Just off the phone from a mum who wants her son to begin playing Cello. Obviously the first question fired at me is, ‘what size must I get’? After a lengthy explanation and details such as age etc, I finally asked her son’s height – which turned out to substantially less than even an average child of that age. I had to start the whole process over again, learning once again that age is not a good guide to choosing a Cello size, especially with our diverse population in the UK.
What then to look for? Through the years we have put forth various theoretical approaches to this question using age, height, length of arm and hand size, which are all very pertinent. But here I intend to stick my neck out and say that the only safe and sure way, is to get the Cello into playing position with the pupil.
Get him seated so that his (I hate his/her, so will alternate!) legs are parallel to the floor and the knees bent at 90 degrees – some prefer a slight tilt so that the knee is actually lower than the hips. Get the cello with spike out so that the lower bouts are clasped between her knees with the lower curve tucked into her left knee. If the size is correct the upper rim of the body should rest easily on the breast bone, at an angle of 45 degrees. The tuning pegs will be more or less level with the left ear, especially the lower peg.
This should suffice to get an idea of the correct size, except only for a final check, using the arm and hand size. The left hand should clasp easily around the neck and the fingers be able to reach easily to the C string. Should her hands be exceptionally small you may have to consider a smaller Cello.
It is common sense to check this with your teacher as some have very strong views on the subject. I, on the other hand sometimes, depending on age (Say 12-ish!) and when they are considering moving from ½ (which he has been on for far too long) to ¾, may advise parents to go full size – within reason.
Alternatively consider hiring the next size (3/4) to bridge the gap until you are ready for full size
Adults of smaller stature are catered for as well. Here is photo showing five sizes of Cello for adult players. They are on level stand to convey the relative sizes. The first is a rather big ‘Rogeri’ copy, the second (still full size) is standard ‘Strad copy’ labelled Johan Stohr; the third is a slim and slender ‘Guadagnini’ copy by Hidersine; the third is a 7/8 Cello by Westbury and finally a ¾ Elysia.