How to Update From a $200 Chinese Violin Bow? :)

November 6, 2010 at 05:08 AM ·

so i have been away, still very busy with some projects and am coming back to with a quick question.  just glancing through the topics, thank heavens i have not been around.  3.6 mil violin, violinist sue to play with kids, violin bow set on fire, huh?,,, could really bring out my dark side.:)

anyway, here is my burning question on violin bow.  my kid has been using my beloved 200 dollar violin bow for some time--beloved i think because it is cheap and fits my level of play.  it has a tendency to tilt so that she tends to play on outer part of the hair, something i have not noticed since i don't play or play aggressively like her:)

one time, i was able to arrange to have her play a bunch of bows and she was very indifferent to every single one.   to her: they were all  OK.   So, no deal.

because she has no interest to pursue violin seriously,  no dream to become a performer (but i mandate her to become a good violin student at least through school years), we really do not need to get a great bow for the purpose of future performance or for investment purpose.  i think anything that can be dropped onto the floor just like that has no investment purpose in my house:).

so here is my question:  i need some direction in terms of short cuts.  based on the way she plays,,,what type of bow, what maker should i look into further?    is there such a thing that by looking at someone's playing style, you can suggest a type of bow?


200 dollar stick job:

Replies (22)

November 6, 2010 at 06:05 AM ·

I guess the question is, is there something she wants to be able to do, a sound she wants to produce, an articulation that is needed, that her present bow does not allow her to accomplish?

For twice as much as her present bow, you could find her an excellent one from the Arcos Brasil workshop. They have a collective of impressively talented makers trained by some of the best Europeans, and even their ~$400 nickel-silver mounted pernambuco lineup is impressive. You'll have to try a few and see which of the particular playing characteristics of each of the individual makers you prefer, but in terms of "bang for the buck" they are exceptional. I have one as a backup for when my regular bow is undergoing upkeep.

Selecting a bow is a challenging activity...being able to differentiate between sticks requires enough experience with a lot of bows, something most students don't have the opportunity to do if there isn't a significant quantity available at enough shops locally.

Then of course, you have to worry about the people out there who claim that bows don't make a difference...every piece of wood (an organic, irregular material) is exactly the same when fashioned into a bow...really?

November 6, 2010 at 11:34 AM ·

I don't  worry about the people out there who claim that bows don't make a difference... I just ignore them.

November 6, 2010 at 12:02 PM ·

The thing is al, your daughter (is she about 14?) shows great promise, and with the right sort of training could go a long way.

I think, like others, that bows are important. But there are areas where she could improve with not too much effort.

I would say to her to take more time and also enjoy a love some of those wonderful moments. (That is quite a hard movement to play well, in my opinion). I think her left hand works a bit too hard as well. But she is on the right track.

You should really encourage her, as i am sure you do, because she could be a serious talent.

November 6, 2010 at 12:31 PM ·

 thanks guys..for the input.

in a way i know i am asking an impossible question, where pros like you guys  take your long time to even find one if you are lucky.

let me be more clear.  money is not an issue,,,i am not looking for an inexpensive bow for her, --i only enjoy mistreating myself:).  one, i don't want to go through the trouble of updating again and again and again.  just too much hassle and since i don't know enough about bows, it will be searching in the dark again and again later.  two, when i have her tried some bows at one time, some of them apparently were good and pricey, but because of her lukewarm response to them all, i was like, OK, let's wait and see then.  may be she was/is not good enough to really appreciate better bows at her current level of play.  so shall i wait or shall i do something is also the question.

charles, she just turned 10 but it doesn't matter because she does not want to pursue classical music and knowing what i know about the classical scene, i don't want to push her either.   i think  she will end up as a good student instead of a great performer.  i think violin study has helped her to be more careful and thoughtful with things, thank heaven for that.  also,  thanks for pointing out her deficiencies,,,esp on bach, which becomes glaring.  it's like, thank you for showing your effort,,,and your vibrato, haha.  but she is a great kid, as sweet as can be, and it is hard to be too hard on her:)   

to enjoy and love those moments,,,will try to remember that!

November 6, 2010 at 01:11 PM ·


For a ten year old she is doing extremely well!  And her vibrato is OK, probably no problem there. It will develop naturally. There are not many ten year olds who can play as well as that.

November 6, 2010 at 01:25 PM ·

 oh please peter.  there are plenty good and better ones out there.  probably a thousand in juilliard and then a million in china.:)

the fact that my kid can still keep with her violin study--barely keeping up that is--is already a monumental achievement:)   

i think without hardship it is very difficult to achieve greatness.  kids in america are soft like pancakes these days.  

November 6, 2010 at 03:45 PM ·

Maybe have a look at a CF bow? The one I'm playing on cost me £80 ($120?) from Yitamusic in China. Yes, I have better bows, but this one is very playable and makes a decent sound. Probably also less delicate than pernambucco?

November 6, 2010 at 11:52 PM ·

Al , I agree  with Peter. I think your daughter is very musical and has quite a mature sense of music for her age( she does take a bit of  liberty with the Sarabande  but it is done very nicely ).  She has ( has had ) a good teacher.

I hope she is willing to carry on for a few more years so she may come to a point where she will particularly enjoy ensemble playing some of the great pieces.  I wouldn't recommend  my kids to try and become soloists either but there is such satisfaction learning to play an instrument at an advanced level where you can really express yourself.

A  good bow and particularly  a nice and responsive instrument can be a great stimulus as it was for me when I was at a stage in my life where the violin became very important to me.

November 7, 2010 at 05:14 AM ·

Al, in the macro sense, what you say about kids in our culture and greatness are probably true, however, our job as parents is accept our children as they are in the culture they are in (which is more our generation's doing than theirs) and give them as much support and love as we can, and to get them the nicest bows if we can prudently afford.     At her level and with her talent, she can definitely use a much nicer bow, and she'll grow into it quickly.  If she hasn't played with a better bow so far, she won't notice a difference when she tries one because she hasn't developed that side of her playing. Buy her a nice bow and in a few months she won't believe she ever played anything with the bow she's using now.  Sure, she can make do without, but if she's born a talented princess, through no fault of her own, let her be one.  A fine bow is one of the best teachers there is.

November 7, 2010 at 05:59 AM ·

I think the better you get, the more important the bow is.  Your daughter is certainly good enough (quite remarkable actually) to appreciate a fine bow.  But there was a thread a few months back, started by a rather accomplished player if I recall, who claimed there was no difference between a cheap CF bow and more expensive wood bows.  Perhaps there are those who can make any bow do what they want and the bow really does not matter.  Take for example, Nicolas Kendall.  I saw him perform the 4 seasons with a $95 CF bow.  I also have it from a very reliable source that Hilary Hahn plays with a cheap bow (about $800). 

That said, I spent quite a bit of time trying bows last year and did not find anything to my liking for under $4000.  I ended up spending about $5K and got a beautiful german bow made in the late 1800's.  Perhaps I was not lucky enough to stumble upon a fine bow with a lower price tag.

Al, you did not specify your price range, but if you are willing to spend a few thousand dollars, then I would suggest that you try some old german bows.  They are undervalued in my opinion. 

Also, I don't know that solo bach is the best test of a bow.  That will certainly show the tone and power that a bow can produce, but it does not give you a good sense of the control and balance of the stick.  A better test would be something with a lot of variation in dynamics, rhythms, on the string and off the string bowing, etc. -- perhaps some Mendelssohn or Schubert, or maybe Haydn.

Good luck.

November 7, 2010 at 08:20 AM ·

Have you considered getting her teacher to help select a bow for her? After all, s/he would know your daughter's playing and progress best.

My son was playing on a pretty lousy 1/4 size bow, and I wasn't even aware of it till the teacher was trying to demonstrate a fast sautille stroke to him using this 1/4 bow and it just wouldn't work.

Anyway, we've recently bought a 1/2 size violin and we got hold of as many bows as we can find to trial (a couple of German bows, a Finkel bow, a Chinese bow and some others) and the prices did vary quite a bit. We got the teacher to try all the bows without telling him the price, and the one he picked was not the most expensive one (phew!). (BTW, my son's favourite was the cheapest though, haha!)

I'm currently just waiting for a couple more months before we switch my son onto the 1/2 size violin, but in the mean time we've let him use the 1/2 size bow with his 1/4 violin even though it is slightly longer. It articulates much more clearly than the lousy 1/4 bow we had before (but he just needs to remember not to try going to the tip). So, I suppose, a better bow can make quite a difference in the sound & articulation.

I can only imagine how much harder it is to shop for a suitable full size bow, as there's such a wide range of choices out there. I think our teacher said he tried about 40-50 bows before he bought his! I kinda dread the day we have to shop for one as unlike you Al, money is an issue....sigh...

Good luck & have fun!



November 7, 2010 at 11:57 AM ·

good info people, thanks.  still very much confused.  my own fault.  could have chosen piano instead! 

November 30, 2010 at 02:52 AM ·

I have a similar question to Al's....I have a student brazilwood bow and a pernambuco bow much like Al's, and although the better one is more nimble and lively, I think I like the richer sound the "plain" bow draws.  I am playing my first piece with big chords and I can really sink in with the brazilwood bow.

So if I were to upgrade, could I find the richer, thicker tone AND the liveliness?  What am I looking for? 

November 30, 2010 at 04:15 AM ·

How about if you trial some bows from Shar?  Or go to a violin store nearby?  Bows are so incredibly individual, and people's needs are also individual, and violins are all different, so the only real way you can find your perfect match is to try as many bows in your price range as possible.  Most of my students who have chosen to upgrade their bow have gone through Shar.

November 30, 2010 at 04:16 AM ·

 So if I were to upgrade, could I find the richer, thicker tone AND the liveliness?  What am I looking for? 

Oh Yes, but it is a quest and in the end you may spend more than you though you would because you found a nice bow. I'd suggest to go to several luthiers, try bows and bring back home a selection and try them with your teacher. 

November 30, 2010 at 04:57 AM ·

I'm no expert, nor I've tried many bows...but when I upgraded from a cheap violin brazil wood one to a good CF bow, J.T Prism it's incredible experience, and I eliminated the problem of the bow always had a way to plunge out of my strings (not sure if you can imagine it.)

After that, due to my downsizing, I switched to Coda Prodigy, and the experience keeps getting better. I chose CF bow because of my weather. But I think it would work out for kids too. More durable, looks cool with color and better performance.

November 30, 2010 at 06:10 PM ·

My daughter recently upgraded her violin from $600 ¾ violin to full size $1,600 violin. What a difference! She is 11 y.o and played for 6 years and does not play as good as your daughter (not even close) but I really enjoy a lot how she plays and make sounds with new violin. I myself played piano a little bit and self teaching violin for last two years (I had a teacher for the first two months before he moved). My second daughter (8 y.o) has also been learning violin for two years. I have one more girl (2 years old) and wish she learns Cello so I can make quartet with my girls. It’s my wish and probably I won’t be able to afford it. So, I really envy you, Al.

While looking for bow that matches with her violin, first we ended up with $500 Chinese bow. But, due to limited budget, I asked her if we can test more bows that are less expensive. It was tough and I realized that what you guys mean by “you get what you pay for”. Other problem we had was we really didn’t like carbon fiber bows (we tried only less than $300 bows). The playability was good but we didn’t hear the natural resonance we hear when using wood bows. We were about to give up searching and she tested not good-looking German brazil wood bow (less than $200). Once she played few notes, we looked each other. I’m not sure if this is what people are saying “aha” moments. Actually, same thing happened when we tested the violin. If she doesn’t like or feel not much difference, then she says, “it’s OK”. But when she and I really liked it, then we looked each other right after playing few notes.
So, to make long story short, if your daughter says it’s just OK when testing bows, then I think she and you really does not feel or recognize the difference. I know I can't answer your specific questions but also think it's not easy question for expert, too. Why don’t you make more effort to test more expensive bows. It seems to me that not only your daughther but you also have quite experience in violin and music. I expect you and your daughter will experience many “aha” moments if budget is not an issue. I know you are asking for shotcut but I would rather enjoy the luxury of shopping for bows from high profile bow makers :)

December 24, 2010 at 04:44 AM ·


I found the bow!  Rich, full, plays so smoothly, and such beatiful sound.  My violin sounds so much better.  My teacher played with the bows, and I played, and everyone in the room agreed. I am very, very happy.  It really brings out the richness I was missing, while still sounded clear and full and and complex.  


December 24, 2010 at 04:51 AM ·

Excellent news Erica!

After my first bow trials I really got a deeper understanding that playing Violin is playing 2 instruments: a violin and a bow.

So what bow is that? what budget? Maybe that would help Al?

December 24, 2010 at 12:31 PM ·

 thank you for the updates:)

hopefully as you violinists mature and grow, you yourselves will find the need to upgrade, to appreciate what a better bow can do...  i will find opportunities in the future to allow me kid to try more bows, on trickier sections, to see if she can tell the differences better.  i think in the past, not really knowing what to look for musically or technically, many bows play similarly:) are there bows that allow one to end phrases better? :)

also mrs lee, i can imagine there are going to be a lot of decision makings with ?3 kids with classical music.  i think between instruments (violin, bow) and a solid practice regimen/good learning environment, the latter is still much more important at this stage.  sounds like you have big plans for them!  IF the kids are interested, i think it will be much fun to grow up playing different instruments in a group.   since my older one quit piano, my violin kid is rather lonely and alone,,,that is when the wolf will come out to snatch you! :)

December 24, 2010 at 09:23 PM ·

I would think that $300 to $500 would be the next step up from the first bow.  Nickel mounted pernambucco sticks...  Lots in this price range.  FYI: I did not like the carbon fiber in this range...too thin of a sound. 

December 26, 2010 at 04:41 PM ·

your daughter has incredible talent and dedication to achieve what she has by 10-11 years of age. wow!   To help her love for music & performance grow is a great and important task you have, especially through the teenage years of angst.   She may keep her next bow for the rest of her life, so think about the price over 10 - 40 years and you may realize spending $1200 on a bow might be worth it in the long run, if you can make it happen in the short term.

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