I have been dabbling with the idea of buying a cello. I have been taking lessons for a while now and renting a cello that actually sounds rather good. The rental price applies to the purchase of a new cello, but only for the first year. With this in mind, my teacher and I decided to head to the luthier’s to try some out and see what could be had within my budget. Cello shopping. Shello chopping!
When one goes to purchase a cello, there are usually practice rooms in which to try out various choices. I called the luthier ahead of time and let them know I would be in with my instructor to try cellos. When we got there, the saleswoman brought in six to try. None of them sounded better than my rental cello. Even when my instructor played, they sounded screetchy and flat.
A note about the rental cello. When I originally went to rent it, my instructor had informed me that the shop had an excellent rental cello, with a lovely, full-bodied sound. She hoped I would be able to get this cello to rent, and indeed I did. Nearly every week she comments about its pretty sound. After having gone now and listened to many cellos, I can see what she means.
Since the first six were not worthy, we asked to see a few more in the next price bracket up. These did not sound any better than the rental cello, and cost over a $1000 more. So we asked to see some in the next price bracket.
Another side note. About a week before this shopping trip, I had been to the same shop to purchase a violin for my daughter. I told them my price range, and they brought in 8 for us to try. One of the workers in the shop came in to play for us. Two stood out, and one of those was obviously superior. When we went to purchase it, however, it turned out the price was about $2000 more than I had intended to spend. We sent that one back and got the second choice, which was in our price range.
I bring this story up because while cello shopping, something similar occurred. The saleswoman brought in three cellos in the price category that was at the top of what I could spend (and this was more than what I really wanted to spend, but I figured it would not hurt to hear them). These cellos were far superior to the previous lot, and one Czechoslovakian cello shone above all. It had a full, round, gorgeous sound. When I picked it up to play, I felt a welling of emotion through my body and my chest. It reminded me of a dressage horse, eloquent and beautiful. Even my playing sounded lovely on this cello. I decided to take it home for a week when it turned out the price was $1000 more than I had told them I could spend. I wondered then, whether this was their m.o., to bring in a batch of instruments with one far superior to the others in the hope that an unwitting buyer would fall so in love, that money be damned, they would buy the instrument. I’m not so easily swayed, and my budget is my budget because I don’t have any more to spend, and I don’t use credit. I decided to take the gorgeous thing home, but I knew the visit would be temporary.
Another big part of the trip entailed trying various bows. It was not until that point that I realized how much a difference a good bow makes when playing a cello. The rental bow I have is a piece of crap. It is a lot of work to balance properly and requires effort to run along the strings. I tried at least a dozen bows that day and discovered how much easier it is to play with a decent bow. I could feel the difference. It was amazing. And the better bows sounded better. Even I, rough and new, didn’t sound half bad with a good bow. I found the bow that best matched the lovely Czechoslovakian cello and arranged to take them home.
During the week, I played both the Czech cello and my rental. I played my rental with the nice bow and while it sounded better than the rental bow, the good bow was not the best match for my rental cello (bows sound different on different cellos, so one has to find a good pair). I loved the beautiful sounds I made on the Czech cello. However, I realized that it was outside my price range. And having listened to a lot of cellos, I saw that my little rental actually did sound pretty good. I decided I would try to find my rental a good bow partner and keep her for a while. In the long run, I might spend a bit more, but for now, the cello I have does just fine. If I ever get to the point where my playing wouldn’t make people want to hide under a rock, I will look again at spending more money, and who knows? Maybe the Czech cello will still be there, waiting for me. I can dream.