Recommendations for inexpensive spare bow

March 11, 2015 at 01:37 PM · I'd like to find a bow for less than $1,000 (preferably less than $500), to be used as a spare bow -- orchestral playing for concerts that have col legno, pit playing, outdoor playing, and the usual circumstances where you don't want to damage a fine bow. I'm looking for recommendations.

I currently own a Coda Colours bow that I bought more than a decade ago as a spare bow. I had an Arcus before that, but ended up trading it to another player for some cash and the Coda after deciding I didn't like its sound. The Coda has been fine -- it's functional, if not something that I want to be using all the time, and I've only used it on relatively rare occasion (especially crowded pits, orchestra concerts with extensive col legno passages).

The problem is, I'm just about to buy a new instrument, and the Coda sounds terrible with it -- thin and sharp and annoying under the ear. I was just made particularly aware of it because my orchestra is now doing Mahler 1, and there's a moderate amount of col legno, including one passage where the conductor and concertmaster want the wood actually drawn across the strings, and another where they want it dropped from a distance for more of a sound, not just lightly struck in a heavily controlled way. One demonstration of those techniques and I thought, "I am not doing this with a $20,000 bow." Whereupon I discovered how badly the Coda and this new violin pair.

I know that carbon-fiber technology has gotten better and better over the last decade, and moreover, there are Chinese makers doing inexpensive pernambucco copies modeled on fine bows. I'd like to find a sub-$1,000 bow that sounds better and plays better than the Coda. Carbon-fiber preferred for durability. Any recommendations on what to try?

Replies (38)

March 11, 2015 at 03:03 PM · After trying all the codabows I and my fellow teacher at Baylor University decided the best one was the cheapest, the codabow NX diamond. They go for about $375.

March 11, 2015 at 04:06 PM · Last year I bought, as a spare, a British CF bow, made by P&H of London for £99 (about US$160?). It's certainly the best CF buy I've ever made, is a delight to use, and is no longer a mere "spare". The CM (a recently retired pro) of one of my orchestras tried it and said he's got to get one quick.

You can see a photo of the bow on the home page of P&H's website http://www.pandhbowslondon.com/

March 11, 2015 at 04:08 PM · I have one of these, and it works very well:

http://www.iestacarbon.de/

It's a carbon fiber stick with a pernambuco veneer.

March 11, 2015 at 04:41 PM · I have heard good things about Presto Impulse sold at Shar Music. You might want to use their bow trial service.

March 11, 2015 at 04:44 PM · I would try Shar Music or if you really want a bang for your buck try the Fiddlerman Carbon Fiber bow. I personally use the CodaBow Diamond GX.

March 11, 2015 at 05:43 PM · I use an Arcus M4 - no complaints at all.

March 11, 2015 at 09:20 PM · I use my JonPaul Avanti (about $750) for 90% of my playing.

March 11, 2015 at 09:48 PM · Ideally, you need to visit a shop that has a good inventory of carbon bows that you can try. Even with CF there is often a lot of variation within a model. You may have been unlucky with the one you have. Obviously, somebody else wasn't too fond of it either.

March 11, 2015 at 10:37 PM · I have a codabow diamond GX and now I'm auditioning the Joule which makes a far better sound on my Vuillaume but not on the violin I'm using in the orchestra.

I guess every model will have a different effect on different violins, so I suggest you try a lot of different brands and models to decide which suits your new violin.

March 12, 2015 at 01:41 AM · My Coda GX pulls a nice fat tone. I compared it side by side with the NX on two different instruments, and the GX has a fuller tone, hands down. I tried a few other wooden bows up to $1200 and by far prefer the GX for tone. I felt the GX to be more nimble than the wooden bows due to its stiffness. Keep in mind that I'm no professional, but am quite discerning(at least in my own mind....). Sorry, have no experience with other CF bows to compare.

March 12, 2015 at 01:49 AM · I use the Cadenza three star bow and I like it, it was recommended to me by a top level player who has tried a lot of them. My spare bow is ... the same model.

March 12, 2015 at 01:53 AM · I wonder if there is a protective ultra light weight something that can be put on for col legno. What you describe will punish a veneered cf bow too. Or keep a maple dowel on your stand.

March 12, 2015 at 05:45 PM · "I wonder if there is a protective ultra light weight something that can be put on for col legno."

Col legno is Italian for "use your carbon fiber bow."

March 12, 2015 at 06:17 PM · The Joule is not the same as the original Joule? So confusing.

March 13, 2015 at 12:39 PM · I also have the JonPaul Avanti that Mary Ellen recommended and like it. My wooden bows include a Rolland and a Pierre Ives-Fuchs.

I find that the JonPaul bows tend to have a little more subtleness / flexibility compared to other carbon fiber bows I have tried.

Good luck!

March 13, 2015 at 03:10 PM · How much variance is there in the current generation of carbon-fiber bows, within the same model?

i.e., if I try a bow of a particular model and don't like it, should I bother trying to try another one of that model?

(My experience in the past trying multiple Arcus bows of the same model, for instance, was that there was some variance but much less than wood bows.)

March 13, 2015 at 08:22 PM · Enough variation to make it worth trying two or three of the same model before you write it off.

March 13, 2015 at 10:19 PM · I brought in five JonPaul Avanti carbon fiber bows for my chamber music class violinists to use...they're really quite excellent! I like them a lot more than the equivalent price CodaBows.

March 13, 2015 at 11:54 PM · Does the JonPaul Muse blow away the CodaBows?

March 14, 2015 at 01:11 AM · In my opinion, yes. I have had a Codabow Classic violin bow for years...I use it with my viola. :-)

Wait, is the Muse another model? Never mind, then. I have no idea.

March 21, 2015 at 06:58 PM · I ended up buying a JonPaul Avanti, chosen blind out of a large and varied pile of carbon-fiber bows. (I got a great price on it, too; after trade-in on my Coda Colours, $396 before tax.)

Sounds good on my new violin, with a clear and focused but still warm sound, feels good in the hand. (I found a warmer-sounding one but unfortunately it did not handle as well, and since this is for orchestra playing I cared less about the tone and more about the ease of playing.) A big improvement over the Coda, too.

Thanks for the recommendations!

March 21, 2015 at 08:18 PM · Glad you like the JonPaul Avanti!

March 21, 2015 at 08:48 PM · Oh, on the subject of the JonPaul Muse: The shop had one in stock. I tried it but actually liked it less than the Avanti, both in sound and in the way it felt in my hand (the Muse good smooth draw for legato, more difficult for off-the-string strokes). The sound of the Muse was thicker but also less refined on my instrument.

The Muse and the Avanti were both better than all the CodaBows that I tried.

March 21, 2015 at 08:53 PM · Glad you like it -- excellent bow!

March 21, 2015 at 11:27 PM · JonPaul now has added two newer models with higher model numbers. I wonder if they are even better than the Avanti. I'm now very tempted to try them all.

March 23, 2015 at 02:27 PM · Lydia, did you settle on something? I'm curious to know what you eventually do choose.

March 23, 2015 at 04:14 PM · Working at many different violin shops over the years and now an expert in the field of finding high quality violins and bows, I can certainly answer your question and give you some tips about finding a bow under $500.

When looking for a bow, you should first consider the type of material you want to target. If you don't have that in mind to start, the process can be quite overwhelming. Here are the different categories:

1. Fiberglass - This is a standard material that is included in most rental and cheap violin outfits (Bow cost is $25 and under). I recommend staying away from this type even as a pure beginner (hard to get a clean sound).

2. Brazilwood - This is a stiffer wood that is better than fiberglass ($25-$100). I would start here if you are a beginner.

3. Carbon Fiber - This is a durable material that is great for fiddlers and some violinists ($100-$1,000). I like to recommend it to students that travel a lot. Also they are good for students that might have trouble taking care of their bows as they won't warp/break like a pernambuco bow can.

4. Pernambuco - This is the best quality wood in the world, and the best for getting the best tone out of your violin. I always recommend this quality to students that have been playing over 2 years.

The next thing you need to consider is the weight of the bow. Most bows are between 58-64 grams, the middle of that range being the most common. If you are an aggressive player (you tend to play loud and dig in to the strings), a lighter bow will benefit you. If you are a timid player (tend to get a more wispy sound), a heavier bow is better.

Each bow will have a different density (weight distribution) that you will especially start to notice when you get above $300. Some bows have more weight at the frog, while others have more weight at the tip. Personally I like a bow that is evenly distributed, but that is totally dependent on the player. You won't really know what you like until you start trying bows. This is where you should call different shops, and get them to send you bows to try out. Only you can tell which density is best for you.

Now let me discuss price range. If you are a violin player with under 5 years experience, you are going to be just fine with a starter level pernambuco bow. That isn't "cheap" (I would say $300-$500), but it is much cheaper than how expensive pernambuco bows can get (I played on a $50,000 French bow once). I wouldn't recommend paying more than $500 for a carbon fiber bow, as I haven't seen much of a difference between a $300 carbon fiber bow, and a $1,000 carbon fiber bow (not like the difference in pernambuco). If you have been playing over 5 years, you will likely benefit going into the $1,000 range.

The best thing you can do is find some reputable shops that deal only in string instruments, and have them send you bows to try. Currently I have many bows I can send students to try, but I don't want you all to think I am biased. You can certainly find bows at many different shops out there, and it is just a matter of trying some and picking the one that suits you (and your violin) best.

If you are interested in more of my recommendations feel free to contact me through my Violin Tutor Pro website.

March 24, 2015 at 05:32 AM · Paul, yes, per my earlier post, I bought a JonPaul Avanti. I actually liked most of the JonPaul bows except for the Arpege that I tried. I could probably have gotten a more optimal match if I had gotten more Avanti-model bows to try, but given that the shop gave me an excellent price, I'm happy settling.

Michael Sanchez, thanks for the screed, but I suspect you didn't read my original post before replying. I don't entirely agree with you, in any event.

I've found there is absolutely a difference as you go up in price in carbon-fiber bows, both in terms of the sound of the material itself, as well as the playability. I think the difference between $300 and $1,000 is something of a mixed bag, but certainly the bows get better towards the higher end of that range. And going beyond $1,000 in a carbon-fiber bow can result in further improvements; the highest-end CF bows handle as well as many contemporary pernambucco bows in that similar price range (the $5K vicinity), although the stiffness makes the feel a bit different.

March 24, 2015 at 06:40 AM · Dear Lydia,

“From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”

? Groucho Marx

Glad you found a good bow.

Burp

PS Even my cat misses the great Russian's acerbic tongue although feline motives can be unpredictable.

March 24, 2015 at 04:15 PM · Great, thanks Lydia! Please update this thread if you have anything to add after playing on your new bow for a while. (Unless you magically transform yourself into a beginner with less than five years of experience, that is.)

August 11, 2015 at 08:46 PM · Lydia do you still like your Avanti bow? And did you try the Carerra?

August 11, 2015 at 09:38 PM · I've used it for an orchestra set and found it acceptable, but my own bow is so much better that the Avanti will definitely be relegated to col legno duty only.

I did not try a Carrera, to my recollection.

Actually, I kind of lust after a $700 Chinese-made Maline copy that one of my teachers' students has. It feels remarkably like a Maline, though without the same quality of sound or general perfection that I associate with the ones that I've tried (I still regret not buying the one that I really loved, a decade ago). But certainly good enough for $700. But I'd probably not have wanted to abuse it with col legno either.

August 13, 2015 at 09:06 PM · Lydia, I remember from Maestronet when you posted a long, informative and entertaining story of your hunt for your last violin. Somewhere in this thread you mentioned that you were buying a new violin. Would you start a thread with that story?

Elaine

Norman, OK

August 14, 2015 at 04:20 AM · The story of the new violin is not long enough for a thread. :-)

One of my teacher's students (a girl who just turned 14) was looking for a better instrument, and so he was bringing in instruments from all over the country. My lesson is typically before or after hers, so I got to see a lot of the instruments.

My teacher fell in love with a particular instrument and strongly suggested that she buy it. I heard him play it and instantly fell in love with the sound -- it has what he calls the "Cremonese" sound, and to me, it sounded like the Strads that I've heard close-up, if not at that same level of quality.

I wasn't shopping for a violin, indeed hadn't thought about another upgrade except as some wistful future fantasy. But I let him know that if the other student decided not to buy the violin, I might be seriously interested in trialing it.

In the end, she decided she didn't like the condition of the violin (it has a soundpost crack as well as some other repairs, and they're all decades-old repairs that are stable, but the damage does cut the value of the instrument in half), and I decided to buy it.

That required convincing my husband that we wanted to spend an egregious sum of money on a violin, but he recognized that even against my existing good instrument, there was a huge delta in sound quality. The seller was willing to take payments in installments over the course of the year, making it financially possible to buy it.

As a player, I find it a much more colorful, adaptable instrument, although I've had to adapt my right-hand technique significantly and it's an ongoing process (I've had the instrument about four months now). It has a warm, complex sound that blends well but can also project.

My teacher thinks that the new instrument is significantly improving my playing. It is definitely the drive-the-Ferrari rather than drive-the-Audi -- it requires more control and so forces me to be more thoughtful and precise, and the finer-grained feedback means that I can more easily hear exactly what I'm doing and adjust accordingly. But I am very much still learning how to get what I want out of this violin.

When I've performed with it, audience members have come up to me to tell me how good it sounds, which isn't an experience I've had with previous instruments. (People have come to say, "oh, that was a nice performance" in the past, but not, "Wow, what a great violin".)

In a way, I feel like I should have done more due diligence, trying more instruments in this price range in a deliberate hunt, but in the end I decided I'd played enough violins over the years to know that this was the violin I wanted.

August 14, 2015 at 04:42 PM · Remember Heifetz's response when someone said his violin sounded good ... he put his ear up to it and said, "That's funny, I don't hear anything."

August 14, 2015 at 06:38 PM · Thanks. Ain't serendipity grand! So, mind telling us what it is?

Elaine

August 14, 2015 at 08:19 PM · It's a JB Vuillaume, 1855. Strad pattern.

August 15, 2015 at 04:50 AM · CodaBows (even the same models) DO sound and act differently. Each is an individual with its own plusses and minuses. The are very SIMILAR, more similar than wooden bows are, but each is still unique. I currently have four at home: two viola Classics and one viola Diamond GX, and a violin Classic. I tried out every one in the shop when I bought mine, and each time picked the one that cooperated the most on that day. I've been very happy with all my purchases. I've tried out and own everal other brands (including some nameless ones from China), and all were quite serviceable to say the very least -- certainly for playing outdoor concerts, whether it be in summer heat or a sudden shower, or for col legno passages, but of all my carbon fibres, I like my CodaBows best. (No, I do not get promotional pay from the company -- I just like them.)

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