Bows, Bows, Bows, Moving up for a Beginner

January 7, 2018, 12:50 PM · First, I must apologize to those of you who are far ahead of me on this violin journey. Probably what I m asking is really basic.

Once again, I'm attempting to come to terms with my fascination with violins. I'm an old bar band player -- guitar and pedal steel guitar -- but I'm retired now from both the bars and my day job and so I have the time to hurt myself with my violin... smiles.

I have a selection of bows my dear friend and violin shop owner kindly calls "crap." Indeed they are. But I also have an older Coda bow that I play. My question is: as a beginner still struggling with scales and bowing, what would be my best course for a better bow?

I don't mean a thousands dollar version, but something that would hold up for the next while. The Coda bow is fine I guess, certainly better than the bow-like objects in my case. But it feels a bit dead. How about a well-made new bow from China? Or?

Any suggestions would be deeply appreciated. Thank you.

Replies (47)

January 7, 2018, 1:23 PM · You could try some carbon fiber bows or a cheap wood bow.
January 7, 2018, 1:24 PM · Which Coda bow model do you have? What do you mean, more precisely, when you say that it feels "dead"?

What etudes and repertoire are you currently playing?

Edited: January 7, 2018, 4:23 PM · "Etudes and repertoire ?: Not there yet. I'm struggling with the basics. By "dead" Ella, I mean it just feels lifeless.

Of my "crap" bows, I have an ancient Japanese bow that I like because it feels lively. It's the only way I can describe it.

I play the pedal steel guitar. This is a fretless instrument you play with a bar that has weight. Some bars feel better than others even if they weigh the same. Pedal steel is thought to be the most difficult stringed instrument by those who never played violin. It is a close tie for sure. Took years of practice.

I bring this up because I know the value of good equipment when dealing with something as daunting as a bowed instrument or one played with a bar. I'd like to find a bow to get me through the next couple of years. The Coda is the "Classic" model. I don't know, I just haven't bonded to it.

Thank you for your kind responses.

January 7, 2018, 4:42 PM · I have a very early Codabow (1996) and it has been described as a "very good bow" by my teacher (20 years ago and my luthier last year when I had it re-haired). I find it responsive and my other bow (another carbon fiber, but I don't remember the name) feels like a baseball bat in comparison. Maybe a new bunch of hair will make the bows you have a bit more comfortable. "Good" bows tend to be rather expensive... as a retiree, most are out of my reach financially :)

Good Luck.

January 7, 2018, 5:03 PM · A Coda Classic is normally a good-quality carbon-fiber bow. The Classic has been retired, I think, but if I recall correctly, they used to be about $700.

I wonder if part of your issue is that at this point in your learning, you simply have no idea what constitutes a good bow. The Coda -- rehaired if necessary -- should be a good bow to learn on, and should readily carry you through the intermediate level, and potentially beyond too.

I would stick with the Coda Bow for now.

January 7, 2018, 5:07 PM · Thank you Bob and Lydia. Back to my scales...
Edited: January 14, 2018, 9:42 AM · Be sure there is not TOO much hair on your CODA bow. I was not enthralled by my first CODA - back circa 1997-98, It was a "Classic" but since it was the first CODA model they had not yet given it that name.

I had the CODA rehired shortly afterward and it has been much better since. The rehair had noticeably less hair than originally.

EDIT:There is an important relationship between the stiffness of a bow stick and the optimum amount of hair for that bow because the flexure of those two elements work together. Also, hair stretches when the bow is tightened and there is an optimum stretch of the hair for playing - and the more hair on a bow the less stretching of the hairs for a given straightening of the stick.

January 7, 2018, 5:46 PM · For a beginner you can get a decent CF bow for under $200.
January 7, 2018, 6:29 PM · I have had many bows over 70 years. I still have the 63 gram bow that I bought in Kitchener Ontario Canada when I was in High School in the mid 40’s. It is wooden and cost $50! No idea what make it is.
For your purposes an Eastman Cadenza would be OK. They have 4-5 models but I hear that they have dropped one. Mine is a Cadenza 2 carbon fibre bow. Not good for solos but adequate for group playing which I do; a mixed folk ensemble. Good Luck. I would like to know what you end up with.
Dr Terry Carscadden
January 7, 2018, 7:03 PM · I managed to acquire a Sarasate bow a while back. They tend to run a little expensive and are hard to come by but I absolutely love my bow. It seems lighter than a lot of the cheaper bows I have and more comfortable. I’ve also heard that those newer carbon fiber bows are great too but I stick to my Sarasate and just get it rehaired because bow shopping is so overwhelming and pricey. I know this probably isn’t much help to you but if you stumble across one, definitely try it out ! I’m definitely interested in knowing what you end up with because I am looking for a new bow myself.
January 7, 2018, 8:55 PM · All of these answers are of immense help. Big and sincere thank you.
January 7, 2018, 10:08 PM · He already doesn't like a $700 Carbon Fibre bow, why would a much cheaper CF bow be any better.
Edited: January 8, 2018, 9:42 AM · I play with a $1300 bow, but my backup one is a no name $70 bow that in a pinch I can easily live with for a while. Don’t let price throw you off, I’ve tried some $500 bows that I wouldn’t trade for my cheap bow. No matter the price, it’s what feels right and at your level you can easily find a bow that will feel right. In theory your Coda should be perfectly fine, but perhaps the weight or balance is throwing you off and may take some time to adjust. Give it a good try, change the hair if the stick feels good but can’t get it to bite enough. Compare with other bows if you have access to a shop until you find the right feel. Don’t buy without trying. As you get better you will find that the bow isn’t doing the work for you and is holding you back, but it sounds like you have a long way to go still before that becomes an issue.
January 8, 2018, 6:20 AM · When we upgraded my daughter's cello bow last time we did dollar-for-dollar comparisons between good silver mounted Brazilian bows with Coda and Arcus, which turns out to be the top of the Coda lineup and entry-level for Arcus. From a sound/tone standpoint, at least in our case and at least for cello, carbon fiber did not come close. I see a lot of folks here recommending CF in that price range so will try to keep an open mind...
January 8, 2018, 7:03 AM · yes, it appears quite obvious the people recommending CF bows aren't actually comparing the sound quality of CF to good affordable pernambuco bows.
Edited: January 8, 2018, 12:37 PM · Lyndon, I don't have an expensive violin, it's a 19th Century French large-pattern Strad copy but it did cost $7.5K.

And I've played friends bows that were in the $2-$3K range that just felt so much easier for my beginner's right hand to play. I'm 72, I'm pretty good on the instruments I currently play. I've played with folks in the R&R all of fame. I'm not there -LLL- but I have a limited time left on this planet and I don't count on being able to play til the end. So if I can pay, say, $1500 for a good Chinese bow, would that buy anything decent?

That is my question although I no doubt worded it wrong as I am new to this. It's a challenge for me. I've purchased a violin or two any number of times in my life and always walked away because of the pain.
This time I want to make it work. Don't care to play with others, might play fiddle tunes as well. I like good equipment. And, again, thank all of you most sincerely for your kind advice.

January 8, 2018, 2:22 PM · Thomas, there are a lot of teachers in Santa Rosa. It might be a commute but it's potentially worth it just to occasionally have someone point you in the right direction, whether it's regarding technique, repertoire, or equipment (as in this case).

Bows are the type of thing that you have to try in order to know if they're for you, though. However, if you're not yet good enough to be able to tell that by just playing, then upgrading probably won't help you anyways.

The thing I always tell students about upgrading violins or bows is this: "if you play them and you can't tell much of a difference, then it's not time to upgrade."

January 8, 2018, 2:46 PM · Erik, there's a good chance I'll trade the beautiful coast, fog and isolation of Fort Bragg for the potential fires and heat of Grass Valley or some such. It would be beneficial in so many ways.

January 8, 2018, 3:54 PM · Actually, for a beginner, you have an exceptionally expensive violin. Most beginners pick instruments in the sub-$1k range and eventually trade up to something in the $2k-4k range. Most amateurs never bother to buy anything more expensive than that.

In the sub-$1k range, carbon-fiber generally gets you better playability than a wood bow in the same price range, but wood bows tend to produce a more pleasant timbre than CF does in that price range.

If you have the cash to throw around, I'd consider a Brazilian-made bow at around the $1k price point. The best of these will likely have similar handling quality-level to the Coda, and a better sound -- but because you don't really have good bow technique yet, you will probably find it difficult to tell what actually is a good bow.

Edited: January 8, 2018, 8:16 PM · Lydia, I have a fiddle that was my dear friend Roger Johnsons' (Johnson's Stringed Instruments, Newton MA) personal violin. It's an 1867 Asa White Maggini copy, probably a bench-made German box Asa no doubt bought in the white. Roger collected American and especially New England early violins for years.

It's worth considerably more than the French one. Lives in a case under the bed... -L- If I cannot get past the pain, I'll sell both and save for a viola... ;- )

January 8, 2018, 9:21 PM · I second the recommendation for a Brazilian Pernambuco bow if you want a new bow, although at many violin shops, old German Pernambuco bows with nickel silver mount would be in that price range or less and they usually have many of them to choose from.
Edited: January 9, 2018, 10:47 AM · With you being a musician already I do not really see a problem with upgrading your bow so early on if you have the finances to do so. You already know your not liking what you feel in your hand and hear under your ear so your more experienced in that regard than most violin beginners.

Sorry I cannot recommend specific bows to look at but I would take both Lydia’s and Lyndon’s suggestions and start there. If you find a few bows that you like in your hand and under your ear is it possible to bring a more experienced player with you to have them test them out as well? It’s not a fool proof way to go as everyone has a different bow arm to some degree and what works for them may or may not work for you.....but it gives you a ball park idea.

Learning violin can be challenging as it is.....if you can afford a better bow you prefer to use at the stage your at now it will help you at least short term I figure.

January 9, 2018, 11:47 AM · I'm sort of in the same situation that you are in. I'm a long time part-time professional guitarist and also play a few other instruments. I have played violin for a few months. I think I have a good ear and good beginning technique. I started with a Fiddlerman CF bow and it served me well but I eventually desired a better tone so I went on the hunt for a good affordable WOODEN bow because I had heard they typically sound better. After a few Ebay experiments I wound up with a Fiddlerman 2-star Pernambucco and I am very happy. You can spend much more and not find a better bow. These are Chinese bows but Fiddlerman auditions them all and filters out the junk. It definitely sounds better than the CF bow. They have an even better 3-star model but it was not in stock when I was shopping. I still practice scales and such with the CF bow but I use the Pernambucco when I want to sound and play my best.
January 9, 2018, 1:40 PM · The chinese bows Fiddlerman sells are Pernambuco in name only, at least in the cheaper range.
January 9, 2018, 9:35 PM · 'I have a selection of bows my dear friend and violin shop owner kindly calls "crap."'

Sure, you can extend your collection. Maybe your shop owner friend can help direct you towards the better crap. But what's the point? You already have a $1K or so bow. Getting another one isn't going to end it for you. Thereafter you might get to a $2K bow. Now you'd have spent $4k, which could get you into an actually good bow made by a living maker with something of a name. So, my suggestion: Work with what you have, develop killer technique to the point where you'll be able to really benefit from a better bow and judge them for yourself, and get a real one.

January 10, 2018, 12:14 PM · J Ray, are you saying anything that costs less than $4,000 is not a good bow? Okay. The initial question I had was what would be a better bow than my current one. As I said, I'm 72. My biological clock is ticking and I don't mean that way, I mean as in croaking. If I want to play with a bow or a violin "too good" for a beginner, hey that's my choice. I was a vintage guitar fanatic for years, I've owned literally hundreds of instruments including all of the expensive ones. I can still pick well enough.

I don't like my CODA bow, period. It's made of plastic. It's black and it is ugly. That's my uneducated opinion. I want a decent wood bow. If it costs four large, then that is where I'll go. My life is too short at this point to make do.

I think I have my answer now. Thank all of you for your kind help.

January 10, 2018, 7:17 PM · Thomas, I owe you an apology for making wrong assumptions about time available and perhaps about continuing income. I wouldn't claim that a good bow must be expensive -- there are far too many bows and prices for anyone to really know what they're all like, but the odds definitely go up with certain price levels. I hope you enjoy what you find, at whatever price.
January 10, 2018, 7:48 PM · Hello Thomas. I think I understand your point of view. For me it is also very important to love my tools and that doesn't always come from its quality. The truth is that at my level the very good quality of a violin or bow gets lost because I don't have the skills to bring that level of excellence. However that doesn't mean that one has to settle with average or mundane.
In my case I look for things that are meaningful to me. In the case of violin, I bought a Spanish violin because I was born near to the luthier shop in the year the violin was made. It has been a great decision and playing it gives me great happiness. In the case of bow, I use a JTL Sarasate, for similar reasons (being a bow made in the 1920s in the honor of the best Spanish violinist).
Maybe in your case you would find that connection and that appreciation buying in an auction a bow made by a good american archetier, maybe from your state or city. That kind of connection is important (at least, for me). In that regard, the Tarisio, Brompton and Amati auctions are about to start and you can find something that you love playing because of its history.
Edited: January 10, 2018, 8:06 PM · J Ray I think that’s very kind you apologized....because I felt like yours and many other responses were a bit harsh. I think a lot of these typical responses from a few posters that are more accomplished is what detours newbies and lurkers from posting/asking questions regarding equipment, upgrades. No adult wants to be told they do not deserve a better bow/fiddle, ect based on what level they are playing at when asked by other members.....especially the question never stated “should I get one”.....the first poster was just asking for recommendations.

While I know the violin is considered to be a hard instrument to master by some.....the original poster plays with a steel finger bar the equiliant to a bow and knows what feels like junk in his hand. Why cannot our suggestions be more helpful with new violin players and especially other fellow musicians who love the violin and pick it up and make it want to work with out judgment...

January 10, 2018, 8:11 PM · Okay, apparently your budget is very different than what most people (including myself) would have assumed.

I think that if you don't really care what pleasure costs you -- and more importantly, you are less focused on "what is actually a great bow" and more on "what bow gives you the most pleasure right now" -- then you can go shopping with that focus. I would advise you to set a budget so that you don't get taken for too much of a ride by a dealer who figures he's spotted a sucker, though.

Go to a large violin shop. Play every bow within your budget. Buy what feels good.

Most bow-buying advice is geared to people who are working with a relatively limited budget (your earlier indications in this thread appeared to suggest you were working with a price point of $1k or so, for instance), and who are trying to buy the best bow for the long term that they can get within their limited means. In particular, this means a bow that facilitates learning technique over the long term and is useful for more advanced playing.

If your focus is on what feels good right this instant (regardless of whether a more accomplished or selective player would consider it to be a good bow), that's a different selection algorithm, so to speak.


Edited: January 11, 2018, 11:49 AM · No biggie, and thank all of you for your input. FWIW, I am not rich, probably because I lived the working musician's life for many years. So I have a modest pension and SS. But I don't have children, I drive a 26-year-old truck or ride one of the Harleys. My household is five ancient, once-abandoned cats and four pooches with similar life stories. I live in a 106-year-old house in Fort Bragg CA about 400 yards from the Pacific Ocean. I want for nothing, not because I am rolling in $$$, but because musical instruments have been my whole life. No golf, tennis, travel, country clubs etc. Blue jeans, a good garden, lots of friends and a sense of humor -- that's plenty.

Yeah, my budget would vastly prefer a (now I know) Brazilian or Chinese bow under $2K. But if they cost more, I have a number of more-than-decent guitars upstairs that could be magically transformed into a bow via ebay or craigslist.

It's a rainy day so I look forward to a bit of binge watching of TwoSetViolin (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAzKFALPuF_EPe-AEI0WFFw) and doing my beginner's practice on the violin. Take the new mutt for a walk along the headlands, drink the last of the season's eggnog and have a few cookies. Retirement is marvelous.

Thanks all...

January 11, 2018, 12:20 PM · By the way, this is one of the best "violin videos" I've seen on youtube to date:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7yjfA6H870

January 11, 2018, 12:44 PM · Both my kids binge watch 2 set, and that one's my personal favorite. "I've got this." :-) The girl can play.
Edited: January 11, 2018, 1:45 PM · The advantage of the Brazilian bows, is oweing to the embargo on exporting genuine Pernambuco, the Brazilians have access to the best Pernambuco, and are allowed to export the bows but not the wood. A genuine Pernambuco blank to make a bow costs at least $100 and will be going up, so you won't find many Chinese bows using genuine Pernambuco, even though they claim that is what they are using,even on cheap bows.

Also as I said, genuine Pernambuco old German bows start at around $500 if they're not silver mount, start at about $1000 for silver mount, worth looking into if you can go to a store with large selection.

January 11, 2018, 2:57 PM · thank you Lyndon. :- )
January 11, 2018, 6:10 PM · imho 4k is where you want to be. That gets you a broad selection of good bows from living makers ( ie doug raguse) , as well as very good french or german shop bows. you can spend less, but the choices and probability of getting your "bucket" list bow goes down
January 11, 2018, 7:17 PM · The OP has explained that he is an amateur violinist that I do not think needs a $4000 bow, there are some very good bows for $1000, I imagine that would be quite good enough for the OP if he had enough bows in that price range to compare and choose from.
January 11, 2018, 11:05 PM · I think this is almost blind luck at the OP's level. You need some reasonable level of technique to choose something that is objectively a good bow (even if that bow might not be to the personal taste of small players). He needs to just go shopping and find something that feels good at a not-outrageous price point ($1k is fine), and if it stops feeling good later, he has the funds to go buy another bow that feels good again.
January 14, 2018, 2:46 AM · If you want to try up and down the quality spectrum, and are willing to take a drive, Ifshin’s has a broad selection and will probably be able to offer you a decent trade-in should you change your mind later on.
January 14, 2018, 8:41 AM · Thank you Stephen. I should take a drive to Santa Rosa (110 miles) and visit my old and very good friend Mick Loveland. We go back 40 years. His shop has a wealth of violins and bows plus he is very knowledgeable.

I've got my practice up to about two hours a day now in short -- 15 minutes or so -- bits. Pain is manageable so far... big fun and big frustration at the same time... -L-

January 14, 2018, 9:38 AM · My experience with Mick Loveland was stellar!
I had seen and played a (1920-something) "Conn" violin in a pawn shop in San Rafael. Never having heard of a Conn violin (they were known for band wind instruments) I did a google search and found Loveland's name as having sold one and telephoned him. He offered me $1,000 for the violin that the pawn shop was selling for $600 if I delivered it to him. I refused to do it for fear that if I bought it I would keep it - and I needed no more violins (I may have had 6 or 7 around the house at the time). So he sent someone down from Santa Rosa to buy it - BUT he then sent me $100 "finders fee" completely unsolicited.
How often do you see that in the violin world?
January 14, 2018, 9:49 AM · Mick is a great guy, an art collector and a heck of a good surfer. His house of many years, unfortunately, was a victim of that Calistoga fire last year.
January 15, 2018, 4:04 PM · Lyndon, none of us "need" to buy a 4000.00 bow.
The OP indicated what he "wants". Of course you can get a good CF bow for 500 and a decent bow from Brazil for >2k.
But if this is a bucket list item, then I stand by my previous comment.
Edited: January 15, 2018, 5:02 PM · You shouldn't be considering a $4000 bow till you can play well enougth to tell a good one from a bad one, and since bows are intensively personal; one persons good one is another person's bad one, so no, the OP is not really in a good position to be selecting a $4000 bow IMHO.
January 15, 2018, 4:35 PM · To quote the OP:
"I want a decent wood bow"
"Yeah, my budget would vastly prefer a (now I know) Brazilian or Chinese bow under $2K."
He said he could pay 4 grand if he had to. I don't think he has to.


Edited: January 15, 2018, 5:47 PM · Thomas, I would strongly suggest you just take your collection of bows to a violin shop, or to a friend who is an experienced fiddle player. It may be that one or more of your wood bows is not "crap" but just needs new hair or TLC. The Codabow might need hair as well and might be much better after a rehairing.

If you're a beginner who hasn't really begun etudes or standard repertoire, I don't know how you would know what sort of a bow you need.

It may very well be the bow isn't the issue -- it's the need for fresh strings, or even rosin! You can experiment with a lot of different rosins for every little money, and hitting on the right rosin can make a really big difference sometimes.

If you're saying a new bow would help motivate you to practice more and learn the instrument, that's great, more power to you. Again, the answer is to visit a violin shop and try out bows and see what you like.

But don't spend too much. I certainly wouldn't recommend spending a lot of money -- $1200, let alone $4,000, if you're a beginner because you're not yet even trying to do things that you'd need an expensive stick for.

One final question -- how long's it been since you had your violin at the luthier for tune-up? If it's been more than a few years, you're overdue, and some adjustments might make you feel better about your sound.

Edited: January 15, 2018, 8:45 PM · Thanks Royce and Thomas, The French violin sounds terrific. B-I-G sounding violin. The Asa White has lower action. Sounds fiddly but I think if it was set up differently with different strings it might be more of a "violin."

It's me that makes the funny sounds. And that is how I want it. I want this challenge. Very enjoyable... although my dogs and cats might disagree.

Is there a way to post pictures here?

Oh yeah, here's someone I hugely admire. Her tone and vibrato are great:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssta8elramI

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