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Here is a list of things you should check and take into account when you are buying a stringed instrument. Some apply to used instruments only. Whether you are buying a violin, viola, cello or bass it is better to be prepared with what to look out for before investing in a new instrument.

  • The first thing to consider is which size is best for you. If you are buying a violin there is a great size chart here. A ¾ size Cello’s total length should be 45 inches and the bow 27 inches. Measure from the top of the purfling to the bottom (use a cloth tape).

  • Handmade by Luthier will be superior to a factory made. These days a Luthier made new instrument is not common, most new instruments are factory made, so be prepared to pay more for handmade by a Luthier. It is more likely you will find a handmade instrument at a reasonable price if you are buying pre-loved.

  • The instrument should be made of maple and spruce, not plywood or veneer.  Look for the wood grain.

  • Fingerboard and pegs should be made of rosewood or ebony, not stained or painted black, as these create friction and make the instrument difficult to play.

  • Check how easy is it to tune the Cello to concert pitch? The strings and bridge will break on a  poorly made instrument when tuned to the correct pitch.

  • Check for cracks.  An old Cello will have some scuffs and some cracks may be acceptable depending on where they are.  Make sure they are level and closed.  Don’t buy a Cello if there is a crack under the soundpost or bridge.

  • Make sure the original scroll is fitted. The neck and scroll should be one piece, if there is a join it indicates that the scroll has been replaced or the instrument is poorly made.

  • Are the pegs easy to move? Do they slip? (Planetary Precision Pegs are available and are very good)

  • Look inside to see if the sound post is standing and in the correct position. If it is not in place the instrument will need work to sound correct.

  • Look at the size of the nut, are the strings too far off the fingerboard, are the grooves correctly spaced? (images)

  • Is the fingerboard the correct shape?  Is it properly planed under the C string? (images)

  • For Cello’s and Bass’s check that the endpin does not slip and holds firm.  Is it long enough.  What sort of point is on the end, you may need a pad for slippery floors.

  • Check the bridge

    • What sort of wood is it made of

    • Is it the correct height

    • Should not be glued on

    • Do the feet make full contact with the instrument

    • How thick is it

    • Is the curve the correct shape

    • Are the notches correctly spaced and the right depth

    • Is it aligned in the correct position

 

  • Have a few scales and pieces prepared to play.  Take some music with you.  Use the same ones on each instrument you try so you can hear the difference.

  • Play in all registers.

  • Ask the owner to play for you.

  • Temperature and humidity will affect the sound, take this into consideration.

  • Try and play in different acoustic environments.

  • Is the instrument responsive – is it easy to play pp and ff – check the dynamic range?  Is it loud enough on the C string and does the sound project.

  • Listen for any buzzing noises. If apparent, these usually occur above between the fingering and the nut or from the tailpiece.

  • Are there any wolf notes? The sometimes can be reduced or eliminated by using a device such as this modulator here.

  • Ask how and where the instrument has been stored, and how much it was played

  • Remember some parts can be upgraded (strings, pegs, tailpieces etc) but will be additional costs for you

  • What sort of bow does it have?  Is it the correct length.  Does it need rehairing? Octagonal bows are less flexible. If you are replacing an instrument, it is a good idea to continue using your old bow on the new instrument for a period of time until you become accustomed to the new instrument. Then you can try to the bow. Each bow is slightly different and it is better to have a familiar friend in your bowing hand as you get used to your new instrument.

  • What sort of case does it have? Do you need a hard case or will a soft case be sufficient?