Octagonal vs. Round Bows

June 24, 2004 at 06:41 PM · I've tried to do some research on octagonal and round bows. I came across one site that gave me what I was looking for but now I can't find it nor do I remember what info it had.

Anyways, I have this octagonal pernambuco bow and I've tried to compare it with other bows that have equal to lesser price value.. and I've also had others try my octagonal bow and compare it with their octagonal bows. So far the round ones I've compared seem to be better than the octagonal one I have.

I'm not the only one who thinks this.. a friend has an octagonal bow and a round bow as his secondary.. from what I've heard and from what he's told me, the round one he has seems to be better than the primary ocatgonal bow he uses.

Ok, before I rant on any more, I wanted to know if anyone can give me detailed, specific info and research on the qualities between octagonal and round bows.

I've heard that octagonal bows are better and pricier than round bows but I don't think that's true.

Replies (28)

June 24, 2004 at 07:51 PM · I have an octogonal bow from France, built it the past 60 years, according to Michael Vann.

I purchased it for about $400, and there certainly round bows which cost more than this!

I did, however, send the bow to Michael Vann to be restored (rebalanced, rewound, rehaired, and gold mounted)

The bow is most likely worth more now, about $2500-$3000, however, there still are round bows that cost ians more!

It really would have to depend on the bow, for example, the weight, balance, density of the wood, quality of the wood and craftsmanship. Not to mention the country it is from. French tend to be more than English, English more than German, with Chinese at the bottom rung on the price. This normally has to do with collectability. Of course, a tortiseshell/gold mounted English Hill bow could run more than a silver mounted French Voirin. I am just speaking generally.

So, don't judge completely on octagonal/round when looking for a bow.

Some bow characteristics also tend to be subjective when you look for a bow.

Do you want light or heavy?

Right now, lighter bows tend to be in demand, so they may be priced a bit higher.

To "judge quality" of the bow, I'd suggest the following:

1.) Where is the bow balanced? A balance of 9.5 inches up the stick is ideal.

2.) The grain of the wood. How "tight" is the pernambuco's flame? A closer grain suggests denser wood.

This brings me to 3.) Is the bow made out of Pernambuco? After many different experiments with various woods, pernambuco tends to be the absolute best material. A close runner up is carbon fiber, however, there is a certian price range where carbon fiber bows level off at. Pernambuco will almost always run higher (considering the bow is of very good quality), especially because CITES has listed it as an endangered species of tree.

4.) How does the bow respond to the string? Is the sound immediate, or delayed? If delayed, make sure there is sufficient (but not TOO much) rosin on the bow. If the sound is still delayed, and the bow just "feels" sluggish, then it is most likely not such a great bow. I happen to know a violinist who likes delayed sound, but, that is more or less an exception to the rule.

5.) Elasticity. The bow should feel elastic as it is being drawn. I am not speaking of the technique here, but a "feel" of the bow. Does it bounce properly? Can you do a riccochet on the bow relatively easy? When you try the saltando bowing, do things feel oddly heavy at the tip (this ties in with the balance point)?

These are just some general suggestions, but if you follow this method to evaluate a bow, it should prove fairly reliable.

Good luck!

Maximillian Tresmond

June 24, 2004 at 08:25 PM · I've heard that it's simply a matter of the maker deciding if the particular stick would benefit more from being cut one way or the other to achieve the desired weight and balance...is this not so?

June 24, 2004 at 08:25 PM · I've read elsewhere several times that one style of stick has no consistent advantages over the other in terms of power, response, balance, etc.

As was mentioned in the previous post, any differences between bows having round and octagonal sticks isn't because of the shape of the stick but rather due to quality of wood, construction, etc. There are good (and bad) bows in both camps.

June 24, 2004 at 08:42 PM · Hey Rowell, I'd IM you if you weren't away, but I thought I'd post some info here to help the discussion out.

I'm in the same boat, looking for a new bow to go with my new fiddle, and I've tried lots of different bows. I've also asked reputable luthiers from around the DC area what their take on bows was.

Basically, there isn't any difference between round and octagonal bows. It's just the maker's preference on what he feels like making at that time. Usually an individual maker makes only round or octagonal bows. Not that either one is better, but that's what the bowmaker likes to make.

That having been said, if you're looking for a new bow, go to a reputable violin shop (Gailes' in College Park or Perrin in Baltimore are two close to us... just ask me for the phone numbers), and give them a price range and they should have something like 20 bows for you to choose from. Then pick a few bows that you like and that are easy to play with. Then take them to Olivia and Marc and they'll tell you how they are.

June 25, 2004 at 06:11 AM · There is a difference. I conducted quite a few comparisons with Douglas Raguse violin bows. I finally picked an octagonal one of his (probably his only one) because of superior control even though it had worse tonal quality. I now own a gold Raguse because the octagonal was stolen by my ex-wife. It has better control and sonic properties. 10 years ago when I first bought bows, Doug Raguse seems to concede that octagonal bows don't tend to sound as good as round ones. So, it appears the pressure is on to buy the stiffest wood and build them round. If the wood is a little too whippy but still has good sonic properties an octagonal bow will enhance the control. I could easily hear the rougher sound of the octagonal bows from the same mfg. made at the same time. In the end I went for control because my technique needed it. Now, my technique has improved and I want better sound...so I got the round gold.

June 25, 2004 at 06:28 AM · in general i've noticed that octagonal bows tend to be a little more bouncy, but it could be just me.

June 25, 2004 at 12:25 PM · Good morning!

Owen, I am guessing that this would either be coincidental, or good makers tend to lean towards carving octogonal sticks.

But, when you get high up in price ranges, Sartory, and later Pecatte, how would those compare in bounciness? The ones I have seen were all round sticks.

June 25, 2004 at 01:10 PM · Steve, that's exactly what I've noticed.

June 25, 2004 at 02:14 PM · Hi,

a very interesting subject. A "good" bow is a very individual thing because is has to fit

  • the player and
  • the instrument

Price is a very poor guide, because it is sometimes paid for things (gold trimmings, fancy frog design) that don't really influence playability.

My best bow might be your worst stick and vice versa.

That said, octagonal vs. round is a tradition thing. French bowmakers used the best wood for round bows and for lesser quality bows will leave the bow octagonal.

German makers used to use the best wood and the ultimate craftsmanship for their octagonal bows, building round bows only as a "class b product". (According to "Geige spielen" by Annemarie Jochum).

Nowadays, you can get both octagonal and round bows from top makers and in top quality, but the choice is still up to the individual.

Recently I tested for viola bows with my teacher - without telling him the absolute prices, just that from cheapest to most expensive there was a USD 1,200 difference.

We both came indepently to the same results:

  1. the cheapest bow (the only round stick) was crap
  2. the most expensive bow was next to last
  3. the second most expensive bow was the best
  4. the second most economical bow had the best cost/effect ratio

So I saved 800 USD (Euro, actually) and bought a bow almost as good.

By the way, I prefer octagonal sticks (in all the price ranges I tried).



June 25, 2004 at 05:37 PM · well i think we can agree on the high end of things that round bows are better, i strongly prefer them myself. I was just saying that of the ones i've tried, mainly in the 400-1000 range, the octagonal bows were bouncier, which is not an atribute i like in bows.

June 25, 2004 at 09:11 PM · Hey i've got an octagonal bow too, i got it cause it produced the loudest and clearest sound on my violin compared to the other bows in the shop. Expensive bow too >_< I think Octagon bows tend to be stronger than the rounder bows. Aside from that i don't know any other differences

June 26, 2004 at 02:17 AM · Greetings,

there is a small difference. According to an article I rea din the Strad about a year ago , there is a kind of optical illusion that allows the maker to use very slightly more wodd on an octagonal stick without cauisng it to look too fat. So, presumably some of these sticks may be a litlte stiffer or stronger. bUt I would have thought this veened out in alot of cases becaus eof the quality of the wood itself.

I generally use Nurnbergers which are somwhat stiff at times but I have a rounded Sartory which is as stong as one could wish for...



June 26, 2004 at 02:17 AM · Greetings,

there is a small difference. According to an article I rea din the Strad about a year ago , there is a kind of optical illusion that allows the maker to use very slightly more wodd on an octagonal stick without cauisng it to look too fat. So, presumably some of these sticks may be a litlte stiffer or stronger. bUt I would have thought this veened out in alot of cases becaus eof the quality of the wood itself.

I generally use Nurnbergers which are somwhat stiff at times but I have a rounded Sartory which is as stong as one could wish for...



June 26, 2004 at 05:32 AM · I was aware that there are some differences even though the difference could be tiny.. so whenever people tell me that "there's no difference", I simply just don't accept that.

June 26, 2004 at 03:28 PM · I tried out about 30 bows when purchasing the bow I play with the most right now, and I tried both octagonal and round bows. I ended up with an octagonal because A. it sounded excellent with my instrument B. it felt way better to play with then any of the other bows I had tried.

June 26, 2004 at 03:43 PM · I was wondering about this too...and from what I read came to the conclusion it was all contradictory and confusing...

...I too read that octoganal was better and then read that all bows start out as octoganal and then are rounded off...implying more work goes into making the bow...

...at the lowever end of the pernumbuco bow range...I have both, and prefer the playability of my round bows, and the look of my octoganal bow...

...but these differeneces are very minor...

June 26, 2004 at 04:35 PM · Hmm, I would think that if an octagonal bow were to be rounded off, then the bow would lose too much weight.

June 27, 2004 at 07:21 AM · Some people think oct. sounds a bit more edgy, and round a bit more sweet. All bows don't start oct., actually.

June 30, 2004 at 02:06 PM · Hello...I have two round French bows and an octagonal Pfretzchner (I know I didn't spell that correctly) all from mid to late 1800's. The octagonal bow is stiffer, heavier and bouncier and is the only one which warped on me(not just a rehairing problem). Anyone else see a correlation with warping and octagonal versus round?

June 30, 2004 at 09:10 PM · Warping? You mean the stick changes? You should see my octagonal bow it's become very...how to say it...curvacious...LoL like the bow is not straight at all. I'm not sure if i bought it this way or it changed

July 1, 2004 at 12:59 AM · Hmmph.. -Shrugs-

I use on octagonal bow mainly because my stand-partner in middle school had one and she said they were cool. She was really good and I wanted to have the same cool stuff like her!! Hehe.. But I think they do look better and more prestigious....

July 1, 2004 at 01:07 AM · Black dog, white dog. It really not the most important issue. As long as you like the bow and the it fits your playing, any shape can be a good bow.

July 1, 2004 at 01:14 AM · It might not matter to your playing...but I think you're entitled to get whatever appeals to you most...as long you have some understanding of any ramifications that come from making that choice...

I have a couple of bows that are both functional and very pretty...it gives me pleasure to look at them...as well as play with them...

July 1, 2004 at 05:09 AM · OK...let's talk math...the parallel axis theorem states that the stiffness of a geometric body is proportional to distance of it's mass from the center of gravity of the body. That's why a hollow structure is stiffer than a solid structure of the same material and weight. The parallel axis theorem is a "square" function so the effect of geometry increases proportionally more if you can get more wood at just a little farther from the center of gravity. Notice each of the octagonal corners has an opposite across the center line of the bow. I'm guessing here but I think a square bow might be stiffer and for all I now a triangular bow might be even stiffer than an octagonal bow but wierdly shaped bows might sound wierd too, handle wierd and be rough. The amount shaved off the flat spots to compensate for weight left on the corners is not as significant, according to the parallel axis theorem, because stiffness, again, is a "distance squared" function. No, I can't find my engineering books. Making octagonal bows is like "fluting" them...the hollowing is on the outside. (my civil engineering mechanics of materials class finally pays off.)

For those who need to know...check Andrew Victor's web pages for clues on mechanics of materials...he's the only person I know who speaks music and physics.

He and I have spoken years ago. He used my ideas of putting a mike on the frog and plugging the input to a tuner in order to find a fundamental note. I even suggested to him to suspend the bow by the frog and hunt for tap tones and sweet spots along the bow by gently tapping it with your fingers without making the bow swing wildly. Cheap bows have a sweet spot toward the tip...no surprise, good bows have one near the frog too, excellent bows are pretty much sweet everywhere...like a graphite tennis racket.

Everyone thought I was crazy when I thought up these things.

I learned...get this, you can put a strong thread around the threads of the nut, screw down the nut, tighten the bow appropriately, let it hang by the thread over a soft pad, wrap the string around your finger and...and...put the finger in your ear...no I'm not kidding...you can make a kids string phone and actually hear the bow as you tap it. Shopmen will wonder and be fearful but I assure you, cheap fiberglass bows are or used to be tubby with one main deep note. Expensive bows have a wide range of harmonics. But Victor says you have to tune the hair to the right tension...I should have known. Of course! He got me there.

I was totally unprepared to spend lots of money on bows so I did my homework. Now my ears are tuned.

July 1, 2004 at 06:54 AM · Greetings,

then there is the French versus English debate whcih I found resolbed on the Internet cello site:

Dear BettyLou,

My cello friends and I are in a heated debate over French bows versus English bows. I prefer English bows in general, but my friends say that the French have the market cornered on bows. What do you think?


Dear Clara,

After boring me to absolute tears, I thought about how your question could apply to my world, and me, and I was finally able to elucidate a response. Although I find the French insufferable, I have to go with your friends. My French bow practically plays itself, and the English bow I had for years performed at its best when I used it for kindling one stormy night (I had long ago retired it to pasture). By the way, have you ever wondered why they call it "the frog"? The French also have the market cornered on food, save for some unspeakable odors emanating from a lot of their weird cheeses.



July 1, 2004 at 03:36 PM · oh cmon clara, english food is SO good. deep fried mushrooms and sausage, mm.

July 2, 2004 at 08:26 AM · Ah, the aroma of kidneys and blood pudding simmering in a ghoulish black pot...make mine tempeh.

July 18, 2011 at 09:02 AM ·

I bought a Chinese octagonal pernambuco with a nice frog for $105 from my luthier, for my viola.  It's quite amazing how well I can do staccato with it compared to any other bow I used.  It might of only cost me $105 but it looks as good as my Gotz octagonal pernambuco bow that's worth $400, and performs better on my viola than that Gotz does on my violin.  So Chinese bows aren't bad at all like someone mentioned above.

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