What makes a violin bow play smooth? Rosin, horse hair, tension, or the bow itself?

September 26, 2017, 5:48 PM · I got to try a couple of bows today. One of them is totally brand new and never been played so my rosin got the opportunity to be the first on it. The other bow has been tested before. I kept playing with it, wiped the rosin off the string, then repeated the process until I'm barely wiping off rosin before I applied my own.

The bows blow my current one both in playability and sound quality. Both bows are very smooth to play and it makes using the whole bow a lot easier! The one that has been tested before is amazingly smoother to play. It makes me wonder if perhaps the rosin previously applied to it is a significant factor? I remember Lydia's story about still looking for that rosin used on one of the bows she tried before.

Then I start to wonder if it's the horse hair. That does mean that the bow will feel and play slightly different (not sound-wise) once rehaired? If not then it would be the bow itself, which is interesting because it doesnt even make direct contact with the strings!

P.S. Coming from a beginner, quality bow really does make HUGE differences. Almost feels like I'm cheating since playing got easier with added bonus of better sound from my violin. Just wow!

Replies (36)

September 26, 2017, 10:02 PM · The essential feel of a bow should be the same regardless of the rosin and hair used. Neither of these two factors should influence purchase of a bow.

An experienced player can feel what is low-quality hair (or the need for a re-hair) and what is insufficient rosin, for instance. (An experienced player can also feel when a re-hair isn't done quite right -- there's just something slightly off.)

I normally try bows however they come to me -- i.e., with whatever rosin was put on them before. If there's not enough rosin, then I use my own.

September 26, 2017, 10:45 PM · As Lydia says. But the player has an enormous influence too!!
September 27, 2017, 2:50 AM · A heavy bow, perhaps? If you are shopping for a new bow, ask your teacher for an informed opinion.
September 27, 2017, 3:06 AM · I agree, if you want to go to advanced technics make sure your geacher can play sautille, riccochet, etc on it.
Some are great to have a staty tone bur fail to do the rest.
Edited: September 27, 2017, 6:05 AM · The bow hair makes a massive difference. It took me 30 years or more to find that out. I had a bow with very old hair and it was like silk on your cheek. Had new hair and suddenly a sound emerged from my violin again.
There are these snagging points in the horse hair which get worn down in time. 6 months intensive use is usually enough i believe to warrant re-hairing. You can get different grades and different types of horse hair too i believe. There is Chinese, Siberian, Canadian, and something else - Japanese? You need to find a good one , and the rougher ones might be better for romantic music, the more svelte ones for baroque.
September 27, 2017, 11:34 AM · Everyone, thanks for the input!

Just a few things with terms regarding bows that I'm still not 100% clear. Correct me if I'm wrong.

1) Feel = Playability. Includes factors such as weight, balance, and flexibility
2) Sound quality. Mostly due to quality of the bow ie wood vs CF
3) Where does "smoothness" go? Is it under feel / playability or on it's own category? I remember someone saying a bow played buttery smooth but didn't have a really good playability.

I now have a clearer idea what to look for in a bow. Technically smoothness shouldn't really be a factor in choosing a bow because, as Sylvan mentioned, there are huge differences in hair quality and a bow will be rehaired eventually in the long term.

Edited: September 27, 2017, 10:02 PM · John, I believe bow hair and rosin do make some difference in terms of how smooth the sound you can hear and you can feel when you draw a bow. For instance, a bow that is badly in need of re-hair would be hard to draw the sound you need so you would work harder, and poor quality rosin makes the sound gritty. But I think the buttery sound some of us were talking about was the tonal quality. It is the deep and velvet character of the sound certain bow can produce on certain violins. I recently tried a bow (an old Hill) that produces deep and buttery sound to my Topa, but I didn't take it because it's not as responsive as my current bow. But these two are not mutually exclusive; some buttery-sounding bows are highly playable and responsive. I'm searching for one of those.

You said you are a beginner. When you are trying bows for purchase, you should definitely ask some help from your teacher or someone has a lot of experience in violin. You need certain violin technique to test the playability of a bow and well-trained ear to hear the sound the bow can produce on your violin in more reliable way.

September 28, 2017, 5:44 AM · A really smooth draw is a playability quality, though -- the feel that the bow is tracking the string effortlessly in a straight plane.

Some bows can feel like an extension of your arm.

September 28, 2017, 9:04 AM · Yixi, I havent seen my teacher in months. I don't want to see him just to have him try bows and then not continue with lessons. Though I don't really know anyone else besides another beginner friend who plays the violin. After another 2+ hours of testing last night, my impression is I prefer the well balanced bow over tip-heavier but better-sounding bow. It feels, as Lydia mentioned, like an extension of my arm. The tip-heavier one feels like some of my muscles are combating some of its weight. But again, that's me doing absolutely random bowing techniques I've seen online that I'm probably not executing correctly haha

I'm currently using Kaplan Dark #7 rosin. I did some rosin research last night and will be getting the Bernardel light.

Edited: September 28, 2017, 12:00 PM · John, I don't know your situation with you and your teacher so I can only tell you my experience with my teacher (we've been together for nearly 10 years), and how absolutely crucial to consult with her about instrument purchasing before purchasing:

1. My teacher would try and give me her expert opinion on an instrument within 5 minutes of my lesson time. I let my teacher play my current violin/bow and then try the testing instrument. That alone is often quite telling.

2. Because everyone is different physically, technically, musically, etc. I don't think I can get the help from internet the same way/quality as I get from my teacher because most time people are talking general terms rather than something specifically applicable to me personally as a violinist and a person.

3. If you are considering buying a bow, I have to be straight with you just as I usually am with my friends who are beginners or the parents of beginners: In this commercial world we live, buying a violin or a bow or both is the easiest but the least important part in learning the violin. Unless your teacher suggest that you need a better bow or violin, it is often wasteful because the solution to the problems we are dealing with usually isn't the stuff we can purchase, but the right direction we can get at each point when we feel stuck, especially when we feel we can make better sound by buying a violin or a bow. Most likely, you need to just work on your technique, and saving the money to find the best teacher you can afford which can be a much better investment.

I am speaking from my own experience as I too have the tendency to acquire stuff and have made a lot of mistakes by buying things (instruments, books, etc.). I still have to remind myself again and again, each time the impulse comes. Having said that, sometimes each person has to find their own way to learn. As they say, life is short but the road is long. Enjoy the journey!

September 28, 2017, 12:21 PM · Yixi's advice is terrific.

A good player can probably pick up the bow and within 30 seconds, tell you whether or not it's decent quality for a beginner.

That said, if you have a terrible $10 bow, it's worth upgrading to something with decent playability, but honestly, for a beginner, a $50 Glasser fiberglass bow will probably do the trick.

September 28, 2017, 3:57 PM · Yixi and Lydia, thanks for the advice! I'll definitely try looking for someone who can at least try the bows before I purchase. It just won't be with my teacher. My teacher is nice and very respectable, but I just don't think I suit well with his teaching style (I had a long post about this before). My last few lessons two months ago had been more on the traumatizing than enjoyable side. Again, not that he's a bad teacher or anything negative. I just don't work well with very very strict teaching. I may start looking for a new teacher, but I'm not sure if I'm ready to start taking lessons again at this time. I'm still catching up with practice from everything I learned last month from teachers abroad (2-3 hr lessons each day for 2 weeks straight). I will definitely need to start taking lessons again once I get stuck.

My main reason for trying bows is curiosity especially with everyone talking about playability and sound quality. My $70 Fiddlerman CF bow is mostly fine (minus the occasional oscillation) and I can definitely learn far with it. For me there's some separation between learning and enjoying. I can definitely learn with a $80 violin and $20 bow, but I may not necessarily enjoy the sound I can get from it. If I continued lessons with my previous teacher for 2 months of weekly hourly lessons (8 classes + transportation), it would be an equivalent of one JP Avanti bow.

My other hobby is listening to quality audio (audiophiles if you've heard that term before, though I don't consider myself one). I appreciate getting every bit of good sound possible, but there's definitely a price point when the diminishing returns start to plummet. I believe being able to try quality equipment just for experience and spoiling ourselves a little bit once in a while is part of enjoying the journey :) As long as it's reasonably affordable and not self-destructive for us now or later.

With my other previous hobbies, I've also fallen victim to my own constant desire of upgrading for the "better". My regret is the incremental upgrades that I took since I still ended up with what I was initially aiming for. Now I just go for the best I can reasonably afford (if not then I cut back on other expenses and/or hold off my purchase until I can save enough) and never look back knowing that I made the decision to the best of my knowledge at that time. Of course, more info is better and getting a feedback from a skilled player would be beneficial. I'm just in a somewhat tough spot to get someone to try the bows.

I've been trying to avoid spelling out which bows I'm currently trying as to not draw attention to the models and price :s But since I already mentioned, the other one I'm trying is the Carrera. A second Avanti is on it's way. I'm doing a 2-week home trial from Fiddlershop. The store here only allows a week of home trial and it's far from home. I'm meticulous with my testing and I think 1 week won't be enough for my first trials. I feel ill-equipped to do trials at the shop and I would feel obligated to purchase if I took the bows home from the shop unlike online where it's less personal. My goal right now is to try and compare the JP bows as much as I can and then visit for in-store trials using the Avanti as my baseline preference. By then I won't be as clueless when testing.

September 28, 2017, 3:58 PM · Oh geez... sometimes I don't realize until I hit the "Reply!" button that I'm posting novels.
September 28, 2017, 6:43 PM · My guess is that your playing is at a stage where you can't yet make a good decision about a bow over the long-term. The $70 Fiddlerman should be adequate for a while.

When you're about to hit the intermediate stage, work with your teacher to select a bow. That may still not be your long-term preference; at that point you could pick a neutral decent bow that will last you until the point where you have more mature technique and therefore more specific preferences.

I suspect that much like beginners need more forgiving violins, they also need more forgiving bows. Something that is highly and precisely responsive is better, objectively, but it may also be really frustrating to use.

September 29, 2017, 6:41 PM · Lydia, Just wondering. When did you purchase your Avanti? Does it have a smooth flat grip or lizard skin?



Which Suzuki book would you consider as "about to hit the intermediate stage"?

September 29, 2017, 6:59 PM · The number one factor in smooth bowing, especially smooth starts and smooth bow changes and well-tapered phrase endings and ultimately spectacular effects is the player's control. The people who can do this often/usually show the ability quite early in their studies. If this were not so it would not be so easy to identify them as early as we can. Super bows may only make it better, and it is true that there are bows that make life easier for us hackers - but they are not the secret.
Edited: September 30, 2017, 8:35 AM · OP, The short answer is: the bow! You are over thinking this issue too much. Getting regular lessons and diligent practice will make everything better!
Edited: September 30, 2017, 9:44 PM · Bows don't play smooth, but may be played smoothLY.

Cheers Carlo

October 1, 2017, 10:21 AM · I got my JP Avanti back in early 2015. I'm not by my violin-case at the moment, but I recall the grip as being smooth-ish but not totally smooth.

Suzuki introduces off-the-string strokes in book 5, so that would be a good time to upgrade bows.

October 1, 2017, 11:49 AM · Quite recent then. I don't know exactly JP's product line history, but I suspect they added more models in the past 5-8 years that are similar to the Avanti. If that's the case, then the sticks are sorted into more different categories. Right now looks like there's 4 similar models. Sorted from cheapest to expensive; Corona, Avanti, Muse, Carrera. If in the past there was only Avanti and Carrera, then "Corona" and "Muse" bows could get sorted with the Avanti, giving you a chance of testing a higher quality "Avanti". Hmmm I think too much lol

Anyways... At my current pace, that would probably take me another 3-4 years before I get to book 5. I've been playing a lot more recently with the trial bows though! Perhaps I can get it to 2-3 years with my recent increase in play time.

Both JP's have been super fun to play with! Smoother to use so it's easier for me to use the entire bow. Cleaner sound so I'm less likely to halt my playing from screeches. It's also a lot more rewarding to play notes right since I can get a much much better sound than my current bow. Interestingly, the Carrera is too smooth that I end up sliding sideways more often. You're right that some bows would require better skills, otherwise it could cause more problems than improvements.

I'm too spoiled now to wait another 2+ years to upgrade my current bow :/ I'm set on getting at most the Avanti.

October 1, 2017, 4:13 PM · I wrote about that bow-buying experience in this thread: http://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/26604/

I believe I've tried the five models of bows at the lower end of the JP line, so everything excluding the Carrerra and Vetta -- Bravo, Arpege, Corona, Avanti, Muse.

I did not like the particular Muse I tried as much as I liked the Avanti, as that thread details.

October 2, 2017, 10:07 AM · Interesting read. By the way, did you get your violin repaired or does it still have a crack on the soundpost?

Just got more info. Avanti was released in 2004 and the Carrera in 2012. Asked the manufacturer regarding Corona and Muse plus any discontinued models.

October 2, 2017, 11:13 AM · My personal belief is that the benefit you get from a change in rosin is marginal at best in any objective sense, but can have a big effect in the placebo department. From everything I've read, hair can stretch out slightly, and it can get clogged-up with oil or too much rosin (then you can just use less), but the hair doesn't lose it's ability to hold rosin over time. I try and avoid the impulse to rehair unless my hairs start breaking, because I believe my time will better be spent practicing. I somehow doubt that you'll find too many rosin fetishists among the top soloists, but even they can be superstitious, I suppose.
October 2, 2017, 11:45 AM · Everybody not believing in the rosin influence should be given a cake of those $50 violin sets. I legitly cannot make my bow create any sound when using this (tried with a cheaper bow after rehairing).
A lot of rosins are close to each other and you will not be able to make out the difference if you are not playing yourself and have a good bow feeling (so not beeing a beginner). But if you compare a sticky rosing like the Andrea Solo with a harder like the light Melos there is a significant and huge difference in playability and sound.
October 2, 2017, 12:33 PM · When someone talks about a "soundpost crack" it's not the soundpost that's cracked -- if it were, it would just be replaced.

Rather, it's a crack in the body of the violin itself, beneath the soundpost. A crack like that is pretty much a 50% devaluation of the instrument, regardless of how well-repaired it is.

October 2, 2017, 3:07 PM · Marc, I'm inclined to believe you more than my post may admit. I've just seen enough threads around here where beginners are looking for the right gear to do this or that, and while I understand the impulse, I think that they should mostly put aside stuff like rosin and strings until they are like 5 more years into it. I just see it as an aspect of magic thinking that actually keeps people from progressing, because I think that once people start to understand the value of truly practicing consistently, thoughtfully, and putting time in, the appeal of "quick fixes" loses its luster.

Of course, this is due to somewhat uncharitable projection on my part.

October 2, 2017, 3:23 PM · I do agree that a lot of people think to much about the equipment and not enough about practising and learning.
As many here I learned on a violin I would consider bad today and changed my strings every couple of years. Rosin was never on my list until I learned the violin many years.
Testing different rosins is something an advanced player can do but nothing I would recommend beginners as its just lost time and money for them.
Learning the violin mainly is learning the violin, not buy expensive equipment.
October 2, 2017, 4:20 PM · In my opinion the quality of a student's equipment should be a very strong concern of the teacher. When I was teaching I did everything in my power to assure my students had instruments and bows that would not hold them back - even to the event of going with them to select their first rental instrument (at no charge for my time). Of course their were students who had "jumped the gun" and had already purchased their equipment before they ever contacted me. But even then I always tested their equipment to be sure it was something I could play on (or something they could do to improve it) -- and at every lesson I always checked the bridge angle - you don't want any bridges bending or falling down.
Edited: October 2, 2017, 4:43 PM · With regards to equipment and experimenting, I guess it depends what people play the violin for.

If it's to compete and sound good compared to others or to play for others or to be the next famous violinist, then yes I agree that looking for equipment for "quick fixes" is not the best way to go and that practice and lessons should be priority.

I play the violin for self entertainment. Since it's entertainment, which is the same category as watching movies and sports, playing video games, going to concerts, or whatever people do for fun, so in some ways since it's not "productive" then it's "lost time" and "waste of money". Am I getting better as a player? Perhaps not, but I sure am "wasting" and enjoying my time with experimenting with bows and rosin as I find that entertaining =P I mean arent we all supposed to enjoy the instrument in whichever way fits us?

October 2, 2017, 6:33 PM · I don't think there's any harm in it as long as you are conscious that your time and money are not being efficiently spent.
October 2, 2017, 11:29 PM · Andrew, I agree that a good equipment for students is something a student deserves and my son is learning with way better equip than I did. But I seriously doubt that rosin (as long as it is not a trash one) matters that mouch unitl you reached a certain point in bow technic.
October 3, 2017, 8:39 AM · No worries. I'm aware of it. I'm meticulous when I make buying decisions so I don't ever regret my purchases. Once I finish getting all the tiny probably-not-even-important details on equipment and the different variables, then I can focus practicing with a clear mind.

Just tried the Bernardel rosin last night. Cleaned my bow hair first with denatured alcohol. I messed up a little and got some of it on my bow, but thank goodness it's carbon fiber and worst case it's not an expensive bow. The alcohol went up the horse hair (I forgot the science term for water having the ability to climb up through certain material) and then to the tip and frog where the hair is attached. Immersion is probably the riskiest method because of that. I'll probably try the other method I read like using paper towel damped with alcohol or the toothbrush method. I don't think I'll have to do any of this anytime soon. Whichever new bow I'm getting, I'm not going to risk it. The horse hair looked and felt brand new after the cleaning!

The Bernardel gives a smoother feeling compared to the Kaplan dark. The Kaplan has more grip. I prefer the Bernardel. I didn't notice difference in the overall sound. I also noticed the dust from the Bernardel is finer.

October 3, 2017, 8:48 AM · I think one of the points I've been trying to make is what seems good to you as a beginner is not necessarily what you will want as an intermediate player, and then not what you'll want as an advanced player (if you ever get to that point).

Indeed, what feels good to you now as a beginner might actually not even be what would optimize your learning as a beginner. You might get a few months down the line, for instance, and get a good teacher, and find out that what you thought was great equipment is actually hampering you.

October 3, 2017, 9:31 AM · I should be safe with my violin since it has 100% return towards future upgrade at the shop as long as it's well maintained. The bow is more of a gamble for me in that regards, though I don't see myself becoming an intermediate for at least another 2 years.

Is it likely that a bow like the Avanti could hamper me over my current beginner bow? In what ways?

By the way, many thanks for all the input you've been providing (in my other threads too)!

October 3, 2017, 12:05 PM · Update on history of the JonPaul models (nothing important).

Avanti was released in 2004 while the Corona, Muse, and Carrera was released in 2012. So my initial guess that more models similar to the Avanti was released just recently is right. The Muse was apparently supposed to replace the Avanti, but a lot of people liked it so it was never discontinued. I have no idea about their production and selection process, but all four models look too similar that I wouldnt be surprised if they're produced as one model and then sorted into those 4 models.

October 8, 2017, 10:56 AM · Been testing the 2nd Avanti that arrived. Can confirm that there's definitely in-model variation. Here are the weight and balance from the bottom.

Avanti 1 (A1) 61g 250mm/9.84"
Avanti 2 (A2) 60g 255mm/10.04"
Carrera (C1) 60g 255mm/10.04"
Fiddlerman (F1) 60g 255mm/10.04"

I might be doing something wrong since I read that typical balance is between 9.5" - 9.75"

I blind test myself as possibly as I can. I played them before measuring and could already tell A2 feels a bit closer to the Carrera. A2 and C1 also sound similar with C1 still gliding the smoothest compared to the two Avanti's. In my case, I'm definitely crossing out the C1 since it's almost twice the price for such a small difference.

I kept hairs that detached from the bows and I noticed the JonPaul hairs are finer than my Fiddlerman. If only it was easy to interchange the hair, I would totally test that!

I still prefer the overall feel of A1. I'm meeting up with a teacher on Tuesday and will ask his opinion.

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