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How To Choose a Great Bow

Choosing a great bow can be very confusing and overwhelming, there are many option to choose from and a wide range of prices and materials…ill  attempt to explain what to look for when choosing a bow, no matter your price range if you follow these rules you can choose a good bow for the price, whether buying a violin, viola, cello or bass these tips apply to them all. And once you have the bow you can learn how to take care of it and your violin by reading 3 Tips To Care for your Violin.

The Stick

Wooden bows

The stick of the bow is made from many materials the most common are as follows..fiber glass, carbon fiber, Brazil wood and Pernambuco, there are other materials but these are the most common so i wont mention the other materials used, we will start with fiber glass…

Fiber Glass

K Holts Bows

Fiber glass is used in student bow’s, some are very low quality some are actually good bow’s, fiber glass is inexpensive and durable, it is a little heavier then the other materials and can take alot of abuse, so for a student it is a good bow so they learn to take care of it, before you upgrade to a more expensive bow. However some middle schools do not allow fiber glass bow’s so check with your school before buying, most fiber glass bow’s will have real horse hair, and a ebony frog, some of the lesser quality bows will have a plastic frog. Rehairing a fiber glass bow will usually cost less too. You can usually buy a good fiber glass bow from around $40-$80 so it is really inexpensive and a great bow for a starting player, the most well known brands are Glasser, and K. Holtz there are other but these are the most well known. of the 2 Glasser is more popular but K. Holtz is a better quality bow and has a real ebony frog, glasser uses a plastic frog.

Carbon Fiber

Coda bows

Carbon fiber bows are made for students and professionals alike and have a fairly big price range most from around $80-$800+ depending on the brand and quality. Carbon fiber is very strong and lightweight, as with all bows there are good quality and bad quality the most respected carbon fiber bow brands are Coda Bow and  John Paul…Carbon fiber bow are also  good for electric violins, travel, playing outdoors, and playing in a orchestra, they are more Eco friendly as they don’t use the diminishing Brazilian wood species. Sound with a carbon fiber bow compared to a good pernambuco is not as good but is very close, and with carbon fiber you wont have to worry about the bow losing it’s camber or warping, they are not effected by moister or dryness as a wooden bow is making them a great bow for a traveling musician or student, And usually come with a lime time warranty on the stick.

Brazil Wood

Wooden bowsBrazil wood is the wood of choice for student bow’s, you can find some very good bow’s made from Brasil wood but you can also find some very poor quality bow’s too, so knowing what to look for and  how to choose a good bow is important and ill explain this process later. Good Brasil wood bow’s hold there camber for well for years, and are generally inexpensive, these are the least expensive of the 2 woods discussed in this article, usually around $80-$700, these bow’s are great for students and beginning player’s, they have a good sound and feel, come in octagonal stick and round stick, ill discuss the difference a little later…they are also surprisingly durable for how thin they are.

Pernumbuco Wood

Pernumbuko wood

Pernambuco wood is the the  wood of choice for bow’s, the best bow’s are made form pernumbuco, some bows are 300+ years old and still used today! but as with all thing’s just because it is made from pernambuco dose not mean it is a good or great bow, there are good and bad bows made from pernambuco which is a shame because it is a vanishing species and pernambuco forest’s have shrank astonishingly due to this…a good pernambuco bow will cost any where from $200-$1800, some bow’s from famous maker’s sell for over $100,000. Generally these bow have the best sound, are very strong, and hold their camber and shape very well, it is lighter then Brasil wood and also stronger and vibrates much better (the bow vibrates as well as the violin) and creates a much better sound compared to all the other materials discussed.  Pernambuco wood bow’s are great bows for advanced students and professionals and if taken care of well can last for generations and be handed down through the family, something to consider when purchasing a bow.

Choosing a bow

Choosing a bow for any instrument is a very personal thing, it has to have a comfortable weight, good balance, produce a good sound and also have enough strength in the camber to match your playing style, some people have a heavy bow hand and will need a bow with a strong camber to produce a good sound and hold the pressure applied to it. When choosing a bow look at the wood grain it should be straight and running down the stick to the tip, if the grain is curved or slants down at the tip it can be week and prone to breakage at the tip. when the bow is tightened look down the bow from the screw end, the bow should be straight and have no curve, turn the bow on it’s side and look down it the same way, it should still have some camber (a slight curve), when you hold the tip and apply some pressure as if your playing it should still have a strength to the bow. Check the stick for any knots or cracks, knots can make the bow warp in future and can also make the bow weak. When you visit a store to buy a bow (purchasing from internet is not recommended) don’t be afraid to try 5 or more bow’s get a feel for each bow and try and feel and hear the difference when you play it on your violin, test different playing styles and techniques try different scales play each bow for 5 or 10 min’s to get the feel, don’t just play a simple scale, play scales and songs, soft and loud every bow is different, so try different bows in same price range, if you cant tell a difference ask the store manager to help you decide or even take it to you teacher t help you decide. Bow will have different kinds of Tip plate’s materials, different winding, and leather used for thumb grip a swell as different types of frogs ill explain below.

Tip Plate

Tip cover

the tip plate is usually made from animal bone, it protects the wood on the tip from splitting and strengthens the tip. it is made from many materials, animal bone, ivory, copper, silver, mother of pearl, plastic and few others, placed on a thin strip of ebony the shape to match the tip of the bow. its primary purpose is the strengthen the tip, more expensive bows will usually have more expensive materials used on the tip and winding and other area’s.

Thumb Grip And Winding

Thumb grip

the thumb grip is as its name suggests, a grip for your thumb, it also protects the bow from your fingernails and the oils from your hand. Made from different materials such as, leather, snake skin, rubber, crocodile skin, lizard skin…most are made from a cow leather dyed black and will need to be replaced as it get worn.The bows winding is located just above the thumb grip and also protects the wood from the oil’s and sweat from your hand, and makes the bow more comfortable to hold, the winding is made from all kinds of materials such as, leather, whale bone, imitations whale bone, spun silver and gold, stainless steel, silk, and many other’s, all work well and also provide a beautiful decoration to the bow while protecting it.

The frog

Ebony frog

the frog is located at the back end of the bow or the butt end, it is most often made from ebony but ivory, Animal horn and plastic are also used, the frog balances the bow and hold the hair in place. the frog has many different shapes and decoration, some have silver or gold lining or stainless steel, some are just all ebony with now lining at all, some have fancy mother of pearl or abalone inlay’s or Persian eye’s this is all decoration so don’t buy a bow because it has a pretty design on the frog, the stick is the most important part.

 

4 Responses so far.

  1. Dave says:

    Very helpful.My bow/hair doesn\’t seem to grab the strings or resonate with the violin as I think they should. Seems like it\’s slip sliding across the strings rather than grabbing the string. Could be me, though.I use rosin that is probably 20 years old. Does that make a difference? I clean the rosin off my strings and re rosin my bow each time. I paid about 0 for the bow 15 years ago – I could have been taken, I\’ll admit. I believe it to be Brazilwood, it still has a good camber and seems to be straight. The hair looks good but I\’m not a good judge. I have handmade instrument from a luthier in WV, Dave Bing, which I paid 4000 for. It has a terrific sound. Also a German violin made in 1992 by Franz Sanders.I play old time fiddle music though have been recently playing slower more melodic music and this is were I feel it\’s really lacking.I will seek out a violin shop in my town of Milwaukee, as you will probably recommend, but any other thoughts?Dave

    • Rex Clark says:

      How long has it been since you have had the bow re-haired? it could just be the hair is worn out, Also it could be your rosin is to dry and brittle. The bow hair should be replaced at least once a year as a general rule. i think its always better to have some fresh rosin as well few years old is fine. sorry this reply is late and i hope this helps.
      Rex k Clark

  2. Jannette says:

    Rex, I am looking to purchase an older bow rather than new this time, so I would like to know about bows holding their value. Am I better off to buy a pernambuco to hold its value, and also would silver fittings denote a better quality and help hold the bows value over nickel/silver fittings?

    • Rex Clark says:

      Hello Jannette,
      It really depends on your price point, if your looking for $200-$500 you can probably get a better quality Carbon fiber Violin bow then a pernambuco for that price. anything above that you will want to stick with pernambuco. and yes Silver fittings/ Gold fitting usually designate a better stick then nickel or other fittings. Pernambuco is getting more and more expensive every year so i would recommend a good pernambuco wood bow to hold its value, silver fittings are ideal over the nickel but there are good nickel bows as well. Hope this answered your questions. Thank you.
      Rex

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