Which of these under $100 snakewood Baroque bows to buy?

April 9, 2016 at 12:21 AM · OK, now Rachel Barton Pine has me wanting one of these $50 snakewood Baroque bows. (In my case, for viola.) Has anyone bought one themselves recently, who can recommend it? There is a brand called "NAOMI" sold through both eBay and Amazon, one for $50 and one for $70. I have no trouble paying $70 if it's even a bit better than the $50 bow. There are also a handful of sellers on eBay offering them for $60. I also checked yitamusic. Theirs are somewhat over $100, but again, if worth it then good.

Replies (19)

April 9, 2016 at 12:25 AM · Francesca, I got this one....blog to come about it! :)

April 9, 2016 at 05:23 AM · Great, Laurie! I'll await your blog. I wonder why the viola version doesn't have free shipping. Who knew this market was so competitive?

April 9, 2016 at 02:07 PM · I bought a Naomi baroque cello bow for £40. It's rather crude and I had to glue in the eyelet. My last Yita violin bow (£90) the hair all popped out of the tip - had to get it rehaired (£40) but I think I kinda like it. Got one earlier for £30 - I use as a viola bow and seems OK so far.

April 9, 2016 at 02:50 PM · What you should look out for in a snakewood bow in the cheaper price range or from less than a completely trustworthy source is that it is actually snakewood and not a less expensive, more common, wood that has been painted to look like the real thing. Real snakewood is a hard, stiff wood that is denser than almost all other woods (its specific gravity is about 1.2, which means it sinks in water).

I have two late Baroque violin bows (1750-ish replicas), of virtually identical design and length. They are 2" shorter than a modern bow. The real snakewood bow (which was nearly £300) weighs 61 gm; its non-snakewood brother weighs 56 gm. and was considerably less expensive. Close visual inspection and comparison of weights should help identify a fake.

I regularly use those two bows more than most others; which one I choose depends to a large extent on the music, the ensemble and the acoustic.

April 9, 2016 at 03:08 PM · There are many cheap "Baroque" bows made in China, with camber and screw to tighten the hair.

Camber was not a feature of Baroque bows; they are straight as an arrow with hair relaxed and get their shape once you tighten the hair.

There is no way to tell about bow quality, Baroque or modern before you try it.

A good Baroque bow has to have a different attack , sustain and natural decay toward the tip. It also needs to have a good "bite", and match your violin. With shorter and less hair, you still need to draw reasonably "big" and good sound.

You can't possibly tell that by looking at pictures.

Depending on the type of Baroque music, the length of the bow might be different. Most people settle with longer "sonata" bow, although short bow works better for early Baroque and dance music.

If you are serious about studying period performance, invest in a good bow. It will pay off very soon, by developing good habits instead for compensating for bow deficiencies.

If you were to study Japanese calligraphy, would you buy a paint brush from Walmart? Probably not.

You need a good tool for your art!

April 10, 2016 at 11:10 AM · Rocky is right about the camber being completely wrong on these Chinese baroque bow rip offs, They are designed to bow in under tension just like a modern violin bow, not flat or slightly outward like most baroque bows, what he is not completely right about, is usually a later baroque bow is intended to bow slightly in without tension, then tighten to flat or slightly bowing outward under tension.

If you're interested in learning baroque bow performance, these cheap Chinese bows are completely inadequate and no better than using a standard modern bow as they bow inward in exactly the same manner as a modern bow.

April 10, 2016 at 11:16 AM · Actually I just noticed Laurie Niles link, this does appear to be almost correct camber, although its impossible to judge just how much tension was required to make the bow bow straight, the untightened picture does still appear to have a lot of inward camber, it all depends on the strength of the stick how much tension is required to get it to bow flat, if too much tension is needed its essentially useless as a true baroque performance bow. (Even a strong modern bow will eventually bow flat if you put an excessive amount of tension on it, doesn't make it suitable for baroque though.)

April 10, 2016 at 11:35 AM · For what it's worth the wedge just popped out of the heel of my £90 Yita bow and that's after having it rehaired! The luthier did say they sometimes glue them in (bad). As for bowing flat - my £30 bow bows slightly outward quite easily. The £90 - not quite sure till I get it fixed.

April 10, 2016 at 12:15 PM · The wedge popping out is the luthier that rehaired its fault, not Yita, just saying.

April 11, 2016 at 04:31 AM · Thanks, everyone! I was surprised and happy at the breadth of good advice given here. I'm looking forward to Laurie's blog and the responses it gets.

I also asked someone I've traded e-mails with who is in a Baroque string orchestra. She's a serious Baroque player (duh) and gave me a lot of context that is consistent with some of these replies. Incidently, she is happily playing on a $600 bow from Ifshin Violins. (She also nearly succeeded in drafting me for the orchestra--they're in need of violists.)

I see this idea is worthy of more consideration than I had first thought.

April 13, 2016 at 11:51 PM · I have no idea if the ~$100 (with shipping and tax) Amazon Baroque bow Laurie referenced is a true Baroque bow (it is my first Baroque bow), but respecting her advice, I ordered one as soon as I saw her post. It just came today and after a fairly vigorous rosining session I have compared it with 3 other bows I use that ranged in retail price from about $700 to $4,100. It is a very nice, stable, well-balanced bow and compares well (better than you would expect) in tone and handling to any of the others and does some things even better - the kinds of things you would like it to do in Bach & Mozart (or the arpeggios in the Mendelssohn E minor concerto).

As a bow it lacks any metal (other than the screw) and plastic (other than the screw cap) - and of course no ivory (or simulated ivory, and no thumb leather or winding. Now tip or frog-heel plates. Will it take a rehair? I have no idea and I hope it is a long time before I have to find out.

The Baroque bow I received does not look exactly like the one Amazon now shows in its place. Mine has a snakewood frog, not a black one. (When I ordred the ad said there was only one left.)


April 14, 2016 at 12:19 AM · Does your bow bow straight or slightly outward with a normal amount of tension, or is it still bowing inward, in which case it is not really a true baroque bow.

September 26, 2016 at 03:57 PM · People should be aware that baroque bows come in a plethora of styles with dramatically different weights -- as light as 45,46 grams, as heavy as 65. As you can imagine the action will be totally different.

I have greatly enjoyed playing Bach with a very light (48 grams, 27 inch) baroque bow made of "blackwood" which is a hard, stiff tropical wood that goes by lots of names. Balance point is toward the frog so it is very whippy -- sometimes referred to as an Italian style bow. These can be had on Ebay for under $50.

The extreme lightness at the top half or middle makes it great for fast Bach partita movements with lots of string crossings -- the bow is so much quicker. But I'm increasingly loving it for slow movements as well because it helps everything feel lighter, more sparkly.

I think more people should approach Bach with something of a folk fiddler mindset and this kind of a bow can help you do that. It can help bring out the dance in Bach.

The bow also makes a difference in right hand fatigue level. I wouldn't have thought 10-15 grams would make my arm tired but the lighter bow really does help me practice harder and longer.

What you're giving up is the pulling power, sostenuto. This is not the bow obviously if you want your Bach to sound like Milstein or Grumiaux.

September 26, 2016 at 04:06 PM · I have a "regular" Yita snakewood viola bow. It is beautiful.

It is also the most noodley bow I have ever tried. Very flexible, bounces alot. I dont care for it whatsoever.

Of course, the very next bow from Yita may well be fantastic! There isn't a whole lot of consistency from their bow department in my experience.

September 26, 2016 at 05:13 PM · I actually said this already above, but;

Most of these cheap Chinese "baroque" bows are baroque in name only, a true baroque bow should end up straight or slightly bent outwards under medium tension, the vast majority of these bows online bow inwards towards the hair under tension just like a standard modern bow, which pretty much defeats the whole purpose of them being used for baroque performance, I think The one Laurie links to above bows out properly but costs about $100.

With no tension, a baroque bow should bow inward slightly, no where near as much as a modern bow, under tension bow straight or slightly outward.

September 26, 2016 at 06:00 PM · Please read, the why NOT to buy Chinese violins, thread.

Cheers Carlo

September 27, 2016 at 05:35 PM · Landon, I would agree with you about this -- I don't see the point of getting a "baroque" bow that is essentially a modern stick with an elongated tip. If you want a 29-inch inward-bending bow that weighs 60 grams, why not buy a modern bow?

However there are two cheap models you can find on Ebay that will give you a very different experience from a modern bow.

One, which I own, is about 26.5 inches, slightly inward-bending, 48 grams with a balance point near the frog -- so it feels very light and whippy. It is made of some unknown wood (sometimes called "blackwood" or "letterwood") which is lighter and more rigid than pernambuco or snakewood. I paid $30 for this bow as an experiment, and I keep coming back to it to play Bach.

The other model you can find on Ebay for $70 to $400 is a heavier outward-cambered "snakewood" bow (which the Chinese sometimes label "sakewood" or "sankwood." Snakewood is about the same weight as pernambuco but more flexible, almost rubbery. Has to be played with a totally different technique.

Anyway, the two types of bow (which existed in Bach's time, clearly) give you totally different results. The light-whippy bow is tremendously quick to respond and helpful with fast passages and string crossings. But, like a modern bow, only plays three strings at once with a lot of pressure, so I break cords and arpeggiate a lot when I'm trying to keep a light texture.

I'm very eager to try the second type. If you don't have a really big budget it's tough. It's either visit violin shops up and down the east coast and plan to spend a few thousand, or order on Ebay and hope to get lucky. I will probably try the latter.

November 29, 2016 at 02:49 AM · I just had the most amazing experience with a baroque bow...my violin is a 100-year old Stainer model, probably Markie. I just got new strings, but by mistake I bought Infeld Blue instead of Infeld Red, and they sound awful---way too bright. In the midst of my moping, a friend came over with her Baroque cello and a bunch of bows to play Christmas carols. She happened to bring along a baroque violin bow. I tuned down to 415 and on a whim tried her baroque violin bow. Result was WONDERFUL!!! Maybe I lucked out because I have an old Stainer knock off??? Once the Infeld Blues were tuned down and played with the baroque bow, I thought I had a whole new instrument. Now I am on the hunt for a good baroque bow; I am SOLD!!!

November 30, 2016 at 04:35 AM · Eric, your are not the only one... my hypothesis is that a good baroque bow does its job better than modern bow. Why? It is lighter and thus does not suppress the sound of your violin.

In our quest for equalization and endless legato, we lost the essence of natural violin sound.

What are you waiting for? Toss those artificial strings and get a set of pure gut!

2 Canadian cents.

p.s. Here is your bow maker:


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