Your child is so excited to learn the cello and you are excited to help them explore a new passion. Like most people, you instantly google “where to buy a cello”—but are met with a lot of different options.

To complicate the situation, the orchestra teacher has a lot of opinions on where you get your instrument, and it can seem overwhelming! I get it—I have kids—and when you have a family, your dollar has to really stretch.

What’s wrong with Amazon?

When I tell parents not to buy an instrument on Amazon, they usually think this is because I want them to buy a very expensive instrument for their student. This is not the case. And it certainly doesn’t mean that I am anti-Amazon—I have Amazon packages on my doorstep basically every other day.

It’s not that Amazon couldn’t sell decent instruments, it’s that they currently don’t. The string instruments currently available on Amazon are one of two brands—which I’ll call The Unmentionables—and both are of terrible quality. Let me share my experiences with these brands.

How bad could these instruments be?

First off, these instruments often come “unassembled”, meaning that the strings are not on the instrument and the bridge is not placed. They may argue that this is due to the complications of shipping an intact instrument, but this is not true. Instruments are shipped all the time with strings and bridge in place.

Right off the bat, you need to bring the instrument to a music store and have them set up the instrument. As an orchestra teacher, I just don’t have the time to be putting strings on everyone’s instruments on the first day. And frankly, I can’t guarantee that I would do it correctly. This is something much better suited for someone trained in setting a bridge, as it is a delicate process.

Best-case scenario, that is the end of the frustration. After buying the instrument (and avoiding the music store), you had to bring the instrument into a music store to get it set up. However, most instruments from The Unmentionables have many more issues than being unassembled.

Most of The Unmentionables have an extremely shiny and slippery surface (BTW, you can spot an Unmentionable by the fact that it comes in multiple colors), and this causes the bridge to slip and collapse. Over and over and over again. Remember how I said that you need training to set a bridge? Now you need someone with training every few weeks.

Some of The Unmentionables have bridges of what I will call an unusual shape, which makes it difficult for the student to play just one string. Many times the nut is too high or too low, causing either a buzzing sound or making it too difficult to push down the strings.

Chin rests fall off, endpins won’t stay, pegs are slipping—these problems are so common of The Unmentionables that I stop being surprised when the student raises their hand with a problem.

Why does it matter? These kids aren’t professionals

The worst part about all of this is that the kid who is playing an Unmentionable is next to kids who have playable student instruments—and they aren’t struggling. The student often starts to think that the problem lies with them—THEY aren’t good at violin, THEY just can’t get it—when really, the problem lies with their instrument. And no matter how much I try to convey this to a student, they tend to think that I’m just trying to be a nice teacher and soften the blow.

So this is why I don’t recommend getting an Amazon instrument. I know that they have reviews that claim that it was a good buy—frankly, I don’t know if those are fake reviews or if they are made by misguided parents—but us orchestra teachers have all had the same experience with them. A common joke among orchestra teachers is to call them a VSO—a violin-shaped object—because these truly don’t belong to be called instruments.

If I can’t use Amazon, where do I get an instrument?

So what do you do? I’ll say it a hundred times—go to your local music store. Nearby our program I would suggest Universal Music or Music and Arts. If you are willing to go a little further into Denver, there is also Flescher Hinton and Rockley Music. They can let you know their rental options, and, perhaps more importantly, they can measure your child so that you know what size of an instrument to get. Yes, string instruments come in all different sizes, from full size all the way down to teeny 1/32 size violins. And your student having the right size of instrument will help them avoid any frustration or cramping issues that can come with having an instrument that is too big or too small.

If, after going to the music store, you don’t want to rent from them, that’s fine. They will still measure your student, giving you that valuable information. After that, I would suggest looking for an online rental program like Shar.

What if I want to buy instead of rent?

If your student needs anything smaller than a full-size instrument, renting is the way to go. Wherever you rent from will keep track of the money you spend on renting and put it towards a full-size instrument, if you decide to buy at some point in the future. Kids grow quickly, and no one wants to buy a 3/4 violin just to have to buy a full-size violin next year.

If you insist on buying, a local music store or reputable websites like Shar Music, Southwest Strings, or Woodwinds and Brasswinds are good options. These sites have all levels of instruments, from student grade up to professional.

I want your student to be successful, and I know that is what you want as well. Having access to a good student-level instrument isn’t about breaking the bank, but it is about making sure that you spend your money wisely and give your student the best chance to succeed. As always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions or concerns.

September 5, 2019
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