'What makes a good bow??

February 5, 2008 at 05:08 AM · I recently posted about buying a new violin, you people were so helpful and responsive. thank you!!! I learned a lot. I also recieved a lot of feedback about not forgetting to get a good bow. Forgive me if I sound ignorant, (cause i am in this aspect) I just thought a violin set-up came with a bow. It never occured to me to look for one seperately. What makes a good bow? What are the differences playing on one? LOL, I am so ignorant on this topic that i dont even know how ask what I want to know. Would a beginner like me be able to tell a difference right away?

I'll get my new violin, but cash is short so's a new bow would be sometime in the near future. (late summer perhaps) I'll have to play on my old one or what ever comes with the violin.

I'm just looking to learn all I can right now, so's the proper decisions can be made when the time comes.

Gosh, I almost miss the old days when Teach would hand me my viola for the year, (I play violin now) and that viola seemed like a gift from God to me. I never questioned what kind of instrument it was.

Replies (48)

February 5, 2008 at 02:25 PM · They all look alike to me,but I was really held back by using the swizzle sticks that came with the violins I was buying.For years, I thought I was incompentent(well,I am,really) but I finally read about carbon fiber bows on some website,so I looked at what the pro's said and bought the cheap,bottom of the line Codabow.I don't think I rate a "real" bow,probably never will,but that was by far the best move I ever made."Real" bows cost more than a new car sometimes,like a "real" violin costs more than a new house.Here's the link to the article-

http://www.stringsmagazine.com/issues/strings105/BowReview.html

For us bottomfeeders,this is definitely the way to go IMHO......

February 5, 2008 at 04:23 PM · The article cited is over 5 years old and some of the product lines have changed a lot. I reviewed many of the synthetic bows back in the years 2,000 and my observations are still posted http://members.aol.com/bowedstrings/violin-bow-review.html .

In my opinion, the original Glasser Composite bow that sold for just under $100 was a terrific bow for beginners. (I just checked ebay, but no one seems to be trying to sell one at the moment.)

It would perform all the off-string strokes with with exactly the right impetus from right hand and arm. It did not have $1,000 sound, but to me it seemed a better performing bow than the Glasser Garbon Fiber (graphite) bows that were introduced at a higher price a little later.

I recall well a small meetiing of various players in which the owner of a Maline ($35,000) violin bow tried my Glasser Composite and was very pleased with it. By now I've sold off all the Glassers I had to students. It also made the difference for an adult student who could not get her sautille to "come in"with her W. Siefert but found it instantly with that cheap Glasser.

I had some torubles with the Glasser Carbon Fiber bows (especially the cello bows) until I realized that they often had too much hair, and by removing some hair the stick could better participate in providing the required resiliance for off-string strokes.

February 5, 2008 at 05:09 PM · Thank you Andrew for doing that bow review. I learned alot from it. I think the amount of hair on the bow really affects how it plays. As for CF bows, I'm also looking for one as a spare bow, but I'm not sure if it's better to get a nice spare, or just get a cheap spare, or maybe they're not mutually exclusive (nice and cheap)

February 5, 2008 at 05:41 PM · What really matters is the sound >you< can make with the bow. Take your new fiddle and try bows... there is no subsitute for going somewhere that trying in person is possible. If possible take a musician friend with you.

The bow will make almost as much difference as the fiddle itself...

You will hear and feel the difference...

February 5, 2008 at 08:50 PM · What J Brunson says is spot on. I'm bow shopping myself, and recently had the opportunity to try out a whole case of old French bows, which, unfortunately, are slightly out of my price range. It's like divine inspiration! Suddenly I found myself making sounds and playing music that simply hadn't occurred to me before having the stick in my hand - not to mention the fact that I didn't have to 'do' anything - just think.

Anyone know where I can get my hands on, oh, 25,000€? That'll do for starters.

February 5, 2008 at 09:49 PM · Wow Megan!! 25000Euros? Thats one heck of a bow.

February 5, 2008 at 10:27 PM · You have no idea, Peter. With that sort of bow, I wouldn't be needing a new fiddle any time soon - or a teacher, for that matter...

February 5, 2008 at 11:17 PM ·

February 5, 2008 at 11:10 PM · Oh , I would say the sound is the most important thing..the depth of sound... the body of sound, the bass... you don't want something that feels insubstantial...

Here's my page on bows..

http://www.wps.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/bows_makers.htm

hope there's something there that helps.

Ciao, Roland

February 6, 2008 at 12:36 AM · Greetings,

Roland, I enjoyed your article `Tonus.` Hope you find things of interest here.

Cheers,

Buri

February 6, 2008 at 01:07 AM · Buri,

Anything to do with violins / violining is interesting, and lots of it here ! Thanks for looking over my site ! Are you the main "animator" of this site ?... I read lots of your cheerful posts ! Anyway, Keep it up!

Roland

February 6, 2008 at 01:14 AM · Greetings,

>Are you the main "animator" of this site ?

Good heavens- no! I write a lot because my job is boring ;)

But these days the contributions from everyone are fantastic. I do think sometimes people are either a little nervous about writing or putting their names to comments becaus e of their careers or whatever. Having nothing to lose I have a distinct advantage in this department!

Cheers,

Buri

February 6, 2008 at 02:44 AM · For me,

a good bow as balance, stability, not too heavy, not too much bounce (unbreakable ;) )

Ok, the bow that came with my student violin (600$) was ok. One day while in the middle of a class the bow fell exactly on the tip from about 1/2 feet high. It cracked.

I then changed to a better bow made in black stuff (not sure if it was fiberglass or carbon fiber, i think it was the later but not weave around 100$). It was a good bow, but I tought it bounced too much. However, the hair was really better quality and I could ear the difference.

I then change for a weave carbon fiber bow with no name on it, around 200$. Tried it at my luthier and it is nicely balance, good hair, almost unbreakable. Alas I now think it was a little too heavy a bow.

Next bow will be a little lighter, but with a good balance.

But a big factor in the what is a good bow equation is how much you are ready to invest.

February 6, 2008 at 03:50 PM · I hear what you're saying Megan but I don't think you have to put out $35000.00 on a bow thinking you'll play better.You have to have the technique to match.I wrote a thread on here about a pinned Pajeot which,without the broken tip,would be around $35000.00.To make a long story short,I've learned that you have to adapt to whatever is in your hands and just make the best of it.

I remember Martin Beaver lent me his Dominique Peccatte bow .Did I play better? Lets just say I had a more sophisticated sound but I still couldn't play a perfect spicatto and my finger action at the frog was still abysmal.Perhaps a Tourte bow would solve those problems? No,I AM the problem and its my responsibility to obtain instruction to learn better bow technique.If I could do it all over again,I would put my money into more lessons with great teachers and less into "she-she" equipment.There's rant #3...

February 6, 2008 at 08:34 PM · I will say, that sometimes the equipment can be the problem. You need ok equipment and not equipment that will hinder you. You can get an ok bow for about 100$. The bow that came with my wife cheap chinese student violin wasn't worth it weight in wood. It was uncontrollable at best. So yes equipment will have an influence.

I think it simply as to be reasonnable. But if your bow feel ok, then it probably is okay.

February 7, 2008 at 11:55 AM · Well,I think $100.00 is going to the other end of the spectrum Claude.I too have a bow at that price for outdoor gigs and col legno passages and it can be an exercise in frustration.

I think around $800.00 would be the starting point for something that actually works.

February 7, 2008 at 10:37 PM · I will disagree, 800$ minimum to get an orchestra or advance violin bow.

But for someone beginning, that would be more then the cost of the violin.

When I started, I've read that usually the bow should be about 30% of your investment for your instrument.

I wouldn't get a 800$ bow for a 600$ instrument. I would upgrade the instrument first.

But life is funny, since it cost too much in incremental cost to upgrade my violin, i'll be doing my 3rd bow upgrade at the end of the month.

1- came with the violin

2- better quality trade in for next

3- much better quality but too heavy

4- ? (soon to come)

For choosing a bow I suggest getting your teacher to come with you to choose a good one at a luthier. You tell him your budget and he will take out a few bow for you to try (and your teacher to try).

February 8, 2008 at 12:28 AM · Of course.A total beginner should have relatively inexpensive equipment and be putting the money towards the lessons.Once it is established that the student is serious,then move on to the better equipment.Instead of upgrading for the third time ,why not just buy something good to begin with? Buy cheap,buy twice(or three times!)

February 8, 2008 at 01:10 AM · .... or 4 times!

Starting them young helps because you are forced into endless upgrades. We just got a full size violin for our daughter and were determined to get a good violin and a good bow.

A hefty investment but necessary if the student wants to sound good and grow musically.

February 8, 2008 at 03:38 PM · Well, I loved to be able to really try different bow. And I will appreciate more what I have in my next bow because I have tried lesser bows.

It's like a car, if you get a porsche when you start you won't know why it is a good sports car, because you start with some top of the line.

As a beginner, I didn't need a better bow then I had. As I got better I started to see limitation with each bow. When you upgrade you have a better understanding of what you look for.

Know I am changing because I am being fussy, because my bow is excellent, but it is easier to upgrade a ''smaller'' accessory then a violin under her nose ;)

But every time I change I feel more fun to play with my new ''toy''. Also, This is a hobby for me. I will probably never play outside of my living room.

February 8, 2008 at 09:13 PM · What percentage of violin cost should one pay for a bow? Or does it matter? What price to pay for bow if violin costs $5000 to $10,000; or

$10,000 to $20,000.

February 8, 2008 at 11:50 PM · Abra,

Here is my rather simple rule of thumb regarding bows, instruments, and most other things: they should make it easier for you to play well. You should not feel as though the bow is fighting your instrument.

Cost is not always a factor either. I tried about ten or twelve violins to get to mine; it was thousands of dollars cheaper than most of them, but consistently outperformed all.

February 11, 2008 at 09:01 AM · A great bow is like a master teacher of the best kind- it anticipates almost what you are thinking and feeling.

It teaches you daily how to play the instrument.

Maybe that's my imagination- but I like to think that way.

February 11, 2008 at 09:03 PM · How to recognize a great bow? Well, read Harry Potter, vol. 1, the part where he goes wand shopping. A good bow, the right bow for you now and today, will jump right into your hand. It just feels right.

Best,

Friedrich

February 16, 2008 at 10:19 AM · WOW! It's been a heck of a week. Hailstorms wrecked Lindale, TX (where I work.) My car is demolished, my place of employment is devistated and the kids are going to school in the local churchs now cause the schools are wrecked. Needless to say, I've been a bit too busy to get back on here. I was shocked when I came back to this and saw all the information!!! This site is AWESOME! I have spent countless hours reading about these bows trying to educate myself. Everything I can find on here. Bow bugs...who'd a guessed? ;-)

I am leaning toward a composite bow now...I'm very much a beginner and price is an issue. I have to say though out of countless threads I have read now...

Friedrich, I think you summed it all up with the Harry Potter wand reference. Next time I get into Dallas, I will be stopping at the shops and trying every bow I can get my hands on till the right one makes my hair flutter with the brilliance of it. :-)

Thanks all....

August 26, 2010 at 05:45 AM ·

 I bought my new bow around 3 months ago. it is a No Name antique bow, value around 2000 Aud. To me it is perfect; very well balance and it doesn't bounce on the strings like my previous bows. My luthier chose it for me. He just said that bow was the best one for me and it certainly is. I think it doesn't matter who made the bow or the price of it, as long as it fullfill all the requirements of a good bow ; it is good enough. Also find a good luthier, they know the best what you need.

Veronique

August 26, 2010 at 11:37 AM ·

 my bow is made of brazil wood....it's  good material....another type is the carbon fiber bows....they are more expensive than brazil wood so i think they are better...they are black not brown...

August 26, 2010 at 02:01 PM ·

I don't adhere to the theory that various bows will draw a different tone from a given violin.  I'm in the minority here, but I think it's a myth.  Synthetic hair on a bow WILL create a very unpleasant, raspy sound!  Avoid bows with this hair.

To me, the most important thing in choosing a bow is weight distribution.  A properly balanced bow is a must.  59 to 61 grams seems to be a good starting point for overall bow weight.  After this, get a bow with the proper balance point.  Next, find one that has the proper flexability and strength.  It can take many hours of playing to really evaluate a bow.  It's hard for a beginner to evaluate how a bow will play.  For beginners, find a teacher to help you.  You can find inexpensive bows that are beautifully balanced.

August 26, 2010 at 02:21 PM ·

Hi James, listen to this 2 videos. Played by same player, on same violin, but 2 diferent bows.

Peccate (wooden bow):
 

 

Arcus (carbon fiber):

 

August 26, 2010 at 04:39 PM ·

Without a double-blind study, any assertions on this are meaningless.

August 27, 2010 at 03:00 AM ·

No, this is one of those things which is so obvious and un-subtle that no double-blind study is needed, and I'll bet that even most violin people who call for double-blind studies in other areas will acknowledge the fact.

Different bows can bring a different sound out of the same violin.

August 27, 2010 at 05:35 AM ·

 I think you'd have to have something 'wrong' with your hearing to say that there is no way different bows can draw a different sound from the same violin, sorry, don't mean to be horrible, the last thing I want is to be horrible....

ok, you may find many bows that are virtually doing the same thing on a violin or the difference is so subtle you have to have a very good/developed ear to hear it but then a bow comes along where most people will immediately hear the difference!

there's no need for any study it's black and white! it's just too obvious, I've done it already enough times myself with my violin to friends who are not musical and are supposed not to know enough...

August 27, 2010 at 11:30 AM ·

Sometimes it's not so obvious. If someone only knows student's fiddles and sticks, he or she won't learn to hear the difference a real fine bow can make.

That's why every violinist should ask friends to try out their equipment if possible, and should try out as good stuff as he can get his hands on. When buying a bow or visiting a violin maker, one should try out the best bows they have, not only in the price segment he just to extend one's horizon.

And I think it's a good habit not to call the superior experience of advanced players a theory.

(Of course there is a lot of bs in music as there is in alternative medicine. But we are not talking about science or quackery, but everyday tools that everyone can try.)

August 27, 2010 at 01:41 PM ·

Casey, although it was good of you to post the videos, there is really too much ambiguity present. The sound of the orchestra, plus the fact that the musical passages are different in each clip, so the sound will be different anyway. I have to agree with Janis in that a proper sound test is needed.

When playing, I can tell the sound difference between extremes of bows, as can most players, but possibly not between bows of a similar type / price range. If anyone else can, with bows of a similar price, then that's fine, and we need go no further in this little evaluation.

If they can't, then here's what I think needs to be done as a test :

To truly test the sound production between bows, you must remove all ambiguity and subjectivity - so, to accurately compare two bows, they would both need to have been newly re-haired and rosined (loss of high-frequency rasp due to worn hair (on one bow) may sound good under the ear, but dull to a listener), then played in for several hours before the test. That's the point when you can give them to the "tester", a skilled and experienced player, who should be blindfolded, then play identical passages with each bow (and not know whether he has actually been handed a different bow as the "next" one). Frequent rests, then several repeats of this sequence.

Repeat for each tester.

Now repeat, but this time blindfold each "listener".

This may seem over the top, but if you were manufacturing and selling hundreds of bows in different ranges, you would need to do this level of testing to prove their sound quality. And no, I'm not in the bow business and never was :)

I've seen people try out two violins - both in the same price range, one with dark varnish, the other with light. Many swore the dark one had a rich, dark, woody tone while the other one was deemed to be "bright and loud". It was in fact, the opposite.

August 27, 2010 at 02:09 PM ·

When playing, I can tell the sound difference between extremes of bows, as can most players, but possibly not between bows of a similar type / price range.

25 years ago, when I bought my main bow, I went to a bow maker (G. Penzel, Germany) together with a friend. We compared four bows made from the same piece of wood. We both found that one bow was clearly a little bit better than the three other ones, the one I own since then.

Since recently I take care of some violins and fine bows from an old man who plays no more. When I started to try and compare them together with my own stuff I was faszinated just how much one bow can change the sound of one violin, but sometimes not of another one. So after some time, I found the best combinations of the fiddles and the bows (luckily my main violin and the above-mentioned bow are still the best.)

All the bows had been rehaired by the same violin maker, and I only use one rosin with all of them.

August 28, 2010 at 09:08 AM ·

I made two short videos (as the camera was set up anyway, for something else) of short samples, using a different bow each time. I just wondered if anyone could tell the difference between the two? One bow is new, and the other older bow has recently been re-haired. I know it's difficult trying to evaluate anything on YouTube because of the degeneration of audio quality, but you may want to have a listen anyway. One video per bow (I had problems trying to include the whole thing in a single video).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwXtUkOHI5k

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEtuZlMuq7k

 

 

 

August 28, 2010 at 10:31 PM ·

August 29, 2010 at 12:46 AM ·

 I would prefer to play bow 2 as it grabs the strings better and makes a smoother sound. However, they do sound pretty similar in character. I think with two bows that make a similar type of sound, what makes one bow "better" is probably how well it suits your playing style and how easy it is to control etc.

I notice bow 1 is stiffer than bow 2, so I guess my personal preference for flexible bows also affects which one is "better" in my opinion.

August 30, 2010 at 12:11 AM ·

For the record - bow # 1 is a few months old, a round stick carbon fibre Arcus M4..

Bow # 2 is about 80 years old, recently re-haired, and is a lightweight hex-stick pernambuco wood which cost me £160 in 1986. 

August 30, 2010 at 03:06 PM ·

 I like the 5-stringer as well!

August 30, 2010 at 05:35 PM ·

I have used synthetic hair on a bow of mine in the past and it worked great. A great re-hair by a skilled bow maker can makes a huge diference!

August 30, 2010 at 10:06 PM ·

James: >>>I don't adhere to the theory that various bows will draw a different tone from a given violin.  I'm in the minority here, but I think it's a myth.  >>>>

James, this is not true. Different bows, even bows by the same maker, can draw a different sound from the Violin.  This is not a myth, it is a fact.  Consider too,  that about 70% of the sound from a Violin, is due to the bowing and the bow.

 

Abra: Regardless of your budget, I would think the following when you pick up a bow.

One, is the weight in your hand, and from this and the design, it's carriage and heft when you play with it.  The other thing to keep in mind, is the balance of the bow in YOUR hand.  Then, last but certainly not least, the kind of sound the bow pulls out of your Violin.  The more experienced you get at examining bows, the more you'll be able to figure a lot aoubt a  bow  by how it looks visually, and also,  at almost the moment you pick it up.  At least, this is my experience.

Hope this helps in your choices.

 

September 1, 2010 at 04:39 PM ·

 This thread has a lot of good info and links on bows. Thanks for that.  When I got my starter violin and bow, I had to replace the starter bow right away with a heaver, better balanced fiber bow.  I paid $30.00 for a new fiber bow.

September 1, 2010 at 06:52 PM ·

September 1, 2010 at 07:15 PM ·

I thought it would be fun to brain storm some of the "properties" that bows have. So far I have, in  normal print, a bow property.   In italics I have the kinds of ways the user can effect this bow property without having to buy a new bow...

  • Shakyness - When you put the bow down, or play staccato, the bow tremmors.  Usually the tighter the bow is the more it tremors.  So if it tremmors too much try losening it.  Also, if you place the bow down on the string by letting it fall it will tremor more.  Try starting your stroke before your bow hits the string and placing it at an angle virtically...
  • Grip of the bow in general.  (this is a bow hair problem, and a weight problem)  The way you rosin the bow and or have it rehaired will have far more effect than changing the stick will.
  • Grip of the bow at the two tips is often an issue.  Sometimes no tone will come out untill an inch or two into the bow.  This is caused by finger prints and rosining issues :D   
  • Weight of the bow and manuverability.  The user can learn to adapt to different bows.  But this can be an issue that is fixed by changing bows.  However, I see a lot of talk about absolute weight of the bow, when the real issue is the BALANCE of the bow and the relationship between the weight of the tip and the rest of the bow...
  • Ease of producing an even tone on long bow strokes.   Yes, this is also a balance issue.  But you should be able to adapt to just about any bow in this regard.  One does have the ability to change how hard they press during the course of the bow stroke...  Finger prints, lose hairs, and rosining are also factors...
  • Whispy sounds and clicks.  This is caused by lose bow hairs, finger prints, and rosining issues and is probably never a problem with the bow stick...
  • Flatness of the bow hairs.  One inportant thing in bowing is the rotational angle of the bow.  When the bow is rotated away from the bridge, less of the bow's serfice touches the string.  If the bow hairs aren't flat this can be a problem.  If a bow's hairs do not keep their form upon rotation it will be very difficult to do fine controll of the sound...

However, these are all problems faced mainly by little boys in suzuki who have been touching their bows, licking their bows(I don't believe I have ever done this, but I have seen it done), having sword fights with them ect.  I've even thrown my bow like a javaline(I started playing when I was 4 years old, give me a break(and, no not that kind of break)!)

I would be interested to hear if there are any major points I missed...  Please add to my list...

September 1, 2010 at 08:32 PM ·

Timothy: >>>Flatness of the bow hairs.  One inportant thing in bowing is the rotational angle of the bow.  When the bow is rotated away from the bridge, less of the bow's serfice touches the string.  If the bow hairs aren't flat this can be a problem.  If a bow's hairs do not keep their form upon rotation it will be very difficult to do fine controll of the sound... >>>>>>>>

Absolutely. I didn't think of this one.  The greatest pernambuco, the greatest bow maker, all kinda goes out the window if the stick got twisted somehow.  I remember when I was much younger, looking at German bows, found one that felt great in hand, but once I put it to the strings, the hairs weren't flat througout.  The dealer (who had literally a hundred or so bows in that price range), looked at it head on and recognized (and showed me) the problem, which he hadn't noticed before.  Look at your bow head on and bottom up and tail on etc to check it's 'straightness'.

 

September 1, 2010 at 08:33 PM ·

I would be interested to hear if there are any major points I missed...  Please add to my list...

Chopping (the last part of the clip) - this is what put the absolute biggest strain on the bow hair, as it's being alternately tugged at about 45 degs to the string, then tuggged left to right / right to left. A common mistake is putting too much rosin near the heel. All that does is help grind the hair smoith prematurely. A little rosin is all it needs. I know this technique is sometimes frowned upon, but it's a valid bow action all the same.

September 1, 2010 at 09:43 PM ·

Look at your bow head on and bottom up and tail on etc to check it's 'straightness'.

I once handed a Carbon fibre bow with warped stick to a very rough and ready player. He bashed out some mighty fine and powerful fiddle tunes, and when I pointed out the warped stick, he said "well, at least the hair's straight. I could do nothing else but accept his logic :)

I've seen beered adults too, having swordfights with their "outdoor" bows. Shocking!

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