Everything You Need to Know About Proper Cello Care and Maintenance

By Laurence Vittes

The cello may look indestructible, but this instrument needs a lot of care and maintenance. Caring for your cello can feel like a full-time gig, but it doesn’t have to be. Investing in your cello’s maintenance by keeping it clean, placing it in its case when you’re not playing it, and purchasing a hard case for any cello that costs more than $500 are a few tips on how to keep your instrument in tip-top shape. Here’s everything you need to know about proper cello care and maintenance.

7 Tips to Care for Your Cello

  1. Move slowly. Be mindful and careful when putting your cello in your hard or soft case and when taking it out. Many nicks and scrapes occur this way. Avoid dragging or sliding the cello when you put it down or pick it up off the ground.
  2. Use the case! Cases are there to protect your instrument. Put your cello in its case when you have stopped playing, especially in the presence of other people. If you must leave the cello alone during a break in a rehearsal, don’t leave it on its side, but rest the scroll firmly on the chair seat. 
  3. Look out for rosin. Clean off rosin dust frequently from beneath the bridge to prevent it from melting into the varnish and discoloring the body of the cello. Clean the sides and undersides of the strings when you wipe them down to prevent rosin buildup, which can hurt response and resonance.
  4. Use rosin correctly. Start off a new cake of rosin a bit vigorously and then gently rotate the cake as you draw your bow across it so that you avoid grooves forming in the surface. Putting your right thumb over the silver band where the hair meets the frog can prevent premature cracking and crumbling of the cake. 
  5. Leave the varnish alone. To maintain the quality of the varnish, refrain from touching any part of the cello with your fingers and hands unless they are completely dry and free of any sweat or stickiness. It’s best to stick to touching the fingerboard, neck, tailpiece, endpin and pegs.
  6. Don’t touch the hair! When handling the bow, be careful not to touch the hair since any moisture from the fingers will leave a greasy residue and interfere with the sound. 
  7. Temperature matters. Keep the humidity in your practice space as constant as possible. Avoid large and sudden fluctuations in humidity. If the temperature feels uncomfortable to you, it is likely uncomfortable for the cello, as well. 

How Often Do Cello Strings Need to Be Changed?

Cello strings should be changed at least once each year and can make a huge difference in your sound. Listen specifically to whether the overtones are full and rich to determine if a string is still in prime condition. Old strings also become harder to coax and manipulate, and often speak less quickly. 


What Strings Should I Buy for My Cello?

Experimentation is key! Every cello has a unique demeanor and sound, and the strings you use should compliment that. If your cello has a warmer but less projective sound, try more soloistic strings like Larsen or Versum. If the sound of the cello is more open and straightforward, look for strings that offer more dimension and complexity. 


What Type of Case Is Best for My Cello?

If your instrument is irreplaceable, use a hard case! The irreplaceability of an instrument is not only a matter of financial value; it also depends on your level of attachment to that specific cello. And since taking a cello out of a hard case is infinitely easier than out of a soft one, you will practice more often.


When Should I Take My Cello to a Luthier?

Leave big issues with the instrument to the experts and don’t allow every small irregularity to become a point of obsession. Seeing a luthier every few months is often enough for a routine cleaning and condition check. If the cello begins to buzz or make other strange noises that you can’t explain, you should definitely seek out a luthier to check for open seams or other issues.

The complete edition of the Care & Repair of Cellos series gives you a library of video and written instruction that will provide you with extensive knowledge that will help you understand your instrument and, in turn, be a more informed owner and user of stringed instruments and bows.