaking, you want to replace them once a year, but if you practice multiple hours a day, then you may replace them every eight months. Professionals replace them more often, every six months or sooner. I replace mine every eight months.
So there you have it; the top brand to avoid is actually unbranded. When buying a Cello online, stick to this guide and focus on the brands we would want to buy. If you have any doubt go to a local music store, they will be able to assist you in finding the best Cello for your money.
They will also have older Cello’s that have already started to formulate a personality. This is truly where the Cello chooses the wizard—I mean Cellist.
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