When you buy a violin, it comes with a bow. When you buy a fine and expensive violin it doesn’t mean that it comes with a good bow, so you will have to buy a new one, if you are a professional musician.
But even if you are just an amateur -with not that much technical skills yet- you will surely must be prepared and know how to choose the right bow for you, the one that will take you to a higher level as a violinist. Because in any case, the bow is the extension of your right hand, and either this belongs to the best musician or to a wanna be professional, your right hand must be able to play with the less effort.
The most important thing on a bow, is its balance. The average weight of a bow is about 60 grams, but considering that many famous makers used to sell fine bows of 54 grams weight, the significant here was how this weight was equal balanced throughout the body of this bow.
In order to feel this, you must be able to pick up the bow and place it on your violin, so the most preferable place to buy a bow should be a local shop, although the online purchase is usually the cheaper one. And in case that you will decide to buy online, there are some tips that you can follow, in order to be sure about your purchase (the cheaper best bow of its category).
If you entertain with the idea of doing this purchase online, you can do it online, where you can buy branded bows at a really good price, but you must know from the beginning what you are looking for.
If you decide to buy online from professional bow traders, makers and workshops, you will surely find the quality that you are seeking, and you will have to choose between many, many bows. May the price won’t be that good as of Ebey’s bows, but you will still be able to buy at a better price than your local dealer and have many options.
Finally, if you decide to buy through any other online instrument market place, you can make them some questions either written, or by phone (there are always professionals that will guide you and help you) questions that will guarantee you the quality of the purchase.
In any case, even if you finally decide to visit a local dealer or a famous music store, there are some basics that you must follow anyhow, so let’s start with these.
Your sound is mostly depends on the stiffness of your bow -and of course your ability as a musician. From the other hand, the stiffness of your bow is based on four things:
Weight and balance -that as I already said come together- shape, and hair.
Weight and balance
It is more important for the balance of the bow, to have some more grams weighted at the frog, rather than the tip. Then, if the bow feels balanced in your hand, this is it. As an advanced music player, you already have the experience to understand it. But if you are an amateur, I recommend you to just follow the rule of 60 grams weight. Stay to that standard, or risk to follow your instinct, though as a beginner musician it would be better to have your teacher near you, as an advisor.
Don’t forget to hold the stick in front of one eye and see if it is well levelled, from frog to tip, without any bending or twisting.
*Note here that all these are some tips that you can even follow in an online purchase, either by making questions, or by asking the help of a professional.
Bows come only as round (French makers stick to that shape) or octagonal. It is said that round bows allow a better control, and octagonal offer a harder, stronger tone and sound. But, the technique of every musician plays such a roll, that we can’t conclude to a clear decision. So, many commercial-bow makers take advantage of that, by producing round and octagonal versions of the same bow, putting a higher price on octagonal ones and feeding that way the rumours that want octagonal bows to be better.
Even if you finally buy the best bow, it doesn’t mean that you won’t need to re-hair it. Of course, you will never consider to use synthetic substitutes for horse hair, as even beginners can tell the difference in sound and playing. You will have to trust your bow to a luthier for this work, as your bow deserves the best. But even if you are just an amateur, and your bow is not that expensive to deserve this kind of “treatment”, you must always have in mind that the stiffness of your bow is related to the amount and tightness of its hair, as both can soften or strengthen your sound, a little bit.
Regardless the stiffness of the stick, a good bow can actually be flexible. In that case, a good bow can be described as strong, rather than stiff. If you don’t want to be forced to execute precisely every bowing movement all the time and play like a “butcher”, pay more attention to flexibility.
Remember when you select your bow that if you have to tighten it up too much, in order to stiffen it, it will be better for you to buy a stiffer bow. The tip here is to slowly increase the tension, and feel the bow as you increase the tightness, until it reaches its strongest point. The bottom line is that it is your decision if the hair will touch the stick in ff dynamics, or it will bounce better during the most technical parts. In any case it is up to you to find the easiest way to play more types of articulation.
Knowing the materials will help you to choose the right bow for your level, and it will make the online purchase really easy, as there are some standards here that you can ask for.
Students and beginners mostly use bows made of Brazilwood or synthetic materials.
If you are a professional or an advance student, you must choose a stick made of Pernambuco, or Carbon fibre.
As says the name, is many types of cheap wood from Brazil.
Synthetic materials from the other hand, are fibreglass or composites, resistant to any change of temperature or any kind of carelessness of an amateur.
It is known as the best wood for violin bows, and it is also comes from Brazil, from the Caesalpinia echinata tree that grows there.
It is a material -of the same quality as pernambuco- that is preferred in the making of violin bows in the last ten years, as it doesn’t bend out of shape during the changes of temperature or humidity.
Take your violin with you
Don’t forget to take your violin with you and play many bows, in order to find which one matches with your playing style. Even if you have to make your purchase online because of the better price that you may find, consider to visit a local store first, and make some trials. And if you don’t have this opportunity because there is no local store in your town, then make your “how to” list, according to this article, and follow it during your online purchase.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, your playing level comes with a price.
It is said that it is worth to spend a quarter to a half of your violin’s price, to your bow purchase.
As a guide to follow, you must know that you will spend $3000 and much more, at any famous maker, $1000 at a bow from Brazil (Pernambuco of course), and $500 to $10 (as an amateur musician) at any bow from China, at popular brands, or just spend some more time to find a better, but un-popular one, or even check online.
Remember that price is always better if you buy your bow online.
The difficult here is that there are no rules. You may find the quality that you are seeking at a workshop name or a maker’s stamp, or just follow some tips and buy your bow online. In any case, if you stick to the basic rules that are referred above, you will manage to find something that will fit your demands of quality and your estimated budget (that you must have in mind all the time), and that you will really enjoy to play with!