Chinese Bowmaker at Shar for $6000?!

May 6, 2010 at 05:01 AM ·

I got my new Shar catalog today featuring a Chinese bowmaker. Curious, I looked inside. Mr. Ma Rong-Di is cited by Shar as China's premier Master Maker. Anyone have experience with his work? I was rather surprised when they said they would be selling his bows for $6000. That seems like a premium on the best award-winning makers in the US...

Replies (31)

May 6, 2010 at 02:26 PM ·


$6,000 is definitely on the high side for a modern bow, and for that kind of money I would first go to the well-known American names such as Charles Espey. For this amount, there are also many other good choices in older bows, especially Hill or lesser-known French, that will hold their value.


May 11, 2010 at 03:37 AM ·

I agree. Hill bows are selling for a lot less and, in the long run, if past history is any indicator, will definitely hold their value.

An unintended,  forward-looking statement, but just a thought: If one were to buy a bow by this maker and put it up for sale with an auction house (Tarisio, Skinner, Christie's, Bongartz, Sotheby's, Bonhams) a month or a year from now, how much would it sell for?

May 11, 2010 at 02:33 PM ·


There is no answer to your question--I doubt the maker's bows have an auction history. This is the case with any lesser-known instrument. I had a violin by a little-known Italian maker, and no one could even guess how much it was worth (there were very few others in existence).


I think in this case if a little-known modern bow were put up for auction, it would only attract interest if it had been owned by a major soloist/concertmaster. In other words, you'd get get hosed.

September 28, 2010 at 09:30 PM ·

[ that seems like a premium on the best award-winning makers in the US...]

Why not? One of Ma's Voirin copies out performs my favorite Voirin.  His French bow copies that I have seen put most Hill bows to shame.

PS He is a self-taught bow maker.


September 28, 2010 at 11:10 PM ·

"Why not? One of Ma's Voirin copies out performs my favorite Voirin.  His French bow copies that I have seen put most Hill bows to shame.

PS He is a self-taught bow maker."


Why not? Because as Mr. Cole put it so eloquently, one doesn't want to get hosed. ;-)

If I paid that much for a modern bow, I'd want a pretty solid track record, part of which would be bowmaker peer approval. One way that might show up would be with a good "making competition" record.

Violins which sound good, and bows which play well are great. If I'm going to pay a premium price, I expect quite a bit more than that though.

September 29, 2010 at 02:38 AM ·

Philip: If I were a professional violinist or a collector, I am sure the names Hill and F. N. Voirin, would carry some cachet that would translate into a fair chunk of change if I were to unload a bow made one of them (or made by one of the bow makers at Hills). This would be true even if I were to unload the bow at an auction. A bow made by an unknown maker, without any provenance or, if I may use the word, "pedigree" (for example, a bow maker who worked at Hills and then went independent/free lancing), for lack of a better term, would seldom fetch anywhere close to USD 6000. I have not used any of Mr. Ma Rong Di's bows and it is commendable, indeed, that he is self-taught. I could not find any auction records for a Ma Rong Di bow, let alone any in the USD 6K range.

However, I agree with ScottC and DavidB solely on the basis of the facts, that one would, probably, have a tough time selling the bow and, overall, it could turn out to be a losing proposition, financially speaking.

September 29, 2010 at 04:46 AM ·

We are inclined to forget the simple fact that a new violin or bow should be bought to be used, just as a motor vehicle is purchased with a view to transport us from A to B with varying degrees of "boyz toyz" pride of ownership in between. How many of us would invest in a new motor, then immediately mothball it waiting for the price to go up ? Drive any car off the forecourt and it's depreciated already. Why should a bow be any different? Not all cars become valuable classics as they age, and even if they do, they will usually cost megabucks in restoration, as do ancient fiddles and bows. The "investment" aspect muddies the waters in our violin world.

If Phillip P. Lin's new Ma Rong-Di bow outperforms his Voirin, then use it! The Voirin can then be kept in fine condition, ensuring a high price on resale. - THAT's where the new bow guarantees investment potential in the overall equation, IMHO. 

Also, I suspect Phillip P. Lin might have the wrong period of Hill bows in mind if he thinks they are quite so easily outclassed.

Have a good day, folks.

September 29, 2010 at 04:11 PM ·

Tarisio is having an auction next month in NYC featuring several bows by well known makers with established provinance.  Six thousand dollars will provide many options for a serious buyer at this auction.  I believe if I was going to buy such a fine bow, It would be a pair at this auction as the resale value will likely be higher in two to five years. In my opinion a better investment than a 401K plan on Wall Street.

BTW, a Strad is also on the block. It is currently listed with a starting price of a cool 1.7 million.  Who will be the lucky winner? Will it be you?


September 29, 2010 at 07:45 PM ·

 I am a serious buyer.  I can spent 6000 at Tarisio and get a couple of Cuniots and the like, and hope their value (?) will go up. Or I can commission a talented bow maker to make a copy of my Pajeot (paid a dealer price of 45k) for about the same amount of money.  Now I have a wonderful playing tool, and the Pajeot can sleep in the case until it is sold for a profit.  I have my cake and can eat it, too.

September 30, 2010 at 12:33 AM ·

Phillip, no issues here with a modern bow as a playing tool, and saving the old bow.

Since you've expressed interest in the investment value of what can be had for $6000 at auction, is there not also an interest in the investment value of what can be had for the same amount of money from a modern maker?

September 30, 2010 at 06:51 PM ·

 Well, I was not thinking of any investment potential for modern makers. In my opinion the prospect is not good in my lifetime. For the record: Ma was 'peer reviewed' - he received 4 certificates of merit for a quartet of bows at the 1996 VSA competition.

October 1, 2010 at 12:52 PM ·


I'm no expert investor but I would have thought that there would be more potential for profit searching for outstanding modern bow (or violin) makers that are likely to be 'discovered' as the future 'old masters'.  As for racehorses maximum growth, and the minimum likelihood for capital loss would be to use ones smarts to buy grossly under-priced items.  Unless Ma is already recognized as one of the best bow makers of our times (which increases his odds for appreciation) that would  reduce his attraction as purely an investment holding.

I can't believe I was able to write that paragraph - even I am convinced I play the stock market!!  [Er, which I don't...]

October 1, 2010 at 08:41 PM ·

Although $6000 doesn't qualify as "grossly underpriced" for modern makers.

October 2, 2010 at 01:40 AM ·

"For the record: Ma was 'peer reviewed' - he received 4 certificates of merit for a quartet of bows at the 1996 VSA competition."


If I'm not mistaken, seven bow makers were awarded gold medals that year, and one maker was awarded three.

October 2, 2010 at 04:22 AM ·

 You are right. Good bows makers appear to be dime-a-dozen.

October 2, 2010 at 07:18 AM ·

Only time will tell what the value - playability, investment, perceived or otherwise -  becomes of all the bows by the various makers.

One thing is for sure, regardless of whether good bow makers are a dime a dozen or not, and I'm trying to stay on the topic at hand, which is Mr. Ma Rong Di's bows, they do not appear to be in the same league as the bows of the Hill firm or those of M. Voirin.

Your mileage may vary and one may very well consider that a bow by Mr. Ma Rong Di can outperform a Voirin or those made by the bow-makers at the firm of Hill & Sons, but the violin world or strings ecosystem at large may not think so. Auction prices and the prices of bows made by those bow-makers, sold by various dealers, clearly prove that a bow made by Mr. Ma Rong Di, regardless of whether I think it is better than any of the Hill bows, are in a different league altogether. If I were to pay $6K for that (MRD) bow and, for whatever reason, decide to put it on the auction block at, say, Bongartz, Sotheby's, Bonham's, Christie's, Tarisio, or Brompton's, I doubt whether I would be able to get a decent three-figure sum for it, let alone a four-figure sum. As for the gold-medal winners, it must be borne in mind that the very same jury that awarded the certificate of merit to Mr. Ma Rong Di awarded the gold medals to those bow makers. Any dilution of the awards of those gold medals might seriously dilute any claims of one who received a certificate of merit by the same jury.

Again, the intention here is not to debate whether or not a MRD bow outperforms a Hill bow or a Voirin, but whether a bow is worth $6K and, if so, why the auction houses or dealers or insurance companies may not value it at 6K.

October 2, 2010 at 02:20 PM ·

 [why the auction houses or dealers or insurance companies may not value it at 6K.]

A bow is worth whatever it is the buyer (who sometimes a player too) is willing to pay for it. Ditto anything else in the world.  Having said that, as to the auction houses valuation etc - it's simple - I think the main reason is that, given the availability of good starting material, there is no doubt that more can be produced at will.

[Again, the intention here is not to debate whether or not a MRD bow outperforms a Hill bow or a Voirin, but whether a bow is worth $6K]

Staying on the topic,

I can only speak for myself as a collector/user of both classic French, English & contemporary bows - it is exactly by being amazed that an unheard of maker's works easily match or better a Pajeot, a Voirin, that it is worth $6k or $xk to me.  Others can let the presence or absence of auction numbers dictate a bow's worth to themselves.  That is certainly an interesting MO.


[jury ... dilution ]

If 100 works made to the VSA competition medal round, there'd be 100 certificates issued; and at the medal round there would be statistically more medals awarded.  You can conclude only that the standard of competition entries is uniformly high. Medal recipients are jury consensus winners over all others.  Dime-a-dozen, perhaps is disrespectful. But what dilution?


October 2, 2010 at 04:22 PM ·

"If 100 works made to the VSA competition medal round, there'd be 100 certificates issued; and at the medal round there would be statistically more medals awarded.  You can conclude only that the standard of competition entries is uniformly high"


That's not quite how it works. If 100 bows made it to the final round, there could be 100 medal winners, or none, depending on the merit of the individual entries. There have been competitions where no gold medals were awarded in a certain category.

October 2, 2010 at 04:49 PM ·

 That is exactly how it works.  You are right but so is my statement:  I said there would be statistically more medal winners. Of course there could be no medals. 

October 2, 2010 at 06:16 PM ·

I guess I'm not following you. The only statistical relationship I can see between the number of bows in the final round, and the number of medals, is that the number of medals could not exceed the number of bows.

October 2, 2010 at 11:21 PM ·

 Well, if there are 50 certificates, then there could be [0-50] medals. If there are 100 certificates, then it'd be [0-100] medals.  Statistically, the chance of seeing more medals is a function of multi-variables, the number of works making it to the medal round being one of these variables.

October 3, 2010 at 04:10 AM ·

Yes, but that's quite different from your claim that with a larger number of bows in the pre-medal round, "at the medal round there would be statistically more medals awarded."

With a larger number of bows, there is only the possibility that more medals can be awarded, because awards cannot be given to bows which are not present. Aside from that, if  there is any real and meaningful statistical relationship, this would need to be compiled from actual competition data rather than intuition.




October 3, 2010 at 05:58 AM ·

OK I was not being precise. Let's paraphrase Da Ponte in Figaro: " ... it is not only possible .. it is probable and natural."  I will try to track what this complex function looks like by compiling the empirical data. From the inception of VSA competition to today - there ought to be a large enough data base.

October 3, 2010 at 09:53 PM ·

October 3, 2010 at 09:56 PM ·

 Sorry about the double posting of this plot.

As I get more data, I'll update this graph - then we can see if there is or is not a positive correlation between the number making the medal round, and the number of medals awarded. 

October 4, 2010 at 12:41 AM ·


Edited. I had misinterpreted the plot.

October 4, 2010 at 02:20 AM ·

 Like I said, let the data plot evolve; I will even do a principal component analysis.  No trouble at all.

November 14, 2012 at 11:46 PM · What an interesting discussion. With data and everything. Is that Sigma Plot or Origin?

As far as bows and their value, volumes have been written about it on this forum. I have been privileged enough to learn a great deal from what goes on here.

Presently I am shopping for a bow and undertaking the necessary education with such an endeavour. I have tried maybe 100 bows by now, and many by contemporary makers. Two of my finalists are by obscure or unknown makers, and as a result, they are not priced as high as if they were part of a brand, or school, or clan. Said otherwise, these bows outperform their peers in their price group.

If that is the case with Mr Ra's bows, then they should be something really special. Because some of the 6k bows that I have tried from contemporary makers with VSA accolade have been pretty special.

Me, I am just looking for a fabulous bow at a not so fabulous price, around 4k (including taxes)... although on more than one occasion, the investment or cachet element of my bow purchase has persuaded me to the point of thinking that I should sell some stock and buy that Roger Lotte I really love.

November 18, 2012 at 12:55 AM · I highly doubt the average Chinese's aural preferences are affected by the erhu. I'm also skeptical that there is some sort of definable, global difference between American and European violins. There is too much variation in sound of just American makers from any specific school. Chinese, like the Japanese, are highly brand-conscious, so to say they will have no need for foreign violin brands is like saying that because they can make their own watches and handbags that they will no longer need Rolex or Hermes or Ferragamo.

"Bad that good old bows are locked in cases for investment."

Actually, bows are more susceptible to, and their value is more effected by wear, than violins are. It's probably good that so many old French bows are set aside by collectors as they are so easy to break or otherwise damage.

November 19, 2012 at 12:13 AM · John,

There's no question the BBC is a sinking Titanic. Get off while you can.

For modern bowmakers, $6000 is really a moderate price range. I recently saw an Espy and others for $8000. The price of good French bows has simply dragged any alternatives up with them.

November 19, 2012 at 10:45 AM · I don't have a Voirin, and I don't have a Hill. So for me I would keep spending my $$ to simply what was the best bow I could get for $6000. The CURRENT answer to the OP (though not the only one) for me would be if I could find a better [playing] bow or not.

Thereafter, I can always come here on and other sites and HYPE THE DICKINS out of that maker in an effort to protect my investment oO

As for someone who owns several fine old bows, perhaps they are actually not that worried about $6,000 compared to $45k. This would be another motivation to simply look for the best bow available. I have seen a lot of corny endorsements on makers' sites where a famous player says, "BOY, I WOULD SURE LOVE TO HAVE ONE OF HIS VIOLINS, BOY WOULD I!!!!!" ... But it is also proven throughout time that many of the greatest players in the world actually prefer the modern instrument over their ancient. It's been cited on this cite before that whether or not they play one in concert is often dictated by other variables.

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