Are almost all of the great bows, round bows?

May 26, 2007 at 06:28 AM · Are almost all the great bows, round bows? Or have great players played with octagonal bows as well? Do the great makers of today make both octagonal bows and round bows, or is it just round bows? In other words, where do octagonal bows fit in the world of great old and modern bows?

To say it in another way: if you had 4,000 to spend on a great modern maker, would you consider octogonal bows, or would you strictly look at round bows?

Another queston: what are the baisc charateristic differences between round and octogonal bows?

Replies (31)

May 26, 2007 at 12:37 PM · If i can remember correctly, bows with round sticks are more flexible while bows with octoganal sticks are more stiff. It really depends on the piece of wood that the bowmaker is using when he or she makes his or her choice. If the have a slightly stiff piece of wood, they bowmaker will make it round in order to loosen it up. Visa versa for an octoganal stick.

I've heard repeatadly that the shape of the stick has very little effect on the response and performance from Shar. I cant really agree witht hat because i find round sticks to be slower responsed but have more beauty in their sound.

Octogs seem to be more active with a faster response.

BTW, Some of the greatest tourtes now are octoganal, so not all great bows are round..


May 26, 2007 at 06:24 PM · not all round bows are created equal and neither are octagonal for that matter. Much has to do with the maker, the model and the piece of wood.

The great F.X. Tourte produced many octagonal bows that are superb playing bows that are not stiff (despite the octagonal model).

But for the most part, when other makers try (or tried) the octagonal bow model, they seem to be much too stiff. Again, depends on the maker etc.

There are excellent award winning contemporary master makers, crafting superb bows (in a variety of models).

The best is to try the bows, and see which one suits you & your instrument irrespective of what model (round or octagonal).

ps: Natalie...esli est drugie voprosi, poshli mne po email.

May 27, 2007 at 05:09 AM · In answer to one of your original questions, if I had $4,000 to spend on a bow, I might choose round only because the selection would be larger thereby increasing your chance to find the perfect bow for you.

May 27, 2007 at 06:09 AM · Thank you many! But if what you find a great octogonal bow when you are look at bows, would you buy bow?

And does person know of anyone great who played on octogonal.

(sorry English not very good, friend help me write original post for this thread)

Are great makers today make occtogonal?

Any philharmonic player today play with octogonal?

May 27, 2007 at 10:41 AM · I managed to get hold of a Pajeot which i got "cheap" as it has a replacement frog. The only other ones I have seen have been round but this one is octagonal. Very strong and quite heavy so not to everyones taste but produces lots of great sound. I dont know how many there are. I also know of someone with an octagonal Peccatte which I believe is quite rare.

May 27, 2007 at 05:13 PM · Remember that in the making of a bow, all bows begin octagonal and all bows are still octagonal until the winding so finding an octagonal stick that plays well is not a rarity, it's just that most modern makers make many more round sticks than octagonal. Current numbers show that round sticks outsell octagonal at a rate of almost 20 to 1, now we could get into a chicken/egg debate on whether there are less octagonal sticks because the market place doesn't want them or whether the market buys more round sticks because there are more of them to look through and buy.

If you like it and it plays well for you and on your instrument, round or octagonal shouldn't matter.

May 27, 2007 at 05:42 PM · Thank you, but what if later you wanting to sell it. Really hard, right?

May 27, 2007 at 07:34 PM · Natalie,

You have to decide whether you are looking for an investment, or a wonderful playing stick. for $4000 you are not in the "collector" range for the most part. It sounds like you are looking for a great playing bow that you can use for a while and trade up later. Round and octagonal are subjective issues that shouldn't influence you in you selection. Play as many bows as you can, and buy from a reputable shop that has a large selection. Most shops have a trade in policy that should benefit you in the long run.

May 27, 2007 at 08:24 PM · My Persoit bow is octagonal and is very nice, close to an octagonal Tourte.

Edwin Clement makes a fantastic octagonal Tourte model. In fact I am waiting for one.

May 27, 2007 at 11:41 PM · Greetings,

>Thank you many! But if what you find a great octogonal bow when you are look at bows, would you buy bow?

And does person know of anyone great who played on octogonal.

Oistrakh favored Nurnbergers of which some were octagaonal.



May 28, 2007 at 04:08 AM · He played some octognals, really? Does any great players play with them now? I have played on a lot of gigs, rehearsals, concerts, etc...I have NEVER saw a ocotganal stick.

Do you thinking it would harder to sell later if you wanted to sells it?

May 28, 2007 at 05:55 AM · Greetings,

thats depressing. I`ve used a couple of good octagonal Nurnbergers for years. Obviously you don`t hang around in rice fields...



May 28, 2007 at 06:32 AM · Natalie,

I understand your concerns for I went through it a while back, as did a few players in philharmonics here.

I found a bow by a great modern maker that I thought sounded great and was real supple, not stiff. I had to throw caution to the winds before I bought it. I knew that if I ever want to sell it I would have a hard time of it.

I too have not seen many octagonal bows, and I know two very good players who are trying to sell some very good octagonal bows and have not been able to do so (both bows are from very popular makers who have long waiting lists!).

The two biggest shops here often carry bows from some of today’s most respected makers, but they told me they will not carry one of their octagonal bows because they have too much trouble moving them.

The plain truth is over time we change our preferences as our playing styles and needs change. This means that we must consider price, reputation, etc., when buying a bow. An octagonal bow is just not in favor right now. I am one of the few in Greece that I know playing on one. I understand your concerns.

It will be interesting to see how many players respond and tell you they are playing one. The plain truth is they are most often considered a student bow, though that is really wrong.

I saw your other post and will comment on that now.

May 28, 2007 at 07:38 AM · I play with an octagonal Dodd, it's never been a fact i didn't know that people were funny about octagonal bows. i know loads of people that with octagonals. my teacher (leader of radio france orchestra) plays with an octagonal.

May 28, 2007 at 08:44 PM · All things being equal, I have an aesthetic preference for a round stick. But an octagonal would not be a deal-breaker.

Looking through some of my VSA (Violin Society of America) Journals, I've come across these tidbits:

"Much depends on the density of the wood we are working with...I generally make a round bow, but if I am not entirely satisfied with the stiffness of the wood, the octagonal makes it easier to work. With 8 edges you can make the bow a bit thicker, and you can regulate the weight and balance of the stick easier than you can with a round stick." -Bernard Millant, VSA Vol.VI, no.2 p.181

"An octagonal bow often seems elegant [- a round stick usually strikes me (RK) so, but anyway - ] and thinner than it actually is: The cut facets reduce the mass compared to a round stick of the same section... [He goes on to show this with a diagram.] Musicians often think that an octagonal stick is stronger...This mostly correct, but has a different explanation. Such bows are usually stronger because a non-porous wood is used to carve them, or because their octagonal section can be wider than an equivilent round shape for the same mass. Therefore, the stick can be stiffer [due, if I, RK, understand this right, to its wider diameter] wthout letting the eye suspect it. The also simply a question of the taste of the maker: many Tourtes are octagonal, compared to a small part of the production of Pecatte, for instance." -Benoit Rolland VSA Vol.XIX, no.1, p.208-210

May 29, 2007 at 06:08 PM · Below is my updated response to a similar posting made a while back.

I am professional bowmaker and as a violin player who's experimented extensively with the difference between octagonal and round bows, I'd like to present the following observations:

1) All things equal (including the specific wood of the stick, frog, button, and wrapping), there is no consistent or predictable difference in tone and playability between a round and an octagonal bow. I feel that these perceived differences are a notable example of "PSYCHO-ACOUSTICS" (ie. A round bow = "round," sweet tone, an octagonal bow = a more "angular," focused, or brighter tone.)

2) In bowmaking, all bows start out as octagons. When the bow nears completion and the weight, stiffness, and balance of the final bow are in view of the maker, he evaluates whether these elements are what he is seeking. If more wood must be removed to make the bow more flexible, reduce weight, or optimise balance, he can continue to reduce the octagon further, which is time consuming, or instead, round the stick. Most makers will go to rounding the stick which is easier and quicker for the bowmaker and at no loss of quality.

3) Round sticks are indeed stiffer ("stronger") gram-for-gram compared to octagonal bows of equal weight, assuming that the wrapping, frog, and button are of equal weight.

4) All things equal, the balance point of the round stick will tend to be closer to the hand, making it feel lighter at the tip. This balance difference can effect the "feel" of the bow in the players hand and could influence the player's perception of it and therefore influence the way the player produces tone with it. The skillful bowmaker can compensate for these balance and strength differences throughout the making process and can theoretically produce a round bow which plays equivalently to an octagon one.

5) The loss of mass from rounding an octagonal stick into a round one is approx. 7% of the stick weight, which will also make the round bow more flexible ("softer"), but intriguingly by a factor of less than 7%. Therefore, the round stick optimises stiffness vs. mass. A good thing.

6) A bowmaker who desires to complete an octagonal bow will generally start with a stick of greater stiffness and/or less density to end up with a stick of equal strength and weight to a finished round stick. It is possible that a less dense stick will end up sounding brighter. Please note that we're now comparing sticks of different density and/or stiffness.

7) For the bowmaker, completing a beautiful symetrical octagonal bow is a particularly exacting process that requires many additional hours of extra painstaking work. This is something that the bowmaker might wish avoid if players weren't particularly appreciative of them. Since players are generally much more interested in playability than the bowmaker's "perfect octagons," we see many more round bows.

John Greenwood, Bowmaker

May 30, 2007 at 11:07 PM · John, you sort of answered this in #1, but indulge me:

Let's say you get a blank of fine Pernambuco, from which you can make at least two bows. Ditto with a block of ebony, etc. You set out to make two bows as similar as possible from this same wood, with the same length, weight, balance-point, size and style of head and frog, camber, wrapping, etc., etc. Now, I'm sure everyone has seen this coming. The only difference is that you make one round, and the other octagonal. In fact, let's say you repeat this experiment 4 more times. So, 4 times out of 5, do you feel that there are likely to be predictable differences in playability, or would any differences be random, and due only to the fact that you can never make two bows 100% alike?

May 31, 2007 at 04:20 AM · ........a very good question.

While we are waiting for John's reply, I am sure that the octagonal will be stiffer than the round. A lot has to do with the throat being flat (and the cross-sections etc), which makes the stick feel stiffer.

June 2, 2007 at 06:06 AM · admirably scientific question ;-)!

I haven't played with that many different bows, but I have a round Nurnberger and another German bow that is octagonal...the octagonal is definitely stiffer but somehow 'brisker'. I nearly always use the Nurnberger but that is mainly out of habit...!

Actually the answer is already pretty much there in John's previous reply, but it will be interesting to see if he adds more...

June 3, 2007 at 12:15 AM · I have a round Nurmberger and and octaganal Pecatte. Find that the Pecatte is much easier to get spicatto out of, but enjoy the Nurberger for orchestral playing. I also had an octagonal Nurmberger and it was much more flexable than my round one is.

June 3, 2007 at 08:39 AM · I have an octagonal and a round bow, both of which are comparable in craftmanship. The octagonal is a a littl mushy with the articulation, but pulls out a rich, mellow tone, and the round bow gives my violin a bright, crisp sound, excellent for spicatto. I really think that little of this has to do with whether the bow is octagonal or round. But I know little about bows, so there.

June 3, 2007 at 12:56 PM · That's why we really need a controlled experiment from the same maker using only that one variable. John, are you out there? Inquiring minds want to know!

June 4, 2007 at 04:10 AM · Thanks for your interest in discussing some pretty arcane factors relating to the art of bowmaking!

There are many variables that affect the playing quality of a bow. The goal of the maker is to separate out what objectively influences the playing quality and what is more subjective or as I suggested before, “Psycho-Acoustic.”

The playing and sound qualities of a bow have much more to do with the actual wood choice, its weight, the shape of its camber (bend), and balance than whether it’s round or octagonal. I’ve made many “sweet, dark, and round” sounding octagonal bows and “lively, crisp playing, and bright” round ones, and combinations of both.

When I start out making a bow, I grab for a pernambuco stick for which I’ve already measured the specific gravity (density) of the wood and also the “elasticity” using an scientific ultrasonic device called a Lucchi Meter. This measures the relative speed which sound propagates through the length of a particular piece of wood.

With the density and Lucchi measurement, I can be fairly confident of the relative range of weight and stiffness that is inherent in the wood before I commence work on it. The elasticity measurement, which is often called the “Lucchi Number” (or “Lucchi”) also gives an indication of the relative brightness and “speed” of the stick when played. Generally, the higher the Lucchi the more agile the bow will be when making staccato and sautille strokes.

Ironically, higher isn’t necessarily better. Too high a Lucchi can result in a stick that is “nervous” and doesn’t track comfortably for the player in long bowed cantabile passages. Since players spend a small percentage of their time doing bowing acrobatics and more time playing broadly, the player and bowmaker need to temper and balance out these competing factors. I’ve found that less advanced players generally sound better and feel more comfortable with a slightly less elastic bow, because it tracks more easily.

A player needs to experience the combination of agility, stability, and full but not harsh tone to have a complete bow. It’s my understanding that carbon fiber generally has a Lucchi at the upper range of Pernambuco which probably accounts for the brightness and quickness of many such bows . . . and the often associated harshness of the sound and less than optimal feel to the player.

Most all bows are initially crafted in octagon form. As the stick gets quite close to playing weight, I use another device called a “Deflection Meter.” This simply applies horizontal downward pressure to the stick with a hanging weight, the stick being suspended between two points along its playing region. I use a one pound weight with a suspending hook for violin and viola and a 2 pound weight for cello. The relative “drop” in the stick when the weight is applied gives me another objective test to the relative stiffness (“strength”) of the stick I’m working on. Through experience, I’ve learned how much further stiffness and weight loss I will experience as I remove more wood in the final finishing process.

Traditionally bowmakers have tested their sticks by flexing them between their two hands. This method must have been rather inexact, particularly depending on whether the bowmaker had had their Wheaties that morning! Despite the romantic notions people like to associate with this hands-on “squeezing” method, I think that there is a benefit to using an objectively reproducible measuring process wherever one can.

In general, when I start a new bow, I’ll already have in my mind whether I want to make it octagonal or round. If I desire to end up with the same weight final STICK, and I want it to be octagonal, one approach would be to require that I start with a slightly less dense stick to compensate for the minor extra weight of the corners on the octagons. I could also use a slightly less elastic (less stiff) stick blank.

In making a round stick, where I want the same final weight and balance, I could leave the stick’s side dimensions a little wider so that the relative amount of wood in each cross section of the round bow would be theoretically equal to that of an octagonal bow. The throat area immediately behind the head stays fundamentally the same.

More or less, two bows two the same deflection measurement, with the same quantity of wood along its cross section, and the same elasticity will balance and sound strikingly similar. That’s why, all things equal, a player in a blind testing will not consistently feel or hear a difference between round or octagonal.

One additional factor in the relative liveliness, but not the stiffness of a stick, is the camber or inward bend that the maker imposes on the stick when making it. This bend is present on all modern bows and is effected by heating small succeeding sections of the bow applying dry heat. After the stick is nearing final completion it is the subtle adjustment and tweaking of the camber which helps optimize its playing qualities. Using differently weighted wrappings and experimenting with a button of varying weights at the frog gives the maker a final means of adjusting the balance and therefore the "feel" of the bow.

Through the experience of measuring literally scores of first class great playing bows, I’ve developed reproducible benchmarks for the relative flexibility and stiffness of my bows, the range of agility vs. smooth tracking playing qualities, and the balance. I don’t try to make the same bow every time . . . even if I could. Every player and instrument has subtly different requirements.

To wrap up this overly long posting, I think that the most obvious reason for the existence of many more round bows is that they are quicker to make and finish crisply, which saves the bowmaker time and labor, and therefore money.

Some players and dealers also do associate octagonal sticks more with German and English bows, which are not as valuable in the antique market as French bows, even though there are many many great non-French made bows. Considering how many octagonal bows the 19th century French masters such as Peccatte, Tourte, and Pajeot made this prejudice by some against octagonal should be reconsidered.

John Greenwood, Bowmaker

June 4, 2007 at 04:25 AM · thanks for an informative post John.

However, can you address Raphael's question:

"From Raphael Klayman:

Let's say you get a blank of fine Pernambuco, from which you can make at least two bows. Ditto with a block of ebony, etc. You set out to make two bows as similar as possible from this same wood, with the same length, weight, balance-point, size and style of head and frog, camber, wrapping, etc., etc. Now, I'm sure everyone has seen this coming. The only difference is that you make one round, and the other octagonal........"

Incidentally, not all players have had the opportunity of trying the finest examples of the Great French octagonal bows of the 19th century, but they have had experience with less succesful "octagonal replicas" by the German and English counterparts. Perhaps, it is this reason that led to their prejudice.

June 4, 2007 at 04:43 AM · Great post John, thank you.

June 4, 2007 at 12:49 PM · Mr. Greenwood - thank you for that highly informative post!


June 4, 2007 at 02:17 PM · From the bows I've tried over the years, I like octagonal ones just as well as round. When I bought a Sartory once, I was shown four of them. The one I selected, stirictly on the basis of how it played, happened to be the only octagonal one in the group. I've since heard the opinion that the octagonal Sartory might have some additional monetary value because there are fewer examples.

June 4, 2007 at 04:06 PM · Instinctively I feel that a bow with two parallel sides (as in an octagonal bow) will flex more easily and therefore be a bit more "mushy".

I'm sure a good physicist or applied mathematician could throw some light on this!

June 5, 2007 at 01:59 AM · John,

Thank you for your insight on this. I found it to be very complete and thought provoking, especially since I just play. How the equipment we use is made is just as important as our technique as we develop both.

June 5, 2007 at 11:40 AM · Thank you, John! Before John's second posting, I got in touch with two-time VSA gold-medalist, William Halsey, who made my own favorite bow. I sent him this thread and asked him what he thought about this issue. Here's what he said:

Hello, Raphael --

Thank you for the interesting thread on Having given it a quick read, I think that Angelo Eftimeo pretty well nailed it with his comment, stating that all bows begin as octagonal. This is pretty much true for traditional hand makers, with the caveat that in some mass production situations the blanks are roughed out quickly on a lathe or sent through a "sticker", which makes the stick start out round. The trouble here of course is that there is little accounting for individual characteristics of the stick.

Actually, in most schools (French, German, English), the shaping of the stick begins by planing the sawed blank to a square, to smooth and taper it and get it down to something manageable. The corners are then planed off to make an octagon and the stick is bent to a curve. Following this, the head is roughed out, frog & adjuster are fitted, and the stick is put under tension to observe what corrections are required in cambre. The next logical step is to plane off the corners while constantly flexing and measuring to get the stick down to an ideal weight, balance and strength. For me, this process is highly intuitive, and I would probably get lost in rhetoric and put my listener to sleep, trying to explain it. At any rate, rounding a violin bow (depending upon how it's done) normally removes approx. 2 to 2-1/2 g, and decreases the bending strength by about 12% or so. If the stick is already close to the ideal criteria, then it is simply finished as an octagon.

There's been a lot of speculation concerning the differences in playability between the two basic stick shapes. I know of no physical reason why one might perform differently from the other if exactly similar sticks of wood were finished to the same basic sectional shape, strength, mass and balance. I tend to think, even though rounding a stick amounts to an extra step, that it may have developed historically as an easy way to remove irregularities in the octagon, therefore making a better looking stick. However, many of the really fine makers I know are very particular about how the octagon is formed, even if it is destined to be rounded. It was Stephane Thomachot who stressed the importance of this to me.

My rounded sticks are not exactly round, but somewhat triangular in section (in the fashion of D. Peccatte), and are often a little greater in width than height. For me, removing the corners and rounding produces a more attractive stick, and makes it easier to apply a good finish, but I have also made octagons that work well.

Thanks for keeping in touch, Raphael -- it's fun to think about these things. I hope you are enjoying the Springtime.

Very best wishes,


June 5, 2007 at 12:11 PM · Hi,

Mr. Klayman - thank you for posting that letter! WOW! This is turning out to be one highly informative thread!!!


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