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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Pernambuco or Carbon Fiber?

February 18, 2011 at 8:03 PM

I still remember the first non-wood bow I used -- a fiberglass monster that belonged to my public highschool, which I simply left at school so I wouldn't have to bring my "good bow."

Indestructible, yes, but it had all the warmth of a plastic coathanger and it handled with the elegance of a fly swatter.

I promptly wrote off all bows not made of wood.

Then came the premiere of Coda Bow some 20 years ago, and I still remember receiving word of it. I could see that much thought had gone into its conception and production, and I started to re-evaluate my opposition to non-wood bows.

But my head really turned a few months ago, when I picked up a bow by Berg Bows, the Tourte-Voirin model by Michael Duff. It felt good, handled great. Extremely great, in fact. And there is artistry in the construction of it.

It seems to me that carbon fiber bows -- and bows made of other fibers -- are beginning to be a viable alternative to wood, not just for students, but also for professionals. I'm not proposing the wholesale dismissal of pernambuco bows, please don't get me wrong. But the artificial bows have made great strides.

In fact, a number of my students have bought CodaBows (one has a "Diamond"), because for the money, it handled better than wooden bows we tried in the same price range. The carbon fiber bow also had the side benefit of standing up to weather and how shall we say? The enthusiasm of a child!

Here are links to a number of makers of carbon fiber, graphite, etc., bows, besides the ones mentioned above:


JonPaul Arpege;

Claudio Righetti

Finkel hybrid bows

Glasser bows (which come in colors)

Jean Tabary

They aren't all created equal, to be sure. And my list is not complete -- please feel free to add to it.

What are your thoughts? If you had a pile of cash to buy a bow tomorrow, would you get a pernambuco bow, or a carbon fiber bow? (And basically I mean wood or not-wood). And please feel free in the comment section to describe your experience with wood vs. carbon fiber bows, and add to this list of non-wood bows, or link to your favorite bowmaker.

From Andrei Pricope
Posted on February 18, 2011 at 9:25 PM

I have 5 Diamond GX CodaBows in my studio (1 vn, 1 va, 3 cello) and like them very much using them daily. Comparable wooden bows would be significantly more expensive, breakable, and prone to warping. The company has great support and warranty.

From David Rowland
Posted on February 18, 2011 at 9:29 PM

If money were no object, I would get what ever worked best for me, regardless of the material it was made from.

From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on February 18, 2011 at 9:34 PM

If you had a pile of cash to buy a bow tomorrow

How big a pile?  Is $400 enough?  And yesterday instead of tomorrow?  Just for the hell of it, I made sure I included a carbon fiber bow in the ones I was trying.  It was OK, I guess, but I walked out of the store with pernambuco.

From Sherman soothoo
Posted on February 18, 2011 at 10:19 PM

 i believe it is a matter of perspectivess. are people still having their minds with traditions and not wanting to try something different.

From Hendrik Hak
Posted on February 18, 2011 at 11:03 PM

Sofar haven't come accross a carbon fibre bow that would compare to a good  3000 - 4000 dollar pernambuco bow.  Archetier Bernard Walke in Ottawa now uses wamara wood and snake wood for some of his bows and the wamara bows I tried were great. Looks a lot like pernambuco but  has a little more spring than the average pernambuco that comes out of Brazil nowadays. ( The older pernambuco came from the centre of trees over 200 years old and had more spring but those trees don't exist any more or are protected.)  Versatile bow and brings out the volume in my violin very well. Also a little less pricey than pernambuco ( Bernard's bows are not pricey compared to most comparable bows I tried)

From Brian Lee
Posted on February 19, 2011 at 3:02 AM

I used a Jean Tabary bow for a few years before purchasing a fine pernambuco bow. The Tabary was a great value for the price, and is a very comfortable bow to play on; I still use it for long rehearsals and practice sessions.

From Roland Garrison
Posted on February 19, 2011 at 4:34 AM

If money were no object, I would buy the best wood bow I could find, as long as it was ecologically sustainable (possibly pernambuco, if I were sure it were harvested appropriately).

That said, I think that in my price range, the manmade bows generally compete, or exceed the capabilities of similar priced wood bows.
Further, manmade bows are more durable; their consistancy counterbalances their more sterile character.

From Casey Jefferson
Posted on February 19, 2011 at 2:10 PM

Sold my Arcus for an old pernambuco bow, quater of the price paid for the Arcus, yet play much better than the Arcus. My choice is clear.

From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on February 19, 2011 at 5:20 PM

That wasn't an easy question to answer!  I have a good wood bow for each instrument,a Coda Classic for my violin, and a Coda Diamond GX for my viola.  I've become a big fan of Coda, for many of the reasons others mentioned above.  My wood bows do have a somewhat more complex sound, at least under the ear, but at the first hint of col legno, loose children, or overcrowding on stage, they stay in the case.  I know that the people in the bow business are doing their darndest to ensure that the world will continue to have a good supply of pernambuco.  May they succeed.  In the meantime, there is an ecological part to the choice, too.

From Eloise Garland
Posted on February 19, 2011 at 10:11 PM

 Well, I voted carbon fibre simply because of these 2 reasons:

I've never tried a pernambuco bow... 

I've used a carbon fibre bow for the past 4 years. 

Basically, it's what I've 'grown up with,' which doesn't make it a fair test, especially since I've never tried the other option. Of course, I've had those cheap brazil wood bow things that come with VSO's before, but never a quality wooden bow. A bit out of my price range yet ;)


From Mendy Smith
Posted on February 20, 2011 at 1:30 AM

I gave the high-end Coda bows a try.  They were surprisingly heavy in the hand.  I would had expected something much lighter.  Also, I could not feel the resonance in my hand like I did with the ones I had on trial and they did not sound right under my ear. 

With that being said, I do play a lot of outdoor gigs in the summer down here in Houston.  If I had a ton of money, I'd get a CF viola and a CF bow to go along with it for those situations.  Instead, I simply use the "Old Man" and one of my earlier bows haired on the looser end. 

From Hendrik Hak
Posted on February 20, 2011 at 4:09 AM

Checked  the Berg website. The Michael Duff Tourte- Voirin carbon fibre bow got rave reviews. Must be quite a few steps up from the CF bows I tried . Would love to try one some day.

From Diedra Fritzges
Posted on February 20, 2011 at 8:40 AM

 I checked the Tabary bows and it seems they are in fact the Kolasa bows manufactured here in Poland, with the name changed for marketing purposes.

Quite a surprising discovery.

From Randy Walton
Posted on February 20, 2011 at 6:42 PM

My vote goes to pernumbuco but I think composites have their place. I tried a Berg ten years ago when I was shopping for a new bow and in an audio test with my parents in a darkened room, they both chose the wood over the Berg as having a better sound. I bought the wood which is an Otto A Hoyer and have been well pleased ever since. The Berg handled very well and was a little cheaper but the sound quality persuaded me to go with the Hoyer.

I talked to Michael Duff on the phone at that time and tried to find out what materials were in his bow, ( I was just curious! ) but I think he thought I was some kind of spy and got a little touchy.:) He did tell me that all Berg bows were made from the same material and that essentially they are all the same. The price difference is mainly because of the fittings.

From Kevin Keating
Posted on February 21, 2011 at 3:51 AM

 I like wooden bows myself.  Although I must confess I've never actually used a non-wood bow.  Actually, the bow I'm using is a cheap brazilwood Baroque bow.  I'm kinda "old school" when it comes to instruments, even electric instruments.  

From Michael Snow
Posted on February 21, 2011 at 5:52 PM

Well, there is no option in the survey that I can check off, and I'll explain why. I had been using Coda classic for years because it outperformed everything else I tried up to twice its price when I bought it. But recently, while getting that bow rehaired at a luthier's, he showed me a new bow he was getting from China. It has no name, and no brand, and is a mix of pernambuco and carbon. Not a CF core with pernambuco on top mind you, but a solid bow with wood and carbon fibers completely entwined with each other. I took it home to try it out, and after a week playing it, I went back to my Coda bow. It felt clunky, unresponsive, and dull in comparison, qualities I would never have attributed to it before. I was sold, and bought the new bow for half what I paid for the Coda! The luthier said that quite a few NY symphony members were buying this bow as a second bow. So you need one more option above: pernambuco and carbon fiber together. I'm considering selling my Coda and getting a second one of these as a backup bow instead!

From Ann Marie Cordial
Posted on February 22, 2011 at 4:36 PM

My viola and violin are CF, and so are my bows.  But, that's only because I travel a lot to places where the temperatures can be brutal - both hot and cold.

---Ann Marie

From Deborah McCann
Posted on February 22, 2011 at 6:04 PM

I have a Nurmberger, a Peccatte and a No Name pernambuco bows and a Coda Diamond.  Prefer the wood sticks, except the no name is not as good as the Coda.  And if I am in symphony and we have to col legno, will put my good bows away and use th Coda bow.  No reason to risk breaking a good wood bow.  Will use the Coda bow in a class of young players also.


From Christina C.
Posted on February 24, 2011 at 7:30 PM

I'm currently shopping for a CF bow as my back-up bow. I have a pit-gig where things can get a little cozy, plus I tend to practice in the basement & have poked the ceiling with my bow from time to time. I tried the Presto Impulse but now I'm leaning towards one of the older Coda models because I found that the Diamond series had the same problem for me as the Presto. The Jon Paul I tried was nice too, but more than I'm looking to spend.

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