Chinese Proverb

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

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cello Reviews, Part 1: Selecting a cello

My favorite violin shop provides a Pre-Purchase Consultation which I think is an excellent idea! Getting professional unbiased advice from another violin maker! I had brought the three cellos I had on trial. Yes, it is expensive, but I'm going to have the cello for awhile so I want the cello I pick to be capable of responding the way I want.

I have two reasons why I'm posting these reviews:
1) It'll serve as a reminder of what I need to look for in a cello next time I purchase a cello in the not-so-near future
2) I think it would have been helpful if I knew HOW and WHY other people picked out their cellos and it would have been nice if I was able to find other people reviews on the cellos they selected. Unfortunately, I didn't come across any blogs like that...

Below is some information and advice I've come across while in search of my perfect cello!

Cello development:
  • New cellos develop in stages like cellists do - at first they need to be broken in where they just need to be played A LOT  - both the new cellist and cello! :). During this time the cello's sound should become more focused, refined and the volume should increase as it settles. 
    • So far all of the cellos' sound have become more refined, and should also develop further 
  • Once my technique becomes more developed and I ask the cello for more it should be able to respond in kind. If I ask for more volume because I've learned to perform a solo, the cello should say, "okay, you've got it!" and give me the power that I need. Or if I've learn how to play with different emotions, it should say, "oh, that's new, but I can do that!" and provide a richer palette of colors for me to use! The cello should be able to learn along with me and with each development, a door should open to provide me with more options. And as it does so, the palette of sounds should increase along with my technical development. Yes - a cello can do that! least that's what I've been told... ;).
    • I know that's asking a lot from an intermediate cello, but I'm not going to settle for a mediocre cello, even one in the "lower" price range! 
    • Why? Because I've discovered my first rental cello was holding me back! The very noticeable strong wolf (even with an eliminator) made it so I had to press down to get a good sound and I wasn't able to sustain any soft quiet notes from that cello. How would I have discovered dynamics if the cello wasn't able to provide that in the first place? Or made strides in my bowing in just a couple of months if I always needed to use a lot of strength and weight in my bowing? Obviously an experienced cellist with good technique can make (most) any cello sound good and play it with relative ease, but for a beginner like me, I think it makes all the difference in the world! I've read that getting a good first cello is important, but I didn't realize how important it really was for me!

A tip from Linda, the shop owner I purchased the cellos from:
  • "Projection isn't everything you also want breath, responsiveness and complexity. You want to be able to play very lightly and still get a quality sincere voice. Compare the dynamic ranges in various places on each cello. Can you go from PP to FF easily in a single bow stroke? Play closer to the bridge to get an idea of the cello's true potential. Take your time and savor the process you may be surprised at what you will learn and discover."

Some factors to consider when purchasing a cello:
  1. Sound quality - does it sound good "under my ear," and secondly, to other people? I should enjoy the sound coming out of my own cello!
  2. Response, Comfort & Playability- how is the response to tonal range, expression and dynamic? Does it feel comfortable, and if it has larger upper bouts (e.g. Montagnana & Gofriller patterns) will I be able to reach the lower positions later? Is it easy and forgiving to play? 
  3. Maintenance & Health - will it need repairs now or in the future? Is it a high maintenance cello, i.e. will its present condition be indicator of future repairs or maintenance? 
  4. Resale value or trade in value - how long will I be playing this cello? For shorter time frames, this should be a higher consideration
  5. Appearance - how is the workmanship on the cello? Is the wood and varnish of good quality? Cellists put a premium on sound, but let's face it, we're visual creatures who base value on visual beauty!

The contenders:

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

I received these three cellos from the same dealer from Santa Barbara, California who has been extremely patient. Linda should be nominated for sainthood or something! The poor women - I've probably driven her nuts, and my teacher too!

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this cello dealer/violin shop. She also has a reputation for being a very knowledgeable, patient person, which is why I looked at her website and tried some cellos - even though I was very hesitant and scared to buy online! I won't list the website (I dislike listing shop names), but if you're interested let me know. Although it's fairly easy to figure it out after reading through this blog! ;).

I've played/tested a total of 13 cellos: 3 from Craigslist, 6 from local shops and 4 from online sites (3 from Linda). At one point I had four cellos in my very small living room which was a disaster! I don't know how people test out more than three cellos at a time, especially to give each cello enough time to really settle and develop, especially in the very dry climate I'm located.

I've only shown four cellos to my teacher. None of the other 8 cellos made the cut for me to show him. Although I have yet to show the Jonathan Li cello (which is my favorite) because it's still at the shop. Hopefully he approves...

I'll review the three cellos separately. Reviews to follow...

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