By Richard Ward

A little bit of knowledge can go a long way for the bow shopper

When you go bow shopping, be sure and bring your own violin, viola, cello, or bass and current bow with you as a benchmark. Each bow will perform differently on different instruments; remember that you’re looking for a bow that complements your violin. I normally show six bows at a time. Once you’ve chosen one or two from that batch, ask to see some more. Play the same very brief passage with each bow, one right after another. There’s a good chance that one or two will stand out.

1. Type of Material: Brazilwood (prices usually seen between $50 and $200); Pernambuco (priced anywhere from $100 to $10,000 or more); carbon fiber (priced anywhere between $50 and several thousand dollars); fiberglass (usually the lowest-priced option).

2. Sound: Look for a bow that will give both a smooth, broad sound and at the same time possesses great clarity of focus and the quickness of response that comes from a stronger, stiffer bow.

3. Weight and Balance: Average bow weights: violin, 60 grams; viola, 70 grams; cello, 80 grams. Look for a bow that feels right in your hand. To test the weight, pick up a bow and hold it at a 45-degree angle. It should feel natural in the hand–well balanced from tip to frog with equal weight throughout.

4. Shape: Round or octagonal? With two bows made from the same wood, the octagonal shaft will be stiffer. Some octagonal bows are quite stiff, creating a hard, one-dimensional tone, lacking nuance. Some of the German commercial-bow producers make round and octagonal versions of the same bow, the octagonal being a bit more expensive. This has added to the myth that octagonal bows are better.

5. Price: Establish a budget, but do expect to look at bows that are a little more expensive. If you don’t know much about bows, try lots of bows to educate yourself about what is available.

6. Test: When you go bow shopping, be sure and bring your own violin and current bow with you as a benchmark. Each bow will perform differently on different instruments; remember that you’re looking for a bow that complements your violin. I normally show six bows at a time. Once you’ve chosen one or two from that batch, ask to see some more. Play the same very brief passage with each bow, one right after another. There’s a good chance that one or two will stand out.


 

This article was originally published in Strings‘ September 2004 issue.  Products mentioned in this article may no longer be available and/or new products may have since come on to the market.  Please help keep this article relevant by commenting below or by contacting us directly

Comments