Cello Bags and Cases

If you purchased a student cello outfit you will already have a bag or even a hard case for your cello. Just like bows, the quality of bags and cases varies a great deal from one outfit to the next, and you may need to upgrade what you have. This is especially important if your cello is doing a lot of travelling with you to and from school or your workplace. A very basic cover with limited or no padding will do little to protect your instrument when it’s in the car, on the bus or train, or being carried around.

The more travelling you do, the greater your need to fully protect your cello with a hard case or very well padded soft case. There is a lot to choose from ranging in price from around £50 to thousands of pounds for professional level flight cases and covers. You’ll be pleased to know that £80 will buy you a very robust and well-made padded bag, which offers a good level of protection for everyday transportation of your instrument.

When choosing a suitable bag or case for your instrument it is also worth considering the weight. If you’re likely to do a lot of walking with your cello, you don’t want a case that will weigh you down and cause back or shoulder ache. 6kg may not sound like much, but add to that the 2.5 – 3 kg of your cello along with your music bag and you’ve got quite a load to carry – especially if your frame is relatively small. Here’s the catch though: entry level cello cases tend to be a lot heavier since they are made out of cheaper materials – usually fibre glass or moulded plastic. Lightweight cello cases are made out of high tech materials such as carbon fibre or carbon composite. These materials are much lighter and extremely tough and durable, but they come at a high price. Unless you have a valuable instrument and are likely to fly anywhere with it, you are unlikely to be looking at this calibre of cello case. You might think that buying a heavy case with wheels is a perfectly good solution, but your cello will not thank you for the bumps and jolts it will get on the majority of road and pavement surfaces, and you certainly won’t be using the wheels up and down stairs.

This is where semi-rigid cases (made out of high density foam or styrofoam) and thickly padded gig bags really come into their own. Styrofoam cases tend to be rather bulky and are often poorly made, but they are lightweight and offer suitable protection for everyday use. When considering padded bags, 11mm of padding should be the absolute minimum.

Here is a list of reliable bags and cases for a tighter budget:

Make: Primavera
Description: 11mm padded cello bag
Price: £50 – £60
Make: Tom and Will
Description: 20mm padded cello bag
Price: £60 – £70
fusionMake: Fusion
Description: 15mm high density foam padded cello bag
Price: £75 – £90
hidersineMake: Hidersine Deluxe
Description:  Deluxe 22mm padded heavy duty cello bag
Price: £75 – £90
Make: Turtle by Gewa
Description: 25mm padded cello bag with wheels
Price: £100 – £125
excaliburMake: Excalibur
Description: High density foam semi-rigid cello case
Price: £110 – £130

If you’re planning to fly anywhere with your cello you’ll need to invest in a good quality case. The bad news here is that even the very best cases sometimes fail to fully protect instruments on airlines. There is always an element of risk when you fly with your cello, and you should always check your options with the airline or travel agent before you fly anywhere. The same applies to any other form of long distance travel that does not allow you to take your instrument on board with you.

The following is a list of more robust cello cases worth considering if you’re planning to do any long distance travel with your cello or you’ve invested in a good quality cello:

Make: Archer by Gear4Music
Description: Durable fibreglass case weighing 7.6kg
Price: £140 – £150
Make: Hiscox (Lifelite Standard)
Description: Double moulded construction weighing 5.2kg
Price: £175 – £210
Make: Sinfonica
Description: Fibreglass case with interior instrument suspension weighing 4.9kg
Price: £240 – £280
Make: Bam Classic
Description: Extra-durable ABS layer with full foam-injected interior suspension weighing 5.4kg
Price: £340 – £370

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© D C Cello Studio 2012

 

Strings for beginner to intermediate cellists

Strings need no introduction. They are the heartbeat of your instrument and lend their name to its family. But there is a fair amount to know about the different types, the varying costs and what to avoid. Much like rosin there is a rather overwhelming variety of string brands and types along with animated debates over which is the best. And like rosin, finding the right strings for your cello is far from an exact science because there are so many variables outside of the strings themselves.

Beginner cellists do not need to and really shouldn’t spend a fortune on top-of-the-range strings such as Larsen, Belcanto, Evah Pirazzi, Permanent or Passione. In the interests of developing beautiful sound it is best to have a set of strings which offer clean tone and response. The aforementioned strings are designed for players who have already developed a signature sound.

The ideal strings for beginner to intermediate players are generally steel core. There are several varieties of synthetic core strings aimed at this market too. They tend to be less stable in terms of tuning and often don’t last as long as steel strings. Having said this there are a few synthetic brands well worth considering. The following brands are reliable and offer a clean, neutral sound with good response.

 

Mid-Range (£90 – £120 per set)

1.       Jargar

These strings are made on a flexible steel core. They produce a powerful and well-balanced tone, have a long life and don’t take more than a couple of days to play in. Jargar strings come in three different tensions: Dolce (thinnest diameter, low tension); Medium (middle diameter, medium tension); and Forte (thickest diameter, highest tension).

Typically I recommend Medium strings, which are the most widely available and by far the most versatile. For very new instruments with a harsher tone which has yet to settle down, Dolce strings tend to be a great way to take that unpleasant edge off the sound. Forte strings are a bit overbearing and not ideal for less experienced players. They are also not well suited to much older instruments given the high tension, but this also depends on the set-up. Your luthier will be able to make recommendations based on what he/ she knows about your instrument.

Average price for a set in the UK: £94

2.       Savarez Corelli

Corelli New Concept strings, which used to be quite hard to come by in the UK, are now becoming a popular choice for students, keen amateurs and professional players. They are steel rope core strings wound with aluminium, nickel or tungsten and are known for their clear sound and response, good balance and long life. They are only available in medium gauge. Savarez also produces a gut core string for cello, but I suggest that beginners steer well clear of these. Gut cores can have a beautiful sound, but are very unstable, need to be tuned by the tuning pegs rather than fine tuners, and have a comparatively short life. They are best suited to players who specialise in baroque and classical music, and whose instruments are set up accordingly.

Players who are less confident about fitting new strings are best off leaving this to their teacher or luthier as the Corelli C string has a reputation for snapping when the metal-wrapped portion comes over the tuning peg. Savarez have recently lengthened the flexible silk-wrapped part of the C string to avoid this from happening, but there are still a few reported mishaps.

Average price for a set in the UK: £96

3.       D’Addario Helicore

D’Addario describe their Helicore range of strings as follows: “High quality modern strings in stranded steel with titanium & tungsten windings for a warm, clear sound”. Helicore strings certainly do offer a bright sound – potentially a little brash on some instruments. But they are a fine choice for bringing dull-sounding student instruments to life, and for progressing students and amateurs looking for a warmer, more soloistic sound. These strings take very little time to settle in and are well balanced.

Average price for a set in the UK: £96

4.       Pirastro Aricore

Aricore strings feature a multifilament synthetic core (perlon) with either silver or aluminium winding. They are long lasting, stable in pitch, and feature a darker, warmer sound than other synthetic core strings. For cellists looking for a brighter tone Aricore strings are also available in chrome-wound A and D strings. The chrome option is also well-suited to musicians who suffer from excessive hand perspiration. These strings are amongst the best and most highly rated synthetic core strings in this price range.

Average price for a set in the UK: £105

 

Economy Range (£40 – £80 per set)

1.       Super Sensitive Red Label

Red Label strings are a popular choice for students and are widely recommended by teachers. These strings feature a full round solid steel core with flat nickel winding. They offer a clean tone, good tuning stability and are durable. Red Label Strings are available in all fractional sizes right down to 1/8 and come in three different gauges: Soft, Medium and Orchestra. Like Jargar strings, these gauges are determined by the diameter of the string: Soft is the smallest diameter while Orchestra is the thickest.

Average price for a set in the UK: £64 (not widely available, but can be ordered from many US retailers for around £30 plus postage)

2.       D’Addario Prelude

Another popular choice for students, Preludes are more readily available in the UK. These are solid steel core strings; they are durable and generally unaffected by temperature and humidity changes. They offer a warm tone and the response, although not as precise as that of Jargar or Corelli, is not bad at all. Prelude strings are available in all fractional sizes and come in Low, Medium and Heavy (high) tension. Like Jargar and Red Label, the Medium gauge is the most versatile and therefore the most popular type.

Average price for a set in the UK: £46

3.       Pirastro Chromcor

Chromcor are solid steel strings designed for students. They are very popular among teachers as they are durable and easy to play. They offer easy response and a neutral tone, making them a well-balanced string choice for beginner and intermediate students who need strings that are not a battle to play with squeaks and scratches, but equally not overly forgiving of poor technique. These strings also benefit from a very quick playing in period. For more discerning players looking for a darker and more complex tone, Chromcor plus are a good option although strictly speaking they belong in the mid-range category for price and playability at roughly £94 per set.

Average price for a set of Chromcor in the UK: £66

This list is far from complete – there are other economy brands which are reasonable strings in terms of sound and durability. As a rule, the cheapest strings on the market are best avoided. Some are of such poor quality that they are barely playable. For a beginner who is already struggling with tone production, a set of strings which sound awful even in the most skilful hands are like a musical death sentence – especially when that beginner is an adult who already has a very clear idea of what he or she wants to sound like.

 

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© D C Cello Studio 2011

Which Rosin is Best?

Rosin is applied to the bow hair and is essential for all string players. It comes in the form of a small compact cake, and choosing the right type for you can be confusing and frustrating. It can range in price from £1 – £30, comes in different colours and consistency, and different types exist for different instruments, string brands and types, and even seasons.
My advice is to take much of the debate as to when and where to use specific types of rosin with a generous pinch of salt. There are so many variables that influence the overall effect of rosin in such subtle ways, that in the end it really just comes down to personal preference. I have a few tips worth considering when choosing your rosin. My aim is to eliminate some of the confusion associated with choosing the right product, or the need to visit forum discussions on the subject will only serve to make you more confused.
1) Beginner Students
When you’re in the early stages of learning how to play your instrument, the last thing you’re going to notice is the subtle difference between the grips offered by light or dark; powdery or hard; or metallic or non-metallic rosin. At this stage, all you need is a reliable brand of rosin which serves the essential purpose of keeping your bow hair sticky and allowing it to grip the string. There is no need to be extravagant, and no need to have your head turned by raging debates over which brand offers the best grip for various bow articulations. The only type I would avoid at all costs is the very cheap, nasty rosin that tends to come with very low-budget student instrument outfits and sometimes found on Ebay at around £0.30 per cake. In fact, my advice is to avoid these outfits altogether, but I appreciate that this is not always possible. My recommendation for beginner to intermediate students is the very popular Hidersine brand, which costs a mere £1 – £4 per cake and providing it is not lost or dropped (rosin is brittle and shatters very easily), will last most players for around three years. Also popular in this price range is a brand called AB Rosin.

2) Rosin for Synthetic and Gut Core Strings
More advanced players will experiment with different string types in their quest for the ideal sound. What strings to choose for your instrument is yet another thorny subject covered in my Strings article and also comes down to personal preference for the most part. Metal strings behave differently to gut and synthetic core strings, and require different types of rosin. Because metal strings are more widely used, most rosins are suitable for them. The following brands are recipes devised for synthetic and gut core strings: Melos Baroque Cello rosin (ideally suited to gut core strings) and Dominant Violin, Viola & Cello rosin (developed for use with Dominant synthetic core strings, but well suited to all synthetic core brands). Prices range from around £5 – £10.

3) Hypoallergenic Rosin

For those who are sensitive or have allergies to the dust produced by rosin, fear not! Several makers now offer hypoallergenic rosin made with non-irritating ingredients and allergy-tested. The best known of these brands are Supersensitive Clarity, Larsen Antiallergenic and Geipel Hypoallergenic. It should come as no surprise that these makes are more expensive than most, and are priced at around £8 – £15.

4) Popular Professional Brands
This is where choosing the perfect type seems to become an arcane science: humidity, heat, cold, preferred stickiness light, dark, medium, bleached or unbleached bow hair: the list of influencing factors goes on. By the time you have been playing for several years and have begun to develop your technique in more subtle and detailed ways, you will certainly be able to tell the difference between bad, average and good quality rosins. Getting too hung up on whether your choice of rosin ticks all the right boxes is not the best use of your time and efforts. The truth is, any reliable brand in the £5 – £15 price range will suffice. Try two or three different brands at a time and you’ll soon settle on something you like best. The following brands are firm favourites with advancing students and professional players:
Hill Dark or Light for Violin, Viola and Cello: one of the most widely sold rosins in the world. Average price: £4 – £6.


Gustave Bernardel rosin for Violin, Viola and Cello: this fine rosin has a reputation for leaving less dust than other brands and offering “just the right amount of bite”. Certainly one of my preferred brands.
Average price: £6 – £9

Pirastro Cello & Cellisto: one of the most widely recognised brands for strings. Pirastro offers qood quality rosin suitable for all string types and brands (even if the marketing suggests that the rosin has been specially formulated for        Pirastro strings).
Average price: £6 – £9

Kaplan by D’Addario: another widely recognised brand for strings. Kaplan rosin gets positive reviews for its quality, low dust and very practical one-handed box design, allowing the player to flip open and apply with only one hand.
Average price: £8 – £10

5) Premium Brands
If you’re feeling extravagant there are brands that will set you back as much as £30. Typically these types of rosin will last longer than most and contain ingredients such as gold and silver, hence the inflated price. There is no question that these are quality brands, but the difference will be noticed only by you! Avoid relying too much on the quality of your accessories to give you the perfect sound: 99% of this is down to your technique, not your tools! The following brands can be thought of as the Rolls Royce of rosin:
Andrea Rosin – formerly known as Tartini, this rosin comes in various different types including solo and orchestral. Prices range from £18 – £25

Larica ‘Liebenzeller’ Rosin – generally considered to be the very best rosin money can buy. Larica contains gold and comes in four different hardness levels and costs around £20 – £30 per cake.

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© D C Cello Studio 2011