There are many factors you need to consider when searching for a new bow; weight, balance, flexibility, material, condition, authenticity and, of course, price.
Are you wondering how to choose a bow that will complement your stringed instrument? In this article, we look at some of the factors to consider when choosing a bow to match your instrument.
As a very rough rule of thumb violin bows should weigh around 55-65 gms, viola bows 65-75 gms, cello bows 75-85 gms and bass bows 115 mm-150 mm. However, there are bows outside these ranges which may suit your playing, but straying too far outside may make them difficult to resell.
A balance point of about 230mm-260mm up the stick from the adjuster (button) is a guide for a violin, but a guide only; about the same for a viola, 200-240mm for cello, 140mm-190mm for bass. The kind of music you play can make a difference, folk players often seem to prefer a slightly tip-heavy stick.
It is important to try a range of bowing styles, legato, staccato, etc. to determine whether the bow has sufficient range for your needs. A bow lacking stiffness can be comfortable to play and flattering in sound but if you need power and percussiveness as well it may not be for you.
Pernambuco has been the wood of choice for bowmakers over the last two hundred years and tends to be the only wood found in fine 19th, 20th and 21st-century bows. Brazilwood and other tropical hardwoods have also been used, and continue to be used but, in general, they are regarded as of lesser merit. Various materials are used for frogs and fittings and are used by makers to differentiate the qualities of a bow.
Gold, tortoiseshell and ivory are generally the most expensive, then silver and ebony and then nickel and lower-grade ebony or other woods. Having said this a fine nickel-mounted 19th-century bow by a master bowmaker will be considerably more expensive than a modern gold-mounted bow of factory production.
Carbon fibre bows, like bows in any material, vary in playability. For conservation reasons, restrictions on international travel with pernambuco are being debated, consequently, some players are nervous about touring abroad with their best bow and so good carbon fibre bows have become a popular second bow. In our opinion, they do not rival the best pernambuco bows in playing quality.
Bow repairs can be very expensive. Make sure the frog fits well without wobbling and the adjuster (button) is central to the stick. Damage to the stick itself, except minor wear marks, should be viewed with caution. If the head has been pinned or the stick repaired try to elicit some kind of guarantee from the seller. The repaired condition should be reflected in the price.
Buy from a reputable dealer and get a receipt and, for more expensive bows, a certificate. If you are buying privately have the bow assessed for condition and authenticity before purchase. There are many fake bows in circulation!
A rough guide for how much to pay might be a quarter of the instrument price for a violin or viola, a little less for a cello and less again for a bass (e.g. a £10,000 violin matches with a £2,500 bow: a £400 violin with a £100 bow). Customers often think this seems a lot but the bow is an important tool in sound production and we would recommend cutting down on the instrument price, if necessary, to purchase a better bow.
We hope this article has helped you consider which bow you should choose. If you would like more help in choosing a bow, please contact us and speak to one of our in-house experts.View our selection of bows