John Norwood Lee's Violin Bow

August 12, 2005 at 05:31 AM · I am searching for a new bow around the price of 2000-3000 dollars. I have heard that John Norwood Lee's violin bow is a very high quality bow and it is at a very affordable price compare to all the other big name bowmakers. I was wondering if anyone of you have actually had experiences playing on them and what are your thoughts and reactions towards his bow. Any comment would help! Thank you!

Replies (24)

August 12, 2005 at 05:21 PM · I owned a Lee that I didn't like too much. It was gold mounted from the late 80's. I did try one recently, however, that I did like quite a bit.

Anyway, a maker named Sobol at KC strings makes really good bows for about $1600.

And everyone seems to be raving about Francois Malo.

And then there are all of the contemporary French makers who some say are the best investment.

Anyway, there are a lot of great bow makers out there. You just have to start calling people and trying their bows.

Here are some:

MALO, Francois

5046 Rue Clark

Montreal, Quebec


(514) 271-7838

Douglas Raguse


Michael Vann


I'm sure others will give you the contemporary French names and contacts, or you can do a search for "looking for a bow" in the upper right corner.

August 13, 2005 at 04:07 AM · I had a JNL bow that I also bought in the late 80s at Bein and Fushi. Though it was quite pretty, it was ultimately proved too heavy and clumsy. I had a very difficult time selling it, Chicago was the only place where I could recoup a portion of the money I spent on it, (bought it for over $2,000, sold it for $1,500) and even so, that took six months.

It is possible his bows have improved. That was just my experience.

August 13, 2005 at 04:23 AM · William, did you eventually get to try a Vann bow? How did you like it?

August 13, 2005 at 03:16 PM · check out a recent discussion:

"Shopping for contemporary bow"

August 13, 2005 at 03:48 PM · Jim,

I did try a Vann bow. In fact, I tried four. They were pretty good, but I liked the Sobol better.

August 13, 2005 at 07:57 PM · Hi all violin lovers out there. I recently bought a violin bow from Howard Green an English maker His bows are out of this world for playing quality and sound. Many top players are using his bows Itzhak Perlman and Ilya Gringolts use his bows.Check out his web site at live in the uk and visit this site most days. This my first posting.cheers.John Taylor.

August 13, 2005 at 11:58 PM · Gringolts stops by this site. He's a cool guy. We'd be buddies if we were occupants of the same universe :)

August 14, 2005 at 02:40 PM · I have tried several of Norwood bows, and liked them quite a bit. They were from the 80's.

A bit off-topic, but has anyone ever tried bows by Christopher English and Matthew Wehling?


John B.

August 17, 2005 at 11:07 PM · Unfortunately he is not in the same league as the Port Townsend makers and many other of his contemporaries.

He became quite fashionable in the 80's thanks to endorsements by Dorothy DeLay and many of her students of that time. And as confirmed by Laurie N., these days his bows are available for $1,500.

As far as bows go, I like to be polygomous with my bows, perhaps that is why I have more than 30 old and new ones. There are many excellent bows (old and new). If you were to commission a bow, it is always a good thing to get to know the maker and for the maker to get to know you and your playing. Here is an interesting article that was published by STRINGS magazine (1998 Resource Guide)when I commissioned the first Amber frog bow ever made by the late Master Bowmaker Keith Peck.

& or

September 11, 2006 at 02:42 PM · There is often confusion as to the difference in price of JNL bows. People often ask why some are charging as little as $1,500 for a JNL bow while others charge $3,000+. There are different grades of JNL bows which are differentiated by the grade of pernambuco, and the amount of artistic inlay and the type of fittings (silver, gold, mother of pearl). John does make a very nice bow for the price, but you can't make a "blanket" judgement on all of a maker's bows based on one or two people's experiences with one bow. All good makers have probably made good and bad bows during their careers, that's how one advances in their craft. Also, what may be a great bow for one person isn't necessarily going to be a great bow for another. Judge each bow for what it is and form your own opinion.

September 12, 2006 at 05:29 AM · Unfortunately,

JNL has seen better days as a maker.

Since the passing of Dorothy DeLay, his fame has unfortunately dwindled.

I have tried a great many bows made by him, and they have never worked for me.

There are many more sophisticated (superior) makers today who are in a very different league.

Making bows with gems and fancy stones does not really speak of the skill of that maker. It shows how good the maker is as a jeweler. But a good jeweler is not necessarily a great bowmaker.

September 14, 2006 at 03:52 AM · John the Jeweller....I wish him luck.

December 7, 2007 at 06:00 AM ·

December 13, 2007 at 04:14 AM · Every bow should be judged on its own merits for the given player.

Look for balance, clarity, stability (no shakes or floppiness), warmth of tone and brilliance, supple and quick responding spiccato and the ability to flex in and out of a note or phrase wherein the bow virtually anticipates your every move.

I have had the experience of playing various makers great and, for me, bad bows — whether John Norwood Lee, other contemporary makers, Tourte, Lupot, Pajeot, Pecatte, Fonclause, Dodd, Tubbs, Adam, Hill, Voirin, Lamy, Sartory, French, English, German, et al. The various periods of bow making make a tremendous difference in the way the bow responds and in how the player uses it.

The bow must suit the player and their instrument — not to mention budget.

March 8, 2008 at 03:35 AM · I own a 63g Lee gold and ebony mounted violin bow. It pulls a better sound out of any of my violins than any of my other bows. I like mine. Your results may vary!

March 10, 2008 at 12:34 AM · John has made a lot of great bows. I often have heard complaints from people who felt theirs was too heavy and strong, who, interestingly enough, chose that bow because it was heavy and strong and that's what they thought they wanted, and then they grew out of that phase. How John, who wasn't in the room, is to blame for this happening is beyond my understanding.

Every maker makes both good bows and bad bows, though the worse makers make more bad ones, and the good makers more good ones. If you're shopping for a bow, I'd recommend, given how easy it is to try a bunch all at once, that you do it by cost range, not by name, and when you get something that works, you buy it ASAP, regardless of who made it, and before anyone else sees it. If you can get first pick of a new litter, that's even better. I would never consider commissioning a bow! I wouldn't even have done it with Sartory, who's one of the more consistent makers of all time. If you think you would have, I challenge you to go to a shop and buy the first Sartory you see without trying it, because that's what commissioning a bow is like, except that you won't have the advantage of working with Sartory.

March 10, 2008 at 11:53 AM · From Michael Darnton;

"I would never consider commissioning a bow! I wouldn't even have done it with Sartory, who's one of the more consistent makers of all time. If you think you would have, I challenge you to go to a shop and buy the first Sartory you see without trying it, because that's what commissioning a bow is like, except that you won't have the advantage of working with Sartory."


I don't think commissioning is quite as grim as Michael has portrayed. When commissioning a new bow, the player can usually have input on the desired playing qualities, so the odds of getting something that works for you are considerably better than walking into a shop and buying the first Sartory you see without trying least if you choose an experienced maker who has some control over playing qualities.

Many makers will also allow you to reject the bow and will return your money if you aren't satisfied.

I don't know what the dissatisfaction rate is with commissioned bows versus instruments, but I haven't had a commissioned instrument rejected in over ten years, even though the player can easily get all their money back if the instrument doesn't meet expectations. I HAVE swapped instruments or bought them back when a players taste changed over time, but changing taste is not unique to the owners of commissioned violins and bows.

Rather than going by maker/dealer opinions though, maybe the best thing would be to get player feedback about their commission experiences.

May 16, 2011 at 03:37 PM ·

I have used my John Norwood Lee bow for about 20 years--excellent balance with a very resilient stick. I highly recommend this bow maker.

May 16, 2011 at 04:53 PM ·

 I wouldn't say commissioning either a violin or bow is "grim:--just inefficient. I don't understand why someone would need to commission a bow unless they wanted a direct copy of something particular or felt the maker was so incredibly consistent that they'd be assured of something they'd like.

If it's one thing every shop has, it's bows. Bows, bows, bows. Cases, even barrels of them. In fact, I don't know why they cost so much. A shop can send you 4 in a case to try. That's so much smarter than commissioning one, waiting weeks or months, and maybe or maybe not liking it.

May 17, 2011 at 11:54 PM ·

Some of his bows appear to have been sold in the $382-900-1000 range at auction.

June 7, 2011 at 04:08 PM ·

 I have recently owned a John Norwood Lee bow. The bow is great, but it is quite heavy and strong. The best thing about the bow is smooth and stable. If you are looking  for a strong and heavy  bow. this will be what you are looking for.



August 17, 2011 at 10:42 PM ·

It's true that going to a violin shop (versus commissioning a bow from a maker) will give you more options and more choices, when you're looking for a bow, or for a violin. However, if you know and trust the work of the builder in question, it's no issue, and it's a huge help to the builder/luthier. Wholesaling bows/violins to a dealer or instrument shop typically means selling work at half-price or slightly better. Plus, working one on one with a known and respected builder you can have some say about specific variables that you'd like in whatever it is you're commissioning.

I've commissioned two bows from Morgan Andersen and both are flat out incredible. One silver, one gold. They are completely different and give me a  range of tonal response that gets just about everything I'd ever want. No regrets there, whatsoever.


I've also commissioned a violin from Jonathan Cooper. Zero regrets on that though it was a tense, long wait for the violin to arrive, and a nerve-wracking drain on the bank account. It's the best instrument I've ever played, period.


So, if you know what you're doing, you can commission stuff and be very happy about it, help to build the luthierie culture in our country, and develop a relationship with the luthiers in the biz.

September 15, 2011 at 02:06 PM ·

 I play on a John Norwood Lee mammoth ivory gold mounted bow that is my primary bow. It is not heavy or what I would classify as a stiff bow at all. It was made in the early 1990's. I tried out over 20 bows over several days and this one really suited me and my violin the best for my tastes. Whoever owned it before must have liked it a lot as well. There is a lot of nice patina on the mammoth ivory frog as well as the back end of the stick. YMMV


David Blackmon

September 19, 2011 at 01:47 AM ·

Hi Kevin,

I've not played bows from that maker.  But, I will say that in this price range, bows can vary enormously in quality, stiffness, and even shape from bow to bow - even when comparing two of the same exact model.  Certainly, there are good makers and bad, but I've found some very poor examples from great makers and some quite good bows from cheaper makers.  So, I'd recommend getting out to some shops and trying out as many as you can.  I wouldn't get too hung up on who the maker is.

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