Buying My Forever Cello

November 21, 2021

It’s Time to Upgrade Your Cello

At the end of my cello lesson a few weeks ago my teacher said to me, “I think it’s time to upgrade your cello.” A part of me thought that I would never out grow my current cello, so I was surprised and elated by the prospect of buying a cello.

I started lessons twelve years ago this month. My current cello, which I have had since day one, is an Eastman 100. A good, capable student instrument. Since I bought it from my wife’s eldest son, and since he bought it new, it has always “been in the family.” I have no intention of trading it in or selling it.

David, my teacher, suggested that I look for something in the $4000 - $5000 range. After spending a couple of weeks reading various articles on how to buy a cello, and researching violin shops and luthiers in the area, I felt I was ready to go try some cellos.

Helpful Guides

I found a couple of helpful guides online about buying a cello. Strings magazine’s How to Shop for a Cello Priced }Under $5000, and Adult Cellos’ Beginner’s Guide to Buying a Cello: Common Misconceptions and How to Try Cellos Effectively were both extremely helpful.

My teacher recommended the luthier he uses as a good starting place. I also used the dealer locations link the Jay Haide site as a way to find area violin shops.

For the in-store visits, I put together a “play list” of pieces or parts of pieces to play on each cello. I wanted a “checklist” so that I’d try the same things on all the instruments I played.

Here is the list of things I tried to do with each cello I played.

I wanted to get enough of an impression in the shop of each cello, so that I could select one for a home trial. In addition to playing it at home, I planned on taking any borrowed cello to my lesson to allow my teacher to play it, and to allow me to hear it being played. This is going to be my forever cello, I am not likely to buy another one. It is worth taking my time, and being deliberate.

I have discovered that the selection is almost certainly going to be mostly subjective. While there are some objective aspects, it really comes down to how does it feel to play, how does it sound, can I make all the nuanced notes I want with it: from light as a feather to bow hair snapping attacks.

The Contenders

There are four luthiers or violin shops relatively close to where I live. Relatively is a relative term. The closest is 90 miles away, the farthest is 140 miles away. I had intended to visit all four, but at Wyatt I ended up taking out two cellos on approval. With no room in the car for a third cello I skipped KC Strings.

At each shop I played all the instruments they had in the $3000 - $5000 price range. In one case I played a cello priced at $9600. While it was a very nice cello, I’m not sure that it was twice as nice as the $4995 cello I borrowed from that luthier. In all I played 13 cellos, in three shops, located in two different states. I borrowed, or brought home on approval, four cellos, one each from Lawrence and Wichita, and two from Independence.

Century 520

The Century is a beautiful instrument, with a dark, glossy finish. It is setup with a Belgium style bridge and Larsen Originals for the A and D strings, and Thomastic Infeld Spirocores for the G and C strings. The end pin is carbon fiber.

The cello produces sound very easily. The date on the label has 2020 for the year, so it is a relatively new instrument. The sound is rich and even across all four strings. No one string stands out as either too bright or muffled. At least one of the cellos I played in the shop had a pronounced drop in sound production between the C string and all the other strings. Something that a change in setup might address, but enough to cause me to set that cello aside from consideration.

This cello has a string wolf around F#—it would require some kind of wolf eliminator.

The strings on this cello are set very high, perhaps too high. The luthier said that he can easily cut down the bridge to lower them. In the lower positions I don’t notice it too much. In the upper positions it does trip me up. I’d have to move my bow much closer to the bridge than I am used to.

Jay Haide l’ancienne

The Haide sounds fantastic, but is finished to look worn and old. Personally I find the fake antiquing to be a bit much. The label on this cello says 2021-01, so it is only 10 months old. I suspect it’ll continue to sound better and better the more it is played.

The setup for this cello has the strings quite low, lower than my cello, and significantly lower than the strings on the Century. The fingerboard does not have a Romberg slope. In my playing I didn’t notice the lack of a Romberg slope, so I’m not sure if it would have become a factor or not.

So far it hasn’t got a wolf tone, but I think it may very well develop one as it gets played regularly.

Eastman Pietro Lombardi

The Pietro has a warm, golden color, and a wonderful sound. I played seven cellos in that shop, and the moment I started playing this cello, I immediately put it ahead of the others. It is setup with Larsen A and D strings, and Spirocores for the G and C.

It plays very easily and has a bright clear sound. The shop was eager to sell it, and offered a 20% discount, reducing the price by nearly $1000.

Jay Haide Statue Euro Ruggieri

This cello didn’t have a price tag on it. When I started playing it I was immediately bowled over by its power, by its resonance, and by the richness of its tone. I thought to myself, please don’t let this be a $10,000 cello. There were actually two Euros. I played both and selected this one as it had less antiquing. Overall the Euros have far less of the antiquing that is on the Haide l’ancienne.

Like the Pietro it is setup with Larsen A and D, and Spirocores for the G and C. The end pin is carbon fiber.

The Ruggieri in the name refers to the cello pattern it is designed to mimic. In this case a Francesco Ruggieri. These are broad shoulder cellos. The upper bout is bigger than on a Strad model. The increased air volume gives the cello lots of power and projection.

Playing At Home

I picked up the Century on the 11th, and the Haide l’ancienne on the 12th. I played both of these cellos every day for a week. I’m working on the Bach C minor cello suite, so some of the playing time was spent with my A string tuned down to G. This gave me ample opportunity to tune with the pegs. Both tuned easily with the pegs.

At my Thursday lesson (after I’d had the cellos for a week) my teacher played both. I liked the Century better. He was leaning toward the Haide. By the end of the lesson he agreed with me that the Century had a better over all sound. In my mind the Century was the cello to surpass.

On the 19th I planed two visit to more shops, hoping to bring home two more cellos to try. As it turns out, I brought home two from the first of those shops: The Pietro Lombardi and the Haide Statue Euro.

After playing both here at home, I was almost immediately convinced that the Euro was the cello for me. My wife also felt it had the best overall sound. On Saturday, I met my teacher long enough for him to play both the Lombardi and the Euro. The moment he drew my bow across the C string on the Euro, he stopped and said, “Oh.” After a few minutes playing both, he said that he liked the Euro. I told him that I agreed. And with that, I knew which cello I wanted to buy.

Finalizing the Purchase

Having the privilege to check out four $5000 instruments so that I could play them at home, was crucial to the success of my search. Having a total of five acoustic cellos in our living room was a bit mind blowing.

I have been in contact with the wonderful folks at Wyatt Violin in Independence Missouri to make arrangements to return the Pietro Lombardi, and the case I brought the Haide Euro home in. At that visit we’ll finalize the purchase.

I also need to return the other two cellos to their respective luthiers. This means a fair bit of driving for me over the next two days. Manhattan to Lawrence to Wichita to Manhattan one day, and Manhattan to Independence and back on the next day. All told I will have driven nearly 1,400 miles exploring my cello options.

I couldn’t be happier with my decision to buy the Haide Statue Euro cello. I am already making plans to rearrange my practice space to make enough room for me to have both my acoustic cellos, my NS Design electric cello, and my mandolin, out and ready to be played. I am looking forward to making beautiful music with my new cello.

Author's profile picture

Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.