Bow questions

July 12, 2021, 12:27 PM · I recently bought a new wood bow online from a reputable shop, but I had a few concerns and didn’t want to reach out to the shop unless there was really a problem. Most of my experience with bows has been with carbon fiber and the only wood bow I’ve had before was a horrible wood bow that I haven’t used in probably 6 years or so. Anyway…I noticed what the stick tends to bounce/vibrate, especially in the center of the bow. If I play with a long, slow bow I don’t see it at all, but the faster I play or if I try to project the center of the stick kinda goes everywhere. The hair never breaks contact with the string and the sound remains consistent. It’s just the stick part of the bow that doing this. Is this normal for a wood bow? It is supposed to be pernambuco, but a lower one star. So I was wondering if this type of movement is typical of wood bows or if there is something off with this bow. Unfortunately I don’t have a luthier nearby that I could take it to and I don’t currently have a teacher.

Additionally, I bought the bow as a discounted “B-stock” item, but wasn’t really sure what actually made the bow receive the second quality label. When I inspected it after receiving it, I noticed that it does have a knot in the stick…it’s not huge, but it is in the general area of where I notice the stick “wobble” a lot. Are knots something to be concerned about? And could this be related to the issue I described before, if it’s not caused by the bow being made from wood?

Thanks for any assistance you can offer. I’ve played off and on for around 12 years, but when I was younger my parents operated under the “cheaper is better” mindset and I’ve only recently gotten a quality instrument and have never even tried a decent bow. This bow feels pretty good and I like the way it sounds with my violin, but I’m just not sure what to think of the movement in the stick.

Replies (19)

Edited: July 12, 2021, 1:32 PM · Sounds like this bow deserved to be sold at a discount.

Edit: For someone with your experience perhaps this bow is just more whippy than you are used to. It sounds like a great sautille bow for one thing.

Edited: July 12, 2021, 1:10 PM · Hi Elizabeth - you've been playing longer than I, and I don't have a wood bow, but I recognize the behavior you describe. In very early 2020 I moved from a Codabow Prodigy to a hybrid John Paul Corona.

This bow is lighter and more nimble than my Prodigy and at first I saw the same behavior that you are asking about. Just like you, it was just the stick, both hair contact and sound was fine. This did pass, so gradually that I don't think I even noticed.

Others will have more to say, just wanted to provide some encouragement, hopefully that's all this is...

July 12, 2021, 1:52 PM · your bow should feel good in your hand- this is personal, and can vary where one person loves a bow and another can't stand it. If it doesn't feel good and make you happy playing it, maybe time to return it and try some more. Best way to buy bows is get a bunch of them on trial and test them in a blind test. You play a scale or something easy with each of them for somebody else and rank them. Then ask your friend or teacher to play each one for you and rank them. Eliminate the ones that just don't feel good. This gives you the bow that's best matched to your hand and to your instrument. Both are important! Sometimes a lower priced bow wins, sometimes not. Price isn't always related to playability. It's fun to look for a good bow that's lowered priced, and nice to find one. that can be hard to do, though. You deserve to be happy with the bow you buy!
July 12, 2021, 2:00 PM · I do hope that it is just the adjustment from carbon fiber to wood. The bow really does sound good with my violin, but I don’t want to miss the return window for the bow and find out that it has some sort of problem that I’m now stuck with.

And thank you for your insights Catherine. My experience may be lengthy time wise, but it’s very broken up between 6 different teachers and a lot of “breaks” thanks to life getting in the way. A few months ago I realized that I needed to get back into playing for my own mental health and to be a good example for my daughter, who I want to play when she’s old enough. I hope to be able to start lessons again soon and finally feel like I’m growing my skills.

Edited: July 12, 2021, 2:04 PM · Tom - when I played the bow for the first time the day it arrived, I was actually blown away with how good it felt. I had never felt a bow that felt so balanced in my hand and it really felt like an extension of me and not a bow. But the next day I noticed the issues with the stick and just got a little paranoid. I didn’t want my inexperience with wood bows to lead me to returning a good bow or get me to keep one I really should have returned.

July 12, 2021, 2:18 PM · It could be an adjustment issue. I was just going through the same thing with a much more expensive bow-- sounded like a million, but took an insane amount of discipline to avoid that little bounce 8" from the frog or so.

Turns out an archetier spotted two pretty bad pieces of incorrect camber. Other things that might lead to a similar result could be bad rehairing, or using the wrong quantity of hair.

Of course, all this could be baked into the actual construction of the stick, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. And spending hundreds to have a famous guy look at it may not be a sensible risk.

July 12, 2021, 3:01 PM · And, I must add that I have trouble bowing past the balance point (going up or down) without a bobble--regardless of which bow I am using. Hope you work through this!
July 12, 2021, 3:10 PM · I recently performed 2 bow trials, 4 bows each for violin and viola. I hadn't realized before this that the amount of tension on the hair can make a big difference with some bows. Sometimes a little tighter or looser makes a problem go away. By the way, I bought 2 CF bows and an antique wooden one which didn't sound as good but it feels so comfortable in my hand I couldn't pass it up.
July 12, 2021, 3:29 PM · I may need to mess with the tightness of the hair a bit more. A quick search revealed that I may have the hair a bit on the tight side. Six teachers and not one comment on the tightness of my bow hair, but definitely worth looking into more. More than a pencil can fit between the hair and the stick where I tighten it to now, but it’s no where near straight. May try adjusting to the “rule of thumb” amount and see if it improves. Are wood bows generally more sensitive to the tightness of the hair than carbon fiber?
July 12, 2021, 5:14 PM · Wood is very unique. Every bow has its own characteristics. I have a collection of 8 wood bows now and still haven’t found the perfect one that does everything well. Way more difficult than violin buying.
Edited: July 12, 2021, 6:25 PM · One interesting trick-- hold the bow so that it is vertical, and then tap the frog with your ring finger. There will be vibration, but the amount and quality will vary based on the tension of the hair. That might not tell you where the tension should be, but it illustrates how much different a bow can get just by turning that knob.
July 12, 2021, 6:41 PM · With more experimentation, it seems like looser hair is helping. I did about two turns less than I would normally do (one full revolution of the screw) and I did notice a difference in the way the stick behaved. It’s still there some, but it is better. I’ll keep messing with it a bit and give myself more time with the bow, but seems like it could just be adjusting to a new bow and slightly over tightened hair. Thanks for all the responses!

It is definitely not my final bow, but I wanted a wood bow to use while I save up for a better one eventually. My new violin is on the bright side and the carbon fiber bows I’ve tried make it sound a little over bright and the wood seems to help balance it out better.

July 12, 2021, 7:02 PM · If your hand and ear likes it, don't talk yourself out of it!
July 12, 2021, 9:13 PM · If a certain hair tension works, it by definition is not "over-tightened."
July 12, 2021, 10:09 PM · In addition to hair tightness, the amount of hair also figures into the "equation".

1. For each bow (stick) there is an optimum tension for optimum stick behavior when playing
2. an optimum hair strain (stretch) for optimum interaction with the strings
3. an optimum hair tension (stress) for interaction with the stick that "balances" the contribution of stick and hair to the interaction with strings and player

There is a region of compromise for each of these factors and their combined effect so that we may achieve our playing goals without each of the factors being exactly "optimized."

There are probably other factors that I can't recall right now.

July 13, 2021, 8:56 AM · Elizabeth, If you have only a pencil width between the stick and hair the bow will bottom out and grind the hair and stick against the string. Actual measurements help until you learn by feel what suits that bow best.
Edited: July 13, 2021, 9:53 AM · The bow should not be doing anything you don't want it to do. You will not get used to a bow with a snag somewhere along the hair, and it will always bother you.

Buying bows blind is a waste of time and money. Buy cheap, buy twice.

Go to a shop if you can, or ask for a large set of samplers when you order online. You can select your favourites and send back the rest, with your deposit being refunded for whatever you don't keep.

July 13, 2021, 10:03 AM · I second the recommendation to decrease the hair tension slightly.
Edited: July 13, 2021, 10:42 AM · It really does seem like decreasing the hair to a more “normal” tension is helping. The hair isn’t trying to bottom out either, so looks like it’ll be ok. I will definitely be more choosy when it comes to my next bow, but right now I just want a wood bow to get me through a few years until I can afford and appreciate a really nice bow. After not playing for about 5 years I am rusty and working on getting my limited skills back to where they were. I recently had to get a new violin because my old one had a previously repaired crack reopen and the cost to fix it was about the same as the value of the instrument, so I put the money (plus extra) towards a new violin instead. It came with a decent carbon fiber bow, but I don’t care for it with my already bright violin. I will be starting with lessons again soon and will definitely invest in a good bow in the future. In the meantime, I think this one will work for what I want.

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