Bow Price Classes

January 21, 2008 at 01:24 AM · I'm gradually entering the market for a bow. My background: I'm a professional player and recent conservatory grad on the audition circuit. My equipment is, unfortunately, nothing special for a number of reasons. I'd been loaned a Morizot until recently, but since graduating, I've had to go back to my own bow, which is, frankly, much less than ideal. Most of the threads I've been reading here ask a question like "I have $3000. What should I look at buying?" My question is a bit different, and it's got several parts.

1) Are there any discernable price levels where one moves into a class of significantly better bows? Looking around on the internet, I discovered bows sorted like this: above $10,000; $5000-$10,000; $3000-$5000 etc. A thousand dollars/euros/whatever can make a difference, but when?

2) If we can establish something like price classes, what can I expect to find in each of them?

Let's start with that. I know there are quite a few experienced dealers, collectors, and shoppers on here, and I'd be very grateful for any advice!

Replies (20)

January 21, 2008 at 06:35 AM · Megan,

I've owned many bows over the years, up to $10,000. I've had several good French bows, a few English ones, and some cheapo ones. All I can tell you is that bows are not like cars or stereos or

other consumer goods. Whether a bow is good (or good for you) seems to me to be totally unrelated to its price. My favorite bow, long traded away, cost only $800. The $10,000 one I mentioned, a stunningly decorated Bulditude with a gold rose and mint tortoise frog, was absolutely unplayable. A club. The pricing for old bows reflect scarcity, condition, and mystique. The pricing for new bows reflects how much the maker thinks he can get. He wins a competition, he doubles his price. If a famous player has one, he raises the price. It's maddening and confusing, but I doubt the situation will change.

January 21, 2008 at 09:26 AM · Thanks, Scott. Hmm, that's what I'd feared.

January 21, 2008 at 05:32 PM · My new bow, a $3200 bow by F. Wunderlich of 1920 is the best bow I can ever remember playing, including some that cost 5 times as much.

January 21, 2008 at 06:43 PM · Scott is right about "scarcity, condition, and mystique", but I don't think the pricing vs. quality/playability is quite so random. Of course, there will be bows you don't like at every price level, but I think you'll mostly be wasting your time looking at inexpensive bows if you are replacing a Morizot that you were pleased with.

In the lower prices I think things do divide up pretty clearly into classes (lots of big jumps under $1000).

I find that bows start getting interesting at somewhere around $1500 (a bit less isn't unheard of). These will be mostly good early/mid 1900's German makers. They had excellent materials available and were quite skilled craftsmen. If you play a dozen or two Nurnbergers, you might well find one that meets your needs. That's exactly what I would do if I were on a budget (not just Nurnbergers, of course, though that's not a bad place to look for good $ value).

Nonetheless, I really appreciate nice bows and think looking at old, modern, and new bows starting around $3000 is well worth the extra money. Sure you can find some lousy ones, but that isn't what you're looking for is it, so why worry about those? You will have to be very lucky to find a $1700 bow that is as good as the best $3000, $5000, or $10,000 bow that you find. At that point, yes, I think you'll just have to play them and see what you like (and can afford).

January 21, 2008 at 06:52 PM · I think the best value for your money would be a contemporary bow. I mean, you can get the best modern makers from 4k.

So, price class, best moderns are 4-6k probably. Modern bows are similar to modern violins. you can find a modern violin for probably 20k that is comparable to an older violin "worth" a LOT more.

And I disagree with Scott. I think that modern bows are most accurate to their price. Okay, maybe some hike up their prices after they win a few competitions, but still, the price still more accurately reflects the maker's ability rather than rarity, condition etc... When shopping for older instruments/bows I think you are always paying a lot more just for name (which I guess is ultimately true for moderns too, but to a lessser degree).

January 21, 2008 at 06:31 PM · Mark,

I do agree with you that there is some correlation between price and performance. I think it's a fuzzy one, though.

I'm just trying a violin by a local maker for $8500. It's better than my own "famous maker" one that cost $15,000.

January 21, 2008 at 08:03 PM · Scott, I agree on all counts. I thought from your first post that you were suggesting that Megan might just as well look at $800 bows as $10,000 bows.

January 21, 2008 at 08:32 PM · Mark,

I absolutely agree--she should look at both $800 and $10,000 bows. But the $800 bow might be made, as mine was, by a totally unknown guy who will push his prices up to $2500 as soon as Elmar Oliviera tries one out and pronounces it to be a good bow.

It's a tricky business.

January 21, 2008 at 11:23 PM · Mark, funny you mention N├╝rnbergers - tried a fantastic one a couple of weeks ago. That's what brought this whole thing to the surface again, actually.

January 21, 2008 at 11:29 PM · Greetings,

gotta be a bit careful with Nurnburgers. I used them for years and wa sa big fan . However, they are not all form the same person. A good one is exceptional (as use dby Oistrakh) but many of them are over priced . They tend to be quite resilient so over the last few years I moved away from them to older Frencg bows with more give. Thinking less in terms of force than actually drawing the sound out of instrument plus just a tad more subtlety of nuance.

Cheers,

Buri

January 22, 2008 at 03:19 AM · I've been in the market for a new bow for quite awhile -about five year!- and haven't been very successful to find the one I like within my price range, since I have very limited fund-about $4000. I've been making a few adjustments on my current bow; changing the balance point and the weight, in order to get better grip in the upper half part of the bow, very unsuccessfully.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that some of the cheaper modern bow would change after a good use of it if you are very unlucky. I've found that most of the bows I liked very much were old French bows which carry the price tag of $10,000 and higher. I've tried several modern bows by U.S. makers who have won at least two or more competitions, but they didn't last very long even though I liked them for the first couple of days of try-out...

Sorry not being able to give you any useful info, but I just wanted to say you are not alone.

January 22, 2008 at 09:28 AM · Thanks for the sympathy, Jae.

Buri, yup, I've played on a few N├╝rnbergers in the past (even owned one till it got stolen) and was pretty surprised by this last one. Research, research, research - and soon the real fun begins!

January 22, 2008 at 05:46 PM · Megan,have you considered "pinned" bows? They are around half the price but can be excellent from a players standpoint.

I owned a beautiful W.E Hill and Son Ivory mounted bow back in the 80's.The frog was really worn ,lots of wear on the butt and the tip had a "cheek' repair but it was a beautiful playing stick and I won my first job with it.I then,with the extra cash plus gigs,bought a Sartory(it was in excellent condition and I paid $7000.00 for it..the good 'ol days) and sold the Hill.I only got what I paid for the Hill but at least I had something good for the audition "circuit".Just a thought.

January 22, 2008 at 06:39 PM · Peter just used discriptive terms I have used and still use for a bow that I purchased from Luthier in 1983. Due to 2 privious repairs to the tip, 1 repair with a very professional job of 4 inches of gut wraping two inches behind the tip, and the frog overhauled he sold it too me for $140.00 He said it would be worth much, much more if not for so many repairs! My former teacher, Donna Cole CM for the Corpus Christi and San Antonio symphanies at that time offered a nice penny for it, but I still hold on to it! Every, I mean every class of violinist has tried it and wanted it! Price at times can be a baromiter but it all comes down to bring out the best in you and "the" violin you play however modest or pricy the bow is.

January 22, 2008 at 07:25 PM · hey Peter I was going to do that KWS concerto competition but I found out too late... maybe next year.

January 22, 2008 at 08:13 PM · So true Royce and I hope you try the competition next year Pieter!!

January 23, 2008 at 12:08 PM · Megan ,you could also look into a bow without the original frog and/or adjuster.That knocks about a third(maybe more) off the price yet you still get all the playing qualities of a great bow.This is how I bought my Charles Peccatte.

I believe in not just buying a bow but the "exit strategy" of selling it for more than I bought it down the road.Let the dealers have their cut but you and I should make some interest from our hard earned work too....there's my rant.....

January 23, 2008 at 05:08 PM · In the 1980s I had the idea of switching from making fittings to making bows and had the offer to work with a good friend Robert Shallock. I've been a craftsman for thiry years and all modesty aside I've taken on some difficult projects. Nothing as been as hard to pull off as making an aestheticaly pleasing and well functioning bow however. Finding the right stick with the right grain orientation, density, and tensile strength and then making the right decisions in terms of diminishing diameter gradations and pulling them off with beauty...not to mention the head.

Some makers buy their frogs from firms that do nothing else. Some use milling machines to make the motices and get things flat. But Robert and makers from the French School do it all with a tiny chisel and files-- a small and daunting task. They are spending extra days so that you can look close. How muchis it worth? For Pete sake a good stick costs $100 now. I've spent bow time with Bob, Boyd Poulsin, Morgan Anderson, John Aniano, and was privelaged to watch, Charles Espy and Stephane Thomachot at the bench. You have no idea of how skilled these folks are and the finesse involved. I'm in awe.

When I was with Robert in the mid eighties a silver mounted handmade was 1500 to 2000 dollars by a good maker, with the best known a bit more. Gold was 1000 more. Now the price range is 3500 to 5000 for silver from the same people. If they can realize more due to demand for their name, they will and should,of course.

When we bought our house in 1988 we paid 49,000. If we wanted to buy it now it would be 350,000. These folks make bows for a living, and that's all they do (as if that's not enough). If the cost of bows has only appreciated three times what it was, and life in the industrialized world had multiplied at least five fold, I'd say you are getting a bargain. I can't remember what gasoline cost then, but a beer was less than a buck. You can get a good deal if you buy a bow from a place where $20 gets you through the week with food and rent, but at least today the work and know-how there is't nearly as good. Bill was probably realizing $50 per bow when he first worked at Hill's. Let's face it, the folks who read this couldn't get by on that kind of income. The bow making world isn't that much different from the rest of it, a job is a job and work is work.

January 23, 2008 at 07:19 PM · Hi Megan,

Gary Leahy is a truly exceptional bow maker, you might still be able to buy one of his bows for that money. Giles Apap recently bought one. Stunning bows!

January 28, 2008 at 02:15 PM · UPDATE: Thanks for the advice, everyone!

As soon as you start mentioning you might be interested in buying, people bring out their treasures. Spent last week playing with a chamber orchestra out of town and tried out my colleagues' Lupots and Lamys, as well as an interesting Guillaume (modern maker in Brussels). It's good to get an idea of what I want, and how proper sticks respond to my playing, before even setting a price range.

I've heard about bows with pins in the tips before, but I do want to make sure that whatever I buy now is resellable (made that mistake already) and physically sound.

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