bow vs violin upgrade

Edited: September 17, 2019, 8:30 PM · I watched these two videos, which seemed pretty good:

violins:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_QnhQ2UHoQ

bows:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVkZUyWDu-4

I've watched of lot of other ones, but these two really seemed to capture the gist of what I have been seeing.

My take aways (other than the specific products she mentions), are:

1) bows affect both tone and technique, bows make different techniques easier or harder, and what is easy for a beginner to control is not necessarily the best bow for a more advanced player. And bows are not one-size fits all either. Some lend themselves better to certain types of playing, but good all-around bows can be had for a price.

2) violins tend to get better tone, especially up the neck, and louder as they get more expensive, but poorer tone doesn't necessarily hold you back in developing technique like a poor bow would. Although a violin that easily lets you draw a good tone out of it across all registers, (even if it isn't the loudest violin in the world) can also help in your development as a player.

So is that about right? Meaning a good bow is higher priority than a good violin, especially at the lower end of the cost spectrum. It seemed like a good $1500 bow, and a $2500 violin would get you pretty far. Although a collection of a few bows dedicated for certain types of playing seemed like that could happen easily enough too.

Replies (15)

September 17, 2019, 8:31 PM · At that lower end, dollar for dollar, more money on the bow probably gets you more bang for the buck.

A $2500 violin plus $1000 bow is a good aim for an intermediate student.

For a beginner, a $1,200 violin plus a $500 bow will give more return than $1500 spent on the violin and $200 on the bow.

September 17, 2019, 10:31 PM · You called it, I have a $1200 (used) violin and a new $500 bow, and am a beginner. My next step under consideration is about what you said. Thanks for the confirmation I am on the right track, picking the exact ones however doesn't need to be rushed, since I won't be ready for them for a while.
Edited: September 19, 2019, 12:36 PM · The problem with using price as your guide to instrument and bow quality is that there are "one-offs" out there and the way to get the "best bang for the buck"is to search over time and area to find them.

For examples I have a bow made by a Baltimore, MD maker and bought from him by my father for $75 in 1952 that is practically a twin in sound and behavior to my F.N. Vorin. (The maker told us he had shown it to Wurlitzer in New York who said it was a fine copy of a Tourte (the maker's intent) - but you know how some dealers are!) And in 1990 I bought a violin for $1400 from a friend (who had become an amateur maker 11 instruments earlier) because the sound just blew me away when I heard someone else trial it in a largish hall. I think that friend just finished his making career at age 84 with his 101st instrument - all sold save his first and last. He had stopped being an amateur.

Just saying!

September 18, 2019, 9:10 AM · One has to consider how prices have changed since the time of Andy's examples, though. A $1400 violin in 1990 might be a very different animal now. Even though that's only $2,700 in present-day dollars, many maker prices have gone up significantly since then. The maker of my contemporary American violin made around that time, which I got for $6.5k (apparently on too much markup, he was charging $4k himself) was charging $20k about a decade ago.

Yes, sometimes you can luck into an amazing violin that due to its provenance, or the apprentice status of its maker, is priced quite low. But the price ranges are still a good general guide to what you can expect.

In practice, most people buy better-than-average to excellent specimens at a given price point, if they are doing responsible shopping. The less-great "truly average" instruments at a price point tend to languish unbought.

The "buy the amazing thing you happen to luck into after years of looking around" tends to work best for people who already have something good enough for their current needs and have the money available to grab what they want spontaneously when it happens to turn up in their lives.

That's not the way most people buy violins or bows. When they feel they want an upgrade, they usually want it within the next few months, certainly within the year. They usually budget and save and purchase when they've managed to reserve the money. Once they've spent that money, a similar amount of money isn't available for a future spontaneous purchase.

September 18, 2019, 1:30 PM · Whatever your budget, the purchases are made separately. First the violin that you like, that responds to you, then, with whatever money is left over, or future money, one or two bows that work well with the violin. I recommend getting two bows, first a cheap one that is good enough, which will be the back-up bow after you find your good bow.
September 19, 2019, 11:43 AM · i recommend getting two different bow, one light and one heavier, not too heavy, thats what my tutor said to me.

i just watched that first video, oh my goodness her 100 year old german violin sounded awful. way too metallic, it just goes to show just because its old doesn't mean its good lol

September 20, 2019, 7:26 AM · The prices you mentioned for violin and bow would serve you well and take you far. Good luck in your search!
September 20, 2019, 8:22 AM · I see these types of bow vs. violin discussions on here a lot. Almost always recommending spending proportionately a lot on a bow. However, I have noticed in practice quite a few pro players using carbon fiber bows in the $300-1,000 range with very nice $15K and up instruments. To me this would suggest that with the playability of carbon fiber bows in the lower price ranges, students might be better off with say a $400-800 Coda or Jon Paul carbon fiber bow and a more expensive ($2,000+) violin.
September 20, 2019, 8:41 PM · The current front runners are a coda bow marquis, and a John Cheng guarnieri or limited. But want to try John Paul and maybe Archon at some point.

I have a Diamond NX and a Luma, figured my second bow should be something completely different. I should have Shar send a joule, gx, and marquis sometime on trial.

Edited: September 21, 2019, 8:25 AM · This is one of the reasons why people have violin teachers to guide them through the journey. Ask your teacher if you're ready for the next step up in bow or violin.

There's just no point spending money just to spend money. A $35 set of strings might be all it takes to substantially upgrade a beginner violin. And an intermediate level player might actually be served well by a $120 "Presto" carbon fiber bow from Shar.

If you have a couple of thousand, the best use might not be the violin itself but lessons with someone who can help you learn how to produce a good sound, assuming the existing violin isn't terrible.

Yes at some point a player reaches the point where you have to spend real money (not necessarily a huge amount, but a couple of thousand maybe) on a violin and a bow. But a teacher should be able to help decide when that time has come.

I'd guess there are a lot more violinists who own violins that are too good for them than the reverse right now.

September 21, 2019, 9:22 AM · The correlation between price and playing value is very different for violins and bows. For violins the major determinant of price is provenance, not playing ability . Sure provenance is (can be?) affected by how well violins from the same source have succeeded as soloistic instruments but the maker's name and the country of origin etc are more reliable indicators. This is why dealers do not need to be able to play the violin to trade.

Bows also 'suffer' from the provenance syndrome but IMO less so: violinists generally don't buy them as investments but as tools: a hammer that misses the nail simply won't sell. Also, bows are prone to break and be unrepairable, unlike violins. Thus, the price/value correlation is much more reliable than for the instrument.

Edited: September 21, 2019, 1:01 PM · Another way to think about it-- bows vary a lot in usefulness, but it's a bit easier to get a quick read on their quality. So shopping will take less time, even though it can be just as frustrating.

Also, it means that in the right shop, you may fruitfully be able to guarantee trade-in for upgrades. Next year, they'll have another few dozen in the price class you want, and it will be faster to weed those out than a similar stack of violins.

I am a little biased here-- I always had access to a good or fine violin, but my playing suffered a lot for lack of a good bow. Now, if I had the choice of advocating less than $100k, I'd think seriously about spending way more than 15% on the bow.
A good contemporary axe with a $25k antique bow can be pretty incredible, as one example that wouldn't necessarily be easy to beat with a $45k violin and a $5k bow. Not worth making a rule around that, but it does leave open the idea of being flexible.

September 21, 2019, 2:20 PM · I disagree with Elise. Plenty of players buy bows to collect, since the investment is substantially less than buying a violin, and it can be useful to have a variety of bows.

There's plenty of variance in the quality of bows within a given price range, even dealing in purely objective measures like whether or not the balance point is in a standard place, whether or not the stick is even and the camber is fine, how well the bow bounces, the strength of the stick, etc.

September 21, 2019, 4:19 PM · "Plenty of players buy bows to collect, since the investment is substantially less than buying a violin, and it can be useful to have a variety of bows."

Sure Lydia - but plenty of millionaires invest in violins. And that's what really drives their value up.

September 21, 2019, 5:43 PM · Elise, fine bows have appreciated at least as quickly, or more so, than fine violins, over the last decade and certainly over the last 30 years. Volume has helped that, especially since fine French bows used to be obtainable under $3k. The price of a Sartory has just about tripled in a little over a decade, to the point where it you will see pristine ones for over $40k.


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