The author and Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich said, “It is my aim, my destination in life to make the cello as beloved an instrument as the violin and piano.”

Well, we’re with you, Mstislav. At CodaBow, we love the cello and violin equally and support each type of string player with best-in-class carbon fiber bows (and information) to help them perform at their best.

While violin and cello bows appear identical to the unassuming eye, the two have many different features, including the number of hairs on the bow, playing position, and more. Learn how a violin and cello bow differ, and always use the correct bow for the instrument at hand!

Material & Size

Violin and cello bows can be crafted from the same materials: Pernambuco wood, Brazilwood, or carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is the most durable and environmentally friendly of the three materials.

Violin and cello bows can also have either horsehair or synthetic hair. The best violin bows use about 160-180 individual horse hairs. At CodaBow, we use three different grades of Mongolian horsehair in our carbon fiber bows. Cello, viola, and bass bows require incrementally more hairs, with the bass bow using 300 or more hairs. Violin bow hairs are thinner in girth, while cello bow hairs are wider in girth.

In terms of hair color, there remains an ongoing debate. Some luthiers prefer white horse hair, particularly for violas and violins, as this color is more delicate in texture. Others argue that the color has little impact on the ultimate bow sound. Still, many cellists and bassists prefer a bow with coarse black hair. They claim black horse hair feels “grabbier.”

Cello bows are generally shorter than violin bows, with good reason. This is because cello bows are held horizontally, allowing the bow to be easier to control.

high quality carbon fiber bows

Moody ambiance, women in black playing violins and cellos

Bow Hold

Two violinists and two cellist playing together in a moody, dark roomJohn Pickart, a cellist in the Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra and an instructor of cello and bass at Beloit College, has played the violin and cello for three decades and counting. He explains that the two bow holds are similar in that you must have flexible fingers and adjust slightly as the bow tip becomes pronated (when the hand is tilted more toward the tip). The differences surface in the hold of the bow from the frog to the balance point.

When holding a violin bow, the violinist’s little finger tip usually touches the top of the bow, with the index finger touching somewhere between the first and second knuckles. Generally, your fingers on a violin bow are at about a 30 to 45-degree angle to the stick.

However, when holding a cello bow, the index and little fingers rest at about the first knuckle. All of your fingers are much more perpendicular to the stick than when holding a violin bow. The cellist needs to put more arm weight into the stick as they need to use a slower but heavier bow move to pull tone from the cello strings. The violinist, on the other hand, needs to play with a fast, light bow movement to achieve the best sound.

“With the cello, the hold is looser and more relaxed. Also, with the bow hold on the cello, the pinky finger does not sit on its tip on top of the bow stick. With the cello, all fingers are on the frog to help add weight to the bow,” summarizes Everyday Performers.

Can You Use a Violin Bow on the Cello?

Theoretically, yes, you could use a violin bow on a cello. However, you really wouldn’t want to. Imagine using a fork to try and flip burgers on the grill. You’d get burned, and the fork might warp and bend. You’d rather use a grill spatula, right? Using a violin bow on a cello is similar.

A violin bow will produce a sound on a cello, but the tone will be poor, soft, and nothing above pianissimo. Cello strings are far too thick and big for a violin bow to handle. As mentioned previously, the cello requires more pressure, and a violin bow can’t handle this pressure. Pressing too hard could damage your violin bow. A cello bow is wider and can handle the increased pressure.

Violin vs. Cello Bow
Violin Bow Cello Bow
Bow Material Pernambuco wood, Brazilwood, or carbon fiber Pernambuco wood, Brazilwood, or carbon fiber
Bow Size 17 to 29 inches 23 to 28 inches
Bow Hairs Thinner girth than cello bow Wider girth than violin bow
Bow Pressure Lighter pressure, shorter strokes Harder pressure, longer strokes
Bow Hold Loose and relaxed with pinky on top of bow with the thumb on the stick just past the end of the frog Loose and relaxed with pinky on top of bow with the thumb on the stick just past the end of the frog

Shop Violin & Cello Bows Online

While a violin bow “works” on a cello and vice versa, we don’t recommend the practice. You won’t be able to produce a quality tone if you do so, and there’s a chance you could damage your bow and instrument. Whether you’re a violinist, cellist, or both, your bow should feel like a balanced extension of your body when you play. Get the right bow for the job. Request an easy in-home trial and shop masterfully crafted violin and cello bows online today. Browse our carbon fiber bow collections to see our CodaBow difference. Feel free to sign up on our email list for any additional questions.

Feature image credit: Ramble Creek Wedding Venue

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