Bow selection techniques: what am I missing?

October 24, 2017, 2:52 PM · (I was debating between instruments and accessories but we get to see everything anyway, right?)

I'm going into a shop in two days to look at a few bows in the $800-$1200 range--the generic student range--because what I have right now is quite inadequate--even more so than the one I previously had. It's old and needs badly to be rehaired (which is mostly my fault!), it doesn't feel uniform when I play it; for instance, I can feel that the bow is aloof from the violin at certain points of my bow (which may be due to the old hair, but we will never know), and the control over direction change is quite awful.

Here's what I know to look out for:

Uniformity in tone, comfort, balance, strength (stiff vs. soft and how it works together with my inherent playing style), and physical condition.

I good professor I know suggested I play slow trills at higher positions to see how the bow holds and make sure it doesn't shake too much with the slow trills.

I've read on an older post here that spiccatti will not likely say anything useful (because he claimed to be able to bounce pencils off the strings with good technique). but I would think it provides some information on the bouncing point and balance--right?

I know my bow doesn't agree so well with my violin because she can't yell so much, which was much different when I tried it with a bow of a much poorer quality, so I'm half positive it's the bow not the violin. I know it has bad spots which sticks out even more at higher positions, and though I've learned to compensate a little, I'm still slightly uncomfortable to play in higher positions because I don't want the hollow scratches to come back--which gives me a general understanding of what I need to look out for.

Am I missing anything? What else can I do to see if the bow is truly both for me and my violin?

- C

Replies (16)

October 24, 2017, 4:19 PM · Play scales in the shop in order to decide what to take home. Play music and test out different strokes/holds/ect at home.
October 24, 2017, 6:00 PM · In that price range you should consider doing a longer trial of one or two carbon-fiber bows. As for the bows' "tone", ask your violin professor to play *your* violin with the different bows, the same short passage. Make sure you apply the same rosin to each, and in the same amount.
Edited: October 24, 2017, 6:11 PM · Read my previous post about bow selection step-list here:
http://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/24131/

I would not like to disappoint you, but from my experience here in Ontario and Quebec, it is almost impossible to buy a good wooden bow within that price range. If sound is not the most important factor, go for a carbon-fiber bow.
The only exception are wooden bows made in Brasil, but you will have to go search far and wide to find 1-2% of them to pass all tests.

October 24, 2017, 6:31 PM · Carbon Fibre is good for playing characteristics but not so good for tone compared to Pernambuco, for as little as $500 you should be able to find older genuine pernambuco bows with cheaper nickel silver mount, the store you go to should have both Pernambuco and Carbon Fibre in your price range, make up your own mind about what works for you, and don't let someone else decide what is "right" for you.
October 25, 2017, 4:12 PM · Thank you, everyone! Both the luthier and the professor did tell me to make sure it was pernambuco, so I think i’ll only look at carbon fiber as a comparison (because it really doesn’t hurt to try more bows than I need to, right?). I was actually fortunate enough to have only played with pernambuco since the second year of playing (the first year I had a decent brazilwood bow—even the “bad” one I have now is pernambuco), so I’m actually not sure if I will like the sound produced by carbon fiber bows—or I might! Who knows?

Mr Rocky,
I understood why each step you described was important, but I do not quite understand what makes the cambre “good”. Should it be deep and not shallow? Is there an optimal dip the stick should have when completely relaxed?

October 25, 2017, 4:30 PM · Give both types of bows a try with as little prejudgment as you can. For carbon fiber make sure to try Jon Paul bows particularly the Avanti model.

Also be aware of in-model variation. Different bows of the same brand and model can play and sound differently.

Give us an update how your testing goes! Good luck and have fun!

October 26, 2017, 6:26 AM · When selecting a bow, there are two things you're going for -- does it sound well on your violin, and does it feel good in the hand as a tool. Some bows meet one of these requirements and not the other.

Play scales up each string and listen to the quality of the sound.

Test with some excerpts that focus on various ranges (low, mid, high). Then test with excerpts that cover a wide rage of notes.

I would absolutely test spiccato, ricochet, sautille'. It has to feel controllable to execute, and also listen to the attack and body/decay of the note. Also, test it in context (as if transitioning from legato to spiccato, etc).

Good luck and have fun testing bows!


October 26, 2017, 6:53 AM · When I have gone out to purchase a bowI have tested bows over as wide a price range as the dealer would allow me to touch. My thinking was that I wanted to know what was the best I could expect from my instrument. I had a price range and in making my purchase I now had a "gauge" by which to compare the best I could expect with the best I could afford. In my last test run of cello bow to purchase I tested 66 bows and only two provided the improvement I sought on that cello. Both were by the same maker and one was priced 2.6 times the other. I bought the less expensive one after negotiating it down another 7%.

But there are surprises out there - my last bow purchase (earlier this year) was a viola bow stamped "C. Bazin" that I bought on ebay for $375. I doubt that it is even pernambuco, but it turns out to be my best of my 4 viola bows (on this viola) and the cheapest by a factor of 2 - 5. (I know it is not a real "C. Bazin.") I was ready to test bows by award-winning modern makers but thought why not give this thing a try for 10% of what I would have to pay for one of them (after all ebay has a return policy now). It was a good move.

October 26, 2017, 6:55 AM · Brand isn't everything, you pay extra for names, no name German production bows of times past can be very good value for the money, and much more affordable for a level of quality than new bows, of course they don't particularly have great resale value, or snob appeal!!
October 26, 2017, 7:03 AM · Thank you everyone, I am in fact about to head out to the shop. I will let you know how it goes in a couple hours!

Mr Lyndon,
Definitely! The violin I have now has no indication of when it was made or who it was made by, but it sounds wonderful and the luthier gave it to me at a very low price!

October 26, 2017, 7:06 AM · Good luck, cheers!!
October 26, 2017, 9:36 AM · I just returned from the shop and signed out two bows: a $900 Horst John and a $1560 A. Carlesso. From what I can see online, the Horst is factory-made right? Furniture value is actually something I do look for, since if and when I upgrade (if I don’t trade it in) it’ll become a furniture for a while. Is Carlesso an archetier or a company head? Is “A. Carlesso” short for “Atlier de Carlesso” or “Alessandro Carlesso”?

They’re both in excellent physical quality from what I can tell and well-haired. The Carlesso feels a lot more uniform than the Horst and I would have walked out with the Carlesso had it not been for the price.

The Carlesso also is much easier to control and makes my violin sound nicer than does the Horst. The string crossing feels so much more natural and reaffirms my suspicion that my bow was holding my violin back—the luthier did say the G String was powerful and I didn’t believe him until today!

The Horst is definitely acceptable and seems like the better choice considering the price since my family IS going through a bit of a financial bind. The only reservation I really have is that the bow is a little weak towards the tip and loses a little bit of core. Control and string crossing could be better but for $900 I think it’s about as good as it’s gonna get.

I’m going to take the bows to my teacher tonight and see what she says—knowing her, if she says “pretty good” on either of them I’ll know I’d have made the right choice. I will keep you all posted!

October 26, 2017, 6:52 PM · So, the conversation I overheard -a violinist and a horn player talking first about his opinion that screw on bells don’t really affect the sound- the violinist (dead serious) says ‘you know, as long as you don’t play the bows side by side you can’t tell the difference anyway’ as if there isn’t one!
October 26, 2017, 9:39 PM · Side by side like holding three or more bows at once?
October 26, 2017, 10:04 PM · You should of course follow your teacher's instructions regarding what type of bow to look for. That being said, in this price range I think you are more likely to find the best options are high-end CF bows.
October 27, 2017, 6:02 AM · I took the two bows I selected to my teacher and she said they were both “pretty good”. The Horst was apparently what my teacher chose a couple weeks ago for her student to buy and she was pleasantly surprised to see it again.

Since it does feel like there is a significant difference between the Horst and Carlesso, my dad suggested I went with the $1560 bow, and I’m going to return to the shop tomorrow to compare more bows in the ~$1500 parameter—I’ll look out for CF bows, too!


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