Choosing a High-Quality Violin Bow


When it comes to choosing a violin bow, most people might think that the quality of the bow doesn't significantly impact the sound of the violin. Therefore, many people don't feel the need to select a high-quality bow.

However, based on my years of experience, a good bow is undoubtedly very important. Some violin enthusiasts might have experienced this: the same player using two different quality bows to play the same violin can make it sound like two different instruments. I have personally experienced this many times.

Let's start with the structure of the bow. The core component of a violin bow is the stick. Just as violins require very specific types of wood, the bow also demands high-quality wood. The wood must have a high sound transmission rate (the speed at which sound travels through the wood), as this affects the sensitivity of the bow. In addition to the sound transmission rate, the strength and elasticity of the material are also important. The ideal material for making bows maintains high sound transmission while also having good strength and elasticity. The process of making the stick involves shaping the wood into a rod with appropriate thickness and curvature, and then coating it with shellac varnish to protect it. The weight of the stick is generally between 37-39 grams.

Another core component is the frog, which serves to balance the bow. The frog also contains a screw that adjusts the tension of the bow hair. When selecting a bow, check if the screw on the frog adjusts smoothly.

The last core component is the bow hair. The best bow hair is made from high-quality Mongolian horsehair. During playing, bow hair gradually wears out and some hairs will break. Many people believe that the more hairs a bow has, the longer it will last. However, the logic of a violin bow is similar to that of a traditional archery bow: too many horsehairs can deform the stick and make it difficult to keep the bow hair flat. Therefore, the strength of the stick and the amount of horsehair must be well-matched. For bow makers, horsehair is measured by weight, not by number of hairs. The weight of the bow hair on a standard 4/4 violin bow is about 4.8 grams and should be between 4.5 and 4.8 grams, not exceeding 5 grams.

The material (not too soft), weight, curvature, and balance point of the bow are all very important. The balance point is measured from the end (near the frog, not the tip) forward, without considering the screw and frog.

Three renowned bow makers are Tourte, Sartory, and D. Pecatte, all of whom are French. Their influence is comparable to that of Amati, Stradivari, and Guarneri in the violin world. Most bows on the market are modeled after Sartory and D. Pecatte bows. D. Pecatte bows have a hatchet-shaped head, and their balance point is around 24 cm, while Sartory's balance point is around 23 cm. Those with heavier hands might consider a Pecatte bow.

The standard weight for a violin bow is 60-63 grams. A new bow typically loses about 1 gram over a couple of years due to drying. When choosing a bow, first check its weight, which must be within the standard range of 60-63 grams. Next, check for knots in the stick, and ensure that the stick is straight when strung with hair, though a slight curve to the left is acceptable. The stick near the head should be thin enough; if it is too thick, it indicates that the wood lacks sufficient strength and has to be thickened to maintain strength, which reduces the bow's sensitivity. In summary, a good bow should not be too heavy, the stick should not be too thick, and the wood grain should be straight.

The best bows are made from pernambuco wood from Brazil. Pernambuco is highly sought after because of its high sound transmission rate. The wood is light, strong, elastic, and has tight, long fibers. However, the Brazilian government banned the logging of Pernambuco over ten years ago, making true Pernambuco increasingly rare and its price continually rising. Even among pernambuco wood, there are different grades. Generally, only 10-15% of the wood is of top quality, with the rest being of lesser quality, which significantly impacts the price of the bow.

Finally, if you are looking for a high-quality violin bow, you can consider purchasing from Fiddlover Violin Shop

All the bows are handmade by craftsmen using high-quality wood, including not only Pernambuco but also snakewood and other materials. The bow hair is selected from high-quality Mongolian or Siberian horsehair. 

If you have specific customization requirements, they can also create a personalized bow for you.

Recommended reading:

A Journey Through the Evolution of the Violin Bow

Exploring the Secrets of Baroque Violin Bow

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