Extremely Expensive Bows: How Much of a Difference?

July 7, 2010 at 01:37 AM ·

I recently upgraded from a $50 violin bow to a $225 Erick Steiner bow and noticed a huge difference.The execution of techniques and violin playing in general seemed much easier and even the tone of my violin changed. 

However, I have seen bows that are worth more than my violin ($3000+) and I'm thinking, "How much of a difference does it make?" For a bow, several thousand dollars seems extremely expensive and I am wondering if it is really worth it (though I am not considering buying a better bow any time soon). What aspects of the bow improve as the quality improves (and the price increases)?

 

Replies (22)

July 7, 2010 at 03:22 AM ·

 In some cases, you can add a huge amount of value to your violin's sound just by changing the bow.  Try a few and you'll see.

 

Potential benefits are even better handling, richer or more brilliant tone (depending on the stick), fewer flaws like "bouncing" in mid-bow, and so on. 

If you don't see a great improvement, either you or your violin aren't ready for a great bow, or what is being sold for $3K isn't that great.  In any of those cases, don't bother buying.  It's that simple.

 

 

 

July 7, 2010 at 03:36 AM ·

I think it's pretty much case by case. A bow made by a master maker is going to be by default more expensive than anything mass produced because of the training of the maker, the attention to detail, the use of better materials, etc. This doesn't guarantee that a particular bow made by a master maker will make your playing significantly better. Maybe you got a great deal on your bow and it's just fine. Maybe your violin has reached it's peak and adding a better bow won't make it any better because the instrument itself is limited. It all depends. But, if you find the right match, a good bow can vastly improve the sound of your instrument, while also making it easier for you to execute the techniques.

July 7, 2010 at 04:15 AM ·

I upgraded bows a few times along my learning journey. Each of them give significant upgrade to the sound quality but none of them blown me away except the one I'm using now, old wooden bow which was said to be french origin and 70~80 years old.

It can really make my violin sing, more tonal color range, richer and buttery smooth sound. Most importantly, you can hear the sound at a distance filling up a big room easily. None of my older bows doing that, including an expensive Arcus cadenza gold (though I didn't pay the price they're asking today).

Best part of it is that I paid much much lower than the $3000 mark, simply because it doesn't came with a cert, unidentified maker/origin, no stamp/name on the stick. However, for the sound quality and playability, it worth way more than the price I paid.

I think good woods are also one of the factor of the high price tag of bows. Pernambuco woods are very hard to come by these days and makers rely on old stocks. Something like below:

http://www.guillaume-archetier.com/uk/parcours.html

July 7, 2010 at 05:48 AM ·

Just like everyone else already said, a good bow makes a huge difference. I spent years working so hard with a cheap bow. (the Steiner name sounds familiar. for that price, you might have considered a carbon fiber bow. however, -sorry--it sounds like you're happy with the difference you hear.)  I think I could have advanced immensely if I had had a better bow (and violin, too, but really, the bow.) I do wonder why my teacher didn't say anything. Playing Bruch and Mendelssohn with a cheap bow -- what a shame. You really lose out. However, if you're not so advanced, it makes less difference. I've heard people say your bow should be at least 50% of the price of the violin.

BTW, my good bow was under 3K. (2K)

July 7, 2010 at 08:17 AM ·

I agree. You can improve sound quality by changing bows, and sometimes it's amazing how much they make a difference.

I had an interesting experience a while back. I was unhappy with my violin for a long time. I started looking for a new one. But, it was taking a long time. So, a friend suggested I change bows instead. I went to my Luthier and she laid out a bunch of bows without prices. I played them all and when I got to a certain one, eveyrone said "OH!". It was obviously the right one for me, sounded great. She told me the price $200 (some of the others were into the thousands)! I was very happy! I bought it and for a while I was happier, even though I did end up changing violins....now I need a new bow again!

July 7, 2010 at 08:38 AM ·

I think of a good bow as a set of great lungs for a singer. As many know, it can give us the capability create a wider range of depth and richness in addition to having all of those imagined colors.

When I was a student, I had no idea how much of an improvement a bow would make. As I improved and became a more mature musician, I found that I couldn't get the sounds I wanted out of my bow, so I figured I try out some bows at the local violin shop. I've learned so much by the process of trying things out and owning a nice bow.

Keep in mind that a bow will always feel and respond differently to players and violins. I've come a long way, as I'm quite happy with my Maline bow from the Vuillaume era now, but I started out with a John Brasil shop bow as my first 4/4 bow, which was a club. Know what you want in a bow, as it has to make you comfortable and happy. I do tend to think for well balanced, great sounding bows that allow you to have a wide range of color will definitely run over $3000+

July 7, 2010 at 01:57 PM ·

My current bow - can't be worth much more than 50 of our English pounds.

I went into a local luthiers yesterday and had a little look at some bows - picked up a second hand bow and the feeling of a step up in quality was instantly noticeable. Just the way it sat in my hand. It felt like I hardly had to hold it. The balance and distribution of weight made it feel like an extension of my arm. And I think they wanted something like 150 pounds for it. Problem is I had to use severe personal restraint not to buy it as it doesn't fit in with my current spending plans :-(
(Tyres to buy, dogs to feed, bills to pay - and other unimportant items of household expenditure have to take precedence)

July 7, 2010 at 02:35 PM ·

I think the law of diminshing returns applies here. For years I played with a fairly cheap hex lightweight pernambuco bow. It seemed to do everything I wanted, and produced good tone and response, and had mighty kick too. I tried someone's carbon fibre "Arcus Sonata" bow and I was immediately impressed with the extra tone and response I got from it. I kept my old bow, and bought a new Arcus M4 for £700 after trying it out for a day. It's made a tremendous difference to the sound.

I mentioned dimishing returns - the quality difference between my original (worth about £150) and the Arcus was quite stunning. However, I don't think upgrading to a £3000 bow is going to make the same relative difference, no matter how good the bow was, or what it actually cost to make. I can only assume the same would be true of wooden bows. Finally, I'm of the opinion that the ultimate quality of the bow is determined by the skill of the player, which obviously varies hugely from person to person. It would be interesting to hear from anyone who swears by a highly expensive bow, as opposed to something in a mid-price range.

July 7, 2010 at 03:09 PM ·

I spent some time playing a variety of bows last year and did not find anything below $3000 that was to my liking.  When looking at fine pernumbuco bows, it seems the really good ones start at about $5000.  I created a thread about my bow search if you are interested.

Advice needed for buying a professional grade bow

I am just a lowly amateur musician and found a pretty big difference in quality.  I would imagine a pro would be even more perceptive of subtle differences in sound, bounce, response, balance, etc.  I know of professional musicians that play on $10K instruments, but all their bows are $15K and higher.

That said, there are some very fine musicians playing on rather inexpensive bows.  Hilary Hahn's favorite bow is $800 for example.  And I attended a concert recently where the soloist played the Vivaldi 4 seasons with a $95 carbon fiber bow.

I have not heard of famous soloists playing on $500 student fiddles, but in the world of bows, it seems there are some really cheap bows that are also really great.

The bottom line is, bows are even more personal than violins.  The better you get, the more important the bow.  Regardless of price, you need to find something that suits you.  For me, it turned out to be a more expensive bow, but for others, a cheaper bow may do the trick.

July 7, 2010 at 03:56 PM ·

 The problem here is that it is difficult to discern the differences between bows if one is not at an advanced level. Professionals tend to play on bows that cost in the thousands not just because of tonal qualities, but other performance issues, such as ricochet, articulation at the tip, and various fine shades of spicatto. For example, you might think a $500 bow is just fine unless you have to play Paganini Caprice #2, or the overture to The Bartered Bride, or the Scherzo to a Midsummer Night's Dream. Then the differences become more obvious.

July 7, 2010 at 03:59 PM ·

 I think that there's two main aspects of a good bow; letting the instrument resonate and secondly being good for precise articulation. That's putting it fairly simply. I think either aspect usually exists by itself in the cheaper bows, an overly rigid bow might have good articulation but is not the greatest for sound or a floppy bow might let the instrument resonate without having any real focus to the sound. It seems to me somewhat a design dichotomy, and at a particular price or quality point the best bows will be able to combine everything needed. In France, and knowing where to look the price point is around €2500 from some makers whose names don't seem to get mentioned much beyond France. Of course that is the minimum as known bow makers will be upwards of that price. But yes, I think there is a big difference in the performance of these bows in a way that can be liberating for the technique once a particular playing level has been achieved - as the first reply mentioned - fewer flaws like "bouncing" in mid-bow - that can be worth a mint in a performance.

 

July 7, 2010 at 05:03 PM ·

I suspect that there might be a level at which a bow could be TOO good. I once had the opportunity to try a great Dominique Peccatte, such as would fetch megabucks now. The slightest hint of nervousness sent it all over the place. One for a soloist with iron self-confidence. Definitely too good for me !

July 7, 2010 at 07:33 PM ·

The old maxim is that if you have a certain amount to spend, you get more bang for your buck by upgrading your bow rather than your violin.   That said, once you get to a certain level of relative value, I suspect that the quality of the violin will be inferior enough to the bow so that spending almost unlimited amounts on the bow will not improve the sound much.  In other words, if you have a $3000 violin and, say, a $1500 bow, at some point spending more on the bow is not likely to improve your sound because of the limitations of having a $3000 violin.  However, a luthier could give you a better idea about this.

July 7, 2010 at 08:15 PM ·

July 8, 2010 at 01:21 AM ·

Greetings,

I agree with Scott on this. Actually i feel that this particular discussion can become rather misleading.  It is true that a very small number of advanced players have used very cheap bows (although the claim about Elman is a myth) through some quirk that it wiorks for them. I supect however, that were they to play on top bows over time they might change their mind.  It si also true thta ther eare some bows by great makers that don`t work so well for some reason. These are, in my opinon, relatively rare.

I also find that sometimes players cannot adapt quickly to the differnece in approach required by a greta bow and dismiss it rather quickly in favor of an inferior model. I experienced this when I wet from years of using rather stiff Nurnbergers (the real thing) to quality old French. It took some time to adapt and wa swell worth it...

Personally I have been trying bows in large groups for more years than I would care to mention and i always test them in the same way.  I refuse to be told the maker or the price. Sometimes I even just keep my eyes shut. Working with groups of around a dozen bows I have always consistently palced the expensive bows together and the cheaps bows together.  Like wise middle range although this can be a litlte fuzzy ocassionally. The only reason I cna offer for this consistency is that the playing quality of a bow does corresponfd to the price. Its quite straightforward. Players pay more because of a demand .

However, it is also worth noting that this pricing is also relative. What I mean by this is that although the correlation between playign quality and price is clear the actual relative values between the bows is not so justified.   It may well be that within the sphere of top quality bows one becomes ridiculuosly over priced due to any number of facotrs including perhaps fittings.  So I have bought bows by for example Millant, that are a players dream but cost less than Satory and Toute thta I have tried at the same time.  Noneltheless, all thes ebows are in the top price range for a reason.

Cheers,

Buri

July 8, 2010 at 02:48 AM ·

It can get difficult to make generalizations about the middle vs. high-end markets-- you add in things like old age and Frenchness, and the relationship between quality and price can change a lot. 

Similarly with newly-made bows.  There is a minimum price that will keep the maker fed, and usually some kind of maximum, since investment potential isn't quite proven.  And yet within this fairly narrow band, there can be an astonishing range of quality.  Wait 50 years and the best of them-- some of which are really fantastic-- will be more expensive, and the turkeys much less.

The original question here concerned bows more expensive than already owned, or  thought affordable.  And, yes-- there are some potentially huge gains, no matter what the price bracket.  One of my most finicky violins got an adjustment in NYC once.  I had left it for repairs without a bow; the luthier wanted to know what sort of stick I normally used before bringing one down from the case to use as a substitute.  Good question.  In retrospect, it was a fairly mediocre French bow, somewhat spongy.  But it was much gutsier than the student bow that I'd been using or the really cruddy and possibly fake Nurnberger that had come from my grandfather.  So I told him that it was on the stiff side.

The adjuster said "aha!" and went into the back of the shop, returning with a bow so we could play the violin and get the soundpost in place.  By the end of the session, the fiddle sounded like a million dollars and made just about everything easy to play.  And so I asked what this bow was, since it seemed to be bringing a lot to the party.  "Dominique Peccatte."  And the price in those days?  An obscenely high $6,000-- about 5 times what my regular bow cost.  Now the multiple would be well over 30 times.   But who knew?

The violin had good days after that, and good adjustments by good luthiers.  But it has never displayed quite the magic it shimmered with that afternoon.

July 8, 2010 at 03:47 PM ·

 

 

July 8, 2010 at 04:08 PM ·

Scott,

Yes, so you can imagine how flabbergasted and pleased I was when I did a blind test and was the happiest with a $250 bow! Woooot! But, now I have a much better violin and I'm thinking already about another bow :oP

 

July 8, 2010 at 08:50 PM ·

Excuse me hijacking this but it is the 'bow topic du jour' and I can but hope that my bow is expensive :D

Anyone heard of a bow made by E.L. Herrmann (embossed into the stem above the frog, with an emblem cut into the frog)?  The nut and frog fittings are silver and mother of pearl and there is a stamp with what looks like '1835' cut under it.  I believe its German.  Its perambuco - its on the heavy side but seems to suit me fine for now (one day I hope to be expert enough to actually choose!... ;)

thanks ee

July 8, 2010 at 09:08 PM ·

Elise - bows and violins share a problem:  the tendency of folks trying to make them appear to be genuine and worth more than they really are to put false labels on them.  Without an experienced luthier looking at the bow, the label is essentially meaningless.  It may be that a genuine Hermann would not be worth much anyway, but if a genuine one is worth something, then without someone experienced assessing it, it may well be a knock off.

July 8, 2010 at 11:20 PM ·

I'm pretty sure its real because of its source (a serious and accomplished violinist back in Baltimore over 30 years ago - I got the bow with the nice violin I bought off him for a fraction of its worth (as I found out when I traded it in).   It also has a tiny crest of arms cut into the frog, in which the year is included.  Of course, it might not be the year the bow was made but the company founding year or something).

March 29, 2017 at 09:22 PM · Lisa Fogler

July 8, 2010 at 04:08 PM ·

Scott,

Yes, so you can imagine how flabbergasted and pleased I was when I did a blind test and was the happiest with a $250 bow! Woooot! But, now I have a much better violin and I'm thinking already about another bow :oP

----------------------------

Lisa,

I believe what you said is true. I tried 6 or 7 bows from $400 to $1500. I felt all about same except some small difference in tone with my $180 one. But after I tried a guy's $180 bow, it makes the violin big improvement. I regret he doesn't want to sell the bow.

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