Ideal Bow Weight

November 13, 2011 at 07:57 AM · Is there a preferred weight for a bow? I realize this will always be very personal, but is there an accepted range? An average starting point?

Replies (22)

November 13, 2011 at 09:17 AM · I think it's going to be tricky to give a single weight for a bow and say this is ideal as they are usually made from wood which is a material that varies from one bit to the next. There's a weight range but great bows might fall at either extremity of that range, not necessarily at the average weight. My previous bow (viola) was 74 grams but my current bow pulls a much bigger and better sound out of the instrument and is 70 grams; I think that's because of the quality or density of the wood, that seems a very important factor to me. Those figures represent the outer limits of the weight range as far as I know

November 13, 2011 at 10:09 AM · I have an excellent bow that weights 59 grams and another excellent bow that weights 61 grams. I feel more confortable with the heavier one. I also played once a snakewood violin bow that was 70 gr! That was a charm to play, big, wonderful sound, but quite hard to play colle.

What makes good a bow is not only the weight but the balance and confort. Not only that, one of my teachers told me once that the bow is an extension of your arm, and thus the bow must be in close relationship with you arm.

November 13, 2011 at 02:10 PM · According to an old booklet by Wm.Salchow, "How to Choose a Bow", normal weight ranges are as follows:

violin: 55-65 grams

viola: 68-74 gr

cello: 78-88 gr

The most important thing is not the weight itself, but how that weight is distributed in the overall balance of the bow. Some bows feel heavier or lighter than they actuallly are, and a bow can actually gain or lose a gram or two depending on the humidity that is absorbed by the hair. It's better to have a bow that feels lighter than it actually is. I've experienced some heavy bows that just seemed to sit on the string, and lighter bows that really dug in and cut through.

For all the above reasons, bow makers will often tell you to give a bow a chance before weighing it, and not to prejudice yourself with a preconceived notion. Nevertheless, with all due respect, having tried inuummerable bows, including Tourtes, Peccates, Lamys, Sartories, Voirins, etc. and currently owning about 15 bows, here is one thing I've discovered: in addition to so many other factors, weight does matter. It's something that doesn't always manifest immediately, but in the long run a bow too light or heavy will be tiring for me and make me do things, sometimes unconciously to compensate. For me, my preffered range is 60-62 gr. With great respect to Mr. Salchow, I think he would agree that those lower end weights in his ranges do not correspond to most modern professional proclivities.

November 13, 2011 at 02:22 PM · Bow weight, weight distribution & flex in the stick is an individual choice. I seem to gravitate to bows that weigh @62gram, have the weight distributed quite evenly, aren't frog-heavy and don't flex that much when digging in. I especially don't like bows that quiver above the center when bowing fast or heavy. I bought a Chinese violin in great condition recently off craigslist. (I knew the shop it came from & the original purchase price). This violin really "likes" a lighter bow. 60g or less. I'm slowly getting to where I can play on it w/o a lot of thought & huge sense of adjusting. I agree w/the writers who mention fatigue from bows that don't feel right. Sue

November 13, 2011 at 06:40 PM · It's kind of like asking "what's the ideal shoe size?"

November 16, 2011 at 01:24 PM · My favorite bow belonged to my late mother and is about 100 years old. It has a high signal-to-noise ratio, producing very little hiss. However, it certainly had that "quiver" in the middle when bowing heavy or fast. Interestingly, the problem has now vanished completely and the bow does everything I require of it. Is this a coincidence that this happy event has come to pass since I've been taking serious lessons? I mentioned this to my teacher this morning and was rewarded with a big smile.

November 16, 2011 at 03:20 PM · I think the big smile was your teacher taking credit for your bowing, when maybe it's just because you stopped drinking so much coffee.

November 16, 2011 at 05:53 PM · One wonders if it's the bow that's quivering, or the elbow joint or muscles, with the bow simply amplifying things.

November 16, 2011 at 07:29 PM · amen to Raphael's comments!

November 17, 2011 at 07:45 PM · From a sales point of view, talking about what I've seen in the business over 30 years or so, every gram's distance from 59-61gm in either direction makes a bow harder to sell (that is, fewer and fewer people will buy it). Just about no one wants one in the range of 55-58gm, and only a few more people will buy 64-65gm.

There are more customers in the slightly heavier direction than slightly lighter.

I'm talking purely sales stats here--there's always someone who will claim that something like 66gms is the PERFECT weight, and anyone who uses anything else is crazy and possibly incompetent as well. :-)

November 17, 2011 at 09:31 PM · For me, balance has always been a bigger factor rather than weight. That being said, I tend to prefer bows on the heavier side.

July 6, 2016 at 10:30 PM · I was just wanting to find a way to tell the viola bows and violin bows apart except by the frogs. Sometimes the music store where I am has the 2 combined and it confuses everyone who works there but the owner. :p

July 6, 2016 at 11:16 PM · My viola bows have higher heads and frogs than my violin bows.

I want ca.10g more in the viola bow, to grab the heavier strings without extra muscle tension.

July 7, 2016 at 04:30 AM · ...within about the first 5 years of playing, I had a viola bow and didn't know it. when I did get a violin bow, it felt like I traded the old farm truck in for something with power steering.

July 7, 2016 at 12:09 PM · I prefer a heavier stiffer bow.

I never thought of trying out viola bows, hmmm.

July 7, 2016 at 01:27 PM · I knew a violinist once who sounded like he still had the horse attached to the hair ... That must have been a heavy bow.

July 7, 2016 at 08:28 PM · Should be "Ideal Bow Balance." :)

July 9, 2016 at 03:13 AM · Indeed I wonder if the weight *distribution* of the best bow sticks has even been measured.

July 9, 2016 at 08:46 AM · By picking up the bow between forefinger and thumb tips at different points, I find the centre of gravity, which (I suppose..) gives an indication of weight distribition. I find this more significant than total weight. When my instruments are being annoyingly over-reactive, I sometimes hold the bow a little further from the end.

July 9, 2016 at 02:03 PM · Balthasar Planta wrote a little pamphlet ( https://smile.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=violin+bow+making+balthasar&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Aviolin+bow+making+balthasar ) "How to Select a Violin Bow" that quantitatively describes the taper that gives a bow its desired weight distribution and flexure properties. (I can't believe that little pamphlet is now selling (used or new) for about $45! - at amazon.com) It is so small that I have just gone over my book collection 3 times and been unable to spot it (but I remembered the author's name well enough to find it on amazon) - I used to know exactly where it was but my wife shifted some of my music books a few years ago.

Of course the density, strength, and elasticity (and speed of sound) and whatever wood properties the master bow maker can discern, all play in how a fine or even specific good bow must actually be shaped. And after the wood is finished the weight of the frog and the wrap and tip-protector materials can be chosen to optimize the balance.

Finally, there are sonic properties of bows that the master makers seem to know how to select material for and how to design in. and finally there are "bounce" characteristics of bows that show up now and then in bows that are rarely found - if you come across one it will likely end up in your estate before you will let it go; this is especially seen in cello bows. I talked to Paul Martin Siefried, the maker of 2 of my bows, about this - "why do some bows seem to have a 'sautille motor' in them," and he said he had no idea - although at least one of his bows (that a friend of mine owns") definitely had this property - so have about 2 other cello bows (not mad by him) out of over 100 that I have tried.

My best sounding violin bow for many years (a Richard Weichold, Dresden) always felt great in the hand, but was not good "off the string." It weighed about 65 grams and it took me years before I realized some technician had wound far too much silver wire on it (probably 100 years ago, now). I had my luthier remove the silver and replace it with faux whalebone that dropped the weight to 62 grams effectively "adding" tip weight making the bow a good "bouncer" with no negative effect on the tone it produces. Now my Siefried violin bow (bought from the maker about 14 years ago) has even better sound, but the Weichold is still a very nice bow.

Enough of that!

July 9, 2016 at 04:49 PM · Adrian wrote, "I find the centre of gravity, which (I suppose..) gives an indication of weight distribution."

Yes, exactly one indication.

July 16, 2016 at 06:40 AM · The range of 60-62gms is the most favoured range but I myself have used (and still own) violin bows of 65 gms. Those 2 Bultitude bows owe their weight not to any heavy metal lapping but to the wood, which needed solidity to give adequate strength. These 2 bows "darken" the sound of any violin with which they are used, making it more viola-like.

I bought a well-wooded Lucci violin some years ago and those substantial fiddle-sticks helped me open up the sound. It's a matter of "horses for courses".

Incidentally my one VIOLA bow is well under the normal 70-72gm range. That's because my 41cm "contralto" viola is built after one of the Stradivari models and is what I'd call a "violinist's viola". If I had a bigger, "tenor", instrument, a Tertis model perhaps, I'd definitely want a heavier implement.

Generally I seem to get on better with pernambuco that's "dense". Such wood tends to result in a bow towards the heavier end of the range. Many Tubbs bows made with "dense" wood are whippy even if quite heavy. Wider grained wood gives a more transparent sound but I like a bit of "grit"!

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