Poor cellos will never produce a good sound, so the quality of your new or used cello could have a big impact on your playing. The best cellos are made well-known names, aren’t cracked or warped, and have a thin layer of smooth varnish. The wood should have a lot of flaming, as well as a horizontal band that indicates high quality wood and a tight grain in the middle. Real ebony fingerboards, inlaid purfling near the top of the instrument, and a relatively flat arch are all things to look for. When played, the best cello will produce a rich, mellow sound with plenty of volume.
Although a low-cost cello may be appealing, most of these instruments lack the high-quality materials and construction required to produce a good sound. They may sound quiet, nasal, or thready, and students who use these inferior instruments will have to work hard to make good music with their instruments. Even a good cello that has been mistreated can cause issues because its tone varies from day to day. Choose a cello that will make it easier to make beautiful music rather than one that will save you money.
Cellos from well-known name brands are preferable to generic manufacturers, but don’t put too much faith in the labeling, as some older cellos may be mislabeled on purpose or accident. A used cello will cost less than a new one and will usually have a more mature voice, but avoid instruments with visible cracking, particularly along the ribs or neck. Damaged instruments shrink and swell in response to the weather, and their sound may change abruptly.
The best cellos will have a thin, even layer of rich varnish, as thick varnish can actually dampen the sound of the instrument. It should have a horizontal bar of contrasting dark and light wood beneath the varnish, known as the flame or flaming. This bar is particularly prominent in instruments made of high-quality wood, with an iridescent sheen that causes the colors to shift as the instrument is moved. Artificially produced flames are found on some low-cost cellos, but they lack the shifting quality of the real thing.
A good cello is made of wood with a tight grain in the center, under the bridge, and on the fingerboard, and a looser grain on the edges. The fingerboard should be made of very close-grained ebony rather than a looser-grained wood that has been painted. Purfling around the top and back edges of the cello should be inlaid rather than painted to prevent the instrument from cracking if struck accidentally. Instead of a high arch, which may cause the cello to sound nasal, a low arch across the instrument will produce a mellow sound.
You should request a demonstration of any instrument you’re considering purchasing. For the most part, the best cello will be loud and able to compete with other instruments. It should also have a pleasant, even tone with sufficient depth. Avoid instruments with a dull or shrill sound, and don’t expect the cello to improve over time if it doesn’t sound good at first.