Chinese Proverb

"Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I'll understand." - Chinese Proverb.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cello Review, Part 3: Pietro Lombardi cello

I thought I'd better finish up my reviews on the cellos now that I'm done looking for a cello. My intent is not to encourage people to buy these specific cello makers (although I do think they're good), but to know that looking for a cello is a process.

During my cello search, I wish I had come across a blog that described other people's experiences in buying a cello, the processes they used and what they looked at specifically to determine why they chose their cello.
Although I have to admit...I am a bit picky and tend to over-analyze things...

Part three is my review of my Eastman Pietro Lombardi cello:

I knew right away I wanted to purchase the Jonathan Li cello, but choosing between the two remaining cellos (Wultur and Lombardi) was really, really difficult and confusing!!

A quick note: ALL cellos are different, so if you're looking at the same maker and model, the cello will most certainly have different characteristics, so none of this applies except to these specific cellos.

The contenders were:

2011 Eastman Jonathan Li 503 (left with the lightest color)
2011 Calin Wultur Student (middle)
2010 Eastman Pietro Lombardi 502 (right in case)

2010 Eastman Pietro Lombardi, Model 502, Stradivarius, Beijing, China

Evaluation/Misc Info.:
  • This cello's price was discounted because it had some varnish issues, i.e. streaking or crackling. However, when it was selected by the dealer at the Eastman warehouse, she compared it side by side to German Wilhelm Kliers, Rudolph Doetsch, and many others in the same price range and found that this cello was by far the most open and even.
    • I've discovered that this cello has been pretty consistent in beating out cellos in the same (and some above) price range as well - you rock cello! :).

1) Sound quality
  • This has a very smooth warm quality, albeit fairly quiet. However, this cello has settled and opened up quite a bit; i.e. its volume has gotten louder and the sound has become more focused, which is what new cellos are supposed to do. This cello was shipped from California to Colorado and still has some settling to do, but I think when it finally does settle this will really sound very sweet and resonant
  • I was informed that cellos that have just recently been set up and shipped, especially new cellos that have never been played before have a lot of complex things happening with regards to age, settling and opening up. I've discovered the cellos' sound is different 3 days later, 1 week later, two weeks later, and a month later and so on! Shops should really make their trial periods longer! Although the shop I purchased this cello from was extremely generous in allowing me to have a fairly long extended trial period
    • My teacher also warned me that getting a new cellos can cause some headaches. The reason experienced cellists pick used cellos is because the sound has already settled and they know how it will sound and do not need to wait for the sound to develop
      • The novelty of getting a "new" cello has definitely worn off on me (I'm definitely buying a used cello the next time around!), as I've discovered waiting for the sound to develop is frustrating and settling issues can cause some additional unexpected costs, especially for my Li cello where I had to open up the seams and let it sit for a few weeks to allow the wood to settle and shrink
  • Type of varnish: This cello has an oil varnish which takes some time to fully cure (if I remember correctly 2-5 years). Oil varnishes are soft and take some time to harden, which makes the tone rich and lush, but not as loud. As the varnish hardens it becomes more focused and rings more. The wood itself is also changing and contributes even more to the maturity of the cello's voice as it ages
    • Spirit varnishes come from the other spectrum - spirit varnishes are pretty much at full cure from the beginning and are hard. What is desirable in these spirit varnishes is for the cellos to mellow and round out a bit, as they tend to have more volume and can be more strident
    • And of course, not all varnishes are oil or spirit varnishes - there are a plethora of varnish mixtures and combination between the oil and spirit varnishes, plus various secret "ingredients" that will also affect the cure and sound as well

2) Response & Comfort
  • The volume of this cello in the beginning was fairly quiet, but now its become louder and the sound more refined! I received this a few months ago so I can't wait to hear it after a year
  • The Lombardi is also more particular with my bowing and won't produce a nice sound unless I use the proper technique! It's great feedback - I'm learning from my cello! :). Although it has been frustrating, I've noticed that playing any other cello has become a piece of cake! 
  • Dynamics - this cello is learning dynamics! At first its sound was very closed, but it's coming around and is now able to sustain softer notes longer, not as well as the other two cellos I'm reviewing, but its getting there. It works much better with Evah A & D strings (instead of Larsen A&D), but Evahs are a little too bright for my taste for this specific cello. I tried Kaplan A & D strings next, which worked better but it brought out a wolf tone on F# so I'm still experimenting with strings on this cello
  • Comfort - the string length for this cello is 26 3/4 inches which is fairly comfortable for me, but on the small side because I find my fingers get lazy and collapse going from one string to another 
  • Volume - this particular cello is on the quiet side, although I often times practice well into the night (sometimes past midnight) because I don't have time during the day because of school and work. So I'm able to use the cello without a mute - I'm sure my neighbors appreciate that! :).

3) Maintenance & Health
  • This cello hasn't had as much settling issues like the other two cellos. One of the reasons is because it was made in 2010 and the other two cellos were made in 2011 (and yes, I was told that a cello sitting around in a warehouse or shop for a year makes a HUGE difference)
  • I want to take this cello to the shop after a year to make sure it doesn't have any settling issues, i.e. the neck or fingerboard may start to bow and the top and bottom ribs may start to bulge from shrinkage from this climate, like the other two cellos have done already
  • Adjustments - I also need to make adjustments on this cello which I will have to wait on because I've exceeded my cello budget already. The bridge needs to be adjusted (the feet so it's more flush with the body and the bridge thinned a bit so it's more straight) and the soundpost needs to be worked on as well

4) Resale Value/Trade-In Value
  • I can get 100% trade-in for this cello, so I'm not worried about this, and I don't think I'd ever want to sell it either, but you never know and this is backed by the best cello warranty in the industry: 
    • Eastman Strings warrants its instruments and bows to be free of defect in material and construction for the lifetime of the product.
  • Always a good idea to buy from a shop that you can trade-in the cello for a more expensive cello. Otherwise there is a reduction in resale value, especially for intermediate cellos like this one

5) Appearance 
  • This cello has streaking, which was driving me a little nuts, but now I kind of like it! I also like the varnish color on this cello
  • The streaking on this particular cello was caused by putting the varnish on too quickly and thickly, so the under layer dried faster than the top which caused the top layer to open up causing lines across the varnish
  • The luthier said that a lot of older instruments have crackling and it just adds to the cello's character. He had an expensive 300 year old violin in the safe which has streaking and crackling throughout its varnish 
    • I think there's a difference between "crackling" and "streaking" in varnishes, but I don't remember specifically what the difference was, so forgive me if I use those terms improperly

Next up: the Calin Wultur Student cello


    1. Hi,

      Just curious why did you buy two cello when you could have used the extra money to buy a single, better cello?

    2. Hi Yee,

      The short answer: because I’m CRAZY and extremely indecisive! Lol! :).

      The long answer: the benefits of having two cellos outweighed the benefits of having one cello for me. Although I’m sure a lot of people are perfectly fine with one cello and think having two is excessive, which is what I initially thought at first too…

      But below are my reasons:

      1) DIFFERENT “VOICES”: there is only a certain amount of string changes and bridge changes you can do to change the tone of a cello. The Lombardi is definitely a lot darker and moodier with more overtones, while the Li is brighter, focused and has more volume. I’m planning to use the Lombardi to learn and play blues, jazz and improv (with a pickup), and the Li for everything else

      2) VENUES: there’s a hotel bar close to where I live that has free “sign up jam sessions” available. It’s your typical bar scene so I wouldn't want to take my more expensive cello (the Li) to this venue in case someone drops beer or something on it. I would be completely livid if I had only ONE expensive cello and someone accidently dropped a drink on it! Also, if playing outdoors I would use the less expensive cello.

      3) BACKUP: I play the cello daily and not having a cello around if it’s at the shop is definitely not very fun, especially if it has to be at the shop for a week or so. I have cello! :). Also, my husband will be learning to play the cello, so he'll be borrowing the Lombardi cello.

      4) GEM VS TOAD: Combined, the two cellos would be in the $10,000 price range, which cellos in the $3,500 - $10,000 price range don't typically have that noticeable of a sound difference to warrant purchasing cellos at the upper end of the spectrum. You just have to very diligent and research everything thoroughly (it took me 4-5 months of diligently looking online, looking at cellos at local shops and trying over 16 cellos) to find these diamonds in the ruff!
      You can find “gems” in the lower price range that can outplay or perform as good as cellos in the $10,000 price range and then you can find "toads" in the upper price range that sound worse than cellos in the $3,500 range.
      And yes, I've played and heard a cello that was being sold for $9,500 that sounded worse than my $3,500 cello (or it may be due to my personal preference). I also came across another used cello in the $8,500 range that sounded decent (not worth $8,500 in my opinion), and its arching was also sinking, which would have caused me costly repairs down the road as well
      So the question is - would you rather have one "relatively" great cello which still won't sound as good as “professional” cellos ranging $25,000+ or two cellos that can sound as good as $10,000 cellos, i.e. as long as you look carefully and do your research?

      To be honest, I think my Jonathan Li cello does sound like a $10,000+ cello, but then again that’s just me.
      I've also read really good reviews on J. Haide cellos which are in the $5,000 range that can sound better than cellos in the $25,000+ range (although I haven't heard one in person yet). A local luthier mentioned a cellist who was so impressed with a J. Haide cello that was at their shop that he used it for his concerts instead of an EXTREMELY expensive cello that was loaned to him!
      I almost tried a J. Haide cello, but that local shop had a 1-2 month waiting period so I decided to order one online instead. Unfortunately, there was a misfortunate shipping accident and so I had to send the cello right back. I didn’t want to deal with that again, so I figured it just wasn’t meant to be.

      There are a lot of cellists that own two cellos, however, it is kind of odd that I have two cellos especially since I'm only a beginner! :0).
      But I have a fairly good track record of keeping “hobbies” long term so I know this will be a long time commitment.

      I don’t know… I guess a “better” cello is all relative anyway…

      Sorry, about the long post!

    3. Guess you never considered a Luis and Clark cello as a traveling cello? If I had the extra money and needed a second cello, it would be something I would strongly consider.

      I think by spending more on a single cello, you can buy a cello with better pedigree which would help with resale and appreciation over time. The price of a cello, as you've noticed already is much more than just tone and playability. A terrible sounding Stradivarius will still have a hefty price tag versus a beautiful sounding factory made cello.

      Envious of your cello shopping spree :-)

    4. Hi Yee,

      I did look into Luis and Clark cello! :).
      Yo-Yo Ma has one so I definitely wanted to look into it! And I’m currently listening to the 99 Essential Cello Masterpieces where I think all of the pieces are played on a L&C cello and it sounds BEAUTIFUL!

      L&C sent me a nice little packet with a free CD.
      I read that it develops like any other cello and will also mature over age. Some pros & cons I’ve come across, which you probably also discovered since you looked into it:

      1) Consistent sound
      2) Great for travel
      3) Pretty much indestructable!

      1) Consistent sound - the inconsistencies is what lends to the “uniqueness” of what is being played
      2) They’re made from molds, but like all cellos, they all have a unique sound (i.e. different strings, setup, player’s technique) so you won’t get a cello like the one Yo-Yo plays. Or it sounds the way it does because Yo-Yo plays it! :).
      3) Price – Out of my price range, but it was at the top of my list – I purchased Lombardi outright, but the Li I’m making payments on. Although I guess if I was a patient person I would have saved up for it, but I’m not – Instant Gratification! :).

      My teacher also mentioned a student (or collegue) bought one and he didn’t particularly like the sound because it wasn’t as rich and full compared to the “normal” celli, but I think that may be attributed player's technique, etc.

      I agree with you though – “pedigree” definitely keeps the resale value, but I’d still put a premium on sound, playability and health of the cello. I’d put pedigree last on my list even if it meant depreciation of value since I’ll be keeping my celli for awhile.

      Some well-known makers considered to be better pedigrees can also make not-so-great cellos too. I’ve come across makers who make tops too thin, incorrect arching so the chest area sinks, etc., but for some reason you don’t read or hear about this. I think it may be that 1) cellists don’t want to say negative things about violinmakers because it can break a violinmaker’s career, which is why I’m not mentioning the 3 fairly well known maker’s cello that I’ve come across that had issues (perhaps a bad apple from each?), and 2) they’re probably a little embarassed about spending that much money only to find that it needs costly repairs.

      I was looking into cellos waaaayy out of my price range so I would know what qualities I wanted in my price range.

      Don’t be envious – it definitely was NOT a very fun process! It lost its appeal after the first month! :)

    5. Thank you for having such a great blog. I was curious if you purchased insurance for your cellos? I just received mine and was wondering if I should do this for my investment/hobby.


    6. It was on my To-Do list and I completely forgot about it! Thanks for the reminder, I'll contact my insurance rep today. I'll let you know what I find out. I go through Farmers insurance but I think it should be similar with regards to other insurance carriers.