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What's the Difference between Cheap and Expensive Bows?

Instruments: Brazilwood or pernambuco? And other questions....

From Aaron Ong
Posted June 26, 2004 at 10:06 PM

Hi I just bought a George Kloz 1737 violin. It came without a bow so I used the bow from a cheap Skylark violin. A bow like this would cost only about $10, perhaps less. But I hear there are bows costing in the thousands. Just what are the main differences between these cheap and expensive bows. To me (I'm an amateur violinist) they are nothing more than a piece of stick and a bunch of horsehair. Would more expensive bows give better sound quality? Also what do good violinists prefer, brazilwood or pernambuco wood for the stick? Do bows really affect sound quality? Please advise - Aaron - Malaysia.

From owen sutter
Posted on June 26, 2004 at 10:28 PM
bows do affect sound quality, but more importantly they affect your technique quite a bit. Certain things are harder or impossible with a cheap bow. I'm not sure how advanced you are but try some spicatto with string crossing and you'll notice its rather difficult. Even long legato passages are much harder with a crappy bow. Finally ALL the great sticks i've ever used were pernambuco, but i'm sure they could be good brazilwood too.
From Eric Livingston
Posted on June 26, 2004 at 10:51 PM
Pernambuco is, of course, the wood of choice for excellent bows. It has a density, resiliency, and appearance that is best-suited to archetiere. Brazilwood has more difficulty responding to advanced bow technique; often times the sound is unfocused and cloudy. Its feedback to the right hand can often be "clubby," especially for long sostenuto or sautille.

I own several excellent bows, but my favorite for performance is actually a carbon-fibre Righetti. It is extremely focused, and I can never ask more of it than what it can deliver.

Every good string musician in search of a good and practical bow is well-served to look into carbon-fibre.

Eric

From sara a. m.
Posted on June 26, 2004 at 11:10 PM
I agree with Owen. Usually the sound quality with cheaper bows isn't too good and it is harder to do special tecniques or other things. My opinion is that if you're a beginner, you don't need an outrageously expensive bow, but get one that has reasonable quality of sound and you can do tecniques easily with it. The ones in the thousands dollar range are usually what the professionals get (but again that's just my opinion).

-sara

From owen sutter
Posted on June 27, 2004 at 12:30 AM
if your are a beginner you could have your teacher select a couple for you and choose your favorite one
From Maximillian Tresmond
Posted on June 27, 2004 at 01:57 AM
Actually, as an interesting sidenote, I believed someone (was in Manfio) on Maestronet posted that pernambuco is a specific type of brazilwood. And bows made out of brazilwood are either lowgrade pernambuco, or a lower grade, different spiecies of brazilwood.
From Teruyoshi Shirata
Posted on June 27, 2004 at 02:33 AM
one small thing. if you are used to play with modern bows, it doesn't mean that you could play Tourte, Pajeot,etc..(before Peccatte family)... there are very big difference with those old bows and modern bows as playing technic...
From Rowell Jao
Posted on June 27, 2004 at 06:18 AM
Pernambuco wood bows are used and said to be the better quality wood because of it's "high sonic frequency". Also venturing outside the bow area, Pernambuco tailpieces are really expensive than any of the other wood tailpieces because of the sound. The vibrations travel through the wood and resonates. It's kind of like when a cellist sticks it's end pin jabbing it down on the wooden stage so that he or she can use the stage as part of his or her instrument with the vibrations travelling down the endpin to the wooden stage instead of just the cello. Think about it. Sorry it's late so I'm not sure if I've explained myself clearly.
From Aaron Ong
Posted on June 27, 2004 at 02:27 PM
Hi people! Just to let you guys know I am not a beginner. I started at age 10 and now I'm 33. My first teacher was an old Portuguese man who has a habit of rapping my knuckles with a piece of ruler. I'm picking up violin again after 1993. So obviously there's a lot of catching up to do. I don't have a teacher now so its usually me practising alone or with my pianist at church. Thanks guys for the advice.

Owen you're right I can't even do a decent spiccato and all along I thought maybe it's due to the strings. Eric I've never even heard of a carbon fibre bow but it's worth a thought. Rowell's idea of a pernambuco tailpiece sets me thinking too. I've never thought too much of the ebony tailpiece I have.

As for the hair itself may I ask what type of hair is best? Synthetic? I've heard of Mongolian horsehair too but I doubt if I can tell the difference between a Mongolian horse and a non-Mongolian horse. What is your opinion if I use the cheap Skylark bow and rehair it with a very good hair. Would it be a good idea? Does anyone know what kind of wood is a cheap Skylark bow? This is currently the only bow I have. Many thanks - Aaron MALAYSIA

From Rowell Jao
Posted on June 27, 2004 at 02:49 PM
Usually when you get your bow rehaired, they won't use synthetic.. they might have different types of horsehair you could choose from or they'll just provide you with the finest horsehair they have. As for the pernambuco tailpiece, they're really expensive. Can reach about around the $200s. Carbon fiber bows can beat some of the higher priced and sound of pernambuco bows. It's also said that they're indestructible. I used to confuse carbon fiber with fiberglass because of the word "fiber".
From P W
Posted on June 27, 2004 at 06:02 PM
The biggest different between cheap bows and expensive ones is.....price. I am not talking about $20 bows, I am talking about the difference between $200 and thousand-dollar bows. Expensive bows are easier to play and can respond to your brain in unconscious way. They also give you better focused tone with good projection. It is essential for advanced players. But..... a 10k bow is not 50 times better than a $200 bow. However, in the violin world, violinists are fighting to get 5 or 10% improvement in their playing. A violinist's career can be decided by that 10% difference, as frequently experienced in high profile audtions. So, a bow that can give you some edge, become vitally important. Another factor to consider is individual preference. Bows are quite different, even more so than violin. Each player has to pick the right bow to fit their physical characterics, playing style, and violin. Sometimes, a particular $300 bow may be better than a particular $5K bow for a particular player.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on June 28, 2004 at 06:00 AM
Greetings,
PW has explained the situation really well I think. A 50k is useless if the balance and weight is so wrong for you you cannot express yourself. I was shown a Fench bow around the 10k mark the other day and the dealer was trying to persuade me to buy it so I smiled and asked him if it had been rejected by every Japanese player to date. He blushed and admitted thta basically no one wnated it. I had to play it for about half an hour before I found how to adapt my bwoing to taht gross extra weight and then I could find its superb balance and p@otnetial but I just didn`t want to mess up my hands with all that extra stress so I gues sit is going to remain unsold.
But, assuming you have the right one. teh difference between a bad and good bow is the same as the diffenece between a lousy date (where you want to call it quits but don`t know how) and that single beautiful moment when you meet someone and know that in two years you are going to be married,
Cheers,
Buri
From Emily Grossman
Posted on June 29, 2004 at 07:06 AM
I was more sure about the bow than I was about picking my husband. Fortunately, both have worked out fine.
From parmeeta bhogal
Posted on June 29, 2004 at 10:02 AM
Aaron,
I don't know what the skylark bow is amde of but you should really get a better bow (after all, you seem to have spent a lot on the violin).
For my son, it was not only advanced techniques, it was that he could not get enough contrast even between piano and forte etc. playing wiht his cheap bow (student kit- chinese violin).
To get a stronger sound he had to press so hard that the bow skidded, or he would hit another string, and he simply lost sound and tone on a piano.
He now has a 300 Euro pernambuci bow, and it makes a great difference to the playing (to say nothing of frustration accumulated during practise).

Emily, and you had no dealer/luthier pointing out the finer qualities of your husband either....

From Aaron Ong
Posted on June 29, 2004 at 10:33 AM
Hi Parmeeta, you're right. With the skylark bow it's difficult to get a big contrast between p and f. And that is one of the major complaints from my pianist colleague, apart from other inherent faults from yours truly.

There is another major problem I have. When I transition quickly from D (third finger on A string) to open E, 10% of the time I get a screech not unlike a fingernail against a blackboard. It is really unsettling when you play a nice piece and then this abominable sound jumps out of the blue. Is this what is called a wolf's whistle? Is it caused by the string or the bow itself. Is there any way to get rid of this sound?
- Aaron.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on June 29, 2004 at 10:59 AM
Greetings,
Aaron, this is a notorious probelm for violnists . It is not a wolf note. In the bad old days it was often shoddy e strings. It is rumoured that even Oistrakh produced fifteen such nopises in one concert....
However, strings have got better and some are less prone to whistling than others. But, it is also true that the burden of error is often the violinist. You need to check that the base area of your left index finger is not slighly touching the e string as you cross over. This happens a lot..
Cheers,
Buri
From Aaron Ong
Posted on June 29, 2004 at 11:03 AM
After 23 years of playing (on and off) I have never got rid of this problem. I swear Buri that my fingering is 100% correct... 3rd finger on A, and a TOTALLY OPEN E string. Someone gave me the idea me that I must put a weight on the E string between the bridge and the tailpiece. For the weight I used two small electrical copper connectors screwed through the E string. I think I have lessened the horrible noise by about 20%. But it is still happeninig. Aaron
From owen sutter
Posted on June 29, 2004 at 07:49 PM
the only real solution is to try changing e strings, diferent gagues react different, in general i think a larger gague tends to reduce the frequency of hte screeches. I've found certain brands (infeld reds for instance) have e strings that screech constantly. I've never had the problem wiht a wound e, but i dont like them very much
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on June 29, 2004 at 11:47 PM
Greetings,
try the new e stirng from (?) Pirstaro (help). It claims to eliminate this problem,
Cheers,
Buri
From N.A. Mohr
Posted on June 30, 2004 at 01:51 AM
I get that E screech too...but I had it less on my no-name cheapy strings...and much more now with my much more expensive E string...

...it doesn't quite make sense to me...

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on June 30, 2004 at 02:11 AM
Greetings,
maybe that is what you are paying extra for...
Cheers,
Buri
From owen sutter
Posted on June 30, 2004 at 02:46 AM
i'll bet some contemporary compositions call for that noise specifically. try doing that on cheap strings.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on June 30, 2004 at 02:57 AM
Greetings,
I look on the positive side. Owen goes for the `far Side,`
Cheers,
Buri
From Aaron Ong
Posted on June 30, 2004 at 04:36 AM
Sometimes the problem is not just the E, the A string also gives a noise when you transition from G(third finger on D string) to open A. But this rarely happens. I think I've heard it only a coupla times before. Instead of a screech, this is like a mournful shriek, like a dog in the throes of dying. (Sorry to the dog lovers out there, but just making an example). Either way this sound makes the hair on my arms stand on its end. It is so ugh... horrible. I think no word can describe the "horribleness" of this noise. - Aaron.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on June 30, 2004 at 04:47 AM
Greetings,
I am afraid your violin needs exorcising.
Cheers,
Buri
(take it for a long walk...)
From Alan Anderson
Posted on July 11, 2004 at 03:48 PM
Hi Everyone,
I'm an adult beginner (been playing for 4 years now). I used to experience that same screechy sound on my violin when going from the A string to the E. That was on my Ivan Dunov student violin -- a pretty good instrument for a beginner. I now play on a much better quality old German violin and have not experienced that sound since, so I suspect the problem lay with the violin or the Dominant E-string (which I've heard are widely hated).

Anyway, I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions for bow upgrades? I now use a Jean Dom. Adam model I bought from Shar. It's a decent bow and helps put out a warm sound, but I think I would prefer something stiffer and sprightlier with a fast response. I've tried the Coda Conservatory which comes close to these qualities, but the sound is a bit too harsh. Any suggestions for good makers/brands to try? I know bow choice is very subjective, but I'd like to find a good starting point. The choice in catalogues is overwhelming! Thanks in advance!

From K. Steed
Posted on July 11, 2004 at 04:06 PM
I have the same problem as Alan had, and my teacher suggested that I buy a type of rosin called jade. She says it's expensive ($15 a bar) but it will help...and it's green. I've never heard of it, but then again, I've only been playing for awhile..
From Rita Livs
Posted on July 11, 2004 at 04:47 PM
Right on Alan. Yesterday I changed my E string from Blue Thomastic to Dominant and got this terrible noise on E. I didn't have it on Blue Thomastic. Maybe, it's because of just new string which still doesn'n contain rosin dust?
Does somebody know how to identify wood brand and quality your bow was made from?
From Larry Brandt
Posted on July 11, 2004 at 06:56 PM
I was trying out a friend's violin, and he had about 2 different bows, a cheapish one and a good one. I didn't know the violin, and didn't know the bow.

With the cheap bow, I struggled to play, and I thought the violin really must be terrible. I couldn't get any sound out of it and it didn't have a nice sound at all. With the expensive bow, the sound production tripled, and it was much easier to play.

I have seen this happening many times, and it has convinced me how essential a good bow is! Thankfully, my bow is good enough, although when I have tried my teacher's bow (which is really really good) I have noticed subtle differences in balance and control. Things like spiccato, ricochet and sautille become a joke with her bow. That's what you pay for in an expensive bow...those small improvements that help you play. For a professional, making smudgy spiccatos, ricochets and sautilles even occasionally is not good enough, and that is why they will pay a fortune to eliminate it. Just my opinion, by the way, but I'm sure it has some logic to it.

From One-Sim Lam
Posted on July 12, 2004 at 06:38 PM
Hey! I'm going to upgrade my flimsy wobbly bow soon and grateful that aaron has started a discussion on bows. So are the most important things in getting a new bow is testing it out for flexibility in playing and sound?

One-Sim

From owen sutter
Posted on July 12, 2004 at 07:01 PM
well you want a bow that does it all, but that can be expensive. Some bows are easier to do spicatto on but i find i can make almost any bow do a decent spicatto, so for me i look mostly for tone, and stability, especially on string crossings, legato etcetera, try something like dont 3 and see what happens, or the mendelssohn. I try to play the greatest variety of things and see which bow is most comfortable. bach is a must, fugues are great and try maybe the presto from g minor or something. it all comes down to preference in the end

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