19 Checks to Buy a Violin Bow
A good violin bow can make a big difference in the sound you make and the easy of bowing
Before dedicating my work to Violin Lounge and specializing in teaching bowing technique, I’ve owned a brick and mortar violin shop for over 12 years. What stood out to me most is that people focus on the violin and the bow ‘just comes with it’.
On a regular basis I surprised my clients what difference a bow can make to your sound and playing
Often they even decided to not buy new violin, but just upgrade their bow, because it makes playing easier and improves their tone quality.
2 Most important things to look for when buying a violin bow
Ok, hold your horse hair and just stop Googling frantically and endlessly. Just stop wondering if you should go for nickel, silver or gold mounting. Even stop worrying about wood versus carbon. What really matters is just this:
1) How does the bow sound?
2) How does the bow play?
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well… unfortunately it’s easier said than done. That’s why I’m sharing some tips.
Here are checks not to miss when buying a violin bow:
1) What is the sound quality when you play?
Play a slow piece with a large and deep tone to discover this. As I mentioned in my article ‘What to play and look for when buying a violin bow’ you should be short fragments on every bow and keep the selection of bows small.
2) What is the projection and sound quality when you listen?
Have someone else, a friend or your teacher, play with the bow on your violin and listen how the bow sounds from a distance. This can be very different to the sound ‘under your ear’ when you’re playing yourself. Certainly when you’re performing, this is an important factor. You need to know how your audience will experience the sound and how far the sound can carry (projection).
3) How is the response?
Response is something that’s sometimes hard to explain. It means how fast you can get the sound you want. Do you have to do a lot of effort or is there a delay? Or do you feel like the bow reacts as the gas pedal of a Ferrari? (or a Porsche if you like German bows as I do)
4) How about the dynamics?
How soft and how loud can you play with the bow? Do you have to work hard to play forte? Can you easily play piano without sounding superficial? In a good bow you want to look for a large dynamic range.
Does the bow make things easier for you?
This is exactly why selecting a bow is SO personal. You might not like what I like, or what your teacher likes. For example I love a extremely light and stiff bow with a very fast response, like the Arcus S9 I play with. Others would call this ‘nervous’. So, let’s go on with some checks about how the bow plays:
5) What’s the feel of the bow when you pick it up?
Your first nudge… how does the frog feel? How does the balance feel? Do you like holding it or is it a struggle to find a good bow hold with this bow. Does it feel safe or weird?
6) Does the bow help you with different bowing techniques?
Test how the bow responds to different bowing techniques like spiccato and ricochet, accents, fast runs and about anything you could think of. In my article ‘What to play and look for when buying a violin bow’ I explain exactly WHAT you should play when selecting a bow, how you select and how you choose. Also you can download the variety of repertoire snippets I’ve used to buy hundreds of bows when running my violin shop.
Explore the character of the violin bow
While trying several bows, you want to look for:
Yes, you feel that while playing, but you can also tighten the bow and see if it bends quickly and test the ‘spring’ when the bow is on the string.
Try whole bow strokes with a deep sound as well as fast jumping bow techniques.
Ignore the number of grams…. how does the weight FEEL to you? A light bow can feel clumsy and heavy when it’s relatively heavy at the tip. What matters is the weight you experience. Will you get a tired right arm with this bow? Or does it feel light and easy?
Technical details to ignore if you want
If the bow feels good and makes a great sound it doesn’t matter AT ALL where it comes from, who made it, what type of tip plate it has etc. However, I’m adding these in just to give you some things to look and and see if your bow is technically ok.
Don’t worry too much what this stuff adds to the value of the bow. You’re buying it to play with it, perhaps your entire life. Don’t let your decision be muddled by worries about selling it in the future.
10) Is the bow absolutely straight?
Don’t ignore this one, because it can cause trouble in the future!
Put the bow in front of you like a Pinocchio nose and see if it’s straight from the screw to the tip. Don’t buy it if it isn’t.
11) Origine and maker
Where does the bow come from? Made in China or in Europe? It doesn’t have to matter, but in general the better bows are made in America or Europe and the simple bows are made in China. In a price range below $ 200, about everything is made in China even if the webshop description might suggest otherwise. Some very good and resonably priced pernambuco bows are made in Brazil… tip to check out. In my Ultimate Guide to Buying a Violin Bow concert violinist Giedre and I demonstrate and discuss all important and obsure brands of carbon bows.
12) Is the frog comfortable?
How is the finishing? What is it made of?
The leather must be in a good state and it must feel good to you. When it’s not in the place you want or too thick, you might have it changed when you buy the bow.
14) Horse hair quality
The bow must be new or have had a recent rehair when you try it, otherwise it can mess up the characteristics. There needs to be a sufficient quantity of good quality horse hair. Yes, there are synthetic alternatives, but in my experience they remain slippery no matter how much you rosin them, but this might change in the future.
15) Tip and tip plate
The finishing of the tip must be good and there shouldn’t be any damage there (or anywhere). The tip plate can be of plastic, nickel, silver or gold. It can make a little difference.
A bow can be nickel, silver and gold mounted. Read all about what difference that makes (and doesn’t) in this article.
The winding can be of all sorts of materials. First check if it’s in a good state. Also check if it’s durable and you don’t have an allergy to the material. Also it must feel good when you hold the bow (if you play with your index finger on the winding).
18) Material of the stick
This can be roughly wood or carbon. If it’s wood, you should prefer pernambuco, which is relatively light and stiff. These trees may not be shopped down anymore, so the prices go up. In my opinion, don’t get a wooden bow under two thousand dollars, but you might be lucky and find a good one.
Carbon fiber mostly has a better price/quality ratio. Cheap bows are made of carbon composite and the better ones of carbon fiber. The higher percentage of carbon, the lower the percentage of ‘other stuff’, so in general the higher the quality of the bow. Arcus offers the highest percentage of carbon on the market.
Most important is your personal preference. Of course if a cheap bow has a lot of bad reviews, you might want to skip that one. Reviews can be useful, but they can also lead you astray. Sometimes I see renowned orchestra violinists give unlikely good testimonials about very average or cheap bows. Hmm, would they really play with this bow in their daily orchestra work? Mainly look for real reviews on independent websites, not on the sales pages of the bow brands. Ignore the stars, but look at the descriptions: how do people describe the characteristics of the violin bow? Is that what you’re looking for in a bow?
Would you like to see the most expensive, cheapest, best and worst violin bows demonstrated and discussed by two professional violinists?
What kind of bow do you have?
I’d love to read all about your experiences with selecting a bow and am really curious to read what type of bow you have. Share it in the comments below!
Interested in my ‘bow story’? After years of saving I bought myself a $ 8.000 bow… what??? Yup, it’s worth every penny. Read all about it here.