What to Look for when Buying a Violin Bow?
What difference does a violin bow make?
While a lot of violin players take a lot of care in finding a good instrument and optimizing it with good strings, they sometimes forget that it’s the bow that’s really the voice and mouth of your instrument.
With the bow you color the sound and articulate your musical story.
‘Le violon, c’est l’archet.’
(the violin, it’s the bow) said the famous bow maker François Tourte around 1800. Most bows are still made after the design he developed.
A violin bow greatly influences your sound quality and ease of bowing
Your violin will sound very differently with different bows. When you take the time to try out several violin bows, you’ll notice that they vary greatly in character. Some bows will make things very difficult for you, while with other bows you just have to think it, send the signal to your hand and your bow will follow.
When you start playing, you might not notice the differences and be happy with the bow that ‘came with’ your violin outfit. The more you progress in your violin playing, the more demanding you’ll be to what your bow can or cannot do. You’ll outgrow your current bow and will have to search for a bow that can get your playing to the next level.
How do violin bows differ?
Your violin, your bow and YOU must be a good match. You don’t only want to know about the sound in general, but you want to know how the response is to accents and dynamics. Play fast and slow pieces,
‘Character’ of the violin bow
How does the bow feel and play? Is it lively? How does it respond to what you think and do in terms of bowing and tone production? This can be a first impression or a general feeling that might be hard to describe, but is very important. Below I talk about the various aspects of the ‘character’.
Carbon fiber vs wood
Bows are made out of wood (brazil or pernambuco) or carbon fiber (carbon composite or carbon fiber). There are also hybrid bows made out of carbon fiber with a pernambuco shell. Read here my in depth article on carbon fiber vs wood.
You can get a light bow or a heavy bow. The avaverage violin bow is around 60 grams. A bow can actually be heavier in grams, but due to the distribution of the weight it can feel light. The heavier the bow is at the tip, the heavier it will feel.
A heavy bow might feel secure in long bow stroke, but it will be harder to make it jump in spiccato.
A lighter bow can feel very good to play with, but it can also feel nervous.
In wooden bows you often have to choose between ‘heavy and stiff’ and ‘light and slack’. The great thing about good quality high density carbon fiber like Arcus bows, is that it makes it possible to combine stiff and light, making them easy to control and lively at the same time.
Above I already mentioned weight distribution. A bow that’s heavy at the frog may feel jumpy and nervous, while a bow that’s heavy at the tip might feel secure, but hard to move.
Cheap bows tend to have a balance and it’s very hard to control them. They do stuff without you giving the signal to do it.
Stiff or flexible
A bow that’s too stiff will feel very nervous and is hard to control. A bow that’s too flexible will wobble and when you try to play with a full sound you’ll just push the stick into the hair instead of the hair into the string.
It’s a matter of personal preference and you need to find a good balance that fits the way you play.
How to buy a violin bow?
Check the details
In general you should check the characterics above and the technical details I describe in my 19 checks to buy a violin bow right here. Just read through them on a rainy Sunday afternoon and keep them in the back of your mind when you go and try out bows.
How to try out violin bows
In my article about what to play when buying a violin bow, I’ll tell you exactly how you should select, test and try out bows to find the bow that is the best match for you and your violin.
It’s important to make small selections of bows, play short fragments of music and try out different bowing techniques.
There’s no point in looking at twenty violin bows and playing on each of them for a long time.
What brands, budget and types to look for?
With concert violinist Giedre I’ve made a video series in which we demonstrate and discuss the best, the worst, the cheapest, the most expensive, the most popular, the most obscure violin bows on the market. The result is an extensive guide to buying a violin bow.
What was your experience with buying a violin bow and what type of bow did you for?
Share in the comments below what kind of bow you have and describe it’s character and why you picked it. Love reading it!