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How to Value and Buy A Cello

QUESTION

Tim, the following is a message that I sent to xxxxx. I would also like to know what your thoughts are on the subject and if there are plans for a future article in the TUTTI CELLI.

I have recently begun looking into the prices of cellos. I am not adverse to acquiring a new, contemporary instrument; however, finding an instrument that is well constructed with exceptional tone quality, requires a considerable investment. I am an adult player with an instrument that I aquired aproximately 10 years ago. The origin of this instrument per the dealer was the area known as Bohemia. At the time I purchased this instrument, it had been badly treated; (e.g., 2 cracks on the table; 1 on the left C rib, and another on the lower bout near the endpin), but it possessed the tone quality and color that I found quite pleasing.

At that time, I was quite naive in what to look for or what troubles I would encounter (It was my original intention to have the instrument restored). I soon was made aware by other instrument makers over time that the investment required to restore my instrument would not be worth the effort or expense. One observation I have made is that instrument prices are set arbitrarily by makers as well as dealers, but how does one determine if they are paying a fair price? Should a cello student employ the assistance of their cello teachers when looking at instruments, or is there some other tried and true method?

Any assistance you can provide in this area would be EXTREMELY helpful. I live in Northern California, so there are many makers, dealers, etc. from which to contact, but the prices as I have mentioned are quite staggering in my opinion. For example, if one is looking in the $10,000 - $15,000 range, what kind of quality in craftsmanship and tone production should be expected. Then there is the factor of factory produced, shop, and master level quality. It gets pretty complicated.

If you tell me, I'll forget;
If you show me, I'll remember;
If you let me do it, I'll understand.
--Norwegian Credo

ANSWER:

Instrument values are dependent on many factors: the reputation of the maker, when it was made, the quality of the workmanship, the condition, the appearance, its sound, the market demand, etc. Unfortunately for us, the buyers, there is an acceptable range at which an instrument can be appraised. The appraisals on my cello have differed by as much as 30%. There is usually a range within which the seller can sell an instrument without getting into trouble. Naturally, he or she will appraise it on the high side of the range when selling, and appraise it low when buying it for future re-sale.

This reminds me of the recent re-financing of my house. The house was appraised at a certain amount. When the loan officer saw the amount, he instructed the appraiser to raise the appraisal so that I would be eligible for a certain type of loan. So how much is my house really worth? Beats me.

As with a house, when you shop around for cellos in a certain price range, you will get a good feel for what a cello in this range should sound like. Sometimes you may get lucky. You could get a cello with a $20,000 sound, but, because it has a couple of repaired cracks, its value is "only" $10,000.

Re-sale is something you need to consider, though, when buying a cello. An instrument with some damage will be harder to unload than a healthy instrument, as you have found out.

I would absolutely recommend that you bring along your teacher or some other good cellist when you find a cello that interests you. You need someone who can objectively listen to each instrument as you play, and who can play each instrument as you listen. Don't assume the dealer is on your side. He is in business to make money for himself, and for the person for whom he may be selling the instrument.

Don't forget that dealers will often let you take an instrument home for a few days. Take home a few so that you can compare them. I don't know if a dealer will let you take more than one home, probably not. But there are several dealers in your area.

Never buy an instrument without comparing it with others at the same time. Take notes. Compare all ranges of the cello. Some may have a more full sound in the low range. Some will seize up as you go into thumb position in the high range. Some will sound big under your ear as you play, but then sound weak to someone sitting a few feet away.

In the $10,000-$15,000 range, I wouldn't even consider a factory-made instrument. Do they even exist at this price range?So many factors, so many unknowns, and so much money! One more thing ... don't forget to buy one you like. :)

Tim Janof

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ICS Staff
Tim Janof, ICS Director
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