When first taking up a violin you may be completely satisfied with your current bow that perhaps came with your violin outfit and you may not notice how the correct bow can influence your playing experience and performance. However, as your progress you may feel the need to upgrade to a better quality or a different type of bow. The truth is, this is a very subjective decision and most violinists have their own personal preference as to what they look for in a bow. I have put together a little guide to help you along the way, but always remember to go for the bow that feels right for you and is most comfortable to play with. So, here are some things to bear in mind when shopping for a new bow.
Different types of materials
Typically, bows are made of 3 different materials which are listed below:
- most student and intermediate bows are made from this material as it proves to be durable, strong, lightweight and very comfortable in practice. Popular models such as Forenza
, Stentor 1461J
, Stentor 1533CHA
and Stentor 1264 Octagonal
bows are made of this wood and have proven to be a great value option that has a quality feel.
- the best possible quality material used to craft violin bows. Pernambuco wood allows for the most plasticity, strength and comfort while playing and is used predominantly in creating intermediate to professional standard bows. Unfortunately, due to the decline of Pernambuco wood, Brazilian government has limited the supply of it, making this material fairly rare and a lot less accessible than it used to be. High level advanced and professional instruments such as Stentor Messina Violin
are supplied with professional specification Pernambuco bows.
- Fibreglass became a common material for manufacturing quality bows in the 20th Century and has proven to be a great alternative to Pernambuco wood possessing very similar characteristics in terms of its feel, balance, flexibility and resistance. Commonly, fibreglass is used to craft student to advanced level bows, the PH 1526 Violin Bow is a great example
Difference between round and octagonal bows
Traditionally, the stick of the bow is produced to be round rather than Octagonal. However, there are some violinists who strictly go for the octagonal counterparts. This is again down to personal preference. It is good to remember that an octagonal violin bow will be slightly stiffer, so it is beneficial to try both options out and see which one feels more comfortable for you. A great all-rounder octagonal variant would be the Stentor 1264 Violin Bow.
How does your bow contribute to the sound?
You may not initially notice the difference the right type of bow can add to your sound, however, as you progress you will realise the importance of it. A softer bow typically produces a smoother sound; however, it can lack clarity if it is too supple. On the other hand, a stiffer bow will create a brighter, sharper sound so it is down to what you want to achieve. No doubt, making sure you are comfortable with your bow is key as this will directly reflect in your playing and you will certainly play with much more ease with a stick that lets you focus on your virtuosity rather than the bow itself.
Trying out a bow in the shop
If you are unsure which bow to go for, it is a great idea to try several out in a shop. When visiting a music shop, make sure you take your violin with you and your current bow as well to compare. Choose a good selection of bows of different materials and ability levels and try out, comparing to your own bow and against each other. A good thing to do is to play several different passages so that you can feel how the bow performs in different genres. You should also be able to play these pieces comfortably throughout the full length of the bow. Make sure you pick out the model that feels most comfortable, lightweight, and well-balanced for you. All violinists will have different preferences and suggestions but what matters most is that you can play with maximum enjoyment in every situation.