how to shop for bow

Edited: September 24, 2020, 2:45 PM · Hello ladies and gents, I have saved some money on the side and now in the position to get a new bow, my current bow is fine, no complaint, but its still a beginner intermediate bow around $200 bucks range,

I know there is some sort of chart of how much you spend on the bow depends on how much the violin cost, well my violin cost 1300 after a heavy discount due to a cosmetic flaw(which i have since had it repaired) but its the best sounding one out of 30 odd violins ranging from 1k-5k. so i don't think that formula applies here.

To be specific, what does one look for when bow shopping, i'm not gonna be exclusive to one material, carbon,, brazilwood, pernambuco. its all fine.

I have tried a 8k hills and son prior, and noticed just how much smoother the sound is, is that the only indicator? what other criteria should i be looking for.

Replies (20)

September 24, 2020, 11:46 AM · There is a very VERY rough guideline that you spend about 1/3 on your bow what you spent on your violin. The error margins on that are enormous. And I am not sure how well it applies to lower-end violins.

You should go to a shop and try a few bows that are maybe in the $500 to $1500 range (shops can express them to you) and see if they make a difference in how your violin plays or sounds. If not, then save your money.

An excellent pro violinist told me that carbon-fiber bows have become so good that you'd have to spend at least $2000 on a wood bow to beat what you can get for $400 in a CF bow. He told me that several years ago so it's probably just as true now, although the numbers are probably 25% higher.

Be careful that you have a well-controlled decision-making process. You tried an expensive bow, and your violin sounded better. Did the expensive bow have better or newer hair? Did you ask someone else to play your violin with the two bows so that you could decide which one (if either) sounded better in a blind test?

Couple of general comments (can't help myself):

(1) Your post would be easier (for me) to read if you would capitalize the first word of each sentence.

(2) "gents" applies only to nominally half the population of this site. And some of the most thoughtful and experienced contributors are women.

Edited: September 24, 2020, 12:02 PM · Try as many bows as you can on your violin. Look for very best sound and for very best handling (unfortunately these two characteristics do not often come in the same bow).

If you have a teacher or acquaintances who are a more accomplished players solicit their input.

When I have tested bows I have tested many. many of them including bows above my price range, just to learn what is possible (by the way, the HILL bows I tried, priced about where the one you tried was, did not impress more than any others that were cheaper -- on the other hand the Malcom Taylor (formerly a HILL maker, owned by a friend of mine is great in every way). On my last cello bow search I tested 66 bows. I test 2 bows at a time, retain the better one and try another and keep doing it that way until I am down to one bow. I might keep a few in "my tested pile" until I have finished. At that point I buy or don't - or take one or more home on approval.

Don't be fooled by a characteristic that might simply be due to the rosin on the bow - such as smoother, or bigger sound - or as Paul astutely observed - by the hair.

Establish a routine of specific music that covers all your technique to which you subject each bow you test.

EDIT: The "price rules" break down when you find a bow that breaks them - and that is the kind of bow you want to buy. My overall best viola bow only cost me about $375 on ebay. I decided to try it rather than pay into the thousands for a known current maker - figuring if it was a bad bet it was not much to lose. It has better sound and handling (although not by much) than any of my other viola bows - and it is just about the cheapest.

Some of the synthetic-stick bows handle extremely well and the tonal characteristics can have been tailored by the best brands' makers.

Edited: September 24, 2020, 12:22 PM · If you have a violin you love and you'll never sell, you can spend whatever you like on your bows, whether a third or even much more. 1/3 is just a guideline at a certain level of learning and instruments that people like to give. Bows tend to be relatively more affordable and a better value (if good) than the "equivalent" instrument, have an obvious, substantial effect on the music made, and help the confidence of the player when both handling and sound are excellent.

I myself would like to have more bows rather than more violins. But the ones I would be most interested in are out of my range at this time, and I don't need another carbon fiber bow to cut costs.

Carbon fiber bows are indeed a great value in general, especially considering handling, but the sound is different, if/when not worse. The audience may not notice with certain good quality violins, but under the ear, you know the truth-it's generally a compromise unless you pay top dollar for a carbon fiber bow (in which case, I would get an standard bow anyway.)

Still, at your lower price range I would test good carbon fiber bows that are not too cheap, and handle well. If going wood, test the intermediate range of brazilian bow makers, again not going too cheap, unless you happen to find an affordable one that works for you.

Do not be afraid to spend $1,000+... you may change violins later regardless, and can always attempt to sell bows that no longer work for you (or they could also work well with a new violin.)

Edited: September 24, 2020, 1:17 PM · My beloved JP cost a significant percentage of my lovely antique violin and a far higher percentage of the student violin I had when I bought the bow.

I had tried different bows at different stores, and my teacher helped my final selection. My Jon Paul Corona (hybrid) just feels much more lively in my hand than any Codabow and I tried almost the entire line. A good wood bow was far outside my budget...

For me at least, it really helped to try as many as I could and to involve my teacher. If it hadn't been in the winter just before the virus hit I may well have also driven to Chicago or Ann Arbor.

September 24, 2020, 1:26 PM · Spend six dollars and buy a copy of The Elements of Style, 4th edition, by Strunk and White. You need it. Also, this website is managed by a woman, and at least half of the commentators are women. Perhaps you should rethink that "gents" salutation. As far as getting a bow goes, Paul said it all.
Edited: September 24, 2020, 3:03 PM · To be fair, many if not most people online very rarely adhere to academical writing rules. I myself, familiar with the book in question, cannot claim to remember all of its rules.

I once had a friend who always wrote email messages without any capitals, but also-and worse-without punctuation. Not a simpleton, but could not make the effort to write "properly" (at least how I saw it.) I tried to politely "help", to no avail. I do not think any offense was meant, however.

Somewhat similarly, I feel the likely young OP did not know better-or is used to communicate in this way-when typing "gents" and not using capital letters in any sentences. To his credit, at least his ideas were more or less clearly represented.

Still, I understand the grammar issue, and why "gents" is deemed offensive. However, I just make so many mistakes myself that I would feel hypocritical if I just stop to single out every online post I read without the proper grammar etiquette.


September 24, 2020, 3:20 PM · Thanks all for the reply, i have edited my original post,

I'm thinking a budget of upward to 1k, thats basically 80% of my violin but i truly don't believe the price of my violin reflects the quality it brings.

I did not have my tutor with me when i tried the hill bow, it was a rather impromptus moment where i was getting my violin serviced, and the shop owner happened to have his own hills bow in shop for rehairing. he gave me the bow prior to rehairing, and instantly i found the sound was easier to pull out and had a smoother sound. my spiccato was alot less raspy, and lastly it was less effort for martele.

I know i'm going to have to use the same process for when i was violin shopping, basically as many as i can get my hands on. and get my tutor's opinion when i narrow it down enough. but for the first and 2nd round process, thats all up to my own intuition.

for now I'm definitely leaning more towards a really good carbon bow based on everyone's opinion, or at least hybrid, codabow and jon paul corona are the two brands i'm familiar with, what do you guys think.

September 24, 2020, 3:26 PM · Kyle,

I have found that price is not always the key element. The first thing I look for is lateral flexibility (side to side) I prefer bows with as little lateral flexibility as I can find in my price range.

The next thing I make sure of is that I have a set piece/scales/exercise that I will play with every bow. I bring and use my own rosin.

I also bring along a musician friend to stand back and listen. Your teacher is always a good resource if available.

I then note the bows that I like and make a plan to return to the shop at least a week later to try those same bows again.

Then, and only then, after the second assessment, do I make a purchase.

September 24, 2020, 3:26 PM · @Adalberto Valle-Rivera

Thank you for clearing that up, english is not my 1st language, although i have improved it to the point where i scored in the 70th percentile on the lsat and went to law school, but grammar is still one thing that evades me more often than i would like.

I don't post much here, I'm more of a regular on tech and finance forum where its more male dominated. so its more of a forced habit that i often start my thread with gents, i had since addressed the issue.

September 24, 2020, 3:51 PM · this kinda came to mind, a friend of mine this year dropped 3 grand on a new (old) bow, whilst her chinese jay haide violin only cost 2.2 grand, her purchase convinced me that its not illogical to buy a bow thats more expensive than the violin itself.
Edited: September 24, 2020, 5:37 PM · True enough, even when you are looking at more expensive equipment. The violins I use most these days are made within the last decade. I recently tried a bunch of bows that were not. Ratios were 1:1 or higher, favoring the bows. And with very good results!
September 24, 2020, 6:36 PM · "Spend six dollars and buy a copy of The Elements of Style, 4th edition, by Strunk and White."

Nothing on amazon.ca (eBook) at present: nada, zilch, free, $0 bucks.

September 24, 2020, 8:33 PM · As a very general rule less experienced players favour a heavier (60 grams plus) and stronger stick, that bounces easily and can take a lot of lateral pressure. As one matures as a player, lighter and more flexible sticks, will offer a greater range of tone colours. I have not personally played any carbon fibre bow that sounds as good as a fine wooden bow, but they can handle very well and are certainly more affordable.

Try both wooden and CF bows in your price range and choose one that matches your violin and works for you now. If you continue to study the violin, it won’t be the last bow you buy!

Cheers Carlo

September 25, 2020, 3:26 AM · @Carlo Ballara

that was very insightful, thank you for that info.

does anyone recommend buying a previously snapped at the tip but professionally repaired bow? one of my luthier i contacted told me he has one in his shop

Edited: September 27, 2020, 4:47 PM · ·I wouldn't buy a bow if the stick itself was broken. (Usually in the upper third.) But there's nothing wrong with a well done head spline. For 20% of the money you'll get a bow that hasn't lost any substantial characteristics, neither technically nor tonally. The 80% in price difference are earned with a slightly increased risk of recurrent damage, but on the other hand you never know, also with undamaged bows, and in case of an already repaired bow will be exactly the cost of the redo work.
If priced correctly, a bow with a head spline is an opportunity to find a great bow for small money. And usually only really good bows were repaired.
Edited: September 27, 2020, 9:43 PM · Using a set formula to determine how much to spend on a bow based on instrument value is a bit like adhering to “rules” about how much to spend on an engagement ring relative to your annual or monthly income. If you have an instrument that works well, focus on finding a bow that does what you need. Set a budget that’s comfortable for you and look at what’s available. The bigger your budget, the wider the range of options, but it’s best to avoid straining yourself financially.

Here are the playing attributes I look for:
-Richness of tone
-Cleanness of articulation
-Balance
-Dynamic range

Edited: September 28, 2020, 11:10 PM · How I shop for bow:
Step 1 - I set my maximum price range, in other words I know what league I am looking at.
Step 2 - I try as many bows as I can with the intent on identifying what works best for me in terms of handling. I need to know the weight and balance that works best, spring/stiffness and bounce point, response etc.. That will narrow down possible candidates to a manageable number. I don't pay attention to sound production at this point.
Step 3 - From the pool of possible candidates that meet my handling needs I test for tone production using the same rosin on all the bows. I eliminate each one comparing two at a time and determining which of the two has the best sound, put the best of 2 aside until I have 2-3 left. I have someone play the 3 for me so I can hear the projection and sound quality, I try going easy and soft, then push hard to see the nuances in sound that come accross, then I pick the best one.

No two same bow model from the same maker sound the same, they all have subtle differences. Their handling may be fairly consistent however. I try to set the tension as equally as I can when comparing handling as I am trying to determine how each "stick" compare. A higher hair tension on one bow than another will bring out different handling characteristics (e.g. bounce), which can be misleading. On the other hand how tension on one bow can be controlled compared to another is also important. Some sticks are stiff others not, too much of either should be avoided.

September 29, 2020, 7:42 AM · I did an article a while back that might shed some light on the process: https://adbowsllc.com/2020/08/10/shopping-for-a-bow-part-1/
September 29, 2020, 6:45 PM · Carlo, it seems to me that in recent years, the buying trend for players has been towards sticks that can take a lot of weight and are quite strong -- i.e. the fashion for Sartory over, say, Voirin.

If you're going to buy a Jon Paul bow, I'd go a step up to the Avanti or better.

Edited: September 30, 2020, 9:14 AM · Don't overthink it. Go to the shop, try 5 or 6 bows in your price range (not 30) and pick one you like. At this price range it's not a huge decision.

If you can buy from a shop that gives you trade-in privileges that would be nice, because if you're a developing player, you may benefit from a different bow next year.

What you want in a bow is a very personal thing. Some people want the biggest sound. Some people want a bow that has a quick response. Some people like to play in the middle of the bow, some people want to play more near the tip.

Some people want a bow that is kind of soft and forgiving and helps hide their technical limitations.

I have four bows that I play and enjoy from time to time -- a super light Arcus carbon composite bow, a baroque bow, a well-rounded Sartory-style modern wood bow and a soft Peccatte-style bow with a big head. They're all nice for certain kinds of music, and each bow bow teaches me things.


My point is, there's not one ideal bow out there -- there are different bows for different players and bows that will work well on different violins.


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