Bow weight

September 17, 2018, 2:29 AM · Imagine a beginner on the violin, and imagine a bow that's a little bit light, and imagine a bow that's a little bit heavy (but less heavy than a viola bow).

What are the advantages and disadvantages of each for the beginner?

Replies (11)

September 17, 2018, 6:28 AM · Cons: they're both bad.
Pros: you're a beginner, so you can't tell.
Edited: October 17, 2018, 8:48 AM · A beginner should get used to a bow in the typical range of weight and balance!

Often what is perceived as a bow that is too heavy or too light is a bow that is not properly balanced - that is, the center of gravity/mass is too close to the frog (feels light) or too far from the frog (feels heavy) - what is actually being felt is torque not weight. However, there are some preference differences for this parameter among players. The actual difference between a violin bow that weighs 2.14 ounces (60 grams) and one that weighs 2.21 ounces (62 grams) is far less detectable to a player than moving the center of mass of a 60 gram bow 1 cm (0.4 inch) in either direction.

In general (in my experience) the difference between violin and viola bows may be the frequencies of the stick resonances and how those might enhance or dampen the sound of the instrument being played. The 70 gram mass of a viola bow may bring out louder sound with less "player effort" than would a 60 gram violin bow. A player can adapt to the difference, but the tonal/timbre characteristics the bow brings to the instrument's sound may be beyond control.

Significantly lighter bows (~20% lighter than typical bows) such as the ARCUS brands have noticeably lower inertia that shows up as requiring less force to accelerate, especially when changing direction. I have noticed one advantage of this for me has been when sight-reading because I can correct a mistake I am about to make in fast passages before I actually make it.

September 17, 2018, 7:52 AM · For a beginner, it's best to use a bow that is within normal parameters and learn how to work it until you develop. Violin bow 60 grams +/- 2 grams, 9"-10" balance point, should have good curve: when the bow is completely loosened and sitting on a flat surface the belly of the bow just about touches the table/hair, a stronger stick is better for a beginner as it will feel more stable. If a bow is outside these parameters it will be more difficult to develop the advanced bow techniques.
Edited: September 17, 2018, 12:16 PM · Screwed that one up, didn't I! I thought I was asking a neutral question.

OK, I'll rephrase. I've got a 61g carbon bow and a 67g wooden bow.
After the carbon bow, the wooden bow initially felt too heavy, but after getting used to it, it does seem to dig into the strings better and be "self-guiding" to a certain extent, whereas the carbon bow needs more controlling and manual pressure. Perhaps the carbon bow is a bit light at the tip, I don't know. Unfortunately the wood doesn't seem that stiff - it's quite easy to tighten it up until there's nearly an inch of clearance. I'm not sure that's such a good thing. But also the wooden bow gives a richer tone.
Both bows cost £15 each.

Edited: September 17, 2018, 1:19 PM · As a beginner myself, and as I think you pointed out, if a bow is too light, for me, it has a tendency to bounce on the strings rather than laying in. I'm just learning staccato, and ran into this problem testing some bows. Since these are low price bows, and if there is nothing about the CF one that really grabs you, go with the wooden one.

That fact that is it not as stiff COULD be one reason it has better tone, but I'm really out of my depth there and am just guessing, based on some bow tests long ago.

Primary reason for the wooden one having better tone, at least in that price range, is because it's wood.

September 17, 2018, 4:23 PM · Generally, people get used to whatever the weight is. There are heavy English bows and very light French bows. People have them and use them.

In my experience, though, there is a sound difference: bows that are below a certain weight threshold tend to need more effort to produce a focused sound and articulation, especially at the tip. I've been interested in many very light French bows, but those may require a very responsive and fine violin to work with them.
Lesser violins often need something that will dig into them.

September 17, 2018, 5:15 PM · Interesting reply, Scott, thanks. Yes, I can imagine that my violin is too coarse for a light bow. (but aLSO WITH THE PROVISO THAT i'VE GOT A LOT OF PRACTISING TO DO)

argh, sorry about the caps lock.

September 17, 2018, 7:06 PM · I also see you're talking like a pirate. Two more days to Talk Like A Pirate Day.
Edited: October 17, 2018, 7:36 AM · I bought a Col Legno Standard, but I've noticed a similarly priced pernambuco bow that is nearly 10 grams lighter. I'll definitely buy one out of curiosity, although perhaps in the very long run it's in-between two price ranges.

I gather the fiddlershop sells about 10,000 FM CF bows per annum. Mostly this is because they are too cheap to be worth rehairing. But that's a little bit frightening - one single shop selling all that disposable carbon. And I'm wondering if it can or should be recycled. I don't suppose there's any chance of extracting carbon from the CO2 in the air cheaply.

I was going to start a thread on carbon recycling, but the forum won't let me start two threads in any 24 hour period.

Edited: October 17, 2018, 3:45 PM · Wood bows are mostly carbon too!
Trees, bushes, grass and algae all recycle carbon from the atmosphere.

Of course, no way is there is enough chlorophyll on Earth to recycle in a couple of centuries the release into the atmosphere of carbon buried underground over hundreds of millions of years. If we can get all the oil and coal back to the surface and used as fuel we will return Earth's atmosphere to the condition before oxygen-sustained life even existed.

October 17, 2018, 9:05 AM · Yes, good point.

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