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A little bow Rant

Posted by albert52 on Monday, July 4, 2011

When buying a bow for your violin/fiddle it is a good idea to take your instrument with you with your existing bow(s).  Try the new bows on your instrument and this will give you a better idea.  If you can try to get the seller to allow you a week trial period with the new bow.  When I spend anywhere from $500.00 to $1,000.00 for a half decent bow, I would like to know this is the one.

My supplier on the east coast will allow me a 2 week period where I may return the bow.  but I have not had to, as I have been able to try out that makers bow either in thunder Bay, Toronto, or in Winnipeg.

I have spent about 4 years looking for the "perfect' bow for one of my violins and have learned the following:

When choosing a bow there are many things to consider. Remember every thing you might ask of your instrument
you can expect the same from your bow. Here are some points you may compare when choosing a bow.

  • Perception of Weight, most violin bows weigh approx 59 - 62 grams. In your hand one may feel light and another heavy these may be the same weight but what you are feeling is the balance. The bow should feel well balanced in your hand. The size of the head and the taper of the stick plus the leather and silver lapping all contribute to your perception of weight & balance.
  • Strength of the stick
    A good stiff stick should have the proper camber and will take about 150 hairs. A less stiff stick will need less hair to work properly.
  • Comfort at the frog. Different styles of frog and lapping can effect your grip and how comfortable it is.
  • Consistency of tone:
    The type of rosin you use can effect the tone produced by the bow The tone should be consistent on long bow strokes. Some bows the tone changes gradually or suddenly
  • Loud Dynamics
    Some bows seem to play much louder than others, this is a combination of your bowmanship and the built in dynamics of a quality bow.
  • Plays Softly
    You may want to play softly, some may be difficult to play softly
  • Responsiveness
    A good bow will be responsive and will keep up with you when playing fast passages or spiccato. Too much bounce or too little may be a problem
  • Overtones and Harmonics:
    Listen carefully you will hear different overtones and harmonics from different bows. You must also have a responsive instrument.
  • Vibrato
    The bow should not inhibit vibrato. Rosin choice may also effect vibrato
  • Up and Down bow strokes:
    Directional changes should not be noticeable. Some bows you may feel a slight kick particularly when changing direction at the frog end.

I have 2 bows that I use constantly, one being Carbon Fiber (round) @ 62 grams, and a Dorfler wood (octagon) 62 grams.  The Carbon fiber actually feels lighter than the wood one.  I use the carbon fiber more for "fiddling" and the wood for classical.  If I am looking for volume I use the wood stick. 

The carbon fiber is a round stick, nicely balanced but I find I have to "push" more into the stops and drones, where the wood seems to allow me a lighter touch on strokes.

2 comments on “A little bow Rant”

bj Says:
Tuesday, July 5, 2011 @8:18:02 AM

One other thing-- as our playing improves what we need out of a bow changes, so . . . upgrades seem to be inevitable eventually, providing we have the dough to do so.

Right now I'm not truly happy with any of my functioning bows. The two that feel good in my hand and behave the way I want 'em don't pull the tone I want. The one that pulls the best tone isn't as easy to control. ** sigh! **

albert52 Says:
Tuesday, July 5, 2011 @2:17:09 PM

It's nice to know someone else has that problem...the new one I have seems to be teaching me how to bow. The 2 bows I am happy with are in the range of $160.00 to $200.00 range, but this new one I got on sale from $800 for $650 (Dorfler octagon) is a bit of a challenge. The one thing is it really pulls out the stops for tone balance. I like the sound of my HOPF with the other 2 bows, but this one is the cat's meow to the other 2. Absolutely gorgeous for upper positions. Mind you I paid a couple of extra bucks for the rosin for it...Kaplan Premium.

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