difference of sound a quality of bow can make?

December 30, 2004 at 02:45 AM · I have recently bought a cheap synthetic haired bow, because I have lost the one before it. After I got it, the instrument seems to give a 'scratchy/sticky' sound.

I haven't been playing the instrument for a while, so it could be that my skill has faded, or there seems to be a big problem with the bow.

So I wanted to know about 1) the difference a quality of the bow can make, and 2) tips for getting less 'scratchy/sticky' sounds on a higher note.

Replies (100)

December 30, 2004 at 03:07 AM · You may have too much rosin on your bow hair.

One teacher once told me that the quality of tone production can rely as much as 30% on the choice of bow. I agree. If all bows had the same effect on sound, then perhaps we'd all be playing on Glasser bows.

If you press down on your bow, don't press at all (or very little) on higher notes, especially higher on the three lower strings.

December 30, 2004 at 04:58 AM · When you play higher positions, make sure the bow is closer to the bridge and all the hair is on the string. You don't have to press the finger on your left hand so hard but concentrate on the bowing more.

December 30, 2004 at 10:56 PM · i personally dont see how bows would affect sound, that seems like a hair thing.

December 31, 2004 at 03:38 AM · Then buy a glasser bow and have the best horsehair put on it. Then compare with a nice pernambuco with not as good hair.

You'll hear the difference. It is true that both the hair and the bow have something to do with it, but dismissing the bow as not the problem (and as a matter of hair) would be a serious overlook on your part even though you don't think so.

Again, if all bows were relatively equal, then why isn't Perlman playing on a cheap bow? And with that, he probably is using good hair, too.

December 31, 2004 at 05:18 AM · because you simply cant play well with a bad bow, you can't draw even whole bows, the balance is off, spicatto is very difficult, string changes are hard because the weight shifts too much....

December 31, 2004 at 06:16 AM · "you can't draw even whole bows, the balance is off, spicatto is very difficult, string changes are hard because the weight shifts too much"

Funny you didn't mention the one thing all of these are trying to make: tone. The fact is that good bows are good bows because they just do what you said they would.

And precisely, the bow itself affects the tone (I think you said that the bow wouldn't affect sound since it's a "hair thing") and not only the hair. By not being able to be played correctly, the tone suffers. Thus, the bow (and how well it plays) is important to the quality and amount of sound.

December 31, 2004 at 10:57 AM · The bow makes a HUGE difference.

Liz

January 1, 2005 at 04:09 AM · Once when I got my starter violin and bow, they gave me a starter rosin (the kind that comes in a wooden sleeve). This rosin threw off chunks and gave my bow a scratchy sound. I swapped rosin (Motyra Gold) and the sound improved greatly, smoother and sweeter. Also, a little goes a long way, so don't over do the rosin. Synthetic hair probably does not hold rosin very well, and you might have put too much on.

On the sound issue, the stick does make a difference. I've found that carbon fiber sticks sound lackluster on my violin, and softer sticks sound fluffy/mushy, whereas stiff sticks sound bright and dry. The best sticks sound brilliant and sweet when bowed faster, and warm and lush when bowed slower.

A question, for better spicatto and liveliness, how does the camber affect it? Does the camber affect the sound also? Just curious, as I've seen people with the Spicatto bow where you can adjust the camber, and I've always wondered why and in what direction they adjust the camber, and for what purpose?

January 1, 2005 at 03:18 PM ·

I accidentally did a real "blind test" on a bow once.

I came into the shop in the morning and had to pick and send one of my violins and a bow to go with it. I grabbed an unmarked bow that I'd never seen before off the rack, and tried violins until I found one I liked, and then went to the bow drawer to find an appropriate bow to go with it, since I didn't know what the one I was using was, or how much it cost. Every other bow made my violin sound, relatively, awful.

I finally found one that did a pretty nice job, then went around the shop trying the mystery bow on everything--it was an amazing bow, really wonderful, adding about 20% to any instrument I played with it regardless of what the violin was.

When everyone else came in that morning, I discovered that the first bow was a newly-arrived Francois Tourte. I called a player friend of mine, suggesting he'd want it and he informed me he wasn't in the market for a bow. I insisted he needed to see it, because it was REALLY special, and a week later he was the new owner.

Specifically, what the bow did was add another dimension to any violin, making it sound like it was really alive.

Hair, and the quality of the rehair, does also make a difference, but not as much as the difference between different bows can be, and mostly affecting the smoothness of the sound.

As for camber, the shape of the camber matters a lot both to tone and feel--how much curve there is directly behind the head relative to other places, for instance. I was also very surprised recently to learn (because I've never actually seen it done before) how changing the shape of the camber can remove such things as that twitchiness that you can get in the middle of the bow. I thought that was just a bow's inherent problem, until I complained about one bow, and the bowmaker I work with said "where?", took the bow into his workshop, adjusted the camber, and made the twitch go completely away. I suspect this isn't something every bow guy knows, or there wouldn't be so many bows around with this problem.

January 1, 2005 at 07:20 PM · Michael, how did he make the twitch go away? Anything you can pass on?

January 1, 2005 at 07:30 PM · M. Darnton: Ditto and well said. I think Josh will gain a lot by upgrading his synthetic bow.

Happy New Year,

January 1, 2005 at 11:20 PM · i dont see how the wood of the bow could affect the sound, it just doesnt make sense. are you saying it vibrates and increases the sound or something? I have tried world class bows, and never had them sound different in terms of basic sound, probably because they are rehaired at the same place i rehair mine.

January 1, 2005 at 11:52 PM · Owen, if you played with a really heavy bow, then the sound would be a lot louder compared to a light bow, and vica versa. An over simplification, but I guess this is how a bow can affect sound. Also, really cheap bows snap, this kind of thing affected the sound when it happened to me as a beginner :-)

January 2, 2005 at 12:19 AM · Nice message Michael. Can you say whether more camber behind the head is better or less? On one of my bows, camber behind the was changed by the shop. What does more camber do and what does less camber do? One of my bows has more camber over the entire stick than the other one, which is straighter from the frog side.

January 2, 2005 at 12:45 AM · well i guess, i'm sort of excluding really bad bows from this. But weight can be altered indefinetely with your hand anyway, i'm just talking about quality of tone on just an open string or something.

January 2, 2005 at 01:04 AM · Re: "But weight can be altered indefinitely with your hand anyway...."

I wouldn't recommend that for a beginner, though. It's the same as trying to learn on a bad instrument and getting into bad habits that way or simply becoming frustrated. My first beginner bow was very badly weighted and I got into the habit of digging into the string after the first quarter of the bow, thinking that was actually part of the technique. Fortunately that bow broke after a few months. when I began to play with a properly balanced bow the sound I first produced certainly was odd. I hate to think what longterm "technique" I would have had to overcome had I continued with it.

January 2, 2005 at 07:58 AM · I keep reading the best bows under $1000 are synthetic.

If that's true, then why are companies like Arcos Brazil, Water Violet, and others wasting their time? Why don't they throw out their wood bits and start whittling on plastic? Somebody answer this.

Owen,

My good bow vibrates. I feel it on my fingers where they contact the bow when I'm using the upper half. My bad bow doesn't do that and it doesn't sound as good to me. I can't tell you where to get a vibrating bow. It's of unknown origin :) But it's stamped Tourte, which means it's not.

January 2, 2005 at 09:34 AM · Owen, there's a lot of things I don't understand but are true. If you personally can't hear any difference there's a possibility there is no difference. But speaking as one who has talked at length with players on the importance of the bow, I can comfortably say that the bow does make a LARGE difference. All hair does is accept rosin - or reject it.

If I were to suggest that violins with the same type of strings sounded the same, you'd probably think I'm insane. I'd argue, "I don't know how this could be true. I just don't understand. But I do know that since a particular type of string on the instrument, it will sound good. The resulting sound comes only from the strings and not the instrument. It can't be the violin. I don't understand." Doesn't that sound ridiculous?

Such are with bows. Hair does make a difference, but as I said before, the bow has a lot of work in the production of the sound. One can typically hear this. If they can't, conditions are not right for a discernment of better, more articulate fuller, and stronger tones.

If you believe a mediocre bow and a Tourte measure up to each other both because they have the same hair, then there's definately a problem.

As I understand it, vibrations of the bow contribute to the violin's sound. Perhaps others will be willing to talk on this.

Finally, who ever tested the differences and characteristics of a bow only on open strings? I would never do this. Not only is this a disservice to the bow, but it never gives the bow a chance to "shine". Incidentially, I once had a bow that didn't perform as well on open strings as on stopped strings.

In short: all bows are not made equal or are made equal because of their hair.

January 2, 2005 at 01:32 PM · I don't know what he did to correct the bow--he just told me that there was a problem with the consistency of the camber, but I didn't watch him working.

As for camber behind the head, it's not good or bad, just different. Sartorys have so much that some makers think it's cut into the wood there, not bent; Peccatte bows have almost none, and some early Tourtes are so flat there that they turn inside out behind the head when they're tightened.

All of these are good bows, though they act and sound completely differently from each other. I just picked that spot because it's the easiest place for people who don't see a lot of bows to see the difference. I want to say that straighter behind the head gives a smoother, but less aggressive sound, but I'm not sure that's completely true.

January 2, 2005 at 08:52 PM · well all violins sound different because they are what creates the sound, by vibrating. I cant see how the bow would have anything to do with the sound. To say that all the hair does is accept rosin is silly, it is what creates the sound.

btw i'm not advocating using crappy bows, or trying to diminish their importance in the least. I was just wondering if it were even possible for the stick itself to affect the quality of sou nd that came out.

January 2, 2005 at 09:43 PM · How you bow affects how your instrument sounds. There are two violins in our house, and while one of them will tolerate heavy handed bowing, the other one responds to a more subtle touch that makes all kinds of subtones (??) ring from it. The better the violinist, the better the tone, but if the stick itself is unresponsive? This makes me curious: from the real violinists, do you prefer certain bows for certain violins?

January 3, 2005 at 04:21 AM · The bow really should be bought to match the violin, and professionals often use different bows for different types of music, too.

The person I mentioned in the Tourte story has a nice collection of bows and instruments, and every time I've been at his house, we go through bow/instrument combinations to pick the right bow for the right instrument, based just on sound. The same primary pairings come up every time we do this, and then for second or third choice usually the winner is one or two other bows he has--his Peccatte does pretty well on all the violins, but isn't the best on each, for instance. The first bow he bought, which isn't fabulously pricy, does very well on each violin, too, but isn't in first place on any single one of them, as the Peccatte is.

January 2, 2005 at 10:23 PM · oh most certainly. Being a student i can't afford any other bows than my old bausch, which does everything reasonably well. Occasionally i play on world class bows from teachers or whatever, its just so much easier.

January 2, 2005 at 10:34 PM · The quality of the bow, bow hair and the quality/type of wood used DOES make a diference in sound. That was proven sometime back. I remember reading an article about it somewhere, maybee Strad. I'll have to find it and I'll share it with you!

I remember how the article mentioned resonance thru the wood on the bow and also about the sound quality you get from real horse hair versus "nylon". Not to mention how bow balance, weight, etc. can play a big role in sound and technique.

I'll try to find the article!

PF

January 3, 2005 at 04:43 AM · Owen,

I read your first message about quality of the bow or certain aspects of it not effecting the sound... Let me relate to you a story that my teacher told me. His wife, a professional violist (the violist in the ProArte String Quartet... if you are familiar with the name) once had a small problem with the screw of her bow which needed to be fixed. Our local bow guy gave her a new screw as a lender and she took it home and that was that... until she played the instrument with her "new" bow. It sounded absolutely awful... she called up my teacher and he agreed, so they took it back to Ralph, and sure enough when the old screw was put back in, the previous brilliance of the instrument and bow was restored. To this day they still haven't been able to figure out exactly what in the screw of her bow effected the tonality of the instrument, but if this isn't a sure sign that the bow effects sound production then I'm not really sure what is... :) . I just thought that was a rather timely story... so there ya go. (Plus, if bow quality didn't effect sound, why would the pros be going out and spending thousands of dollars on bows? :) )

Alex

January 3, 2005 at 07:38 AM · "To say that all the hair does is accept rosin is silly, it is what creates the sound"

To say that bows don't affect sound is even more silly, and more silly is the test of a bow using open strings. Even more silly is saying that all bows rehaired with the same hair sounds the same. The bow is important. IT is what creates the sound.

Bows not affecting sound...THAT is silly.

January 3, 2005 at 07:40 AM · After reading your stories about the bows I'd like to add my one penny too. The difference in sound definitely depends on the violin itself. On the better instrument the difference is more audible than on the cheaper violin. I bought a Stagg outfit in June for 80$ and it came with cheap wooden bow without any value, as my luthier told me. I played it and eveyrything was fine. Then I bought a Carbondix Carbon Fiber bow for 100$, and I play my violin with it, and eveyrhing is fine as it was before this buy. I definitely can say that I like the bow much better, it feels nicer in my hand, it's well balanced, and some bowing techniques are apparentely easier (spicatto?). But I can't see any difference in the sound. Nothing, literally nothing.

Regards,

M.

January 3, 2005 at 03:12 PM · Aren't there three parties to the equation: the bow, the violin, and the violinist (meaning what you do with the first two)? My amateurish eye opener came when I played back and forth with the two violins in our house and discovered that one of them seemed to respond to something more pressurish, while the other one wanted the tone drawn out in another way entirely. Using the bow the same way on either instrument would be ideal on only one of the two each time. So you have an instrument that wants a certain touch, a musician who is sensitized to the personality of the instrument, and a bow which also has its own characteristics (with the musician interacting and sensing those characteristics) and then using the bow to provide the touch that best draws out the violin's best sound. In the case of my two violins, a different bow for the "robust" instrument might allow me to transmit that kind of bowing to it then the kind of violin. But if I remain unaware of the characteristics of my instrument wouldn't it be more "by chance" that the ideal bow would make much of a difference? I mean, if I use a flexible and responsive bow in a heavy-handed way on the subtle (?) instrument it won't mean much. Obviously the quality of the violin plays a huge role but it seems to me that in a sense violin, bow, and violinist form a one-person trio that are constantly interacting. Hey, I think I'm starting to understand some things here. If only I were 7 years old with decades to explore and learn!

January 3, 2005 at 04:40 PM · When I went shopping for a viola bow several years ago I tried several wood and several carbon fiber bows. The carbon fibers sounded different from the woods, and the woods did not sound identical to one another. I have two wood violin bows made by the same guy, Gustav Schindler. They do not sound the same. I'm sure the weight of the stick is a factor, but I did not have a scale for observing the effects of weight differences in either case.

January 3, 2005 at 04:58 PM · With all due RESPECT,

Does who don't think the quality of the bow affects the sound quality, should do some research about it. Many carbon fiber bow manufacturers even advertise their bows as "improving the sound" because according to them carbon fiber "conducts" sound better then wood. I don't use carbon fiber bows, never did, never will. Not to say they are bad! I just prefer the more traditional wood bows.

Please, I mean it in a good way! If you think the bow has no "play" in the sound, then you need to do some reading.

If you find information proving the bow has nothing to do with it, please post it here (link/text) for us to learn about it!

PF

January 3, 2005 at 04:57 PM · Interesting discussion. I'm not a bow expert by any means, but I can add one more data point. I have a modern luthier-made instrument, and two bows, both permabuco, almost certainly factory or workshop-made, in the circi $300 range. One is made by a German company (I forget the name), and one is made by God-knows who and sold by my luthier on a shop brand.

The German one, which is fairly thick, and has a stiff but light stick, is easier to play quickly, but tends to get me clenching with my bow hand too much unless I use a very russian grip, and produces a fairly bright, slightly harsh tone on my instrument. The shop bow, which I chose to match the instrument (but is certainly nothing fancy really, and cheaper than the other) produces a much sweeter, less harsh sound, with a lot more subtlety to it. I have found this comparison to ring true no matter what strings are on the violin. (Rosin also makes a big difference independant of bow.) I have seen a similar, but lesser effect, one my cheaper fiddles.

Playing on the shop bow (which I seem to recall cost like $280) in combination with the new instrument (bought simultaneously) brought about some improvement in my playing, as I could use much more subtle pressure and get more colors.

So my advice, if you want a new bow, might be to try a bunch of bows in your price range. You don't have a to spend a whole lot to get a good bow. I did try a lot of different bows (all of the shop brand, presumably made to the same specs by the same workshop) before I found one with the sound I like. I have played one carbon fiber bow in the $600 range, and found it decent, but not as good to my tastes as my $280 permabuco one.

That said, scratching is probably a matter more of right hand technique than bow choice. You may be using too much bow pressure or not enough speed, or might need to adjust your contact point away from the bridge (?). A teacher or friend could probably straighten you out on this quickly after seeing you play. The difference I have found between bows involves ease of playing, various techniques, and tone color...but any bow (even a terrible one, of which I have played many) can be played without scratching with some practice and acquitanc with it.

PS For some reason, I always prefer bows with round sticks as opposed to octagonal, even in essentially blind tests. Lord knows why. I can't imagine there is any physical basis for a difference in sound.

PSS If you are anywhere near Canton, Ohio, the place I got my bow (and instrument) was Martin's Violin shop.

January 3, 2005 at 08:27 PM · I'm reading your responses about buying a violin, or buying a bow and I'm amazed. You say you go to the "violin shop", when you can try many violins, many bows, ask for an advice... that's what I really miss in my country. It's impossible to do something like that there, in Poland. Music Shops offers only factory-made guitars, keyboards, electric pianos, and luthiers almost always have got small workshop and they make their violins. Their, and only their - do not sell anything else. After long research I found only two violin shops in which it's possible to try something, and see it "live", but the range of products is somehow small.

Is such kind of buying a bow or violin a normal thing in most countries, or just US, England, and so on are so good for violinists?

That's why I bought the CF bow via net, and I'm going to buy a violin from GiannaViolins... nothing there! Literally nothing! I tried to get Yamaha V5 to look at it, but nobody agreed to get it for tests without my word, that I'll buy it. The same with bows - even if you find something, with is difficult, you can't try it because they refuse to rosin the bow. I'm sad :|

p.s. could someone tell me if it's easier to get a reasonable violin for $400-$500 in Germany or Czech Republic?

Regards,

M.

January 3, 2005 at 08:29 PM · Czech republic, no doubt, but a violin from Romania or Bulgaria or China would be even better for the money.

January 3, 2005 at 10:06 PM · Jim wrote: "I keep reading the best bows under $1000 are synthetic.

If that's true, then why are companies like Arcos Brazil, Water Violet, and others wasting their time? Why don't they throw out their wood bits and start whittling on plastic? Somebody answer this.

"

Okay, I'll try. I've tried a variety of Arcos Brazil bows and found them very nice for the money. Pernambuco is now a rare and protected tree species and the Brazillians control the export of that wood. This means they get to keep the best wood for their own bowmakers. These companies put out bows by certain named makers that are probably made by assistants, with the "special edition" made by the named makers. But they are very consistent. As for bow qualities, they tend to be on the stiffer side, and be more tip heavy than other bows in the price range. For < $1000 I would prefer a Brazillian bow over other bows that tend to be spongier and softer. The sound is nice and strong, and the only downside is the balance point. I suppose one could get that fixed or adjusted. By the way, I can easily tell Carbon fiber bow by the sound (or lack thereof) that it gets on my violin. I have yet to find a CF bow that sounds as robust as a pernambuco bow. One time, the shop assistant handed me a bow blind, and as soon as I put it on the string I thought it was muffled and handed it back. It turned out to be a Spicatto bow that was mixed into the tray of higher priced pernambuco bows. I would prefer a $400 Chagas over an expensive CF bow, but that is my personal opinion.

January 3, 2005 at 10:17 PM · Wow, those are quite some responses.

First off i wasn't trying to make too much of a definitive statement, it just didnt make sense to me in terms of physics how the quality of wood of bow would affect the tone. I understand fully how it affects your ability to play with it. My experiences were that bows with similiar hair and rosin tend to sound the same when you're not using their facilities for something more than basic long bows.

Apparently other people have had quite different experiences. I am not trying to say any of you are wrong by any means, i certainly havn't had as much experiences as some of the veterens here. I was just curious if anybody could explain how that would actually work, the vibrations of the bow wood affecting the vibrations of the instrument?

January 3, 2005 at 11:18 PM · Owen, there is somewhere in the vast caverns of postings on v.com a link to a bow maker who practically has created a thesis on the properties of bows. It is amazing reading, but I haven't a clue as to how to find it again.

January 4, 2005 at 12:03 AM · thanks, i'll try to find it in the archives. do you know when it was posted?

January 4, 2005 at 01:55 AM · Drawing the Sound: What to Look for in a Bow

http://www.soundpostonline.com/archive/spring2003/page2.htm

Making bows.

http://www.drbows.com/vnbow.html

Some background on bows.

http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~leonid/bows_makers.htm

http://www.soundpostonline.com/archive/spring2003/page1.htm

January 4, 2005 at 01:56 AM · Now is scratching when I spiccato my right hand's problem, or my bow's problem? When i near the frog, i always get the horrible scratching. Is it a combination of a new bow and a new techinque? (Also my bow is a bit misshapened; curves to the right)

January 4, 2005 at 02:39 AM · Owen,

I have no idea how it works either. It DOES seem strange that the vibrations from a bow would affect the vibrations of the violin. But somehow that how it seems to work.

If I take my Andersen (a very good bow by most standards) and play on my Vuillaume there is nothing special about the sound. It's slightly flat in terms of brilliance and there is just something rather Ho-Hum about it. Now, when I take my other bow (an unidentified French bow long thought to be a Tourte) the sound is COMPLETELY different; bright, sparkly, and vibrant. And the hair on each of them is from the same shop.

Surprisingly, a friends $700 Carbon fibre bow sounds much better on my violin than the Andersen.

Preston

January 4, 2005 at 07:45 AM · Preston, is there a difference in how the two bows feel on the string?

January 4, 2005 at 02:43 PM · Sure Jim!

PF

January 4, 2005 at 11:02 PM · Bows, bows, bows...

Each are individual to the instrument and the player. There are so many factors. However the biggest difference is in a hall. It comes down to the size and core and focus of a sound. Feel is important, but the feedback you get while playing in a hall tells you all IMHO!

As for price, who cares. I used to play on a broken Pajeot that was OK but worthless because of the broken head and lousy repair and it sounded fine, though I sold it. It really comes down I think to match between player/style of bowing/instrument and bow!

Cheers!

January 5, 2005 at 01:52 AM · Jim,

Absolutely! I don't know if you play ice hockey or skate at all, but I can compare it to skating around the rink with dull skates (the Andersen) and then switching to skates sharpened a week ago (not too sharp, just right)...thats the Tourte.

Preston

January 5, 2005 at 06:30 AM · Inge writes: "Owen, there is somewhere in the vast caverns of postings on v.com a link to a bow maker who practically has created a thesis on the properties of bows. It is amazing reading, but I haven't a clue as to how to find it again. "

Is this it? Entitled "A Bow on A Couch" by bowmaker Andreas Grutter

http://www.andreasgrutter.nl/book/p0_frame.html

January 5, 2005 at 06:44 AM · That sounds like the one. It is absolutely fascinating and humbling.

January 5, 2005 at 07:50 AM · The stick has to have something to do with the sound. Take convex bows for example. Although I've never tried one, I've heard that they impart a natural accent on detache. Also, it's apparently well suited for chords, but doesn't work so well with spiccato. I'm guessing it has something to do with flexibility? Perhaps the better sounding bows are designed to absorb the roughness of the sound. Keep in mind that there is absolutely no evidence for what I'm saying, nor am I restating the work of some bow maker who spends hours working on bows.

And as for the difference between octagonal and cylindrical bows, I've always thought that it was simply decorative. That said, it might have to do with (again) flexibility. Wouldn't cylindrical bows resist bending more than the octagonal bows?

January 5, 2005 at 09:01 AM · Greetings,

the octagonal stick can have slighly more wood on it than a round one due to a kind of optical illusion (read this in a Strad article ast year-new ot me).

Octagonal bows bows tend to be a little stiffer but bows vary so much it is barely worth generalizing,

Cheers,

Buri

January 5, 2005 at 01:04 PM · Bow makers also made a bow octagonal, if they thought the wood was going to be to flexible. By making them octagonal, making them stiffer as buri mentioned, compensating for the wood. Most times if they had a good block of wood (pernambuco, etc.) they would make them round.

You can notice that round sticks also warp faster, the octagonals hold their shape better. So if they made a round bow with low quality wood, it would be warping all the time, to flexible, a nightmare for the musician.

BTW, I'm looking at a Tourte today! Can't wait to play with it.

PF

January 5, 2005 at 07:59 PM · buy it, then let me play with it.

January 6, 2005 at 12:15 AM · Naw...a tourte wouldn't sound any better than the bow you have now, would it owen? ;)

January 6, 2005 at 08:58 AM · A good bow approximately costs the price of a good violin (in the range of medium good quality). It might seem an excessive price for a stick and a bunch of horse hair. Actually a correct bow is manually cut out of a relatively huge piece of a precious wood with a great loss of wood. Each piece is manually made out of precious materials such as ivory,nacre,silver and are to be cisseled and precisely adapted. It seems that the frog manufactory is of the greatest importance in the quality of the bow.

Some acceptable bows of lower quality are mechanically cut out of wood .It might have been a confusion with synthetic because we have (at least in France) Bows in pernanbouc that are cheaper than carbon bows.

January 6, 2005 at 09:40 AM · If you don't think the stick makes a difference, string bow hair to a hockey stick and see what it sounds like.

January 6, 2005 at 01:54 PM ·

I haven't tried this exercise, but on another forum someone once maintained that you'd have a noticible tonal difference if you wedged a small block of styrofoam under the hair just behind the tip.

The suggestion was that it dampens the response of the stick, changing its vibrating characteristics. *IF* this (that the tone changes) is true (and I don't know, since I haven't tried it) it certainly proves that hair isn't the only issue in tone quality.

January 6, 2005 at 01:59 PM · As I tried to explain, every details is important for tone production.Quality of each components,the shape of each piece and the way they are mounted.

The two Francois Tourte's innovations were the actual curvature of the bow and the way the hair are fixed into the frog but above all, bow maker became a specific job different from luthier.

January 6, 2005 at 04:20 PM · Yesterday, I was blessed by a private instrument collector who has made a Tourte bow (François Xavier Tourte (Tourte le jeune), Paris, ca. 1805-1810) available for me to play.

As I visited his “museum” I had this V.com thread in mind and wondered how much difference in feel and sound I was going to notice.

Let me tell you!!! Night and Day is all I can say as I am still recovering from the shock from such an opportunity. The bow makes my E string sound warmer with more body.

GDA are warmer and makes chords sound more full and round. Spiccato is crisp and sweet. Overall the quality of sound has increased. The bow is round and made of South American Pernambuco. The other aspect I noticed was how much easier it is to bow and produce a great sound with it.

I love my Morizot bow and my Herrmann but the Tourte is a masterpiece! I couldn’t wait to get home and play, play, play! I was up till 3am playing.

No wonder “famous” players practice so many hours with their Strads and expensive bows!! LOL

Anyway it’s 11:20, I just got up and I’m going to take a shower and PLAY some more!

I am excited about this, and YES bows DO make a difference in SOUND and much more!!

Cheers,

PF

PS: Sorry Owen, can't let anyone play it.

BTW, don't ask how much it is worth, I prefer not to say!

January 6, 2005 at 08:13 PM · BTW, take a look at this article: http://www.tourolaw.edu/2ndCircuit/october95/94-4237.html

Cheers,

PF

January 6, 2005 at 08:35 PM · Wow Peter, I am sure that I am not alone in being completely envious of your newly-aquired bow! Just for the record, I am in no doubt at all that the stick makes a difference to the sound, I had the lapping on my bow changed, and even that seems to have made a difference to the sound.

January 7, 2005 at 02:12 AM · Congrats Peter with the Tourte bow, I think you would probably feel like you are playing on a new violin now. Bows do have their own acoustic properties which can help with your playing so listen out for it when you are trying them. BTW Peter does the bow you have have this "sitting in" feeling on the strings such that you feel that all your legato strokes are sitting on the strings properly and can never go wrong ?

January 7, 2005 at 03:00 PM · Something like that! It does feel more "in control".

January 7, 2005 at 06:12 PM · I don't think styrofoam in that position would decouple the stick.

Also, the foam could damp the hair itself.

January 12, 2005 at 02:54 PM · Hi,

Peter is right. Milstein once said this about Tourte's to a former teacher of mine. He asked Milstein "How do you know it's a Tourte if it has no stamp?" And Milstein said "You just know."

Now, I didn't believe it until two years ago, when someone I knew handed me an unstampted bow and asked me "What do you think it is?" And the sheer feel and balance in my made me exclaim "That's easy, it's a Tourte!" And he asked me why... My answer, "you can just feel it". Trying it, the sound, etc... well, no comparison. But really, there is nothing like it. It's true! Lucky Peter though gets to keep his...

Cheers!

February 7, 2005 at 08:09 AM · A fascinating discussion.

Reading this thread has made me re-examine my current bow, and I am now wondering about the possibility of modifications. this should probably be a separate thread, but I'll psot here regardless:

I have a Rudi Neudorfer bow. It is only 57.8 grams, but very stiff. I pretty much love it. The tone it draws from my particular violin is perfect, and it handles wonderfully. EXCEPT:

When playing aggressive spicatto, it will bounce just a little too much when I try to come back to straight bowing. I assume this is due to the light weight. I can compensate somewhat with my hand position, and overall it is a good trade-off, as I love the basic manuverability at this weight.

I am very interested in the above discussion of camber-modification. Not something I think my bow requires, but I am now thinking about the possibility of modifying it in a different way, and the general concept of modifying good bows.

In my case, I would not want to change the balance nor the tone, just add a little weight for music that requires it. I tried duct-taping a small fishing weight to the top-middle of the stick. Not surprisingly, this did slightly improve my spicatto control. However, this also has a seriously negative impact on the tone. ( !!!! ) I mean, you wouldn't believe the difference. About half of the harmonics simply dissapeared.

I am now of the opinion that fine bow-making is not an art, it's magic. It's voodoo. It's a gift borne by angels.

I have been lusting after a gold and horn frog, (you know the one I mean?) but my recent experiment has me worried that even changing the FROG could drastically alter my sound.

Has anyone else experimented with such mods?

February 7, 2005 at 11:04 AM · Good heavens. I just stumbled upon an amazing discovery.

I took a small piece of plastic, cut from a pen, and taped it to my bow's stick, about 10" from the tip. I chose this spot because my bow's balance-point is slightly towards the frog (though within acceptable limits.) My thinking was that the plastic, unlike the metal piece in my last attempt, has such a low resonant frequency as to be sonically insignificant.

total weight of my bow is now 61 grams, with a more forward balance, and guess what? the tone improved dramatically. I'm not kidding. The mids seem to leap out now, with an overall stronger, more substantial sound. additionally, it is easier to control legatto near the tip, and spicatto is slightly easier to come out of. Wow.

I then tried other positions, such as 4" from the tip, and dead-center. nope. Both of those positions degraded the sound, though the latter felt even better. What a mind-blower.

So now one has to say: It's not weight that matters, but how the weight is distributed.

It has been mentioned above about changing the camber of a bow. I assume this is done with heat. Are there bow specialists that modify fine bows in other ways as well, such as changing the weight or balance point? I would seriously like to have mine slightly altered.

Does anyone have a suggestion as to who I could go to, in the NYC / New Jersy area?

February 7, 2005 at 12:13 PM · The wood of the bow certainly seems to me to make a difference in sound.

Not just a hairing thing.

You can feel the sound in the stick, and I believe different sticks have different resonances.

gc

February 7, 2005 at 12:22 PM · I did not intend to upgrade my bow, but I happened to be in the shop at the wrong time when our luthier was excited about the two bows that had just come in. It wasn't a huge upgrade price-wise and from the amounts that I see quoted here it would be among the "cheaper" bows. I was hesitant because I really had not come into the shop to buy a bow. I wanted a sound post fixed. But once I put bow to violin - what a revelation! I didn't trust it because I'm just getting beyond the point of having blob of a hand most of the time. I called my son who, like Christian, said "A bow is a bow is a bow." And he was adamant that even if there is a different responsiveness, the violin won't "sound different" unless the player makes that happen. I dragged the poor guy down to the store. He is a violist with strong, loose fingers. I am a violin student with relatively weak fingers and a tight hand. It didn't matter: the difference was still there. What was very astonishing is that it really sounded as though I had a different violin no matter which of us played it with that bow. There is a fruitier sound - apricot.

I've gone from a hexagonal nameless pernambuco stick to a round pernambuco stick stamped C. H. Schuster. The new bow is predictably less stiff as well as better balanced and a titch heavier.

In a reverse sense of responsiveness, I seem to respond to the tightness of a stiff stick by correspondingly tightening my hand. It's the reflex of - if you push me, I'll push back. Because the stick does the work for me and responds to the lightest touch I tend to loosen my grip. That type of response might be at the root of some people's experience of playing scratchy with certain kinds of bows. It may be not just your bow, but how you respond to it since scratchiness also has to do with weight and pressure combined with other factors.

One thing for certain: If I revert to having a tight and unresponsive hand most of my new bow's wonderful properties are lost on me.

February 7, 2005 at 02:20 PM · Hi,

Inge: Bows can make a difference with a violin. There is no doubt. I have two bows (used to have three) and each one reacts differently and gets a different sound out of the violin. The trick is to find a bow that works well for the violin and for you.

I guess that my above responses were for some response in the thread. But, have no doubt. And a great bow, is a great bow.

Cheers!

February 7, 2005 at 03:24 PM · One thing you don't want is a violin bow for a viola, even if it is unusually long. ;-) That was the other reason for going on the bow-trying expedition. Auditions are coming up (not for me). I had made the experience of different bows for different violins as I wrote before, but I am still astonished that the VOICE of the violin changed as though I were playing a different, slightly upgraded instrument. Someone wrote that a good bow only makes a big difference on a good violin, and I have always had the feeling that this one was especially responsive. It's probably the same make as your student's Hungarian violin.

February 7, 2005 at 09:27 PM · You don't need a plastic surgeon. Just wear a mask from now on :)

The last couple of months I've been trying dozens of bows, everything I could get my hands on under $2000. I haven't noticed a lot of difference necessarily between the most expensive of those and the least expensive new bows. With the one I'm about to settle on I feel a lot of vibration in the stick, similar to one I've had longer, but more so. I've never heard that mentioned before, so I did a little reseach. I found some reference to it, where it was called a "buzzy" feel. The article associated it with good or expensive bows, and went on to propose a theory about what it was. It is the best sounding to me, and does all the various strokes well. It's not the most expensive. By the way you can save yourself some time if you're having bows sent to you if you insist at the start they send you only straight bows. They don't necessarily assume you want straight ones apparently.

February 22, 2005 at 09:01 AM · www.lib.kth.se/Sammanfattningar/guettler020607.pdf

yes,its greek to me too...

February 22, 2005 at 03:17 PM · Hi,

Jim: All bows have a point of instability (great point), and some great bows are more sensitive. However, one has to be careful that the is not unstable as in performance with nerves, it becomes impossible to keep on the string and is at the root of some of the bow shaking. I suggest finding a bow that is stable in a long bow, but that is resilient enough and sensitive enough to allow for the off-the-string strokes.

Cheers!

February 22, 2005 at 05:28 PM · Jim Miller wrote:

"With the one I'm about to settle on I feel a lot of vibration in the stick, similar to one I've had longer, but more so. I've never heard that mentioned before, so I did a little reseach. I found some reference to it, where it was called a "buzzy" feel. The article associated it with good or expensive bows, and went on to propose a theory about what it was."

Jim,

I'm very interested in this exact quality. I remember an Ouchard which I tried, years ago. It stood out from a group of four Ouchards because of this "buzzy" feeling in the hand, and because it encouraged a more sharply focussed tone in the high positions than the others did. I remember it well because I regret not having bought it! Could you tell me where I might find this article?

February 23, 2005 at 01:50 AM · Here's the link. It's past the composite bow remarks, in the general remarks area.

link

Christian, it isn't the kind of feel I think you're describing. In that context it's like the bow stays more on the string rather than less. One explanation for the buzz is that it comes from vibration being removed from the hairs so that would make sense.

February 23, 2005 at 02:24 AM · Hi,

Jim: Thanks for the clarification. I misunderstood and now see what you mean. I guess it's the sound translation. I did once see a bow like that. A fantastic Kittel. Could never afford it, but it almost made a string vibrate even without moving it... Oh well...

Cheers!

February 23, 2005 at 05:30 AM · I don't know the science behind it, but I think you'd have to have quite the tin ear to not notice the difference between a fine bow and a regular bow.

Play on open string with minimal pronation in the index and you'll see a good bow really grabbing the string, and a good weight distribution along the lenght of the stick, even with a Kitel, Voirin, or other very light bow.

Aside from all the other stuff a bow does, it should do the above to your satisfaction. I recently bought a new bow, an Emille Ouchard, and before I tried any pyrotechnics I tried all the bows in front of me with the above procedure. It gives it away instantaneously.

March 10, 2005 at 07:56 PM · Peter, the art behind a really palyable bow is likely quite comples.

However, the science behind a good SOUNDING bow is quite simple. It's called "comb filtering." The wood of the bow sympathetically vibrates with the violin. Connected via the bow hair, and travelling back into the instrument, these vibrations dampen some of the violin's frequencies, and boost others. Every bow has it's own set of frequencies (formants) / it's own "harmonic footprint."

This is why different bows sound best on different instruments. Certain combinations of bow-violin create a resultant total harmonic output that we consider beautiful. Others do not. One fine bow may bring out the beauty in violin A, but bring out the overbearing frequencies in violin B.

As a general rule, dense pernambico has just the "right" harmonic footprint for violins as a whole. (plus, pernabico has the perfect strength-to-weight ratio for proper palying.)

The problem with carbon-fiber bows, IMO (I agree completely with claire) is that they don't dampen enough of the upper mid frequencies. thus, most (not all) violins sound a little harsh with them. That has been my experience with several expensive models ($800 and up) and also what about 80-90 percent of forum posters seem to think.

i also believe that synthetic bows are to pure, too consistent from end-to-end. Wood has imperfections. this probably leads to more interesting formants, and formants that change amplitude with variations in tension. (Are you getting this, Owen?)

There is probably some other material out there that sounds even better than pernamico, but no-one has thought of trying it yet.

Even more fun to ponder: There may be an alternate wood that one could make a violin out of. Perhaps the resulting violin would not be as pleasing as a maple-spruce one when played with a standard bow. Yet, perhaps with a bow made out of some other wood, the combination would be even more pleasing to the ear than maple-spruce & pernambico.

Makes ya' think, don't it?

March 10, 2005 at 01:17 PM · I want a violin made with Eucaliptus, my favorite wood!

PF

March 19, 2005 at 01:17 AM · Owen's message is interesting. It may not make sense to him that the wood in a bow has an effect on the sound. I assure him it does. It is just amazing to me how much difference in the sound the bow will make. I've tried hundreds over the years and it continues to surprise me. I tried an Ouchard at a rehearsal the other night. Very top heavy feel, but it gave a fine sound. The Tourte story above isn't at all surprising. The best sounding bow I have is a John Norwood Lee.

March 20, 2005 at 10:07 PM · its not that i dont believe it necessarily, i'm just wondering about the physics, i've played on a tourte, i know.

March 21, 2005 at 01:34 AM · the higher the thinner the string and sort of i guess u could put it quieter or harder to get sound out up there, use more bow speed and less weight

March 21, 2005 at 05:06 PM · huh?

March 22, 2005 at 02:45 PM · A violin will sound better when the 4 parts of the equation are "in tune", these are: the violin, the bow, the player, and the piece being played. A great violin won't sound as good with a poor quality bow, or with a less competant player. Also certain players, certain bows, and even certain violins are more suited for certain types of music pieces.

The best bows are made from pernambuco wood-PERIOD. Every great bowmaker from Tourte to the present uses pernambuco and ONLY pernambuco. This wood has proven to be the best at getting the best sound out of an instrument. Any other claims are nothing more than cheap marketing gimmicks. Whether the bow is an antique French Bow (Bazin, J.J. Martin, etc), a top quality U.S. makers stick (Espy, Morrow, Beckley, etc.), or a good quality inexpensive stick (Arcos Brasil, Water Violet, Marco Raposo, etc.) the wood is ONLY pernambuco.

March 22, 2005 at 03:08 PM · So are you saying that pernambuco is the best wood for bows?

Benjamin

March 22, 2005 at 04:55 PM · oh for sure.

all i want to know is, physics wise, how does better wood equate to better sound.

March 22, 2005 at 06:03 PM · Most people feel that the wood (possibly because it "breathes" and flexes more than a composite material like fiberglass and carbon fiber) allows for a richer sound. While I don't know the physics involved, there must be a reason why wood is primarily used and pernambuco wood is exclusively used for higher end (and presumably better sounding) bows. My suggestion would be to bring in your own instrument (since you are used to it's sound) and play with a variety of mid-level pernambuco bows at a violin shop to check the sound/playability.

I have asked many violin makers why they don't package a bow with their violins, since they know the violin, they could/should be able to match the perfect bow for that specific violin, and they all said the same thing-that since each bow is unique to the individual, the player needs to make the decision on a bow based on how it allows them to play.

March 22, 2005 at 07:57 PM · The question should be about, not just physics, but psychology.

March 22, 2005 at 08:59 PM · True, the way a person plays, the sound he/she desires, and the type of music all factor into the decision as well as the type/quality of bow.

March 25, 2005 at 01:12 AM · Tale of two bows:

The two bows which I use most frequently have very opposite tone producing characteristics. The first bow produces a brilliant sound and increases in volume with almost no effort. It is quite stiff and produces an almost effortless spicatto. However, I have to hold back sometimes in order for the sound not to become coarse or edgy. I use this bow in large spaces and auditoriums. It was made in England by someone in the Dodd family. This bow projects almost effortlessly.

The second bow is un-named 200 year old bow made in or near Markneukirchen in Germany. It was probably made to order for some rich violinist. It has mother of pearl in thin strips on the bottom part of the frog and a spiral 10 pointed star on either side of the frog. The bow plays incredibly smoothly and produces an even silky tone in whichever part of the bow you play. It simply can’t produce a scratchy tone. However, its volume is limited. I use it mainly to play chamber music and it never fails to please.

Ted Kruzich

March 25, 2005 at 07:12 AM · Dodd and the like are excellent for classical repertoire.

March 26, 2005 at 09:42 AM · The last time I wanted to buy a better bow than the one I had, I went to my violin/luthier shop and told the staff roughly how much I wanted to spend. They give me a whole bunch of bows to try and put me in a practice room by myself with my own violin and the bows. (I didn't realize how fortunate I am to have opportunities like this until I read the post from the violinist in Poland.) I tried 10 or 20 different bows, made my selection, and went to talk to the staff member who was helping me. I told him, "I just can't decide between these two bows. I like them both very much, and they're both much, much better than all the others." He said, "Excuse me," and went into the back room for a few minutes. When he came back, he said, "I'm so sorry. I made a mistake. The two bows you like so much cost $1500 each." I had specified a price range much lower than this, and all the bows I tried, except for these two, were within my price range. This is awfully good evidence to support the theory that the bow can make a very big difference.

Now when one of my students wants to upgrade his or her violin but doesn't have a lot of money to spend, I have them try my bow on their violin. They gaze in wonder at my bow when they hold it and hear the sound. Sometimes they upgrade their bow, rather than their violin, because it improves the sound substantially and is affordable.

March 26, 2005 at 10:44 AM · After he discovered which ones you liked he raised their price.

There are lots of expensive bows you wouldn't like. It's not a coincidence the ones you liked suddenly got more expensive.

March 26, 2005 at 07:06 PM · I haven't tried a single Hill bow, especially the Fleur De Lyse series that I thought was worth the money.

Even though Hill is probably the cheapest of all "name brand" master made bows, I think they are definately overated. Ask the average violinist what the best bow in the world is, and they'll tell you Hills are the best.

So that's another thing to consider, don't buy the name, buy the bow. Last year I nearly bought some complete unknown in favour of many top makers because I loved the stick, but then I found my Ouchard which I now use, and bought it instead.

The best you can do is be blind to the whole process, and really listen to what you like.

March 27, 2005 at 04:56 AM · Jim, I had this experience in a very reputable violin store. I go there frequently and I'm impressed with their professionalism. If you had been to this store, I don't think you would have made that suggestion, except in jest.

March 27, 2005 at 12:08 PM · They're professionals alright ;-)

PS. editing this one since it's reaching 100 to add:

My feeling about violin shops, no matter how well-known or reputable, is that the psychology is about the same as knife swapping at the stockyard on sales day.

March 27, 2005 at 08:27 AM · Pauline, I too had an experience with a bow that was way over my head, cost-wise. Except that I was told the price before I played it. I refused to play it, actually, since I didn't want to know what I was missing. I was trading up from a $600 bow, and wanted something around $800-$1000. I tried about ten bows, all of which had something good, but after a while they all seemed the same. I didn't feel like any of them were a step forward. Right before I left, I gave in and asked for the $2000 bow. It was beautiful from the very first note, and didn't even compare to the other bows. I had no money for this bow, but I knew that I could have nothing else. It was such a huge difference in quality, I sold my treadmill to pay for it. And I have absolutely no regrets. People say how much nicer my violin sounds, and I know some of it is the strings and some of it is my own improvement, but the big secret is the bow. George could tell right off, and he considers himself a complete novice with music. Although, he consistently provides the best feedback and advice, so I'm sure he underestimates himself.

March 27, 2005 at 10:27 AM · Pauline, it does sound a bit like the old bait and switch, I dare say.

March 27, 2005 at 11:18 AM · Hi,

Hmmm... Pauline, which Baltimore/D.C. area shop is it?

Cheers!

March 27, 2005 at 12:04 PM · I know what you mean, Jim. I've had to learn the hard way...I've gotten burned a couple times.

Benjamin

October 23, 2006 at 03:41 AM · to help you all that are trying to get a better sound out of your fiddle or violin i have show people that is does not matter who makes the insterments to make it sound good you just have to know how to set it up and move the sound post to make it sound like you want it to. i have also had to change the sound post and also added one more and use two sound post one for the e string to keep it from the high pitch distort and the a string you have to watch because the sound post change to a smaller size can make it a little flatter pitch also but the right ajustment can fix it. to make a good bow out of a cheep one is easy to do by heating the bow to tempering the wood to make it harder and give it more tention on the bow hair and it will keep the bow from flexing side to side. more problems with bad sound is from bow flexing side to side action.

October 23, 2006 at 05:53 AM · Greetings,

flagged just in case anyone belived it. maybe the writer thought it was funny. maybe I have no sens eof humor. Back to squeezing road kill throuhg the f holes,

Cheers,

Buri

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