Do bows break in?

Edited: August 11, 2019, 5:31 AM · My main bow is a Col Legno Standard.
The other day I thought I'd treat myself to a Delille hybrid.
It turns out to be less good than the Col Legno. Yeah, I know I should have got it on approval.
The Col Legno produces a cleaner, more focussed sound.
But perhaps the Delille will settle after it has become impregnated with rosin, or something? I suppose that also raises the question, do bows need time to settle in after they have been rehaired?
Anyway, failing all else, if anyone wants a bow recommendation, get a Col Legno. The Delille will have to be my spare.

Replies (11)

August 11, 2019, 5:55 AM · As far as I am aware, they break in. I think I remember seeing an archived discussion on here about something like that. But don't quote me on that
Edited: August 11, 2019, 6:59 AM · Bows do not "break-in" in any demonstrably provable way.

Furthermore, any changes over time that might possibly occur are just as likely to make a bow "worse" as they are to make it "better."

Bow preferences are personal and individual. Somebody else might try both your bows and prefer the Delille hybrid over the Col Legno. Funny thing is that people tend to prefer bows that are most similar to the one they are most used to playing, rather than getting used to playing a better bow.

Finally, keep in mind that the quality of a re-hair can greatly affect bow performance.

August 11, 2019, 8:55 AM · No.
August 11, 2019, 9:42 AM · Of course a brand new bow will "break in" as it dries, adjust to being under regular tension, and so on, just like a new violin. Similarly, there's an adjustment period after a new re-hair where the hairs stretch, the knots set, and the ribbon adjusts its width across the spreader in response to playing pressure, rosin builds up, etc..

Some of those things may affect its playing properties, but not much. It certainly won't undergo a kind of spiritual transformation into the great bow you've always wanted.


It seems like what you're really asking is "is there a chance I will like my new bow better with time?" The answer is yes. If you play on it for a few weeks / months, you will get a feel for it and develop some subconscious cue responses. It will *seem* as though the bow is "playing in," although it will not actually be changing very much.

August 11, 2019, 11:11 AM · Presumably they do, but here we were recently arguing over perceptible differences in sound production between bows, never mind the same bow over time. This is a fact that wood physical characteristcs (hence playing characteristics) will change over time, especially when under flex tension. There is a reason why you should release tension when not using a bow. Whereas a bow's wood may get stiffer as it dries out, it also does the opposite when let under constant tension. Bows loose their curve over time and need be reshaped eventually, hence a bow playing characteristics can noticeably change over time, not necessarily for the better. I read somewhere that experienced bow maker will make their bows somewhat stiffer than optimal to account for the loss of stiffness that inevitably occurs over time, hence a good bow would technically improve over time to their peak (1-2 years apparently).
August 11, 2019, 11:40 AM · Yes, wood bows that are new do change with playing and time. Carbon fiber bows, no.

Being in the PNW, a mecca for fine bow makers, I have had the pleasure of watching many fine new bows and their owners struggle and marvel at the changes that occur in the short term, as in weeks, and further in the first few years. A couple of bows that a friend made will even gain and lose as much as a gram with the weather. The same maker has told me that it is not uncommon for his bows to lose 1-1.5 gm over the first year, and he uses well-aged materials.

So, yes, they do change, or "break in" as you call it. Difficult to quantify, though.

August 12, 2019, 10:50 AM · Nope. The newer, less used, pristine bow, the better.
August 12, 2019, 11:04 AM · I don't think the bow sticks "break in," but I think the user becoming familiar with the bow learns how best to rosin it, tighten it and get the optimum re-hairing job done. So testing new bows for purchase is not futile - nor is testing old bows.
August 12, 2019, 11:19 AM · I have had evidence of at least one new-made pernambuco bow that become stiffer in 2-3 years of continuative and strong usage.
August 12, 2019, 2:51 PM · One of the problems with the last couple of generations of pedagogues is that they don't beat their students enough, which doesn't really give their bows a chance to break-in. The secrets of the old masters are just getting lost left and right.
Edited: August 12, 2019, 3:46 PM · Christian - thanks for naming the obvious once again.

Gordon - not in my humble experience, and not that any of the pros (mostly experienced teachers) or ambitioned amateurs (who often tend to be even pickier and more "sensitive" about their equipment) had ever noticed. Also neither my luthier nor my local bowmaker ever mentioned such a thing.

As described, bows change over time and eventually may need a recamber job done after the first year or two, but this isn't something like breaking in a violin. (And there even are enough folks reasonably arguing against the "breaking in" of a violin. I've got my own pseudo-scientific explanation for this, but this is out of topic here.)

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