V.com weekend vote: Do you prefer a wooden or carbon fiber bow?

October 18, 2019, 6:32 PM · If you asked me 15 years ago if I preferred a wooden or carbon fiber bow, I probably would have said "wooden" without any hesitation.

carbon fiber bow tips

But carbon fiber bows keep getting better and better, and at this point, I've tried too many excellent carbon fiber bows to dismiss them. In fact, most of the time I prefer to play with my Coda Diamond over the wooden bow that I have!

A good carbon fiber bow can be a great buy. Wood is extremely variable, but carbon fiber is not, so it's possible to make bows that are very consistent in weight, balance and feel. Unlike with violins or wooden bows, you really can figure out a good "brand" and trust it pretty well.

That said, I also have a cheap carbon fiber bow that is awful! The winding mechanism has become more and more stiff over the years - I can barely use it. I've also had students get fractional carbon fiber bows that were disappointing.

Of course, a fantastic wooden bow is a dream - though often quite a costly one! A good wooden bow is generally made from pernambuco wood - which is actually an endangered species. So there is another consideration!

I'm curious about how everyone's attitudes are evolving (or not evolving!) about carbon fiber bows. Have you ever tried a carbon fiber bow? Do you actually prefer playing on one, or will nothing replace wood for you? If you have students, what is working best for them?

Please participate in the vote, and then share your thoughts. Also, if you have thoughts and preferences about particular bows, please share those.

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Replies

October 19, 2019 at 12:12 AM · I play both - a $600.00 pernambuco from my luthier and a $175.00 linear carbon from IVC. They are very closely matched in length,weight and performance. I shift back and forth between them when I get bored or frusrated with one or the other.

October 19, 2019 at 12:18 AM · My CF bows are all "Cadenza" brand "Master" ("3-star") level bows (silver mounted). They were recommended to me by an excellent pro violinist who teaches in my area. Many of his students play Cadenza bows. This violinist told me that I would have to pay at least $2000 to find a wood bow that plays as well, and since I don't want to spend that much on a bow, that explains why I chose "prefer CF" as my answer. I spent $350 each on the two violin bows (six years ago) and $450 on the viola bow (two years ago).

I once had an opportunity to test my CF bow against two antique bows of truly jaw-dropping rarity and value. I could feel a slight improvement in responsiveness with the bow by Dominique Peccatte but not with the bow by Nikolai Kittel, compared to my CF bow. Nor could I hear a difference among any of the three bows in the sound of my violin (a nice bench-made instrument by Wojciech Topa, appraised at $14000) -- whether under the ear or when played by the owner of the bows.

I'm not asserting that my bow is just as good as any priceless wood bow, but I don't see any point in buying something very expensive when I can't personally distinguish it from something much cheaper. Full disclosure -- it should be noted that I do have some hearing loss and constant tinnitus in my left ear. What I would like to do is repeat the test with me playing the three bows and my collector friend listening. I am curious to know whether he would be able to pick out the "inferior sound" of my CF bow with any regularity.

October 19, 2019 at 12:31 AM · It could be my challenged hearing or my lack of experience, but I can feel the difference between a good wood and good CF bow. There's a slight additional vibration in the wood bow. My current CF bow is pretty good, but not as good as my wood bow. I use it under certain conditions, such as practicing or a crowded situation. When I first started looking at CF bows i0 years or so ago, I was told that they were overpriced for what you get. Is that still the case?

October 19, 2019 at 12:31 AM · I own one of each and I love both the same - they serve different purposes

October 19, 2019 at 12:55 AM · I have both; my wood bow is for "good" and my CF bow is a backup. I prefer my good wood bow but that may be just that I'm used to it. I don't mind my CF bows. They seem like a good value for the money, and I like that they are reasonably consistent. I think they are especially good for students who want something decent but don't have a lot of money to spend.

October 19, 2019 at 12:57 AM · I would really like to obtain a good bow . The market for wooden bows is full of sellers who will sell the dream of this and will tempt you onto a upgrade path that will result in disappointment due to you not quite getting the best ( due to the variability of wooden bows) With a carbon fibre bow you get what you pay for and there is no “ emperors new clothes” issue in the process . Unless you have fortuitous good luck in getting a good wooden bow by chance , or paying an inordinate amount of money to get a proven good example , go for a good carbon bow where the characteristics are proven and repeatable . But then I am no expert but I don’t have an axe to grind

October 19, 2019 at 01:11 AM · In the early nineties I went into one of the main violin shops in London and enquired if they knew anything about carbon fiber bows and at that time there were just a few and they were expensive (I believe Benoit Rolland was making one). The guy in the shop was very scathing both to me and to cf bows, saying what's the point when they cost that much money and that they were pretty much an abomination. Perhaps he had a point about price as they were expensive then. Fast forward to the present where we have cf bows in virtually every price range and their viability as both a decent student bow and a durable gigging bow, spare or main bow, is firmly established and guesss what? They haven't replaced wooden bows. They may have replaced some bad wooden bows and maybe saved some wooden bows from being destroyed in dubious gigs! I think we will see the same with carbon fiber violins in time. The first cf violins were kind of expensive and now we have instruments below the $1000 mark. The fears of them replacing fine wooden instruments are also unfounded and may one day be a regular spare for extreme conditions of weather and the like. So, everything has its place but price seems to be a driving factor in adoption.

I remember working in my recording studio and picking my bow up and putting it down, picking up and putting down... leaning against something. I stepped on it and broke it. It was not repairable. Ever since then I have used cf bows almost exclusively and have encountered several situations where the bow would have broken if it was made of wood.

October 19, 2019 at 01:16 AM · It depends on the situation. I play outdoors a great deal (San Diego CA) and my carbon fiber bows are my first choice. They are less fussy with outdoor variations in temperature and humidity, allowing me to worry less about the instrument and more about the music I'm playing. When playing indoors, however, my wooden bows are always first choice.

October 19, 2019 at 01:24 AM · I prefer my pernambuco bow, but recently bought a CF bow as backup. It is a little different, in that it is wooden clad. Looks just like a wooden bow, but more importantly, it sound good. I had an ordinary CF bow a few years ago, and got rid of it because the sound was harsh and more difficult to control.

October 19, 2019 at 01:57 AM · I couldn't vote; my preference varies depending on the situation. Nothing plays better than my Voirin, and I also have a couple of other excellent pernambuco bows to use. But for teaching, playing in the pit, playing outside, or playing a piece with a lot of col legno in it, bring on my JonPaul Avanti.

October 19, 2019 at 03:13 AM · I didn’t vote because I use both my Codabow GX and my Roth pernambuco bow pretty evenly. I guess I’m not developed enough to hear the “deadness” I’m supposedly going to hear with the CF bow. XD

October 19, 2019 at 03:20 AM · Didn't vote. My preferred viola bow is a hybrid, which I'm really not sure whether to count as carbon fiber because the wood veneer adds back a surprising amount of warmth. My backup bow is wood.

When I went bow shopping, I had a $2,000 budget and picked the $520 hybrid C.F. Iesta over every bow I tried within that budget. It felt on par with a $2,500 wood bow I tried. Before that, I had flatly refused to consider carbon fiber.

More recently, the principal violist of my semi-pro orchestra tried out my hybrid bow (she had previously been using a Coda Diamond GX) and ended up buying the same model to use as a primary bow. I tried her Diamond GX at the same time, and concluded that I prefer hybrid over pure CF.

Both of my violin bows are wood, but they are both inexpensive student bows. (I do not play violin regularly.)

October 19, 2019 at 08:12 AM · I bought a Coda Diamond NX a few years ago when I was struggling with bow bounce and control, and it has served me well. I still play it in traditional music sessions.

But as my playing has improved, I've gone back to an older wooden bow which just seems to have a more nuanced sound.

So, imho, horses for courses.

October 19, 2019 at 12:20 PM · 86.174 wrote, "With a carbon fibre bow you get what you pay for and there is no 'emperors new clothes' issue in the process."'

I definitely see where (s)he's coming from. On the other hand, with CF, there are also "baloney" issues. If you're a manufacturer (like CodaBow, just giving an example of a bigger one) and you discover a mold shape and materials that creates a beautifully balanced, well-playing bow, why would you continue to make bows with the mold and materials that gives an inferior-playing bow? You'd just make more good molds and buy more of the good materials (which are very cheap by the way) so that your lower-priced bows (which could still be distinguished by inferior mounting and fittings) would blow away their similarly-priced competition for quality. Or do you continue to intentionally, purposefully make an inferior-performing bow so that your better one stands out by comparison? Does a better CF bow really have additional labor-consuming steps in its process of manufacture? Besides "wood cladding" what would those steps be?

October 19, 2019 at 12:58 PM · I was referred to Cleveland Violins, which sells a no-name for $500 that does battle very well against decent wood bows. Not ever as good as the best, but good enough that it would take a while for you to wrinkle your nose at it. Handles very well, and the sound is not at all bad. For pit duty or outdoors, and col legno, very adequate. On some days, perhaps better than a wood bow that is not facing its best combination of fiddle, strings, adjustment, and weather.

That said, it's never going to replace a Rolland, Siefried, Lamy, or the really rare French sticks. But it is excellent value and a useful product.

October 19, 2019 at 01:32 PM · I have to agree with Mary Ellen ; the best bow for me depends on which instrument I'm playing and the nature of the music. I play violin, viola and cello. I have 4 violins, 3 cellos and 2 violas and 8 violin bows, 8 cello bows and 5 viola bows. A few of these are "name" bows (z.b., Vorin, Nürnberger, Weichold, Siefried (2)), then some "no-name" pernambuco bows, Rolland Spiccato and Berg Deluxe violin bows, and full triplet (violin, viola and cello) sets of Coda Classic, Arcus Concerto, and CF Durro Carbon Fiber bows.

The real surprise for me has been the CF Durro bows which I bought as a "set" for less than $1,000 even before my first Coda bow. It turns out these bows compete for sound and playability with some of the biggest name bows I have on some of my instruments.

October 19, 2019 at 02:10 PM · "Tried both, prefer wooden." But my CF bow delivers sound and response that just about matches what my three wooden bows can do. The wooden bow that has the slight edge over the others -- and this is why I voted the way I did -- is an E. Sartory copy I got toward the end of my student years. Overall sound, lightness, and sureness of attack at both ends make it a winner for me.

Interesting that this subject should come up -- I've been looking online the last few days at bows for prospective in-home trials. Right now, two semi-finalists are CF.

October 19, 2019 at 02:19 PM · Pernambuco wood is a scarce resource. Hopefully we are all aware of the forests being replanted to make sure luthiers and archetiers of the future have the materials they need.

I am happy that carbon fiber bows are getting much better. These should be our first choice for beginning students and backup bows, though professionals enjoy them as well.

October 19, 2019 at 04:23 PM · I have never owned an expensive bow, so I can't say. My 2 low-end Jon Paul bows are OK. I have found a couple of cheap wood bows that are good enough because the weight and balance are good.

October 19, 2019 at 05:19 PM · I'm reminded of the old chestnut about spending 1/3 of the value of your violin on a bow. Suddenly it occurred to me that the jewelry outfits used to have a "rule of thumb" about how many months' pay you should spend on an engagement ring. Lucky me: My amazing fiancee (now wife of 20 years) thought an engagement ring would be the stupidest waste of money ever and was outraged that I was considering it.

October 19, 2019 at 06:56 PM · The chestnut I heard about in Bristol (UK) some years ago was that one particular violin shop, now no longer around, always recommended to its clients that the value of the bow should be 1/5 of the value of the instrument. Doubtless, parents buying a first (or second) violin or cello for their child, and knowing nothing about the instrument, were easily persuaded.

October 19, 2019 at 06:58 PM · I just wanted to warn against the fallacy that one often hears, it occurs in many forms, but for this particular case, it amounts to the following: pernambuco is an endangered tree, so let's save the trees and use plastic bows. This is a fallacy. If pernambuco is no longer economically interesting, what do you think will happen with the pernambuco forests? They will be replaced by housing development, shopping malls, vacation resorts, highways, industrial sites, what have you. The right thing to do is to preserve and manage these forests in a responsible manner. The incentive to do so is the argument that the wood is essential for bowing stringed instruments (and probably other applications of this valuable type of lumber).

October 19, 2019 at 07:29 PM · A few years ago I bought a reasonably priced (i.e. not too expensive!) CF bow from my regular violin shop, mainly for use as a spare, for playing in the occasional outdoor orchestral concert, in folk music gigs, and for practice. Not a bad bow, with a good tone and projection, and well-balanced.

A few weeks later, when I was tightening the hair prior to practice I noticed the stick mas bending outwards just behind the point. This was definitely an "oo-er" moment, and I was off to the shop. They were concerned, as well they might be, and said I wasn't the only customer with the problem but there were others as well, and at least one bow had broken behind the tip.

I got an immediate replacement, a bow from a different maker (English), which I've been satisfied with ever since. It appears that my dealer had received a bad batch of bows from a supplier in Italy. The reported problem was one of those that doesn't manifest until a few score hours of playing have elapsed.

October 19, 2019 at 08:00 PM · I voted only ever used a wooden bow, well the choice was simple for me, that is what came with my first violin. I am not a professional violinist, just do it as a hobby. First must agree with other posters, the primary driving force behind CF bows should be to preserve forests, but for many cost sorts that out. 1/3 or 1/5th rule? Hm, I recently purchased an NS Design Wave electric violin, sounds much better than my first wooden violin, and a decent CF bow like Coda would cost approximately the same as my NS Design Wave violin. Problem I have, in New Zealand, especially in th South Island, no one sells the Coda CF bows here no to mention being able to try them out befoe buying. Only way for me to try one is when on a holiday abroad say in Australia, to try one out then — seems a bit extreme. Being employed as a stress engineer for many years including carbon fibre composite projects, I can provide some insight to CF. Firstly it is much more time consuming to design CF parts, each layer has a different orientation that needs to be set right for strength, not just in plane but also out of plain, inlaminar shear, interlaminar tension. The mapping of a flat sheet of CF to mould into a three dimensional surface, drapping angles, does the fabric become too distorted during layup. Then we come to the manufacturing side, you need skilled personel doing th layups. It is not just a matter of making a mould and presto you have it. The autoclaves where the CF gets baked, they are expensive to pruchase, then you need to get the oven temperature right and it varies over time. Correct resin needs to be used. Then you need to ensure the CF is not resin starved, the list goes on. So you can imagine, quality checks are important, with those manufacturing steps, then add in variability of humans doing the work. In aerospace, CF part manufacturers need to do coupon testing of their own and not just rely upon CF fabric supplier’s material specs. So with all this you can see why CF parts are so expensive.

October 19, 2019 at 10:03 PM · I have two wood bows. The original bow that came with the violin when my wife's great-grandfather purchased it in Sweden (albeit the violin is a German factory copy of a 1700 Strad with lots of intarsia). The bow is worn to the point where the maker's name cannot be read.

The second is an A. C. Schuster*** complete with logo. I like them both and each has it's place. The original bow is a quieter while the Schuster can bring out the volume of my violin in ways the original bow cannot. The Schuster is also brighter.

Carbon fiber may well be the material of choice for the future as rare woods are harder-and-harder to come by. Although I have read that there is a Architer who has planted a whole lot of pernambucco in Brazil and should be getting his first crop in a decade or so. In the meantime, I'll play and pass along my bows and hope they have a long and rich lifetime and serve many violinists in the future.

October 19, 2019 at 11:08 PM · I had an outstanding unstamped Thibouville-Lamy bow (not to be confused with the much more expensive plain Lamy) which I no longer have - It was trusted to a rehairer and I got a different unstamped Thibouville-Lamy bow back, which isn't bad, but wasn't like the one I'd had. It might be the one that Bridgewood and Nietzert are ooffering for £3500 (No, it was a different rehairer that did the iinitial Buttercup job). If it were, I wouldn't be able to prove it, but it would be worth the money to anyone that bought it.

October 20, 2019 at 12:04 AM · I wonder how many "pernambuco" bows in shops today are really made of some other wood. Where's Lyndon when we need him?

October 20, 2019 at 05:04 AM · Peter Sargent, Player and Luthier

This is just an opinion and what I do.

I use a carbon fiber bow, and carry a wood one as a backup. I am a professional violinist and violin shop owner. I try many carbon fiber bows that come into the shop. Most are lower cost carbon bows and are not so good.The one I chose to play is perfect for me. It is 59 grams and balanced at 185 MM at the relaxed frog. I had to set this bow that way to get it the way I like it. The other bow I use is a Hill and Sons pernambuco. It is very nice, also. However, many of the wood ones I have used over the years have to be re-curved and straightened from time to time. Another good bow is a carbon fiber wrapped, like the Coda bows. However, these are almost always over 62 grams, which is too heavy for my style of playing. The carbon fiber bow I use has a value of around 5 to $600. The Hill bow has a value of about $4000. Keeping quality hair with a nice tight ribbon at around 130 hairs is important to me. Also using the right rosin. Not too much, though. I use one or two swipes of cleanex if there is much rosin on my bow before I play a concert. Doing this seems to cut out some of the course sound caused by too much rosin. Cheers.

October 20, 2019 at 12:44 PM · I wouldn't say wood or CF is inherently better. It's what the player needs for the music he/she is playing. Some of us like to play different bows in different situations.

My CF bow (Arcus S-series) is my every-day bow because it's 49 grams and that lower weight makes a tremendous difference in lessening fatigue and allowing me to play with a softer, springier grip.

But I have a very nice Peccatte style pernambuco bow that draws a powerful sound and is great for playing 19th century repertoire -- Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler etc. So on occasion I'll pull it out and leave the Arcus in the case.

October 20, 2019 at 02:44 PM · I seem to have accumulated an unreasonable number of bows, but my main ones for violin are a Codabow Diamond GX and an older Otto Dürrschmidt octagonal stick. I can tell the difference and personally prefer the handling of the wooden bow and the tone it draws under the ear, but in the barely-indoor venues where I usually play the audible difference is so subtle as to be irrelevant. Ergo, I play out with the Codabow and save the pernambuco for more controlled environments.

Recently I picked up viola again (love that rich alto voice!). My primary viola bows are a mid-range Manoel Francisco from L'Archet Brasil and a Codabow Diamond NX. Picking which one to use is the same story as on violin.

My next major instrument purchase will be an upgrade viola. I plan to get a dedicated bow along with it, and am maintaining an agnostic outlook as to material. Whatever feels and sounds best to me within my price range will get the nod. Whether it'll be pernambuco or carbon fiber remains to be seen.

October 20, 2019 at 09:19 PM · Currently play with a 1950 vintage German made, F.K. Muller, pernambuco bow. It took me several years and 50+ bows to find this one. As mentioned in comments and in the voting narrative, wood can be quite variable. It seems likely that all violinists have a preference with respect to balance, weight distribution, weight, and stiffness “bounciness”. I have 1000's of hours on this bow with 30 years of use and love it. It is the standard I use when testing other bows.

Coda announced in the late 80's early 90's their manufacture of bows made out of carbon fiber materials. This interested me because it had the potential to minimize the variability of bows made with the same mold and the same materials. I tried these early Coda bows and found them to be, stealing from an acronym used on this site VSO, BSO, or bow in shape only. The weight distribution was wrong. The stiffness was wrong. The hair used was inferior. It baffled me that they implemented this, what I considered to be a great idea, so badly.

Several years ago, however, I wanted to try another Coda bow to see the progress. My luthier brought out a JonPaul Carrera instead. I tried it while my bow was being rehaired and brought it back once my bow was ready to be picked up. The luthier looked at me and said “quite a bit different than you are used to, right?” Surprisingly, the answer was no. I was greatly impressed at the progress that CF bows have made in that this particular bow handled and played very similarly to my pernambuco bow. In fact if it had been around 30 years ago, this bow would most definitely have been on my short list. It was cheaper and played and handled great. CF bows have come a long way.

October 21, 2019 at 01:21 PM · Bows are like WINE....the best is THE ONE YOU LIKE, regardless of price.

October 21, 2019 at 06:37 PM · Actually carbon fiber laminates can be extremely variable. To get the process repeatable to the precision expected by a skilled violinist is considerable. Try three f the same carbon bow and you may find one preferred over the other two.

I'm waiting for a boron fiber bow. Then I'll buy one.

October 21, 2019 at 07:41 PM · Isn't "col legno" Italian for "carbon fiber"?

October 22, 2019 at 07:16 AM · $6 wooden bows from China and ebay- not always straight, but they work-

but prefer $22 green carbon fiber bow from China and ebay.

I raced some of the earliest carbon fiber road bike frames back in the 70's. Light and responsive, and the bow feels that way too.

Yet now I'm just a hack with a couple of broken fingers to show for my foolishness. Rode my last race!

October 22, 2019 at 01:58 PM · My CF bow is a U$ 60.00 Fidlerman bow, so a fine but cheap bow.

I have 2 Pernambuco bows from two different brazilian archetiers, they don't differ much from each-other, in spite of a threefold price difference. Both are perceptibly better than the CF bow, but I don't think the comparison is fair.

October 22, 2019 at 08:14 PM · In my early days, even with my VSO, I felt it was time for a better bow. I tried a mix of wood and carbon fiber bows, and my reaction to the CF bows was invariably "meh." I wound up paying $400 for a wooden Dorfler, which satisfied the 3-to-1 rule: the bow was worth about three times the violin. Later I moved up to a better violin which reversed the ratio to where it belongs, and I'm still happily using that bow today.

When I took up viola, the instrument came with a fiberglass bow. I quickly decided I didn't like it - it was too stiff. It was fun to play the viola with my Dorfler, but a violin bow just isn't heavy enough to bring the tone out. I picked up a second-hand wooden bow, and now both my violin and viola - with their respective bows - are at least as good as my playing.

It would be interesting to try a good CF bow today - they're probably a lot better now.

October 23, 2019 at 05:57 PM · I know a good pro violinist who was concertmaster of a regional orchestra for 20 years and conducts our better community orchestra. He told us his bow is worth a fortune but he's never hesitated to use it for col legno. I made myself an 8" by 0.25" rosewood dowel. If there is time to pick it up and put it down, I can use it for col legno. There's a col legno section in the middle of Billy the Kid (Copland). Nobody can hear it anyway.

October 24, 2019 at 12:52 AM · col legno with a CF bow should be re-labelled as Col Plastico.

October 24, 2019 at 10:23 PM · Or "col vitro" if you're using a fiberglass bow.

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