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When to Buy vs. Rent Cellos

Many beginning cello players start on the cello when they are young. While most parents want the bests for their budding cellists, few can — or desire to — spend thousands on a cello until they see how far their child will go. Of course, the same is true of people who take up the cello at any age.

"It's an expensive instrument, and you have no idea what you're going to be doing," agrees Carol Johnson, co-founder of Johnson String Instruments. "But you can rent [a cello], and collect equity on that rental, toward the purchase of [another instrument].

Thus, an excellent option for entry-level cello players is to rent a cello, rather than purchasing one. The question, then, becomes: at what point are you ready to buy a cello?

Are You Ready to Buy a Cello?

According to Ms. Johnson, there are several good indicators that a player is ready to own their own cello.

For the parent of a young cellist, that may be when "The student (or child) is getting too good for a rental, and they have to move up. That might be a 1/4 or 1/2 size cello, not necessarily a full-sized cello."

Buying your first cello may also have to do with your level of technique: "When you're trying to learn vibrato, when you're starting to move up in the positions, when you're trying to get more nuanced sound; you should be looking for something to purchase," Carol points out. "Even if you're not a full size."

Or, it could be a function of how long you've been practicing the cello: "You've been playing for several years, and you've reached that point where you're at the full size, and it just gets time to own a cello," explains Carol. "You make that move from a rental to a 'real' cello because when you get a better cello — a littler higher quality cello, and you get a nice bow (you'd be absolutely amazed at the difference a bow can make!) — it enables you to 'do' things that you weren't able to do with a rental."

Plan Ahead for Your Cello Purchase

Although you may not know in advance whether you will ever be ready to move from a rental to a cello of your very own, it's good to be prepared for any eventuality. That means renting, from the beginning, from a dedicated shop.

"With a real violin shop (that has a good rental department, like ours), when you rent you collect 'equity,' " Carol says. "When you're ready to purchase, you can purchase a cello up to $20,000 or $30,000 — anything we've got."

Rent from an all-purpose music store, and your options will be limited: "they're only going to have commercial instruments, and when you get done renting, you're simply going to own a rental instrument."

Your First Cello May Not Be Your Last

Going from a rental cello to a cello you purchase may simply be a step in your musical career. Players often move from owning one cello to stepping up and owning an even better one. Again, that's where a shop that specializes in stringed instruments can work to your advantage.

"When you buy, chances are that's just going to be your first full-size instrument," Carol relates. "You're moving out of rental into sales. And if you progress, you're going to bring that instrument back in trade, and you're going to move up in quality."

In that case, working with a reputable, knowledgeable dealer with a broad inventory of cellos is essential. Having been in the business for more than three decades, Carol Johnson understands the process, and how to treat her customers right.

"I tell my sales staff: 'Never sell anything that you don't want to see again!' " she says, smiling.

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