Bow quality trade-offs

July 29, 2018, 6:54 PM · So I need advice. Being as brief on background as possible. I'm an amateur and buying a new boy. My first bow, a $15 stick that came with some package deal, was replaced by the bow I've used since then, a Becker *** from a Shar in-home trial in '86. That, and the two bows from Shar I rejected, is the sum total of my exposure to the wide range of violin bows that exist. Recently, that Shar bow met a tragic end, and I'm back to an in-home trial sample of bows. Or I use the same danged $15 stick I retired in '86. (It made the case look less empty.)

I'm stuck with two bows and need information, given my inexperience. But it's weird information.

Part of the decision was flexible versus stiff. I can't get the flexible bow, no matter how easier I think it is to handle, to sound anything like the stiffer bow. I'll the stiff-bow difficulty through practice. So what else is new?

Thing is, when I pick up the flexible bow it feels great. I think it's really, really well balanced. Slurred 16th notes across strings low in the bow? Sure. Instead of saying, "Play lower on the bow" I catch myself thinking, "Dang, you hit the string with the ferrule again, stop playing that low!" I never realized what a really well-balanced bow felt like. (Of course, it's a personal thing, and that "well-balanced bow" may be another's bow nightmare.) Still, the sound from the not-so-well-balanced stiffer bow is so much better that it's still a no-brainer, and the stiffer bow's balance still makes my old Becker look bad.

So the real advice or information I'm after is this: How often does one come across a bow in the $3-5k range you think is really well-balanced bow? Are we talking 1 out of 5? 1 out of 12? 1 in a 100? From my point of view, it's 1 out of 6 for the $500-$5k range, and that's based on a sample size of 6 over 32 years. Statistically it's pretty meaningless.

If it's a common thing, then it's worth the risk of repeating a home-trial process with a batch of 3-4 different medium-stiff bows. If it's a rarity, then I go with the stiffer of the two bows I have, even though it's a bit out of balance, because it's not worth the hassle.

Replies (26)

Edited: July 30, 2018, 12:10 AM · The balance of bow is pretty easy to adjust (just not at home). Weights (probably up to at least 2 grams) can be added inside the frog or tip. Light faux whalebone or silk wrap can be substituted for heavier wire winding near the frog and vice versa.

But there is so much more to it than just balance and simple "flexible" or "supple" vs. "stiff" comes nowhere near the whole story either. There is "where does the stick flex and how much?" And there are other properties of the wood that may be estimated in terms of density and velocity of sound.

My penultimate bow purchase (cello) I tried 66 bows in the Ifshin shop. My last violin (final???) bow purchase I bought directly from that same maker (mail order) who sent me 5 bows to try - I did buy one. If you can do it, the more you try, the better decision you are empowered to make.

Gotta leave now for a few hours. I'm interested to see how this builds.

July 30, 2018, 12:14 AM · How bad is the damage to your Klaus Becker bow?
July 30, 2018, 10:00 AM · The Becker is toast. I was planning on upgrading sometime in the next year anyway, but it would have been a great backup.
July 30, 2018, 10:51 AM · What kind of toast? other than a clean (nearly) perpendicular break on the stick or crushed wood, a bow can be repaired. If you don't care if it ends up looking "original" it may not be that expensive. I've repaired a broken tip of a very nice H. R. Pfretzschner with fiberglass tape and epoxy (it was probably already broken before it was traded to me).

My F.N Voirin was probably already broken (a ~2-inch long diagonal break in the stick a few inches from the tip) before it came into my family more than 80 years ago, but I did not discover it until 60 years later when it broke again - the break is long enough that it has been professionally repaired again with glue - no thread wrap on the repair - and is as invisible to me as ever. A friend's Lamy bow with a shorter diagonal stick break was repaired with glue and a thread wrap.

July 30, 2018, 11:02 AM · Balance is to some degree a matter of individual player preference. The real question is, "Does this bow play well?" In the $3k-5k range, you should be able to find a bow that plays entirely satisfactorily. If it's not perfect, pass and keep looking.
July 30, 2018, 12:05 PM · Thanks. I think that's where I'm heading.
July 30, 2018, 12:06 PM · And for Andrew: My violin and bow were in a rather bad accident. I think, but I'm not sure, that I've separated out the bits of bow from the bits of violin, and that I picked up the various bits up.
July 30, 2018, 12:59 PM · OMG!!!
Good Luck!
Edited: July 30, 2018, 4:34 PM · And the violin was repairable??

Exactly as Lydia said, in the 3-5k range there should not be any room for compromises. It should feel balanced in a way that it feels like a natural extension of your arm. AND it should sound great on your violin.
Bow hunting is tricky. Somehow it also depends on the violin but mine is picky. I found a decent bow we (violin & I) both like to maybe 85%, and I got it for a bargain. The best compromise I could find yet between price, sound and playability. Good enough to learn on, just a little bit too supple for my taste, and a slight scratchiness in the pianissimo where I would prefer to hear a soft ringing. My experience with violin bows isn't near expertise neither, but at least I've tried several hundreds of them in various price ranges - contemporary up to 5k, antique up to 12k. Originally I planned to go for bow hunting again in 2 or 3 years, with better technical skills and so on. And then... my viola bow arrived! Contemporary german maker, a bit less than €3k. On my viola it's simply gorgeous. And when I tried it on my violin... well, that's the way I'd like to sound!

What have I learned from this? Hum, not much I suppose. I see that 72g are too much for a violin. But at least I know now what to look for - and that it's not always only my own fault.

July 30, 2018, 4:51 PM · Nuuska, I am bow hunting although I do not mind if it takes one or two years. I would like to buy from a German maker. Sorry for asking, but who made your bow?
July 30, 2018, 5:12 PM · Eva, you're welcome. It's made by Klaus Grünke. There are also models from his father, Richard Grünke. Great value for money, and since it's a reputable name you can be relatively sure the bow will keep its value.

And if there is any specific (antique) bow you really like but it's not for sale (or too expensive), there would be Thomas Gerbeth in Vienna who can make copies from almost anything...

July 30, 2018, 9:15 PM · Thanks Nuuska, I was also planning on trying some from Sebastian Dirr. Sorry Tim for the sidetracking.
Edited: July 31, 2018, 11:18 AM · Otto A. Hoyer was another terrific German bow maker of the early 20th century. His bows have been steadily increasing in value. I have only played on one and it really was terrific, belonged to a friend (now deceased) - I should have offered to buy it when she quit playing.

There still seem to be some auction bargains:

August 4, 2018, 12:03 PM · I did not want to interrupt the thread. But nobody seems to add any more remarks therefore I feel free to carry on.
Thanks Andrew for the advice.
During the last two years I tried some 20th century bows. I would like to find a great bow for me and my violin (I know, I am not alone here) but I am aware that I need some more time to be able to realize a good fit which will serve me for a long period of time.
Having said that I got the impression that quite some affordable older bows (low four figures) tend to have issues. ( I have a heavy workload so my time for searching is really limited.)
Therefore I thought about turning to a living maker. Since it would make it easier to shop from someone in your own country (or close by) I am interested in German bows.
And yes I could go for a carbon fiber bow. Actually that’s what I am using now. But in my heart of hearts I would like to find a good long term wooden bow.
If anybody has suggestions where to find a really good selection of bows or which are really good living makers in Germany (or close by) I would be happy for all the advice I can get.
Edited: August 4, 2018, 1:03 PM · I have discovered that my technique is much more important than my (bow) hardware.
So, I have about 10 (cheap) bows that are suddenly "better" !!
How can 2 people play the "same" bow with similar conclusions?

August 4, 2018, 5:15 PM · Klaus Gronke of Gronke & Sons makes incredible bows. I owned a few of them in the past although they are now in the hands of former students who wouldn't let them go after I let them try thme. :)

If you haven't tried Bernd Musing's line of hollow carbon fiber bows (Arcus), I would give them a try as well. I gave up my vintage French bows to play on an Arcus S8 full-time, and it's been wonderful.

Edited: August 4, 2018, 5:41 PM · Eva, I'm sure the Grünke workshop would be a good place to start with. (As well as Mr. Dirr, I had the chance to test two of his bows yet, and both were rock solid good.) A reputable modern makers bow at a reasonable price will hold its value relatively well. I do not say it will appreciate, and I don't say it will sell overnight, but it will not be very hard to resell it for a reasonable price without too much loss (except the usual commission fees).
Grünke has a relevant output, I'd say, and I know several musicians playing at least one of his bows, most of them using it as their primary working tool. But on the free market (e.g. in commission at a luthier or violin shop) you rarely find them, which might imply that the owners are happy with them.
I had three Viola bows on trial, all were great and had similar playing qualities, but tonal differences. Sure I gad preferred to test ten, or twenty, or even more - but in the end, it was very easy to select one out of what I had. Better and easier to play than anything I could get my hands on, no matter the price. And although I more than exhausted my violin / viola budget for this year, I'm pretty sure that I will not be able to resist the temptation of trying some Grünke Violin bows...

Where are you from? I tried some more living makers in the last year (violin and viola - my luthier seems to be kind of a great networker in the VDG), and I will not tell whom I didn't like, but maybe I'd know a maker in your region I did like...

How about your luthier and his stock?

August 4, 2018, 6:26 PM · I am living in Germany close to the border to Netherlands and Belgium.
My luthier has only some bows in stock. She is focusing on the instruments for now. The shop was only opened three years ago.
Probably there are good stocks to be found in Cologne. I am not in a hurry. It’s finding the right point in time where your technique would benefit from a better bow and you have enough knowledge to realize what’s a good bow.
Edited: August 5, 2018, 9:00 AM · Hm. Maybe your region was to far for my bows (or myself) to travel. Unfortunately... But you see what Gene wrote, and he's definitely not living next door to Langensendelbach. But now I'll stop advertising - I don't want the prices go up before I got mine... ;-)

The Arcus are great fun to play, but I never liked them specifically on my violin, they've all been a bit too bright. And compared to them, the price even for Grünkes gold mounted Kittel model looks quite fair in my eyes. And as an "investment", I'm cautious with high end CF bows. Noone knows how they will develop when the components come into age. But as a working tool they're superb.

August 5, 2018, 9:12 AM · I once sold an Arcus S8 ... difficult. Luckily I had bought it used myself already.
Edited: August 5, 2018, 9:51 AM · Selling a bow in this price range is always difficult. For €5,1k (or even €8k for a S9) you've got plenty of choices. And selling privately is especially hard - as long as the buyer doesn't know the instrument in advance before it's on sale and knows about its qualities, everybody is just waiting for a bargain. Still better to sell it on commission and accept the fee.

My two "good" bows represent an estimated value of €1,6k (American, bought for 350) and 2k (French, might be 3,5k if it was in mint condition and not a bit worn by col legno and with a microscopic crack below the frog plate, bought for 450). I did not have to negotiate, just waited until the owners got tired of advertising them and the price dropped. If they had given it away on commission they might have waited longer until sold, but I'm sure they would have made a better deal. Guess they wanted to see the money. I almost suffered from bad consciousness because of what I had to pay...

Edited: August 5, 2018, 9:53 AM · Just for my interest, Michael - how far did you have to drop the price until you sold the S8?
August 5, 2018, 11:57 AM · 2500€
August 5, 2018, 2:16 PM · Autsch.
August 5, 2018, 3:15 PM · Good thing was I already bought it under 3000€ which at that time I considered a good deal :D
Edited: August 5, 2018, 4:20 PM · Would be interesting how a fine wooden bow in good condition from a reputable living maker would sell, in general. I was privately offered a ten year old viola bow from such a maker for current retail minus cost of a rehair minus cost of replacement of the mother of pearl, which was still a bit higher than the original price ten years ago. I thought then I could directly buy from that maker (although he has a waiting list...) and did not start negotiations, and in the end liked the Grünke at least the same, if not better anyway. It was even cheaper than the ten years old...

I'd understand if a dealer asked normal retail, without differentiation when the subject was built, but from a private seller (and we already talked about the difficulties of selling privately for a fair price) I would have expected differently. Is this common practice?

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