Does Bow Quality Matter?

September 18, 2017, 6:55 PM · Hi everyone. I recently played on my teacher's violin and bow just for fun. I was expecting the violin to blow me away the most, but as I took the bow from her hand, it was like a slap in the face. Her bow was amazing. It felt perfect in the hand and it also played buttery smooth.

I have shaking hands so getting a nice sound out of a long bow stroke is a never-ending challenge for me. On her bow it wasn't. It never had a single bounce from my shaking hand. It absorbed all shake and played perfectly.

After playing some short little excerpts to test the abilities of both the violin and the bow, I told my teacher, "This bow must've descended from heaven!" It was absolutely incredible.

I was expecting it to be maybe a couple thousand dollars.

>>>>>>>>>>>I'VE NEVER PLAYED A BOW MORE THAN $500, SO I WAS ASSUMING!!!!!!<<<<<<<<<

The bow was $10,000 she told me. I was shocked! I always have wanted a new bow, because my bow is SIGNIFICANTLY less than my violin and playing her bow on my violin made it sound even better than it already sounds.

I'm willing to spend maybe $1500 at most. Is it worth the money to upgrade from a $650ish bow to a $1500 bow or should I keep saving to meet a specific price point. It would be nice to get a nice bow that I could really use, but how much would I need to really pay. I wouldn't spend 10 grand on a violin worth maybe 8 at the very most.

I'm VERY uneducated in bows, besides for the fact that like a violin they are very personal and you need to try many to find the right one, so any recommendations or help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Replies (73)

Edited: September 18, 2017, 7:15 PM · Depends on your tastes and your luck.

There are a lot of good makers today-- they tend to charge $3,500 on up past $5,000 and higher. But if you find an obscure maker (say, From an emerging market), you might get lucky for less.

There are also categories of antiques that are a bit underpriced. German bows, as a group, are less popular than antique French bows, but the best ones can be very good. And, yes-- a good one can make a huge difference. Especially when you are still getting your technique and tone production figured out.

Also in your price class, there are some carbon-fiber sticks that are pretty good.

The best thing is to go to a good shop and ask to try bows. The more you see, the more you'll know about what is possible.

September 18, 2017, 7:32 PM · Yes play as many bows as you can...it's a whole world of discovery. You may also come across a superior bow that has major repairs...price may be wildly reduced, but not necessarily the playability. Good luck!
September 18, 2017, 8:03 PM · I recommend Arcos or L'archet bows for your price range. The Brazilian made bows are usually very good for their price.
Edited: September 18, 2017, 9:09 PM · I met a bowmaker recently at a hosted chamber music event. He practically brought his entire workshop with him. I tried his violin and viola bows, and they were fantastic. He doesn't charge too much for them (violin bows start at $4800) and the amount of R&D he's put into identifying characteristics that players can correlate with their performance is mind-boggling.

I demoed several of them while playing quartets and quintets and they played beautifully. While I love my Ouchard and Morizot bows, I'd be perfectly happy on one of his!

Check out John Greenwood at: http://www.greenwoodbows.com/

Edited: September 19, 2017, 8:17 AM · As you said, Ryan, bows and violins are personal. Violins are personal in that we want them to match our own ears (and of course blow others away as well). But if violins are personal, bows are doubly personal as we want them to match not only ourselves but also our instrument and that latter match can be a tricky one.

I recommend going on a personal search to a top violin shop where you can try hundreds of bows on your own violin not only within your price range, but above and below it as well. After running each bow through its paces (have a brief routine of music to cover your musical range) put it in one of two "piles," one for (1) return to dealer and the other for (2) bows you might want to own. As you try more bows you will find yourself moving bows from pile (2) to pile (1). I predict you will be surprised at the price range in both piles and that you may find a bow that is great for you at a reasonable price.

I suggest being certain your violin is in perfect working order when you test bows because it is possible to select as "best" a bow that compensates for an instrument's setup problems (or other correctible flaws, such as a wolf) only to learn in the future that there are other, cheaper ways to fix that problem. I also suggest that one of the musical parts of your test routine MUST BE a 2-octave scale up the G string!

September 19, 2017, 6:22 AM · Does bow quality matter?

The bow is the primary means by which you produce a sound on the violin. If the bow doesn't work well for tone production as well as endurance and strokes such as sautille', spiccato, ricochet, staccato, then you are dead in the water.

I'll go a step further and say that for violin, EVERYTHING matters.

September 19, 2017, 8:43 AM · Oh, good! I see I beat Paul to this thread. Haha!

Yes, it does matter. Most definitely.

September 19, 2017, 8:46 AM · Keep in mind I am commenting as a rank amateur.Someone who has only been at it for about two years.

I think it matters, but maybe not as much from bow to bow as some think.I have acquired about a half dozen bows of different kinds so far. Most of them aren't considered to be very good bows when compared to high end bows.

What I've found so far is my bow response is tied directly to how I deal with the mass of the bow and the balance along with the amount of control I allow in my wrist. I think we can train ourselves to play with lesser bows if we can acquiesce to their particular behavior. Using those bows is still a disadvantage compared to a bow that takes less effort to play because it has better balance and weight.

I follow the same line of thought we usually use with violins. Don't let the price be the main deciding factor here. If ease of playing is all about managing proper mass and weight distribution,then a decent CF bow should work well for technique. Not so much for sound though. This is why I think wood won't ever go out of style.

In some professional circles they tell you to use a certain amount pressure constantly to play. In other circles they say the bow should not need pressure. You exert enough to hold it there and play , no more.

I think this all hinges a lot on the bow. With some bows you must exert more pressure to play. With others, the hairs grab so well and the weight is just so, that force isn't needed. If you have a violin with wonderful projection and tone, this will help too.

Edited: September 21, 2017, 9:28 PM · Definitely it matters. Different bow will have different power, tone, responsiveness, playability, etc. Sometimes a bow may sound really buttery but it may lack power which is not immediately detectable under one's ear unless you are very experienced.

I've also heard the saying that different violin needs different bow to match. I'd like to know what you guys think about this claim. I recently bought a new violin (Topa), and I'm trying some different bows to see if there'll be a better match to the Topa than my current Reid Hudson bow, which I'm quite happy with. I haven't found one within my price range, although above a certain point, the price is not necessarily a good indicator. Like all other have said, you've got to try as many as you can, but also get feed back from other violinist(s) about the sound they produce in distance.

September 19, 2017, 2:38 PM · The quality of the bow matters enormously, at least as much as the quality of the violin.
September 19, 2017, 8:17 PM · Not only does the quality of the bow matter, but bows are very personal to the player, and sometimes the repertoire. I prefer to use a single bow that by and large does everything I want (plus a backup bow), but many players change bows depending on what they're playing.

A player can always adapt to their equipment; it can be annoying to do so, but it's doable. The problem with that for a student is that you don't yet know the optimal ways to do things (and therefore how you can adapt that proper technique to non-optimal circumstances), and a bow (or violin) which doesn't give good feedback can hamper your learning.

In the $750 - $1k range, you can get a perfectly adequate bow, though. Carbon-fiber or Brazilian workshop (Arcos Brazil, etc.)

Higher-end bows can make an immense difference. Contemporary bowmakers are turning out great work, although I've found it difficult to get ahold of such bows to try.

Edited: September 19, 2017, 11:45 PM · I think contemporary bows can be great between 3-8k, but with the price range given by the op you can find some good old German bows. They are mostly good at the price/quality ratio.
In the end you dont have any option but to try as many bows as you get your hand on.
I looked many years for bows and own 4 modern (meaning not baroque) bows. The latest buy was a couple of months ago and the cheapest one, a bow by Albert Leicht. Still I prefer it on my violin over the others costing multiple times the money. Testing the bow with different violins however revealed that this is just a very good combination and with other violins this bow mostly does not work as good as my other bows.
I also recommend testing some mid tier CF bow, like Arcus in comparison to a common wooden bow. The sound is a bit different with a good playability for some (they are as individual to each other as wooden bows).
There are ofc bows that are generaly better as others and most times they are not the cheapest one, but you can find your personal gem in every price range.
Edited: September 20, 2017, 5:14 AM · I remember trying several bows at a dealer. I picked a couple that I thought felt good in my hand, that drew smoothly across my violin. One in particular, just made me feel like I had the power of God in my hand. I brought them home and showed them to a local pro. He took the one I liked and tried it. After about a minute, he said, "Don't buy this bow. I can't play anything with it. I can't play sautille." He suggested that I weigh them. Sure enough, the one I liked was about 3 grams heavier.

My own theory is that as one becomes a better violinist, one increasingly recognizes and amplifies the significance of vanishingly subtle effects. One becomes increasingly sensitive to small errors in intonation, for example. Even for a rank amateur like me, three grams' difference felt huge. On the other hand, I thought my violin sounded just as good with my $500 CF bow as it did with two fine bows that a local pro violinist showed me, even when he was the one playing. The same pro told me that I'd have to spend at least $2000 on a wood bow to outperform my CF.

September 20, 2017, 5:37 AM · Does the bow quality matters?

As an amateur, over the years I've noticed something I wouldn't believe I'd notice ever: the bow is just as important as the violin. The right hand is just as important, if not more important, as the left hand.

September 20, 2017, 6:02 AM · At a cerzain point the left hand will find its way through most reportoire quickly while the right hand is key for the sound.
September 20, 2017, 6:16 AM · Paul,
What CF bow was that?
September 20, 2017, 6:25 AM · Does the bows quality matter>
Heck yes it does, sometimes I think it matters more than the instrument you are playing on. In my experience a bad bow will not allow a good instrument to sing, but a good bow can improve the sound of a mediocre instrument. Go and try lots of bows as already outlined above, have fun though don't be too serious as this can and often does adversely affect your choice, remember music is fun.
September 20, 2017, 7:33 AM · It depends on your level of technique. Fine bows really show their value on techniques such as spicatto. So if you are advanced with spicatto you will see the difference. If you haven't studied it yet, you may not yet appreciate the full value of a really great bow.
September 20, 2017, 8:21 AM · If I had to choose I would go with a GREAT bow and a GOOD violin rather than the other way around. IMHO, carbon fibre bows, whilst they handle ok, sound horrid! Best reserved for outdoor gigs etc, although I use an early Hill bow for these.

Cheers Carlo

Edited: September 20, 2017, 8:38 AM · John C, this is the bow I play:

https://www.jrjuddviolins.com/product/eastman-cadenza-model-305/

I see that they are asking $450. That is what I paid. There is some flux in the naming of these products. The bow I bought was stamped "Cadenza Master," and as far as I know, it was not an Eastman product. Later, the "Master" name was associated with their "Three Star" product (the model 305). Now I see that there is a new product called "Cadenza Master" that is an $800 bow:

https://www.jrjuddviolins.com/product/cadenza-master-2/

That does not look like my bow.

The (true) story goes that a certain teacher with a large studio, himself a well-regarded pro violinist, wanted to find a model of CF bow that he could recommend to his students, something that would reliably play well at a reasonable price. He tried a great many and the one he chose is the Cadenza 305. I now have three of them: My bow, my 2nd bow, and my daughter's bow. As far as I can tell they are indistinguishable from one another.

September 20, 2017, 9:28 AM · Paul,

Thanks for the detailed info. Any experience with JonPaul CF bows?

September 20, 2017, 9:47 AM · Carlo, what kind of bow you would consider to be "a GREAT bow"? What amount would you recommend someone to be prepared to pay for a bow to match a $15,000 violin?
September 20, 2017, 9:55 AM · I am not Carlo but with a 15k violin I would assume a 5k bow maybe.
September 20, 2017, 10:14 AM · I've heard 40-60% of the violin until you get to master contemporary or modern Italian prices or higher. So if you have a 30k violin, am antique French bow makes sense. If less, scale proportionally.
September 20, 2017, 10:27 AM · John C, I have heard very good things about the JonPaul Avanti bow. I have never tried one.
Edited: September 20, 2017, 10:32 AM · I have not heard 40-60%. I have heard 1/3, although with violins getting cheaper all the time, especially in the student range, 50% becomes more believable. On the other hand with CF bows have become cheaper too.

I'm curious to know how long it takes to make a bow compared to a violin. I realize that time is necessarily the a measure of effort, and that it's not a measure of skill at all, but it's one measure that might illuminate the "ratio" of costs that we might expect to incur, at least at the amateur level, for contemporary instruments.

September 20, 2017, 11:00 AM · What about bow matching violin, in addition to or rather than prices? Recently I tried (blind test on my part) 12 bows at the prices between $500-$5,000, with the assistance of a reputable pro, we've came to the conclusion that the $5,000 doesn't sound nearly as good as a $3,000 one, which is buttery but lacks power and responsiveness of my current Hudson bow.
September 20, 2017, 11:59 AM · 12 bows is a very very small amount to draw any conclusion.
Edited: September 20, 2017, 12:49 PM · See -- this is the kind of thing that I find interesting. On the one hand, different bows are supposed to make a huge difference in terms of responsiveness and tone, "as important as the violin," but then 12 bows is considered a "very very small" sample from which to draw conclusions. If it takes 100 or 500 bows to draw conclusions, first conclusion I would draw is that differences are either subtle or chaotic.

About value, my guess is that quality does not scale with price but rather with the logarithm of price, with an error margin of, say, plus or minus 0.2 on the logarithm. Thus one should not be surprised to find a $3000 bow and a $8000 bow that are comparable to other $5000 bows one has tested. One should start to see noticeable differences when doubling the price, which corresponds to a difference of 0.3 in the logarithm.

September 20, 2017, 4:04 PM · Yup, pretty mysterious to me as well. Now, maybe what Marc suggested wasn't so much as a matter of necessity, but rather, because it's a lot easier to test a whole lot of bows than violins, we are expected to test more than 12 bows to draw conclusion. Either way, the difference between a $3,000 bow and a $5,000 one doesn't speak to the quality or suitability of a bow is interesting to say the least.
September 20, 2017, 9:03 PM · One of the characteristics I've noticed about most of the CF bows I've tried is that the balance points tend to be rather high on the stick. This makes it very difficult to play a fast sautille. You're forced to play lower on the stick. Awkward.
September 20, 2017, 9:38 PM · Scott, what do you mean by high and low? Closer to the tip and closer to the frog respectively?
September 20, 2017, 10:22 PM · With bows its the same as with violins, part of the price is origin and its therefore assumed quality, part is its historical value, only a smaller part its actual quality.
Of course a certain 3k bow can be better than a certain 5k one. A 30k violin can also be better than a 50k one.
Also as I said at my first post here, there are some magic fits with violins. My cheapest (despite some unused student ones) bow works great on my violin, but not as good as my other ones on most other violins.
This is a statistical behaviour, the price quality ratio. For such a big frame of factor 10 testing 12 bows does not tell anything.
I would also never just try 12 violins before buying one (although today I played enough to be able to decide on a single one without direct comparison I played hundreds over the years).
Last time I was bow shopping I had around 80 bows between 2k and 6k (blind tested). With most bows I had a single stroke on the string before knowing I would not use them.
The ones I liked were mostly the expensive ones but also some cheaper ones, of which I bought one.
September 21, 2017, 12:08 AM · "the CF bows ... the balance points tend to be rather high on the stick"

I'm surprised to read that. I'd have guessed that the center of gravity (I assume that that is what this means) is the second thing a manufacturer designs for, after the total mass, and before moment of inertia (mass distribution) and stiffness. Where should the center of gravity be? How many millimeters is it allowed to deviate from the ideal value?

I have a simple brazilwood bow that came with the violin kit and a €130 CF bow; the CoG is the same within +/- 5 mm.

September 21, 2017, 12:45 AM · I agree witch Scott, that most CF bows shift some of the technics more towards the frog, which can be nice from time to time, but also feel a bit awkward.
September 21, 2017, 9:37 AM · Just like violins, bow price is only roughly correlated with quality. And just like violins, the nicest specimens are often being used by a player, not sitting in a shop waiting to be bought. :-)

Bows can be stored far more compactly than violins, and the average decent shop will have a lot more bows to try than a violin. You can and should try a lot of bows before making a major investment in a bow.

The advent of decent-quality CF bows under $500 means that most intermediate-level players (i.e., those for whom a decent bow starts to become very important) can now own a bow with reasonable playing qualities. In the $500 - $1k range, you can now get CF bows that are entirely usable for any level of playing (even though CF tends not to sound as good as wood); in that price range, you can also get fairly nice contemporary bows from the Brazilian workshops. Many players are never going to need anything better than that.

(I have not found that CF bows are balanced significantly differently, other than some bows in the Arcus line, which are very light and feel a little weird.)

Fine contemporary bows typically go for the $4k-$6k range these days, though like all contemporary work there's stuff above and below that price range.

Broadly, I would say that you are more likely to get a great-playing contemporary bow for $4k than you are to get a great-playing antique for $4k. Good antique makers generally go for $7k+ these days.

Differences between bows are not usually subtle, but there are a lot of interesting variations that can make it hard to decide what you really want -- there are more obvious trade-offs than there are with violins, in my opinion, since bows can be optimized for certain types of playing. Those trade-offs can make it hard to decide which of several good bows you prefer.

September 21, 2017, 10:20 AM · Lydia, thank you! This is the most helpful advice on bow-purchasing I've heard so far.
September 21, 2017, 4:28 PM · I just realized one of my CF bows is a JonPaul Noir. I remember JonPaul mentioned here in the past. I would recommend that bow as a good starter bow. I use my Brazilwood bows more because I like that sound better.

Oh, and my Incredibow is still on back order * ducks and runs*

September 21, 2017, 7:55 PM · The tonal match of bow to violin is very specific, and a bow that plays very well might not sound good on your particular violin. Or it might sound good, but not quite as good as a bow that doesn't play quite as well, which can be a difficult decision.

Also, some playing characteristics can potentially be contradictory. For instance, I fell briefly in love with a Sartory that played incredibly smoothly, allowing me to do bow changes seamlessly. But it also didn't articulate as well -- it didn't automatically start notes with a little consonant or cause individual notes to pop. I didn't buy it; my teacher pointed out that it requires less technical effort to cover a bow change than it does to make a bow articulate cleanly.

When I was trying out bows, I had some consistent characteristics that I liked, but I also liked two different types of sticks -- I think of the difference as a more elegant feel (like an FN Voirin) versus a strong and solid feel (like a Sartory). I like both. All other things being equal I probably prefer elegance, but I ended up buying a stronger stick.

I think that players working with a budget probably ought to get the best-playing stick they can for a wide variety of scenarios. Those with more money to indulge and collect might want different bows for different situations.

September 21, 2017, 8:50 PM · Lydia, I had similar experience in comparing features of each bow I tried. A Hill I recently tried and loved has smooth bow changes and buttery sound, but my teacher said it’s not as responsive and powerful as my current bow made by a Canadian bow-maker Reid Hudson. I few years ago I tried an old French bow (don’t remember the maker) that is very elegant or nice hand feel. It's great with off-string bowings, but lacks power.
September 22, 2017, 5:30 PM · Yes- ditto to matching instrument, strings, and rosin. They all can play a MAJOR role in playability. The same bow with the wrong rosin can be TERRIBLE.
September 22, 2017, 6:24 PM · Thank you for all of the responses. I definitely have more valuable information that can be noted for future reference.

Marc Marshall, I just wanted to say that I tried 12 violins at the shop I eventually bought my violin from. Overall, I think I tried close to 50 over the course of about 4 months before I finally found mine.

September 23, 2017, 2:22 AM · I hope there's room for a contrary opinion here. It seems obvious to me that the most important element in violin sound isn't the instrument or the bow, but the player. A good player can make impressive sounds on an indifferent fiddle, while a poor player won't sound much better with a Strad in the left hand and a Tourte in the right.

It's annoying for a player to be complimented on the sound of his or her instrument ("actually it was ME making that sound!"), but at least they never have to suffer compliments about the bow. The fact that it's possible to objectify the desirable qualities of a bow far more precisely than those of a violin leaves little room for magic, which I submit is mainly in the mind of the player. All those bows we reject before finding the "right" one aren't bad bows and one day someone will surely be happy to buy them. With that in mind I recommend buying a decent Chinese bow and working hard to get to know it!

Edited: September 23, 2017, 2:47 AM · I disagree that a poor violin will sound good with a great player. I heard Perlman and Hilary both on student violins before (Perlman live) and they sounded like student violins, nothing more. Of course there still was superior phrasing and decent intonation but the tone was NoT good enough I would pay to listen to!
There are bows that make some advanced technics mostly impossible and the sound limitation by the bow is nothing you can overcome.
Of course the player makes instruments sing, but if an instrument cant, there will be nobody able to change that.
Part of a very good players quality is also to be able to identify equipment that allows everything he wants to do.
There once was the discussion here where someone posted a link to Oliviera playing a cheapish violin and it was obvious there is a heavy limitation by the violin a lot of us realized without knowing what violin that was. (If I remwmber correctly it was the how to afford a proffessional quality violin thread with close 200 posts).
September 23, 2017, 3:41 AM · Marc what you say is true, but we've all had the experience where our teacher takes our violin for a moment during our lesson and suddenly it sounds so much better. :)
September 23, 2017, 4:07 AM · Of course we all had this moment :)
September 23, 2017, 4:22 AM · In response to Marc, my actual words were "A good player can make impressive sounds on an indifferent fiddle" but that's not the issue here. I agree that poor bows do make advanced technics mostly (or completely) impossible, and that a fine player will probably not feel able to produce his or her best without top-quality equipment. However, the mystique of the magic stick seems to have penetrated all levels of violinistic competence and defies rational explanation.
September 23, 2017, 8:36 AM · It's not irrational at all. The weight and balance of the stick and its flexibility throughout determines its playing qualities, and every piece of wood and its shaping by the bowmaker varies.
September 23, 2017, 9:13 AM · For me what lacks rational explanation is how some bow-makers should have consistently achieved sublimity (in spite of the fact that, as Lydia says, every piece of wood and its shaping is different) while skilled copyists who have analysed and reproduced their bows as closely as possible (weight, balance and flexibility all being measurable quantities) are deemed to have fallen short. Of course you might say the same about violins, but at least there the differences are usually apparent to the listener and don't rely solely on the opinion of the player. Nullius in verba! Myth-busters unite!!
Edited: September 23, 2017, 11:02 AM · I've tried some remarkable contemporary copies, including a cheap Chinese Maline copy (under $1k) that was obviously Maline-like in feel. Unfortunately none of those copies had the tonal qualities that I've heard from antique bows from the makers being copied. The copy can be the same in dimensions and weight, but the distribution of density in each piece of wood is unique, leading to meaningful if subtle playing differences, and not-so-subtle tonal differences, between the original and the copy.

Notably, pernambucco blanks have changed in quality over the years, thanks to damage wrought to the forests by acid rain. I'm guessing that the nutrient composition of the soil likely also leads to somewhat different cellular structure in the wood itself, affecting tone and playing qualities.

Someone who can hear the difference between violins should also be able to hear the differences between bows. A skilled observer who knows what to listen for -- the consonant click of the start of a bow, the clarity with which notes pop out, the crispness of a spiccato, and the like -- can also hear those differences. The player can feel more under the hand, and I would wager that most players can more accurately describe what they're feeling with a bow than what they're feeling with a violin.

September 23, 2017, 11:12 AM · I simply agree, although I got to say that there are great contemporary bows out there, a few great makers are available!
September 23, 2017, 12:32 PM · Oh, I definitely agree that there are great contemporary bows, although they're really hard to get ahold of to try. But above I was speaking specifically about the differences between contemporary copies, and the originals.
September 23, 2017, 12:54 PM · Lydia, are they hard to get ahold of basically because the makers don't keep a lot of stock (the good ones sell) and the good ones are still largely in the possession of the original purchasers? That's always seemed like it would be the problem to me.
September 23, 2017, 1:02 PM · As with violins by makers well known, there are usually waiting lists so possibly not a single one on stock.
September 23, 2017, 1:02 PM · Steve :) I hear you.
September 23, 2017, 2:19 PM · "A good player can make impressive sounds on an indifferent fiddle, while a poor player won't sound much better with a Strad in the left hand and a Tourte in the right."

A good player can make an indifferent fiddle sound the best it possibly can, but that doesn't mean there is no difference between an indifferent violin and a great violin. I assure you, audition committees can hear the difference in quality of instruments from behind the screen (and these are all good players). The better the player, the easier it is to hear the difference between instruments.

A poor player will sound poor no matter what.

Edited: September 23, 2017, 2:48 PM · "The better the player, the easier it is to hear the difference between instruments.
A poor player will sound poor no matter what. "

So true. I go to every professional quartet performance I can get my hands on. I usually can tell which quartet has great instruments from which have great players. I have a special tenderness towards fine musicians who play on good but not great violins (and bows).

Steve, I hear you too. Is it in the stick or in our head? Is there any expert in acoustics here willing to shed some light on how different bows can match different violins in ways that are so convincing to us?

Edited: September 23, 2017, 2:52 PM · Much like good contemporary violin-makers, most good contemporary bow-makers take commissions and don't have much inventory. And a lot of shops have a limited inventory of fine contemporary bows.
September 24, 2017, 1:32 AM · I wasn't expecting to make many converts but it's nice at least to get a hearing. Has anyone ever conducted a double-blind beauty contest for bows? Actually it would have to be triple-blind - somehow neither the organizer, the player nor the assessor should have any clues as to what is being played, other than what they hear. But that still leaves the influence of familiarity uncontrolled for. Obviously we are likely to play better on a bow that feels familiar, while in the longer term we might find an initially unsympathetic-feeling bow to offer interesting new prospects. I've certainly found that to be the case with violins.
Edited: September 24, 2017, 2:17 AM · I've not been able to find properly blinded comparisons between wood and carbon. There was a single-blind test here on vcom a while back ( http://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/27189/ ), but the audio files are not online anymore.

A proper blind test should have the easy-to-measure properties matched: mass, center of gravity, moment of inertia, bending stiffness, and hair tension. And both should have similar hair and the same rosin. I would believe that a CF bow can be manufactured to match these properties, although you'd probably want to do it the other way around: find a pernambuco bow that matches a particular high-end CF bow for those properties.

That way, you would actually test for the more mysterious properties that pernambuco supposedly has. Or maybe you wouldn't need to conduct playing tests at all if it turns out that you can't find any matched pair.

September 24, 2017, 4:18 AM · You don't need a highfalutin technical study to tell you the difference between CF and Pernambuco, you just need a good ear, the differences are pretty obvious, and rather large.
Edited: September 24, 2017, 5:00 AM · Scientific methodology would be the only way of satisfying a sceptic like me, who wouldn't even take his own subjective impressions as proof. However, the practical difficulties of staging a fully controlled blind audition are probably insurmountable. And of course, when it comes to parting with cash we'd all still go with our feelings rather than the scientific verdict.
September 24, 2017, 5:12 AM · As the material is different and the resonancy frequency differs and the higher orders even more it would be very strange to get the same sound.
If its better or not, well... Scientifically speaking CF works well and gets a comparable volume to wood ( not on bad instruments interstingly). What you prefer is personal preference. I own a Arcus S8 and like it, but if I hd to choose I clearly would keep my wooden bows and most people seem to agree.
It still is a good bow.
September 24, 2017, 7:48 AM · If two sticks have equal bending stiffness, mass and mass distribution, then the resonance frequency will be the same as well. Resonance frequency is not a material property.
September 24, 2017, 7:59 AM · Do a bow's resonance frequencies even matter?
Q. How can they not matter?
A. If their amplitudes are vanishing.
Edited: September 24, 2017, 8:53 AM · Most players try bows blind. In fact in some shops you get so many to try that you often don't know what you've tried, even after the fact. My guess is that far fewer players are influenced by the look of a bow than the look of a violin, as well.

CF bows do not have the same stiffness, mass, and mass distribution as wood bows.

September 24, 2017, 8:53 AM · Han, it is a heterogen material and therefore it does matter. All those parameters you named are somwhow an average on makro parts but does not mean it behaves the same in micro parts.
Of corse the first order will be pretty much the same (they are not in reallity as there are typically different parameter ranges on cf and wood bows), but what happens above the first order is another story.
September 24, 2017, 1:12 PM · One way of doing blind testing in a shop is to have a piece of paper and a pen ready to record the order and score of each bow tried. With the help of someone to try bows one by one and write down the number you'd rate it. Then narrow down to 3-5 bows and try again, blind, write down the new number and score for each.
September 24, 2017, 2:17 PM · Most shops will have you try bows in batches, which depending on inventory is typically somewhere from 6 to 12 bows per batch.

With bows you are much more likely to pick one up and know within a handful of notes, "No, not this one." I normally start out with an "immediate rejection" pile for those bows.

Bows that I like, but aren't a good tonal match, go into a pile where I'll usually ask for an identification of the maker, since that gives me a general sense of what makers I like.

I try to stack-rank the remaining bows.

Edited: September 24, 2017, 5:28 PM · One thing to be aware of is that apart from overall quality, the fit between a bow and violin can depend on weather and adjustment (and rosin...). People with a collection of bows will try different ones depending on the day, as well as the music they are playing.

Still, there are levels of excellence, some of which are obvious. I first tried a great bow by accident-- my violin had been into Rene Morel's shop for a repair, and he wanted to do an adjustment before it left. Probably because he was holding onto the case, I didn't have my own bow, so he went to fetch one. A little of his magic on the soundpost and bridge, and the instrument sounded like a million bucks. And the bow was ridiculously easy to use. "What is it?" I asked. "Dominique Peccatte-- $6,000." (Those were the days.) The violin never again sounded that good.

One other time, I had determined to try a bow that I bought too hastily at an auction, just to see if I'd been unfair to it. This was a decent stick from a famous if not revered family of French makers. I put it in my case before an orchestra concert, so I could give it a fair workout.

All through the first half, I was getting fantastic impressions about the sound I was making; the playing quality of the bow was similarly good. During a break between movements, I took a look at the frog to make sure it was the one I was supposed to be evaluating. Of course, it was my best bow, which was then and still is miles better than the other. Not quite a blind test, but I'd stand by the results.

September 25, 2017, 1:12 AM · Another factor that I think may have an important influence here (as if there weren't enough already) is the nature of one's own technique. I suspect players who have been "properly" schooled and are well practised in solo playing, such that their motor patterns have become ingrained and automatic, may be more discriminatory and less accommodating of differences between bows than those whose technique is more home-grown in the hurly-burly of orchestras and other ensembles. I'm trying not to use the words "professional" and "amateur" because I believe there are pros and cons on both sides.
September 25, 2017, 4:45 AM · My guess is that the differences are more innate than that, depending on the particular physiology of your arm. The technique you're taught can significantly influence what feels best / what you prioritize, though, and your playing circumstances also affect what you do most often.

I switched bows a bit back not only because I needed a better tonal match to a different violin, but because my bow technique had changed to one where the bow is usually more deeply into the string, and it was helpful to have a more resilient stick.

September 25, 2017, 8:26 AM · I prefer a stick that reacts rather soft and a little spungy the first part but has a good reliliency towards the end without the urge to jump back. I will never use a bow where I get the hair to touch the wood when played within the range of my maximum applied force.
Many dont like them as they are a bit hard to land to a long tone after jumping. But that is something I found in some very good bows and very rarly in cheaper ones. Most bows with this characteristics have some playing frequencys where they get out of control. Cheap bows need a great amount of tension before I like to play them, they would not last long this way.
If the stick is to stiff at the first light touch I wont like it.
Different for everyone.


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