Good violin or good bow? what is more important?

May 21, 2017, 12:27 PM · Hello everybody,

the famous violinist Viotti (1755-1824)once stated: “The violin, that is the bow”

The violin is often considered as most important for the quality of music and often in the focus of discussions.

The violin bow, on the other hand, appears to be rather neglected (for example, "for 150 EUR you get a good bow", etc.)

The bow is at least a major contributor to tone production and articulation ... (not to mention special baroque bows in historical / authentic performance practice)

What is your point of view on this topic?

Best regards

Replies (24)

May 21, 2017, 12:44 PM · "The violin bow, on the other hand, appears to be rather neglected (for example, "for 150 EUR you get a good bow", etc.)"

Never heard such thing from anybody playing at high level.

Edited: May 21, 2017, 1:17 PM · Depends I suppose. A good bow on a not so good violin will bring the best out of the instrument, but the best remains limited by the instrument itself. Therefore depending on the quality of the instrument you are starting with, the answer to your question will vary. I for one prefer a $400 bow with a $5000 instrument than the reverse! A $7000 bow on a $5000 instrument might be a good option for its handling characteristics however.
May 21, 2017, 1:41 PM · Dollar for dollar, you will get better return on sound/playability by improving the quality of the bow than by improving the quality of the violin.

The existence of good carbon-fiber bows allows you to obtain a bow that handles very well for less than $1,000, though it will not match the sound quality of wood bows with that same quality of handling, in all likelihood.

You can buy a superb contemporary violin for about $25k, and a superb contemporary bow for about $5k.

May 21, 2017, 1:44 PM · If I only found that contemporary bow. I am looking so long now!
May 21, 2017, 2:19 PM · Bow.

A lesser instrument will have its potential somewhat maximized and its deficiencies somewhat masked by a great bow,

but a Guarneri played on with a $50 piece of wood will suffer greatly in response and tone, no matter how much it is coaxed.

Of course, a great instrument with a matching great bow and matching player will do everything superbly, but that wasn't the question. :D

May 21, 2017, 3:22 PM · I think a good violin is more important, though a good bow that functions well is a necessity.
May 21, 2017, 10:18 PM · Neither is more important imo. They can both limit each other or play together very well. Only having one of both really good wont help.
When it comes to prices I think in the low tier the bow might be about the same as the violin. For mid tier (5-15k) I think the 1/3 roule apllys quite well. When getting more expensive on the violin it may shift a bit lower.
You dont need a 6 mil bow to fit your ex-Vieuxtemps.
May 21, 2017, 10:42 PM · A good bow makes a real difference, especially with less-expensive instruments.

A ~$500 Arcos Brasil nickel-silver mounted pernambuco bow from a good maker like A. Carvalho can do wonders with instruments in the sub 5k category.

May 22, 2017, 1:22 AM · Yes, both are important. You need a bow that can do everything if possible, AND have a good legato sound. Maybe they also change when you change just one. You get a new "better" fiddle and the bow doesn't suit it, even though everything plays quite well. I used to think the bow was much less important, but now I think it is very important, after all the bow is the sound.
May 22, 2017, 10:16 AM · I've heard very good musicians who play on terrible instruments, so IMHO if technical ability is your goal, the bow will be more of a limiting factor (especially if not used with an optimal combination of responsive strings and rosin.)
The violin's sound affects my playing. When it is a 'bad weather' day, I really have to fight to get it to play well. On those days, I often find a change in rosin can at least get the bow working better. Again, you could have a poor sounding instrument that is still technically capable.

Those thoughts in mind, I would argue that the bow is more important. I think that it is easier to find a good instrument with a good bow, however, there may always be a better matching good bow for any given instrument and string combination.

May 22, 2017, 10:37 AM · I agree with Lydia that a good carbon fiber like a JonPaul Avanti, while not making the most beautiful sound (more high frequencies than a wood bow would produce, although switching to gut strings [Passione] helped me mitigate this), will handle well enough to help you transform your bowing after several months of practicing with a better tool.

Eventually, though, to get the best sound you'll have to invest in a new instrument and then find a pernambuco bow that pairs well; I've been looking a little over the past several months and 30k, as Lydia suggested, seems like a good target for a violin/bow combo, although you might be able to do better than that on price if you get a little lucky.

Edited: May 22, 2017, 11:57 AM · agreed, depending on your ability, a good quality carbon fiber bow will get you something that is technically capable.
Even in this you have choices. I find that my round stick BCFs from brand G are warmer sounding and not quite as dexterous in more actively bowed music as the same bows in an octagonal stick (vln/vla). Not all Cf's are alike, but you can get one that matches what you are looking for pretty well in both sound and technique at a price much lower than an equivalently capable wood bow.
That said, I only use my BCF's for orchestral playing. I still use my favorite pernambuco when I play chamber because of it's character and range of capabilities.
One violin, several bows, many characters. - So which is more important?
May 22, 2017, 1:03 PM · I do know of violinists who change bows during recordings sessions - literally during any short rest - and also soloists in concertos sometimes go on with say, two bows. I think this plays to their neurosis, and I'n not in favour personally. Next they will be taking on two violins and three bows.

I was at a famous pianist's recital where after he played some Bach a piano technician came on and changed the whole action, ready for a Beethoven sonata. (Although it only took about one minute in fact).

May 22, 2017, 1:14 PM · Are you sure Viotti was talking about the physical bow, instead of bow technique? Once the left hand technique is mature, the bow technique makes all the difference.
Edited: May 24, 2017, 6:39 AM · Two bows in one piece, Well, I have seen/heard soloists switch instruments in orchestral work for either scordatura or register to better match violino piccolo or other such high instruments.
In union work, we call that doubling ($$$).
Don't know if changing a bow would count. think not ;-(
Edited: May 26, 2017, 1:35 AM · OP The violin bow, on the other hand, appears to be rather neglected (for example, "for 150 EUR you get a good bow", etc.)

I do not think you can get a good bow for 150 Euros. On the other hand a very expensive bow may not be much good either. Once you get over about 750 Euros to anything up to 10,000 (or even a lot higher) there will be good and bad bows. A lot will be to do with personal preference. It's the same with violins. Expensive may not mean good (or suitable).

May 26, 2017, 2:57 AM · Hmm, yet to find that good bow for 750€. I did play a few okish ones in this price range but usually I can easily find a better one doubling the money.
A bow of a contemporary bow master starts at about 2000€. Everything below is usually a workshop bow or manufactured.
May 26, 2017, 5:44 AM · Lydia- Do you feel that better CF bows will allow for 100% of the playability that the higher priced wooden bows have?

Can you play difficult material with no problems?

Edited: May 26, 2017, 10:47 AM · You can. I did see Tetzlaff with a Cadenza Gold doing some showoff in the showroom of Arcus (I was lucky to see him testing bows). Holymoly!!!
Since that day I never thought again that I got some kind of bow control.
May 26, 2017, 11:05 AM · Thanks Marc. If you get the playability of a high end wood bow with minor sound tradeoff at a small fraction of the cost, I can see why CF is so popular.

May 26, 2017, 12:28 PM · I have tried an Arcus S9 (at $9k) that I would have considered highly competitive in terms of playability with other high-quality antique bows in that price range (that would get you makers like Morizot, for instance). It actually sounded excellent, as well.

I would not consider that S9 -- or any other bow in that price range -- to be competitive with the playability of even better bows, though (comparing, say, an excellent Sartory, which these days would sell for about four times that price).

However, there is a difference between a bow that's sufficiently functional that you can play pretty much anything with it, and a bow that makes it really easy to do difficult things. My JonPaul Avanti is perfectly adequate, for instance, even if my more expensive wooden bows are vastly easier to play.

May 26, 2017, 12:46 PM · As most of the times I agree with you, Lydia. There are bows with better handling, but you can play every reportoire on the good CF ones.
Even a "just" 2k CF allowed me to play everything I can, altough I still dream of that one Pfretzschner I did not buy (stupid stupid decission). I never found a bow comparing to that one in terms of playability, not with any old french bow Iever tested.
May 26, 2017, 2:34 PM · I was in the market for a bow recently and bought a gold mounted bow by Emmanuel Begin. As some say, you play the bow, not the violin. Of course it helps if the soundbox (violin) is nice. I agree you get more bang for your buck by upgrading the bow.
May 26, 2017, 2:50 PM · agreed.

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