Article: Guide To Buying Your First Cello

Do you want to buy a cello for Christmas? Is it a special birthday coming up? Looking for an upgrade in instrument size or quality? Is your child enjoying learning and you are looking into buying your first cello? Are you an adult learner who is searching for advice on buying or renting an instrument best suited to your needs?

Cello Dreaming has created this free online guide to help you with this time consuming and often overwhelming task. Whether you are interested in renting, buying or upgrading a cello, this guide will narrow down your choices and help you make the right choice for you.

why this free online guide?


Many of the frequent calls I get are from parents unsure on where to start looking. Many parents simply do not have the time to spend hours trawling the Internet in search of ‘the perfect cello’. The research they have done is through word of mouth, asking at school gates, speaking to other parents between lessons or at youth orchestra and then asking the teacher at school whom depending on the school situation might have an instrument to rent out.

This Time Poor Parent, exhausting all their known avenues, somehow ‘find me’ and give me a call. ‘Hi, can you help? We don’t take lessons with you but we want to know how to get a nice cello and set-up for our child?’

Yes, many of these calls are not my students parents and many do not result in lessons or direct income for me BUT I take them anyway and give free advice because I believe if you are going to buy an instrument let’s DO IT RIGHT with a good set-up from the start! It’s the unknown cello student who is struggling valiantly on a cello that doesn’t suit them or even fit them that I care about!

I know if I was a time-poor parent looking to buy something of quality and importance in my child’s life I would seek out someone I know and trust and someone who is good at whatever that is to get advice. Hang on – I am a Time Poor Parent!


The other kind of call goes like this: ‘Hello I am Dr.*** and you have come highly recommended from professional musician friends of mine who suggested you might know of a great instrument to buy. I am finally starting to play after years of putting it off and I want to make sure I get a good quality instrument that sounds wonderful from the start.”

This type of caller will likely have more budget and time to research their purchase and be more concerned with buying quality lasting products.


Rarely does the Time Poor Parent or the Adult Learner make the most important connection. Learning in instrument is a simple equation:

what you put in = what you get out

So don’t spend your whole budget on the BEST cello and have no money left over for a quality bow, case, strings, music stand, sheet music and then importantly, your MUSIC LESSONS!

Remember learning to play an instrument takes a lot more effort and input from others than just buying one!

INPUT (teaching + regularity + instrument) = OUTPUT (skill + confidence + sound)

busting common cello buying myths

myth 1


Cello players often equate BIG sound with BIG instruments and chase mammoth creations of wood or carbon without knowing the full truth:

“The best sound comes from an instrument that’s properly fitted to a player’s body shape who uses a solid foundational bowing technique.”


Fit the cello to you when sitting down. See which cello is the right size for me?  Get some great advice on a bow hold and bowing exercises from an experienced teacher. Develop good habits from the start by booking in for a series of starter cello lessons.

myth 2



“Never blame your tools!”

Great players and teachers know how to work with a basic instrument’s limitation and capitalize on it. The aim? To achieve high performance and quality sound best suited to the student’s developing technique on a particular instrument. No beginner student should start on a Stradivarius!


Buy a cello suited to your level of playing. Beginner? Buy or rent a basic student package. I play every single student’s cello to see what he or she is experiencing when playing it. I give advice on upgrading strings, bow re-hairs, playing action adjustment and maintenance when required.

Service Your Cello

String instruments need to be well looked after professionally ‘set up’ and well maintained by an experienced luthier (like servicing your car or regular health check-ups at the doctors).


Depending on the instrument size, brand, shop, location, condition, quality of craftsmanship and if it is second hand or new, prices will vary from $600- $15,000 for a complete student package.

Cello, 4 x quality strings (A, D, G, C), rosin, bow, dusting cloth, rock-stop, case.

  • Instrument, bow, rosin, soft cloth to wipe strings after playing with the bow
  • Rock-stop or spike holder to stop your cello slipping on the floor
  • Metal, wooden or collapsible music stand to read your music
  • Straight-backed armless level chair – your knees should be just lower than your bottom when seated to play
  • Cello lesson notebook
  • Music books
  • A4 folder for extra music copies given out during lessons or ensembles
  • Spare set of strings in case one breaks
  • Metronome and tuner to help with your sense of rhythm and tuning up your instrument

From a budding student or a teacher’s perspective, the brand name is not important, how it works and sounds is. Talk with the sellers about particular brands they sell and listen to what they tell you. Try the cello before you buy or rent it.

The majority of student outfits and cheaper brands for sale in Australian string shops are made in factories in China, Korea, Taiwan, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong. I always suggest buying or commissioning an instrument and supporting expert luthiers if you can afford it.

You get what you pay for. A cello made by a luthier by hand and not in a factory line will be of better quality, an investment and more expensive.

FACTORY CELLO can be stamped out of plywood, quickly glued and finished, with tuning pegs that often are not carefully sized and hand-fitted into the peg box.

QUALITY CELLO is hand-carved from maple and spruce not plywood. The glue luthiers or string specialist shops use allows the instrument to be taken apart for repairs if required.

VARNISH should be pleasing to the eye, cover the whole body of the instrument and not sticky to the touch.

CELLO FITTINGS (fingerboard and pegs) on quality cellos are made of ebony or rosewood. Cheaper cello fittings can be alternate woods painted black or plastic.

TUNING PEGS need to fit precisely into the peg box or the instrument will slip out of tune. Planetary pegs are now available but these are an expensive option and can be fitted by any luthier or specialist string shop to any instrument to support the player with tuning the instrument.

PLAYING ACTION should be set-up by a luthier. The angle of the fingerboard, the placement of the nut, the bridge, and the height of the strings above the fingerboard are all crucial dimensions for a working instrument.

CELLO BRIDGE should be made of a quality grade maple, cut with regard to the grain of the wood, and fitted by hand to the belly of the cello. No glue.

INSIDE THE CELLO the sound post should be fitted and positioned for quality sound by hand. The bass bar (which one cannot see at all without opening up the cello) must be correctly positioned and glued to the belly of the cello.

CELLO STRINGS should be the best quality you can afford, the right size or length to fit your cello, positioned on the bridge and nut with correct spacing and height. Fine tuners or adjusters are installed on the tailpiece, and these need to be installed correctly by an experienced professional.

ENDPIN should be easily adjustable and have a rubber stop on the end to protect the floor.

FREE SETUP is often part of the student outfit when buying an instrument from a string specialist shop by their resident luthier. They ensure that each cello is individually assembled, setup, tuned, and inspected before sale. Your cello will be ready to play when you receive it—not sent to you unstrung or in pieces as sold by online suppliers.

Setup includes:

  • shaping and planning the fingerboard
  • carving and fitting the bridge to the cello
  • carving the nut to professional curvature
  • fitting pegs
  • polishing the finish
  • installing strings and tuning the cello
  • fitting and adjusting the soundpost
  • fitting and adjusting the tailpiece
  • inspecting and pre-rosining the bow

If you buy a cello second-hand, take it to a luthier or local shop to check on the playing set-up and ensure it’s in full working order.

Watch this video to see how it’s done!

String Specialist Shops who supply/rent/maintain string instruments sell or can order sheet music and all string instrument accessories:

Sunshine Coast Music Shops:

Cellos are available in 1/8, ¼, ½, ¾ and 4/4 (full size). Here is a rough guide by age based on my teaching experience. Some female adult students are best fitted to a ¾ cello depending on their length of back and arm.

  • Ages 3-6 = 1/8 size
  • Ages 6-8 = ¼ size
  • Ages 8-11 = ½ size
  • Ages 11-14 ¾ size
  • Ages 14 – adult = full size

Sit erectly on a chair of such a height that your feet can rest comfortably on the floor. Extend the endpin of the cello to about A4 paper length. Let the cello rest against your chest, peg box to the left of your head and aim for your heart at a 45-degree angle. If the cello is the correct size, the top of the cello will rest on your heart, the peg for the C string will be close to your left ear.

Renting a cello is a smart low cost and low risk option. You can rent a cello for six months or a year before making a purchase. Maybe you will lose interest in a few months. Maybe you will discover that you don’t like that particular cello, and want to get a different one. Does the shop have a “rent to own” option? What about a “trade-in” at a future date for a better cello? Don’t buy the first cello you see at the first string shop you visit. There are many rental options on the market. Make enquiries and do some research on what is best for your budget and situation. Contact these retailers:

  1. Never leave a cello in a hot car
  2. Never put shopping on it in the boot of the car
  3. Put your end pin in when finished practicing or rehearsing so no-one trips over it and smashes it
  4. Never leave it in a draft or directly in the sun or under an air-conditioning unit
  5. Put it away in it’s case after playing
  6. Put it on a cello stand if taking a practice break
  7. Loosen the cello bow between practice and playing sessions
  8. Find a safe and secure place to stow it at school, work or at home

Tipbook for Cello by Hugo Pinksterboer – Tipbook company (Hal Leonard Publication) – a great little pocket sized book packed with info on the history, maintenance, how to choose bows, rosin and strings.

If your cello is in good working order, you should rarely need to turn your pegs (unless you use gut strings) or if it is affected by seasonal weather changes.

Brisbane String Shops:

The variety of strings can be overwhelming even for professional musicians and due to their expense most players often stick to what they know and trust.

I generally advise to keep string set-ups as simple as possible at the beginning. A student cello can sound $500 more expensive with a better quality set of strings on and the student will enjoy playing on the quality string for longer. You get what you pay for. Remember to buy the correct size string for the size of the cello. Brands will sell fractional strings (1/8, 1,4, ½, ¾ size).

Cello string brands are D’Addario, Jargar, Larsen, Pirastro, Prim and Thomastik-Infeld.

Recommended modern cello set –up:

A & D Larson Soloists Strings | Pirastro Permanent | Pirastro Passione | Jargar medium tone

G & C Thomastik-Infeld Spirocore Tungsten | Prim strings medium tone | Pirastro brands i.e. Dominant / Passione

Each brand researches, produces and markets a specialised string technology, diameter, sound production, playing response and tension.

Nylon-String – Specialized string construction with fine precision winding made with tungsten alloy, aluminum, and polished silver. The strings will resist breakage while maintaining flexibility to provide a comfortable playing experience. Cello players will appreciate the sound and feel of nylon strings. Nylon is highly durable and able to withstand frequent musical performances.

Steel-String – Strings built from heavy-duty steel with a multi-strand core construction method with sturdy metals tungsten, aluminum, and titanium. A steel-string has a small diameter, which produces a faster bow response than with a nylon-stringed cello. The steel-string cello is durable and releases a loud, and metallic sound.

If you’re a beginner with limited technical skills, you make few demands of your bow. It isn’t likely that you’ll yet need the qualities of a fine and expensive bow. For now, you simply need a bow with a reasonably strong stick and a good curve; a bow that’s not too heavy or light and with a proper balance. As your skills increase, however, so do your demands on the bow and your ability to recognize the difference.

Here are 6 simple tips to consider when you venture off to visit your local shop in search of the perfect bow to suit you.

  1. Type of Material: Brazilwood ($50 – $300); Pernambuco ($400 – $10,000); Carbon Fibre ($50 – $4,000); Fiberglass ($40-$80)
  2. Sound: Look for a bow that will give both a smooth, open sound, clarity of focus and articulation and quickness of response.
  3. Weight and Balance: Average cello bow weights = 80 grams. Look for a bow that feels right in your hand. To test the weight, pick up a bow and hold it at a 45-degree angle. It should feel natural in the hand–well balanced from tip to frog with equal weight throughout.
  4. Shape: Round or octagonal? With two bows made from the same wood, the octagonal shaft will be stiffer. Some octagonal bows are quite stiff, creating a hard, one-dimensional tone, lacking nuance.
  5. Price: Establish a budget, but do expect to look at bows that are a little more expensive. If you don’t know much about bows, try lots of bows to educate yourself about what is available.
  6. Test: When you go bow shopping, be sure and bring your own cello and current bow with you as a benchmark. Each bow will perform differently on different instruments; remember that you’re looking for a bow that complements your cello. Once you’ve chosen one or two from a batch, ask to see some more. Play the same brief passage with each bow, one right after another. There’s a good chance that one or two will stand out.’

A good bow should become an extension of your right hand. It should flow with you as you play with minimum effort.

Rosin is a resin used on the bow hair to create friction and a drag on the strings. Packaged in cakes, rosin is essential to make a string sound. Wipe rosin on the bow hair each time you play. A brand new bow requires more rosin. Wipe the string clean with a soft cloth once finished playing.

Dark Rosin: softer consistency and stickier – for cello and double bass players.

Rosin brands: Pirastro, Hill, Millant-Deroux, Jade.

Luthiers make, maintain and repair string instruments and rehair your bow. Support these craftsmen with your business.

  • John Simmers – Violinmaker and restorer, 55 Arthur Terrace, Red Hill, Brisbane  p: 07 3368 3866
  • Robert Wittolz – Maker and restorer, 21 Brandenburg Rd, Mooloolah, Sunshine Coast  p: 07 5492 9191  m: 0419 650120
  • Dean McCluskey – Pitch Perfect Strings, Caloundra 0438 514 451 (07) 5491 6467
  • Ilya Grawert – Violinmaker, 20 Logan Road, Woolloongabba, Brisbane 4102  p: 1800 882 468
  • Olaf Grawert – Violinmaker and restorer, 29 Lamington Tce, Dutton Park, Brisbane p: 07 3844 6090

Book in with a luthier, instrument maker and repairer or if the instrument is under guarantee take it back to the shop you bought it or rented it from.

Luthiers make, maintain and repair string instruments and re-hair your bow. Support these craftsmen with your business.

  • John Simmers – Violinmaker and restorer, 55 Arthur Terrace, Red Hill, Brisbane  p: 07 3368 3866
  • Robert Wittolz – Maker and restorer, 21 Brandenburg Rd, Mooloolah, Sunshine Coast  p: 07 5492 9191  m: 0419 650120
  • Dean McCluskey – Pitch Perfect Strings, Caloundra 0438 514 451 (07) 5491 6467
  • Ilya Grawert – Violinmaker, 20 Logan Road, Woolloongabba, Brisbane 4102  p: 1800 882 468
  • Olaf Grawert – Violinmaker and restorer, 29 Lamington Tce, Dutton Park, Brisbane p: 07 3844 6090


Buy a case best suited to your needs. As a professional musician, I need a case to withstand the frequent rigors of travel by plane, road freight, car and public transport. I have three types of cases.

If you are investing and buying a quality cello, buy a quality case that looks after your instrument and protects it while traveling to school, work or rehearsals.

If your child is young, consider buying a trolley to help with taking it to and from school or use a soft case, which is lighter to carry on its own.

If it’s a rental or beginner cello, it will come with a case as part of the beginner student package.

If you have the budget, spend more on the case so your child feels they have a great looking case that makes them feel proud to carry it around.

Look at a full range of cases here:

Soft Cello Bags = soft case, padding and straps

Soft Cello Case = soft deluxe padded bag with straps

Hard Cello Case with wheels = foam case with more protection and straps

Hard Cello Case with shoulder straps = lighter and easier to carry

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