Expensive Violin Bow No Difference?

March 29, 2017 at 07:35 PM · My daughter tried a few bows, from $400 to $700. But seems all same(loudness&tone) with her $180 bow on a $2000 violin.

Does that mean if the technique is not high enough, she can't show the difference of bows?

Replies (20)

March 29, 2017 at 07:41 PM · There may be multiple factors in play here.

First, there's quite a bit of variance in bow quality, and the delta between $180 and $400 may not make a material difference in overall quality. A good $700 bow should be meaningfully different from a $200 bow, but you might or might not have tried a good $700 bow.

Second, she might not yet have the skill to tell bows apart.

Third, she might not have the sensitivity of ear to hear different tonal characteristics.

March 29, 2017 at 07:45 PM · Try some in the $1000's.

March 29, 2017 at 08:29 PM · Most bows within the price range mentioned may perform similarly sound wise to the indiscriminate ears and the difference may be more noticeable in the balance and handling of each individual bow. That being said, there are variations due to the instrument's response to any given bow. Less expensive instruments may lack the complexities and dynamic range necessary to articulate subtle differences, whereas more expensive instrument may respond dramatically differently with different bows. No two bows perform the same (even of the same model/maker), and no single bow performs the same on all instruments and strings set. Then there are also variations on bow response due to individual techniques. Better technique will also make bow response and performance variations more obvious.

March 29, 2017 at 09:15 PM · Your daughter should have her teacher play for her with some of the better bows and play with them for her teacher. The teacher can probably figure out where the problem lies. That is probably the best test to see where the issue is. Good luck!

March 29, 2017 at 09:21 PM · I'd ask her teacher to try them.

Bows can produce very subtle differences in tone that take some time and experience to evaluate.

For example, I've played bows that I liked very much alone, but then when I played with a quartet or in an orchestral setting I didn't prefer them.

March 29, 2017 at 09:35 PM · My hypothesis that relates to this phenomenon is based on "Occam's razor," a philosophical principle that implies that "Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected." While this is not a scientific principle, it is often at least a starting point for assessing a problem.

I start with these HYPOTHESES that seem fairly obvious to me::

1. Tonal differences heard between violins are largely due to specific overtones generated when each note is played.

2. The tone heard is generated by the bow-driven vibration AND the position(s) of the "stopping" finger while the tone is generated (this can be time-varying, as with vibrato). Condition of the rosined hair also has an effect (including the type of rosin). This hypothesis implies that it is ONLY the hair/string interface that generates the vibration, even though we KNOW that different bow sticks somehow can make a differences - at least to the player's ears.

Followed by these OBSERVATIONS:

-A violin with a more limited overtone spectrum will have less potential for enhanced response.

-A player with less skill will be less able to take advantage of a particular violin's potential.

And these related MATH & PHYSICAL "facts":

-Bow sticks vibrate (resonate) in much the same way as a vibrating beam under similar tension.

-If the bow hair vibrates it will affect the hair/string interaction and the vibrating string affects the stick vibration. However there can be damping of feedback between these affects in the stick or at the contact points of stick and hair.

I come to this "THEORY."

-The acoustic coupling (impedance) between the bow hair and the bow body (stick and frog, etc.) affects the sustaining of vibrations of the bow hair.

I think this is problem is sufficiently comp[lex that it has not been completely worked out mathematically - but believe it or not there are theoretical physicist/engineers who have worked on this problem- and some still are.

Understand that for all this to "work" and make any difference to the player or listener the violin should be optimally set up because all the physics of acoustics related to this is also working throughout the violin too (bridge, sound post, string afterlengths, tailpiece, etc.).

(for what it's worth!)

Anders Askenfelt of Sweden is probably the leading scientist in these kinds of studies. Norman Pickering (of LP record electronic pickup fame - the Pickering Cartridge) did a lot of study in this area. Some of their work can be found on line and will lead to other information.

March 29, 2017 at 09:46 PM · If she can't tell the difference, it isn't time to get an upgrade.

March 29, 2017 at 09:59 PM · $400-$700 is literally the same range of bows. There really shouldn't be any difference.

A nickel-mounted Arcos Brasil bow from one of their individual makers (A. Carvalho, C. Chagas, Fracalossi, etc.) is listing at full retail around $600 these days (so it's usually a bit less from most shops). I think they represent a great value for pernambuco bows in this price range.

April 21, 2017 at 09:15 PM · Gene,

The bows tried did include three Arcos Brasil bows. They are not all same, but have very small difference. Maybe the Eastman bow she currently using has great quality.

April 21, 2017 at 10:29 PM · "Does that mean if the technique is not high enough, she can't show the difference of bows?"


Don't spend the money if she can't tell and her technique doesn't demand it.

April 22, 2017 at 02:06 AM · When I was trying bows a year ago when I was purchasing a new violin after 6 months of playing I actually found the more expensive bows to be unwieldy due to my lack of technique and preferred an $150 bow to a $350 and $500 bow.

April 26, 2017 at 05:06 PM · Bailey,

I am confused. How high technique do you think a player needs to show the difference of bows?

April 26, 2017 at 05:34 PM · If your daughter is unhappy with their current bow, go for the bow that gets her the most excited to play the violin. In that price range technical ability far outweighs bow quality in overall sound. If you are trying to evaluate purely on sound, it is difficult to produce a fair evaluation. Tiredness, day of the week, general mood, and other things can affect how she performs and the sound that comes out. So which one does she like to hold, and wants to play with? That'll be the bow she will develop a long relationship of practice.

*This post assumes we are not talking about VSOs, "balsa wood" like bows, funky colors, and other gimmicks to get people to buy ultra-cheap bows. $200-$700 from a reputable source should be a decent quality, it just comes down to preference.

May 2, 2017 at 08:46 PM · I'm writing as a non-professional violin player, 60 years experience, and recently (2 weeks) a viola player.

I recently had to replace my violin bow, and taking advice from someone I respect (community orchestra concertmistress), bought a Glassen carbon fiber bow for about $90. So far, I am somewhat surprised to find that it works fine for me.

In the course of acquiring a viola, I was shown a range of wooden viola bows, all about $500, and a Glassen viola bow costing much less, and in this case it was clear that the Glassen did not measure up in the comparison.

Any thoughts?

May 2, 2017 at 10:35 PM · I think you mean Glasser.

May 3, 2017 at 02:24 AM · For bows, the price tag might be the least important factor. Inspect for Elasticity,strength, Weight, perceived weight by the 4th finger, which is related to balance and taper, straightness, , fit, tip exactly parallel to the frog, and of course, how well it works your violin.

One of my better violin bows is a $100 student grade brazilwood. My best Viola bow is a cheap, heavy, clunky Violin bow. I read somewhere that when Fritz Kreisler needed a re-hair, he would just go to the Hill shop and trade for another one off the rack. Then Hill would sell that bow as "ex-Kreisler" (Someone; is that story true?)

May 3, 2017 at 02:30 AM · Yup, true story, because he tightened his bows until straightened out, so he used Hill because he didn't want to damage old French bows (Thanks for your respect, Fritzy!) :)

May 3, 2017 at 05:46 AM · I have also heard-- maybe here-- that his Hill kept at the Library of Congress gets better results with his del Gesu than the more expensive French bows they have in their collection.

May 3, 2017 at 03:46 PM · I used to use a warped wooden bow and a carbon fiber bow when I was in 7th grade. Now, when I use the warped bow, I do feel a difference of the quality and techniques able to use on the bow. So I would play another year or two and that should help.

May 3, 2017 at 03:46 PM ·

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