Lots of parents here, will be looking for a bargain cello for their child, others will be looking for a good deal on a better instrument as a student or as an amateur orchestral musician.
Let's look firstly, at parents hunting a bargain for a child. I'm going to assume you are confused and need help. What size cello should I buy? This will depend on your child's height, not their age. A child who has reached a height of around 5 ft 3-4 will manage a full size cello. Many smaller women in orchestras play full size cellos, so although it will look and feel a bit big, you child will cope just fine with it. A full size cello is better in many ways, and there are a lot more of them here on ebay, so you'll get a better choice. If your child is under this height by around 5 inches or so, then you need a three-quarter size.
A very young child of around 6 years old will need a half size cello.
You will see many nice looking Chinese cellos here on e-bay. often people will arn you against them saying they are not very good. This is not true. Some are excellent some are appalling. So how do you find the good one and avoid the bad?
Look for these basic signs:
1. Oil based or oil varnish.
2. Try to work out which model is being sold and aim for the best one in their range.
3. Don't be fooled by the colour of the cello. It's visual appearance is not a good indicator of how it will sound.
5. Fittings - these are the pegs, soundboard (the bit you put your fingers on) tailpiece and bridge. Are they made of rosewood? (It won't be ebony - too expensive).
6. Which 'old master' do they say it's a copy of ?
7. Contact the seller and ask them about the tone - is it loud and bright? Is it warm and dark? Is it rich and soft? For a beginner (up to grade V) it's best to get something more on the warm and soft/rich side. Loud and bright with lots of 'projection' can be harsh and difficult to control. These words can also be a way of tellign you it's crap.
Other cheap good cellos include a model called a 'Stentor'. These are reliable student models that are a good buy.
Older Hungarian and Cech (around 20-30) years old are cheap and really quite good.
Now because these are mostly (other than the Chinese ones) second hand cellos, they may have little scrapes and chips out of them. Little scrapes are fine, absolutely no problem, just a bit cosmetically naff, but won't affect the cello's sound at all.
Little chips off the edge of the cello are fine too, but make sure the chip isn't so bad that it's gone right into the body work of the cello. So little chips and the slight loss of the edges here and there, on the cello is fine. Don't buy anything with cracks ever! You need detailed expert knowledge to knwo whether a crack is O.K. or not.
If you are worried about buying a bow because the cello doesn't come with one, please see my guide to buying a cello bow.
Expect to pay anywhere between £50 - 150 for a basic student model cello which will do the job.
Let's look next at players who want to upgrade, but are looking for a bargain.
Now the first thing that must be said is that even a rather ordinary cello can be made far better, and I mean incredibly better, by fitting a new decent high quality bridge, a new decent soundpost and buying top quality strings which are suitable to the instrument in question (I will be writing a string guide soon !)
A good quality, and heavier bow, with more stiffness and response will also transform your playing and the sound of the cello.
So really ask yourself if you are unhappy in some minor way with your current cello, if it might be better to upgrade your bow, get a luthier to fit a quality bridge and soundpost and invest in at least £100 worth of strings instead.
If you have decided your current cello cannot be upgraded because it's basically no good to you any more, ebay seems to offer two basic options (and I've been watching carefully for wuite some time).
1. Older instruments which are fetching good prices and often come from abroad. They are still bargain prices, but expect to pay in the region of £1000 or so.
2) There are damaged instruments and instruments which are incomplete and missing bits.These can be brillinat bargains if you know what to look for.
Let's deal first with what to avoid.
Don't buy anything with a crack along the bridge line. It will keep opening and then your soundpost is likely to drop too. Cracks on the bridge line are very problematic indeed - not the end of the world, but best avoided unless you are confident in your knowledge of cellos.
Avoid revarnished ones and avoid anything that has severe varnish damage.
Now let's turn to incomplete or damaged old cellos.
Cellos which have a body only for sale (no strings, no tailpiece, no bridge) are fine. Don't be frightened by the lack of fittings - easliy done either by you, a competent friend, teacher or luthier. Get a really good look at the piicture and ask the seller questions about cracks, dents, chips and the soundpost (wooden post inside the body near the bridge)
Ask about the state of the varnish - dirty and in need of a clean is fine. A bit of 'crackling' on old cello varnish is O.K. but if the whole thing is crackled to death, avoid it.Somebody left it by a hot radiator or somesuch.
Cellos with the neck off them, can still be a good buy. You will need to see a luthier to mend the neck. How the terrible accident happened and exactly how the neck broke away is important. You need the neck to have come away in one piece from the body. Snapped in half is no good at all. Even if some of the wider inset at the the cello body is either missing or still stuck to the cello this is repairable just fine.
Cracks down the belly are fine, cracks on the ribs and back are fine too. If badly repaired they can be sorted out . Older instruments often have cracks. Use your judgement. If there are too many cracks avoid it, because it's been abused, but a few cracks, even quite long ones, are nothing to worry about.
But they all look the same. How can I tell which one to bid for?
Look hard at the body of the cello. This is what you are buying. See past it's problems (if it has any) and take your time to form an overall impression of its look. Is it slim cello, is it 'fat chunky' cello? Are the f-holes really well cut and defined, or do they look a bit vague round the edges and curl? Now look at the scroll. is it turned well and nicely defined and balanced? Does it just look a bit ordinary and not great? Ask the seller a question about the grain of the wood on the top of the cello. Is it a tight grain, medium grain or is it a wide grain? I've found a tight grain gives a great top end but can be weaker on the bottom, conversely, a wide grain gives great depth but you'll have to tinker about with strings and soundpost/bridge to get a good top end.
Take your time and look again at the cello. What's your impression of it's overall 'balance' as an instrument, what's the top and bottom of the curved 'body shape' ? Cellos have different shapes.
Are the fittings (pegs and especially fingerboard) ebony or rosewood? Both are good and are found on excellent cellos but as a general rule, ebony tends to indicate a better cello.
Although the coloour of the varnish and the colour of the cello is incidental to it's sound, when spending more money on a cello I think it's important that you think it looks good . Some people like highly flmaed looks, others prefer a flatter appearance. Some like reddish, some golden and some dark brown. Don't buy something you think meets all of the criteria, but is ugly. Hopefully your purchase will thrill you and you will be playing your new cello with gusto!