1. Type of Material: You’ll find there are several choices in materials to consider; each offers a different mix of durability, affordability, and tonal complexity. Pernambuco is historically the choice material for fine bows, and it will generally occupy the highest-end of the pricing spectrum, with Brazilwood and carbon-fiber typically filling the middle (though some carbon-fiber bows can cost into the thousands), and fiberglass usually the lowest-priced option. Keep your current needs strictly in mind: the tonal possibilities of a higher-end bow can only be unlocked by a player with the skills to produce those sounds. If you’re a beginner, you might want to make a more modest investment now, and step-up later when you’re ready.
2. Sound Look for a bow that will give both a smooth, broad sound and a great clarity of focus. Also listen for the quickness of response: a sluggish bow will hamper your music-making.
3. Weight and Balance Average bow weights are as follows: 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—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 bow producers make a round and octagonal version of the same bow, the octagonal being a bit more expensive. This may have added to the myth that octagonal bows are better—but don’t be swayed by this! Your ideal bow might well be round.
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 them to educate yourself about what is available.
6. Test When you go to a shop, bring your violin and current bow with you as a benchmark. Each bow will perform differently on different instruments, so remember that you’re looking for a bow that complements your violin. Try about 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.
In order to keep track of all the choices, you might consider using a checklist, like the following.
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