Does Bow Quality Matter?
Hi everyone. I recently played on my teacher's violin and bow just for fun. I was expecting the violin to blow me away the most, but as I took the bow from her hand, it was like a slap in the face. Her bow was amazing. It felt perfect in the hand and it also played buttery smooth.
I have shaking hands so getting a nice sound out of a long bow stroke is a never-ending challenge for me. On her bow it wasn't. It never had a single bounce from my shaking hand. It absorbed all shake and played perfectly.
After playing some short little excerpts to test the abilities of both the violin and the bow, I told my teacher, "This bow must've descended from heaven!" It was absolutely incredible.
I was expecting it to be maybe a couple thousand dollars.
>>>>>>>>>>>I'VE NEVER PLAYED A BOW MORE THAN $500, SO I WAS ASSUMING!!!!!!<<<<<<<<<
The bow was $10,000 she told me. I was shocked! I always have wanted a new bow, because my bow is SIGNIFICANTLY less than my violin and playing her bow on my violin made it sound even better than it already sounds.
I'm willing to spend maybe $1500 at most. Is it worth the money to upgrade from a $650ish bow to a $1500 bow or should I keep saving to meet a specific price point. It would be nice to get a nice bow that I could really use, but how much would I need to really pay. I wouldn't spend 10 grand on a violin worth maybe 8 at the very most.
I'm VERY uneducated in bows, besides for the fact that like a violin they are very personal and you need to try many to find the right one, so any recommendations or help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
Depends on your tastes and your luck.
Yes play as many bows as you can...it's a whole world of discovery. You may also come across a superior bow that has major repairs...price may be wildly reduced, but not necessarily the playability. Good luck!
I recommend Arcos or L'archet bows for your price range. The Brazilian made bows are usually very good for their price.
I met a bowmaker recently at a hosted chamber music event. He practically brought his entire workshop with him. I tried his violin and viola bows, and they were fantastic. He doesn't charge too much for them (violin bows start at $4800) and the amount of R&D he's put into identifying characteristics that players can correlate with their performance is mind-boggling.
As you said, Ryan, bows and violins are personal. Violins are personal in that we want them to match our own ears (and of course blow others away as well). But if violins are personal, bows are doubly personal as we want them to match not only ourselves but also our instrument and that latter match can be a tricky one.
Does bow quality matter?
Oh, good! I see I beat Paul to this thread. Haha!
Definitely it matters. Different bow will have different power, tone, responsiveness, playability, etc. Sometimes a bow may sound really buttery but it may lack power which is not immediately detectable under one's ear unless you are very experienced.
The quality of the bow matters enormously, at least as much as the quality of the violin.
Not only does the quality of the bow matter, but bows are very personal to the player, and sometimes the repertoire. I prefer to use a single bow that by and large does everything I want (plus a backup bow), but many players change bows depending on what they're playing.
I think contemporary bows can be great between 3-8k, but with the price range given by the op you can find some good old German bows. They are mostly good at the price/quality ratio.
I remember trying several bows at a dealer. I picked a couple that I thought felt good in my hand, that drew smoothly across my violin. One in particular, just made me feel like I had the power of God in my hand. I brought them home and showed them to a local pro. He took the one I liked and tried it. After about a minute, he said, "Don't buy this bow. I can't play anything with it. I can't play sautille." He suggested that I weigh them. Sure enough, the one I liked was about 3 grams heavier.
Does the bow quality matters?
At a cerzain point the left hand will find its way through most reportoire quickly while the right hand is key for the sound.
Does the bows quality matter>
It depends on your level of technique. Fine bows really show their value on techniques such as spicatto. So if you are advanced with spicatto you will see the difference. If you haven't studied it yet, you may not yet appreciate the full value of a really great bow.
If I had to choose I would go with a GREAT bow and a GOOD violin rather than the other way around. IMHO, carbon fibre bows, whilst they handle ok, sound horrid! Best reserved for outdoor gigs etc, although I use an early Hill bow for these.
John C, this is the bow I play:
Carlo, what kind of bow you would consider to be "a GREAT bow"? What amount would you recommend someone to be prepared to pay for a bow to match a $15,000 violin?
I am not Carlo but with a 15k violin I would assume a 5k bow maybe.
I've heard 40-60% of the violin until you get to master contemporary or modern Italian prices or higher. So if you have a 30k violin, am antique French bow makes sense. If less, scale proportionally.
John C, I have heard very good things about the JonPaul Avanti bow. I have never tried one.
I have not heard 40-60%. I have heard 1/3, although with violins getting cheaper all the time, especially in the student range, 50% becomes more believable. On the other hand with CF bows have become cheaper too.
What about bow matching violin, in addition to or rather than prices? Recently I tried (blind test on my part) 12 bows at the prices between $500-$5,000, with the assistance of a reputable pro, we've came to the conclusion that the $5,000 doesn't sound nearly as good as a $3,000 one, which is buttery but lacks power and responsiveness of my current Hudson bow.
12 bows is a very very small amount to draw any conclusion.
See -- this is the kind of thing that I find interesting. On the one hand, different bows are supposed to make a huge difference in terms of responsiveness and tone, "as important as the violin," but then 12 bows is considered a "very very small" sample from which to draw conclusions. If it takes 100 or 500 bows to draw conclusions, first conclusion I would draw is that differences are either subtle or chaotic.
Yup, pretty mysterious to me as well. Now, maybe what Marc suggested wasn't so much as a matter of necessity, but rather, because it's a lot easier to test a whole lot of bows than violins, we
One of the characteristics I've noticed about most of the CF bows I've tried is that the balance points tend to be rather high on the stick. This makes it very difficult to play a fast sautille. You're forced to play lower on the stick. Awkward.
Scott, what do you mean by high and low? Closer to the tip and closer to the frog respectively?
With bows its the same as with violins, part of the price is origin and its therefore assumed quality, part is its historical value, only a smaller part its actual quality.
I agree witch Scott, that most CF bows shift some of the technics more towards the frog, which can be nice from time to time, but also feel a bit awkward.
Just like violins, bow price is only roughly correlated with quality. And just like violins, the nicest specimens are often being used by a player, not sitting in a shop waiting to be bought. :-)
Lydia, thank you! This is the most helpful advice on bow-purchasing I've heard so far.
The tonal match of bow to violin is very specific, and a bow that plays very well might not sound good on your particular violin. Or it might sound good, but not quite as good as a bow that doesn't play quite as well, which can be a difficult decision.
Lydia, I had similar experience in comparing features of each bow I tried. A Hill I recently tried and loved has smooth bow changes and buttery sound, but my teacher said it’s not as responsive and powerful as my current bow made by a Canadian bow-maker Reid Hudson. I few years ago I tried an old French bow (don’t remember the maker) that is very elegant or nice hand feel. It's great with off-string bowings, but lacks power.
Yes- ditto to matching instrument, strings, and rosin. They all can play a MAJOR role in playability. The same bow with the wrong rosin can be TERRIBLE.
Thank you for all of the responses. I definitely have more valuable information that can be noted for future reference.
I hope there's room for a contrary opinion here. It seems obvious to me that the most important element in violin sound isn't the instrument or the bow, but the player. A good player can make impressive sounds on an indifferent fiddle, while a poor player won't sound much better with a Strad in the left hand and a Tourte in the right.
I disagree that a poor violin will sound good with a great player. I heard Perlman and Hilary both on student violins before (Perlman live) and they sounded like student violins, nothing more. Of course there still was superior phrasing and decent intonation but the tone was NoT good enough I would pay to listen to!
Marc what you say is true, but we've all had the experience where our teacher takes our violin for a moment during our lesson and suddenly it sounds so much better. :)
Of course we all had this moment :)
In response to Marc, my actual words were "A good player can make impressive sounds on an indifferent fiddle" but that's not the issue here. I agree that poor bows do make advanced technics mostly (or completely) impossible, and that a fine player will probably not feel able to produce his or her best without top-quality equipment. However, the mystique of the magic stick seems to have penetrated all levels of violinistic competence and defies rational explanation.
It's not irrational at all. The weight and balance of the stick and its flexibility throughout determines its playing qualities, and every piece of wood and its shaping by the bowmaker varies.
For me what lacks rational explanation is how some bow-makers should have consistently achieved sublimity (in spite of the fact that, as Lydia says, every piece of wood and its shaping is different) while skilled copyists who have analysed and reproduced their bows as closely as possible (weight, balance and flexibility all being measurable quantities) are deemed to have fallen short. Of course you might say the same about violins, but at least there the differences are usually apparent to the listener and don't rely solely on the opinion of the player. Nullius in verba! Myth-busters unite!!
I've tried some remarkable contemporary copies, including a cheap Chinese Maline copy (under $1k) that was obviously Maline-like in feel. Unfortunately none of those copies had the tonal qualities that I've heard from antique bows from the makers being copied. The copy can be the same in dimensions and weight, but the distribution of density in each piece of wood is unique, leading to meaningful if subtle playing differences, and not-so-subtle tonal differences, between the original and the copy.
I simply agree, although I got to say that there are great contemporary bows out there, a few great makers are available!
Oh, I definitely agree that there are great contemporary bows, although they're really hard to get ahold of to try. But above I was speaking specifically about the differences between contemporary copies, and the originals.
Lydia, are they hard to get ahold of basically because the makers don't keep a lot of stock (the good ones sell) and the good ones are still largely in the possession of the original purchasers? That's always seemed like it would be the problem to me.
As with violins by makers well known, there are usually waiting lists so possibly not a single one on stock.
Steve :) I hear you.
"A good player can make impressive sounds on an indifferent fiddle, while a poor player won't sound much better with a Strad in the left hand and a Tourte in the right."
"The better the player, the easier it is to hear the difference between instruments.
Much like good contemporary violin-makers, most good contemporary bow-makers take commissions and don't have much inventory. And a lot of shops have a limited inventory of fine contemporary bows.
I wasn't expecting to make many converts but it's nice at least to get a hearing. Has anyone ever conducted a double-blind beauty contest for bows? Actually it would have to be triple-blind - somehow neither the organizer, the player nor the assessor should have any clues as to what is being played, other than what they hear. But that still leaves the influence of familiarity uncontrolled for. Obviously we are likely to play better on a bow that feels familiar, while in the longer term we might find an initially unsympathetic-feeling bow to offer interesting new prospects. I've certainly found that to be the case with violins.
I've not been able to find properly blinded comparisons between wood and carbon. There was a single-blind test here on vcom a while back ( http://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/27189/ ), but the audio files are not online anymore.
You don't need a highfalutin technical study to tell you the difference between CF and Pernambuco, you just need a good ear, the differences are pretty obvious, and rather large.
Scientific methodology would be the only way of satisfying a sceptic like me, who wouldn't even take his own subjective impressions as proof. However, the practical difficulties of staging a fully controlled blind audition are probably insurmountable. And of course, when it comes to parting with cash we'd all still go with our feelings rather than the scientific verdict.
As the material is different and the resonancy frequency differs and the higher orders even more it would be very strange to get the same sound.
If two sticks have equal bending stiffness, mass and mass distribution, then the resonance frequency will be the same as well. Resonance frequency is not a material property.
Do a bow's resonance frequencies even matter?
Most players try bows blind. In fact in some shops you get so many to try that you often don't know what you've tried, even after the fact. My guess is that far fewer players are influenced by the look of a bow than the look of a violin, as well.
Han, it is a heterogen material and therefore it does matter. All those parameters you named are somwhow an average on makro parts but does not mean it behaves the same in micro parts.
One way of doing blind testing in a shop is to have a piece of paper and a pen ready to record the order and score of each bow tried. With the help of someone to try bows one by one and write down the number you'd rate it. Then narrow down to 3-5 bows and try again, blind, write down the new number and score for each.
Most shops will have you try bows in batches, which depending on inventory is typically somewhere from 6 to 12 bows per batch.
One thing to be aware of is that apart from overall quality, the fit between a bow and violin can depend on weather and adjustment (and rosin...). People with a collection of bows will try different ones depending on the day, as well as the music they are playing.
Another factor that I think may have an important influence here (as if there weren't enough already) is the nature of one's own technique. I suspect players who have been "properly" schooled and are well practised in solo playing, such that their motor patterns have become ingrained and automatic, may be more discriminatory and less accommodating of differences between bows than those whose technique is more home-grown in the hurly-burly of orchestras and other ensembles. I'm trying not to use the words "professional" and "amateur" because I believe there are pros and cons on both sides.
My guess is that the differences are more innate than that, depending on the particular physiology of your arm. The technique you're taught can significantly influence what feels best / what you prioritize, though, and your playing circumstances also affect what you do most often.
I prefer a stick that reacts rather soft and a little spungy the first part but has a good reliliency towards the end without the urge to jump back. I will never use a bow where I get the hair to touch the wood when played within the range of my maximum applied force.
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