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Despite its large size, the cello is a fragile instrument that requires careful attention and proper maintenance to remain in good condition and peak playability. When properly cared for, a cello can last for hundreds of years. In fact, some of the cellos you see being played in orchestras today may have been manufactured in Italy as early as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Whether you’re brand new to playing the cello or haven’t picked yours up in years, here are some general tips for taking proper care of your cello so it’ll remain in good shape for years to come.
Handling a Cello
When handling your cello be careful not to bump it into anything. Depending on how hard the bump is, it can damage the varnish, crack the wood, break the bridge, or cause a seam to come unglued. When placing the cello into its case, never place it bridge down- doing so can damage the bridge. While any cello case is better than not using a case at all, hard cases are preferred for their durability. When transporting your cello in its case, make sure it’s securely fastened and supported inside the case so that it won’t knock around while being transported. If you use a soft cello case, always remove the bow first and the cello second- this will prevent the bow from breaking or getting damaged.
Temperature & Humidity
Cellos are very sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. Even slight changes can cause the cello to go out of tune, and sudden or extreme changes can do serious damage to the body of your cello. Never leave your cello in the car on a sunny or especially cold day, as the extreme temperatures can crack the wood, damage the varnish, or cause seams to come unglued. To protect your cello from damage, it’s a good idea to run a humidifier in the room where your cello is kept. Since the optimal humidity range for a cello is 35 to 50 percent, keep the humidity within this range. A popular humidifier choice is the Dampit, or a device that consists of a sponge-filled rubber tube that’s soaked in water, squeezed and dried off, and hung into the cello through the f-hole, allowing the retained water to evaporate inside the instrument.
Storing a Cello
When storing the cello for a short amount of time (or in between use), it should be always be placed upright on a cello stand. Never lean your cello against a wall or place it on a couch, as this is asking for an accident to happen. If you plan on storing the instrument long-term, place it in a protective case to avoid any serious damage. To prevent scratches to the cello’s finish, try to limit the number of times you remove the cello from its case. If you plan on playing frequently, use the cello stand in lieu of a case. The optimal temperature for cello storage is 70 degrees Fahrenheit and, as previously mentioned, the best humidity range is 35 to 50 percent. If you’re storing your cello in a storage unit, opt for a climate controlled unit as storing your cello in a traditional outdoor unit can cause damage.
Before You Play
When lifting the cello bow out of its case, avoid touching the hair as it will absorb oils from your skin. Over time, the accumulation of oils will keep it from playing well. If the bow needs it, apply rosin- but only if it needs it. One mistake new players make is applying rosin too often or, when they do apply rosin, they apply too much. If there’s a powdery residue on the cello, its strings, or on the bow, you’re applying too much. When lifting the cello out of its case, be sure to handle it by its neck. While the neck may seem sturdy, it’s only a thin piece of wood that can break easily, so handle it with care. Adjust the endpin to the height you prefer and remember to place your cello on a stand whenever you take a break from playing.
After You Play
When you’re done playing, carefully wipe your cello down with a soft cloth. Not only will this wipe away any oil from your fingers, but it’ll keep your cello free from excess rosin. Rosin can actually eat away at your cello’s finish and excess rosin on your cello’s strings can dampen its sound. When putting your cello in a hard or soft case, be sure to place your rosin, tuner, and any other small accessories in a side pocket, as these items can scratch or damage your cello if they’re kept in the same compartment. And, last but not least, always store your cello indoors where the temperature and humidity are stable.
Cleaning a Cello
In addition to wiping down your cello after each use, your cello should be dusted off once a week with a soft cotton cloth- even if it hasn’t been played. When cleaning your cello with a cloth, use gentle circular motions to clean the surface. Don’t press too hard, as excessive pressure could scratch your cello’s finish. If you notice an excessive buildup of rosin that won’t come off with a cloth, it’s OK to use a very small amount of commercial violin or cello polish. Do not spray your cello with silicone or wax and always remember that less is more. Cleaning the strings once a month ensures optimal vibration and tonal qualities. To do so, stand the instrument upright and wipe the strings with an alcohol-moistened cloth. Make sure that the alcohol doesn’t come in direct contact with the cello, as it can ruin the finish.
If you suspect your cello isn’t playing its best, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a qualified repair technician at your local repair shop. They’ll inspect it and test it for any damage. With proper care and maintenance, your cello can provide you with a lifetime of beautiful music.