Is a new bow worth it?

December 3, 2016 at 03:43 PM · I have a nice violin that I bought a few years back for $2400. My teacher really likes the sound and thought the price was pretty cheap for the quality. (Shout out to Ifshin Violins where I got it)

I also got a $300 wood bow that to be honest I wasn't very careful about choosing as I was so focused on picking the violin. I've advanced significantly on this instrument from Corelli La Folia to finishing all 3 movements of the Bruch g minor a few months ago and while I'm happy with my violin, I'm wondering if I would see a significant difference in sound and playability if I upgraded bows.

My price range would be $1000-2000, 2000 only if it's a bow I can't live without.

How much of a positive difference in sound would you expect to see by upgrading bows?

Also in what ways are better bows easier to play with, because I've heard that before but I'm curious what to look for if I decide to upgrade.

Replies (41)

December 3, 2016 at 05:58 PM · Bows can make a huge difference. That being said, price is not a terribly reliable indicator. You have to try them out. I generally advise my students that if their budget is under $1000, they'll most likely be happier with what they can find in carbon fiber. Your price range is on the bubble. You could find a good pernambuco bow in that range; you will also come across some not-at-all good pernambuco bows. Carbon fiber in that price range is more reliably good.

Will your teacher be involved in helping you choose a bow? (The correct answer to this question is "yes.")

December 3, 2016 at 06:50 PM · Are you in favor of the trial sets that can be found from different suppliers? Seems like an improved way to find the "right" bow?

December 3, 2016 at 07:39 PM · From my experience from 100->300 range, very significant difference in literally everything, mostly handling, 300->600 range, great sound improvement and slight improvement in handle.

December 3, 2016 at 07:42 PM · I agree with Mary Ellen; it will be very difficult to find a good wooden bow within that price range.

Yes, a good bow can make a huge difference. Bow is your voice; the less you have to work on compensating its deficiencies, the more attention you can pay to sound improvement, left hand and music making. Use the search engine for posts under my name; I have already written about the steps in bow selection.

December 3, 2016 at 08:00 PM · Not sure I agree Rocky.

I have tried a good number of Brazilian bows well in that range with good pernambuco; some are very good.

If you are lucky you could find a good no name older french bow with a tip repair for that money.

In Canada you can find German Markneukirchen bows within that range

some of very good quality.

Ifshin has Bernard bows, handmade by a team in Brussels

December 3, 2016 at 08:10 PM · "In what way are better bows easier to play with ---"

Maybe try some real good bows so you get to know what a good bow can do.

December 3, 2016 at 08:49 PM · In my opinion a good bow shoult be easier to control. Although it's easier to do sautille etc., it stays better in track and doesn't tend to bouncing and wobbling especially in the upper half at downbow strokes. There might not be the perfect bow for everything (Bach + Mozart + Wagner + modern), but except it's an exceptionally light / heavy / stiff bow, you'll be okay with it it most situations.

I started with a quite reasonable €130 CF bow, then tried a bunch of €300-600 brazilwood bows, one of them was really fine and excelled quite a few of the "cheaper" €700-1600 pernambuco sticks, but unfortunately then did not match my "new" violin anymore. So I'm bow-shopping again. Uuh...

I came over quite a few brazilian pernambuco bows which were usually fine for their price, but never extraordinary. Actually I really liked a Fornacieri Jr. (€1200), but then I met an older french bow (not one of the absolutely top makers, early 20th century) for €4500, which did not only have that big price tag, but also that certain WOW that answered quite a lot of my questions. I still could manage to live without it (although it still sits in my case for trial), because it sounds just a little bit screamy on my upper e-string (my violin is rather not on the warm side by nature...), so I can avoid mortgaging and divorcing. (At this point I also decided to avoid even more expensive bows...)

After a real lot of bows in different price ranges (maybe 100-130, who knows, I don't want to make it my hobby), the best value for my money <2k) seems to be - to my surprise - an Arcus A5. Almost as ergonomic as my beloved french friend, a little less agile maybe, but a little bit warmer in tone and therefore a better match to my violin.

December 3, 2016 at 09:09 PM · Before you decide for a bow, it should feel really great for you, and you should like the sound under your ear. Then your teacher should give his okay. And then you should have your teacher or another experienced violinist play it ON YOUR VIOLIN for you at a distance and compare it to other bows of your choice, including your old bow. That's at least the way I do it.

As Hendrik mentioned, you maybe should try a few really good bows well over your price range, not to make yourself unhappy, but just to know what is possible. It's not sait that what is right for me also has to be right for you. It's not only a matter of technique and style, but also of temperament and ergonomic preference. There's nothing as individual as violin bows...

Although it is important to take advice, never forget it's your money and your decision, and at the end of the day it's you who will have to play it for hopefully a very long period of time.

December 4, 2016 at 12:16 AM · At that price range, if you choose well, it is likely to handle noticeably better than the bow you have now. You can certainly easily find excellent carbon-fiber bows in that range, and may be able to find satisfactory wood bows in that range too.

December 4, 2016 at 12:34 AM · A maker's name is no guarantee that a particular bow will be best for your instrument. My approach has been to:

1. Have a routine of music I will play to test bows on my instrument.

2. Visit a well stocked violin shop with my own instrument and bows to test their bows .

3. Test my violin with my routine with as many bows as they will put in my hands at all prices they will let me put my hands on.

4. Each bow I test gets put on a "KEEP" pile or a "RETURN." pile.

5. Then I test the "KEEPs" against each other.

6. I try to winnow this down to a very few bows and hopefully can afford to purchase one of them

My goal in this has been too find a bow I can afford that comes close enough to the best ones they let me test. My last test series involved 66 cello bows of which only 2, by the same maker had the characteristics I was looking for on my instrument - one was 40% the price of the other. By the way this was at Ifshin Violins, in cace you are close to them, they have a very large selection of bows.

December 4, 2016 at 01:41 AM · Thanks for the advice everyone. I am planning on going to Ifshin and trying a lot, including some Carbon Fiber, which I've never tried before.

Are there any negatives to Carbon Fiber? I don't want to start a huge debate like shoulder rests vs not, but if I find that something like the Coda Diamond GX (one of the higher end ones I saw when looking up carbon fiber bows) is better than a more expensive pernambuco bow, is there any reason not to just get the Carbon Fiber?

That's probably a stupid question but I've never seen anyone use Carbon Fiber and I've never tried it myself, although I know it seems to be fairly popular now.

December 4, 2016 at 02:08 AM · I have many carbon fiber bows and they are basically indestructible. The Coda Diamond GX is wonderful, but they are different from wood. Take your time when trying them and if you find one that you really like for a reasonable price trial it for a week.

December 4, 2016 at 02:34 AM · My CF JonPaul Avanti is my workhorse bow. I'm playing a Nutcracker on it tonight--no way would I pull out my Voirin to use in the pit.

December 4, 2016 at 03:15 AM · I have heard a lot about this JonPaul Avanti bow, I might try a few next time I am in a good shop. Presently I play on a Cadenza 3-star CF bow, which retails for about $525. I like it (I have two of them and my daughter also has one) and my teacher likes it.

December 4, 2016 at 03:15 AM · Here an older thread with great advice from Rocky Milankov:

Rocky has a beautiful bow made by Michael Vann.

I played it earlier this year; it is an outstanding bow

But North American and Western European bows made by renowned

archetiers are outside your price range.

December 4, 2016 at 06:21 AM · Carbon-fiber bows are individual but typically each model has certain playing and tonal characteristics. Do try a few of a model if you can, if you like its general feel.

I use a JonPaul Avanti as a backup bow. It's perfectly decent and does pretty much anything I need for orchestral playing, and its tone is good on my violin, even if neither the playing characteristics or the tone come close to my regular bow (a Victor Fetique).

The plus to CF is their essential indestructability. Even if you upgrade someday, it will still be a decent backup bow forever. Every serious violinist should own a bow for pit playing and other situations where you don't want to endanger a good wood bow.

December 4, 2016 at 06:40 AM · Thanks again for the replies.

Another question: Assuming I didn't state my price range, what would you recommend in terms of price for an upgrade in bows that would see the most difference in playability and sound and that would last through more advanced repertoire like Mendelssohn and onward, while still being reasonable? Obviously a 100,000 bow would sound better and play better but that's not what I'm asking!

December 6, 2016 at 12:29 AM · I would say about 1500-2000 dollars for a bow that will keep you happy for a fairly long time, but if you ever drop by Toronto, I know Jaime Weisenblum, who has amazing bows (including a 7 grand Salchow) that he sometimes sells for 40% of the price if you really need a bow/instrument but don't have the lots of $ for it. :)

December 6, 2016 at 01:09 AM · I play with a violinist who always uses his CF Rolland-Spiccato bow all the time on his $150,000 Enrico Rocca violin. He also has a Coda Classic and an antique A. Lamy. He is a very active 81 year old amateur , playing away from home 5 or 6 days a week. So that is one vote for carbon fiber.

I play violin, viola, and cello, so I have a lot of bows, about a dozen violin bows, 8 or 9 cello bows and I can still find 3 viola bows. There have been others, some given away, some sold,and some I can't account for. Among the bows I have (or have had) are 12 carbon fiber (or at least quality composite bows - I'm told by someone that the Berg-Delux violin bow I have is not really CF, but some other composite). In addition to my Rolland-Spiccato (Paris) CF bow I also have trios of ARCUS-Concerto, Coda Classic, and CF Durro bows. I paid $900 for the Durro trio (violin, viola, and cello bows) when they were a new brand competing with the original Codas. It turns out that on my 1877 Mittenwald cello, the CF Durro is the best bow, better than my pernambuco Paul M. Siefried, 19th century Albert Nürnberger, or my Brazilian Marco Raposo. Over most of the range this Durro bow is not much better than the others, but in the 2nd octave up the C (lowest) string, it clearly is. But this is not my best bow on either of my other two cellos - so, it's not easy to just select a bow without context. The other Durros were not the best on my other instruments, which is probably why I can't find them now.

My viola Coda is the best on my viola strung with Pirastro Permanent strings, but when it was strung with Dominants, my W. Seifert pernambuco bow was best, although the viola ARCUS does make some nice noises with either stringing.

My violins seem to prefer pernambuco bows, but the responsiveness and playability of the Berg Delux is great when it is haired just right. I can get a wonderful sautille on the Mendelssohn Concerto cadenza just by moving my right arm up and down with this bow. The ARCUS CF bows bring out the timbre of instruments very nicely, but these lighter bows requite somewhat different bowing technique.

So I hope you have lots of fun at Ifshin's and give him (Jay) my regards - I expect to miss the Cremona show there (it started on the 2nd) this year.

December 6, 2016 at 01:44 AM · I play bar gigs, so it goes without saying that I have a carbon fiber bow. I've been perfectly satisfied with my Coda bow.

December 6, 2016 at 03:43 AM · You shouldn't have any issues using a good carbon-fiber bow (JonPaul Avanti or one of its competitors) to play concertos. It won't be ideal but it shouldn't be a barrier to learning.

December 6, 2016 at 04:02 AM · I can't compare to Avanti, but the (literally) no-name Chinese carbon bows sold by Cleveland Violins aren't bad at all-- especially for $500. Not perfect, but surprisingly good. Just make sure you try a few, as they do not sound identical.

As for proper Pernambuco sticks, older German bows in OP's price range often play very well. There is a huge discount on them because they aren't French.

The main thing is to try a lot of bows, including some great ones, so you come to know what you are looking for.

December 6, 2016 at 05:47 PM · Earlier this year, I tried out some CodaBow Diamond NX and GX as well as several JonPaul Avanti and the model below that one (can't remember the name). The Avanti was clearly superior in its handling, but make sure you try out several as the three I tried had quite a bit of variance. The winner had a much more lively stick than the other two I tried and a better tone as well. Compared to my old crappy pernambuco bow it is much, much better.

I also got it because I figure I'll keep it forever for risky situations or whenever col legno is called for (that's italian for "use carbon fiber bow", right?)

December 7, 2016 at 05:07 PM · I realize that cost may not correspond to quality exactly, but what about a violin to bow cost/quality ratio? Has anyone considered a reasonable ratio in principle?

It seems to me there's a point where the potential benefits of buying a better bow become diminished if you aren't also investing in a better instrument. For instance, would it be reasonable to expect a nice performance boost in buying a $2500 bow for a $2500 violin?

Also, how does the performance increase with a better bow compare to the performance boost in buying a better violin? Instead of buying a $2500 bow, should a person be looking to sell their $2500 violin and buying a $5000 violin?

Personally, I spent around $2500 (cdn) on my violin, and $400 (cdn) on a CF Coda Bow, Prodigy model. I like the bow very much. Being that I'm just a new student, I think I spent rather liberally for my circumstance. Perhaps when I am a more advanced player I could see a new bow making a difference, as in the OP's situation.

December 7, 2016 at 06:43 PM · I should correct what I said above: I tried out several Avanti and Carrera models from JonPaul. I ended up with the Carrera as one of them was markedly superior to all of the Avanti I tried. I got a good deal on it too from Lashof Violins, only a little over a grand--they aren't kidding when they say call for specials on their website.

Leif, I always heard 40-50% of value of the instrument, but that obviously doesn't work when you get into the lower instrument values--in that case I think getting a good carbon fiber you can keep even after you upgrade your instrument is a good decision, as was said by others above.

December 7, 2016 at 07:19 PM · Yep, live and learn! Started off with a fiberglass and then bought a $300 wooden stick that warped. Upgraded to a $1k pernambuco to practice with and bought a coda bow to teach with. After I got the coda I realized the $1k pernambuco was a waste. Now I have my eyes on a really good bow to buy instead of my current $1k waste of money. At the time it was " better" , but looking back I wished I would have only bought the CF and saved my money to get a " real bow". Just my experience.

December 7, 2016 at 11:16 PM · You should spend more on a bow than a violin, unless you are in the rather higher price brackets.


I tried many very good bows on a decent violin, and the one that matched it made it sound (barring compromises that are still there; EX: Wolfy high G etc- but they sounded more decent too) like it was priced at least 2-3 times its price (this was a 2400 instrument paired with a 4000 dollar bow, BTW). :D

December 8, 2016 at 04:16 AM · It happens. You may not find magic (or worthwhile equipment to learn on) with a $35,000 instrument and a cheap bow, but a $15,000 bow and $20,000 violin-- no guarantees either way, but it is worth trying.

December 8, 2016 at 06:51 AM · I think CF bows have changed the equation for what it takes to get to the point of an acceptably-playing bow -- the reason to go higher-end and wood is more for tone and increasing levels of playing refinement, but it's no longer vital in order to get to "good enough for many players".

You can get terrific modern bows for the price of a higher-end student violin, so in theory there's more bang for the buck in a bow. But beyond that price-point your dollars should probably go into the violin first.

December 8, 2016 at 01:40 PM · CF bows aren't quite indestructible, depending on the quality of manufacture. A few years ago I bought a CF bow from a local high-reputation violin shop. A few months later I noticed that when I tightened the hairs the tip was starting to bend when it shouldn't have. Back to the shop, where the proprietor inspected it, said it was about to break and that it was one of several with that defect that had been brought to his attention, one of which actually having snapped during playing. He replaced the bow immediately with a better one of a different brand, and explained that all those defective bows were from a specific batch. He didn't say, but I guess the manufacturer of that batch is no longer on his list of suppliers.

Such defects are probably rare in the CF world, but look out for them.

December 8, 2016 at 09:22 PM · Lydia, what price range do you consider to be needed to get a higher-end student violin? Just wondering, my sense of the quality spectrum isn't that well defined as I got my violin 15 years ago with the help of my teacher.

December 8, 2016 at 09:47 PM · I agree that if the budget is $1000 or so, CF is the best bet. A good CF bow is a fine thing to have anyway, for outdoor gigs, pits or other non-traditional venues. The student can then save for a nice pernambuco bow for playing that warrants one, and keep the CF as a back-up bow or for continued use in situations like I described above.

December 8, 2016 at 09:59 PM · I think that's my new plan Sarah, I also want to spend a little less than what I said in the original post ($1000 and under). I called Ifshin and they have plenty of CF models in that range and I'll probably try a few wood ones just in case I get lucky with one, but I have a feeling the CF bows will win.

Thanks for the replies everyone

Weird question I guess: I'm also going to try different chinrests for my giraffe neck, I imagine it will feel different even if it's more comfortable so my question is should I pick the bow and then deal with the chinrest so I'm not changing too many things at once? Or does it not matter at all

December 9, 2016 at 03:08 AM · Higher-end student instruments are roughly $2k-$5k.

December 11, 2016 at 12:31 AM · So I went to Ifshin and tried dozens of bows, including carbon fiber and wood in the 500-1500 range, and to my surprise I didn't really like the carbon fiber compared to the wood. In the end I took home 3 wood bows ranging from $900-1100. After testing and eliminating one of them, I compared them to my current bow and didn't really see that much of a difference, and definitely not a $600+ difference. It's a bit of a let down after seeing how a good bow can make a big difference, I'm planning on going to a different shop and trying more bows maybe more around $1500. Has anyone experienced this before? Am I looking for too much out of too little of an upgrade?

December 11, 2016 at 04:34 AM · It's not a linear function. Your chances of success go up with your budget limit, but there are a lot of other factors at work. Keep trying and you may find something.

There is another possibility: at the moment, your technique and ear may not be up to recognizing a better tool. One cure for that is to try a few really awesome sticks so you can teach yourself what to look for. There may also be a moment when your teacher will tell you that you need a better bow so you can learn new things more easily. But don't feel obliged to "trade up" if you're not getting anything out of it.

December 11, 2016 at 06:06 AM · I did mention that my 100->300 upgrade was marginal, and 300 ->600 upgrade was subtle. I am hoping that a new bow I will be getting which is apparently worth ~3000 to be a marginal upgrade.

December 11, 2016 at 07:26 AM · You might be able to find something worthwhile in that price range if you try more bows. But Stephen is right -- you might not entirely know what to look for at this stage. Go shopping with someone who does know, like (hopefully) your teacher, and try bows that are significantly more expensive, say $10k+, and are considered to be great-playing (not all expensive bows will be), in order to learn what a much better bow feels like.

December 14, 2016 at 10:12 PM · I went back and tried a nice $7000 bow for an idea of what I was looking for and I think that did help. I saw more bows and with that expensive bow in mind, picked out one wood bow that I liked and one carbon fiber (diamond GX) that I liked.

I also went to a local luthier and saw some bows he had to sell and told him that I'm also trying 2 from Ifshin, and he kind of scoffed when I told him one of them was carbon fiber. He didn't say anything because he's a nice guy but it was clear there was some disdain for carbon fiber. Any idea why that may be? Just an old fashioned person?

Because I'm finding that the carbon fiber bow handles better, especially with fast passages with lots of string crossings, than the 2 wood bows that I'm trying (I'm also trying a wood bow from that luthier), and is also cheaper (800 vs 1000/1100). The sound is slightly different, maybe less rich. I plan on doing some blind tests with my family who are not musicians, but any advice on how to continue? Is it more important to have a nice sound or more important to play difficult passages with ease? I have some auditions for summer camps coming up and would like to sound as good as I can, but I'd also like to execute the passages as smoothly and cleanly as possible which might be more doable with the carbon fiber.

December 14, 2016 at 10:40 PM · For one thing, as a player you have no idea what you sound like to a listener. Many other factors go into the sound than the bow alone including choice of strings, rosin and setup.

In your position, I would probably choose the CF bow (perhaps look around to find more of the same brand and other brands too, they are definitely not all the same) - actually I have done that in the past myself (a number of times) - and I've also gone the other way (pernambuco, but with a gold-medal winning maker) when that bow met all (actually not all but more of) my criteria. You can always do that in the future - I think I was at least in my late 60s when I did that.

December 14, 2016 at 10:42 PM · Laurie Niles has posted a video on YouTube that might interest you; she demonstrates how lively a baroque bow is in handling fast passages, chords, and string crossings. Since you are bow shopping, try a baroque bow...I have tried two and loved them; I will definitely be adding a baroque bow to my gear soon. Laurie says everyone should have a baroque bow, and I have to agree! Happy bow hunting!

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