How much should I spend on my bow?

December 11, 2008 at 05:47 AM ·

Hi all,

I have had my violin for 10 years and am in love with it. However, my bow had been through quite a bit, and as a result I am thinking about upgrading it. I currently have a coda colours bow ($350) and am thinking about spending $700 on a new bow.

I have tried the JonPaul Avanti bow, the Coda Diamond GX, and a pernambuco bow in that price range. However, they didn't perform as great as I had hoped - in other words, they seem to be only slightly better than my coda colours bow. The Coda Diamond GX and JonPaul seemed to have smoother bow changes and aren't as loud as my colours bow, but that's about it.

Am I ridiculous to be expecting so much from a bow, and if I do expect that much do I need to look at higher quality bows? It seems a little bit crazy for me to spend $1000-2000 on a bow, especially since my violin is priced at $1200. However, my violin does sound much more expensive than what it is physically worth (I have tried $5000 and $10,000 violins but I didn't like them as much as mine).

Thanks for your help,



Replies (13)

December 11, 2008 at 08:46 AM ·

In that price range, you really ought to give the nickel-silver mounted bows from the Arcos Brasil workshop a try. They're practically the best playing bows you can find around $400-$500, and outplay a lot of other bows in the $1000+ range.

Also, have you tried a lot of different bow strokes with all of the new bows you've tried? How well the stick pulls a tone on long bows is one thing, but there's also how it sounds and behaves in spiccato, sautille, ricochet, etc...

December 11, 2008 at 06:23 AM ·

You've sort of answered your own question.  Even if one can express a 'rule'  for the proper proportion of value between a violin and a bow, your situation is exceptional.

So keep searching for a bow and be prepared to pay as much as you like for the one that really does what you want.  Then just tell yourself that since you would have paid $(insert suitable number here) for your violin, it's okay.  :-)

December 11, 2008 at 01:21 PM ·

If you have played $5000 - $10,000 violins and still prefer yours, then your violins sound is worth $5000-$10000 to you. Shop for your bow  with that in mind .

December 11, 2008 at 01:48 PM ·

I wouldn't get too wrapped up in the relative-value formulations you read. They are only rules-of-thumb. I have a Coda Conservatory & a Diamond, both of which I like & use for practical purposes, but I still think a wood bow draws a tone depth/width that carbon fibre bows do not. I have not tried any higher-end carbon fibre bows. You might do well to keep saving your money until you have $1000 or 1500, and look at wood bows in that range, instead of stepping up what is more or less one step at a time. Sue

December 11, 2008 at 01:53 PM ·

I've always thought that on a small budget, the best possible allocation would be a trouble-free violin coupled with a fantastic bow.  That could be a 50/50 split, or might even mean spending more on the bow, depending on the exact price level and how lucky you get on the violin.

The bow will make the violin sound better, and won't sabotage your technical foundation.  Also, if it matters, an investment-quality bow (i.e., one that could reasonably be expected to appreciate over time) costs way less than a violin with similar properties.

This is particularly true at the low end, but could hold for a lot more money, too.  If I were to take $40K to the market right now, I'd consider locating the best modern violin I could (i.e., $15-25ish), and then spend the other $20K if that's what it took to get a fantastic bow, or pair of bows.


December 11, 2008 at 05:59 PM ·

First of all, i don't want to presume on your bowing-skill level, but if it is still developing I think $30 spent on Fintan Murphy's DVD-ROM "Violin Bow Technique" ( others sell it , too, I think) would be very worthwhile before settling on the choice of your next bow.

Bows and instruments go together in unexpected ways and what works best on one violin may not work best on another - actually the same is true of bowing technique and violin and bow choices. This was really brought home to me last week when I needed a bow that would work just right for the many spiccato passages in Beethoven's 3rd symphony that we performed. I had just switched violins earlier in the week (to one I had not used for several years - because I have now restrung it (most satisfactorily) with Vision Solo strings. The bow I had been using on another fiddle was not working as well on it. So I switched to a bow that I have had for 56 years, but never really used (so it is still strung with really old hair - that works great). And this middle-aged bow (made by Carl Holzapfel and bought , in 1952, at his shop in Baltimore for $75) was the bow that did the job just right for me, in preference to my Voirin, Siefried, Rolland Spiccato, Berg Deluxe -- pricey bows ($1600 to $4000 to $?????).

Last time I bought a cello bow, I tested 66 bows to find 2 that were acceptable for me on that cello. I think it may take that kind of effort to find a bow you can continue to live with happily. While it is true you can find a new Brazilian bow with nickel fittings in your price range for less than those with silver fittings, you want to be sure it really works for you. They put silver and gold on bows (usually) to highlight the quality of the stick, and the extra price charged is much greater than the value of the metal.

Before going too far, it is worthwhile determining if you are tightening your bow the proper amount for the music you are playing, for the stiffness of the stick, and for the amount of hair on it. I have often adjusted my bows by carefully removing the excess hair the technician put on them - so they are just right (for me).

When I have bought bows, I like to try the best bows the dealer will let me handle and try (some like a Kittel they make me put on white gloves just to touch - I didn't get to play with that) to get a baseline of the BEST I could ever hope to get from a bow. Then I can compare the bows that i can afford with the BEST to see what kind of compromise I am making. Also I found that with some bows I had to adjust my playing style to get them to work with me, a process that might take me up to a week or two. So first impressions of a bow can be tricky - and wrong.

Finally, you cannot go by brand alone. Even different Coda Classic sticks play differently, are balanced differently, have different weights. I have also seen some pernambuco workshop bows with fairly well-known names that were impossibly bad (no better than a really cheap fiberglass bow).

What I think is pretty true price-wise with bows as well as violins, is that price (all other things being equal - which they are not) is a logarithmic indicator of what a bow can do. So a $1,000 bow (log = 3) should be expected to do about 50% more (whatever that means) than a $100 bow (log = 2). So you desire to up by a factor of only about 2 in price you might expect no more than 12 - 20% capability increase. In fact, apropos of that, back in the early days of the brand the preference among cellists for the Coda Conservatory over the Coda Classic was about 3/2. Of course, that 12% improvement might be just what one is looking for (for my last cello bow purchase, there were just a couple of notes on the G string that needed improvement that those 2 bows out of 66 provided).


December 11, 2008 at 07:59 PM ·

How much should you spend on a bow?

As much as you can afford, if the bow works well.

I think the bow is a more important investment than the violin, in terms of what techniques you need to learn. All you need to do with the left hand on the fiddle is lift yr fingers up and down and shift about a bit - you can do that on a mute fiddle.

But understanding the bow is best done with a good bow


December 11, 2008 at 10:31 PM ·

I also have a Coda Colours and like it really much. My other 2 bows are the JonPaul Arpege and a Knoll Pernambucco Silver mounted bow. If you tried a bunch of bows and didn't like then maybe you should just stick with your Coda for now or keep trying more bows in the higher prices till you find something better.

I found when trying a bow you should play yours first then try the others so you have something to compare. I picked the JonPaul Arpege because it pulled a nicer sound and seems a little easier to control on long strokes where the Coda lacks. My Knoll I just bought about 1 month ago and it's my favorite outta the 3. Doesn't feel to light or flex as much and is really nice.

December 12, 2008 at 03:54 PM ·

I broke my bow this year and went bow shopping with a budget of £300 or so from the insurance money.  My violin is valued at £1700 but perhaps like yours sounds better than it looks (has suffered a few scrapes in the last 90 years).  I tried about 20 bows including carbon fibre and a couple of Brazilian bows (quite nice), but there was one that definitely stood out despite being twice my budget.  It is a 20thC french bow 'ecole de Bazin', nickel mounted and cheaper than a fine Bazin bow.  I haven't regretted it for a second!  So in my case, about 1/3rd the nominal value of the violin.

December 12, 2008 at 08:32 PM ·

In general I found the more $$$ the violin bow, the better it was.

With that in mind I purchased a moderately expensive viola bow to go with my viola.  It's been fine, but whereas I've tried out several violin bows over the years, I only ever had the one viola bow.

A couple of months ago I went to look at viola bows.  Tried about 10 (and I'm lucky to have even that much selection!).  Ended up finding one that works wonderfully well for me and my viola.  It was the least expensive option I tried.  I probably wouldn't even have looked at it in my first go around.

Point is - keep an open mind.  And if it works for you (as long as you can afford it of course) don't worry about the price overly much.


December 13, 2008 at 08:34 PM ·

Thanks for all your help! So I took everyone's advice and decided to try a wide range of bows - from $400 arcos brasil bows to claudio righetti's carbon fiber bows (which are quite out of my price range, and which I felt lacked tone although I could play spicatto really cleanly).

Anyway, now I'm debating between a C. Chagas brasil bow and a different diamond coda bow. It's definitely a personal choice now, but I just have a quick question for everyone since I'm not familiar with the brazilian pernambuco bows.

My local violin shop priced the chargus brasil bow at $1400 (I believe it's from arcos although they didn't say), and they also had an arcos brasil bow by p fracalossi at $400. After doing a quick search, it seems that Chagas doesn't really make bows in the $1400 price range and I'm wondering if the $1400 bow is a little bit overpriced.

December 13, 2008 at 08:05 PM ·

My granddaughter has bows by one of the Chagas people, I don't recall offhand if it's C or D, as well as a Fracalossi. I think the Fracalossi is a viola bow, with the other two being violin bows; of course it could be the other way around.

In any case, none of the three was more than $750 locally (Potter's). All are silver-mounted, and all are quality bows. These were purchased about two years ago, so there might have been some price increases, but I suspect it's a buyer's market these days.

It was an interesting purchase. We brought two violins, and tested a fair pile of bows, and she picked the bow that sounded best with each instrument. It was somewhat surprising to find them made by the same hand, although one had silver wrapping, the other faux whalebone.

August 28, 2009 at 06:53 PM ·

Check to see if the Chagas is one of the limited edition silver bows.  They are much more expensive than the regular Arcos Brasil bows.  It is a different line completely.

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