“Whoever is happy to learn will become a master one day,” advises an old Persian proverb.
You’re in a constant state of learning and growth on your journey to becoming a master violinist. Learning what a “good” violin bow looks, feels, and sounds like is an essential step in your advancement. As your skills increase, you’ll put different demands on your bow and better recognize the differences.
The Aesthetics of a Good Bow
Can you tell if a violin bow is good or not just by looking at it, or just by how much it costs? Not necessarily. A good bow will look straight when viewed down the stick. Beyond elegant decorations on the frog and tip, or obvious signs of damage (such as warping, frayed/missing hairs, and cracks), you cannot tell if a bow is good or bad just by looking at it. You need to pick the bow up and engage with it!
- Brazilwood violin bows have a loose grain and look like they have light flecks on dark wood. Brazilwood is a general name for many types of wood.
- Pernambuco violin bows have a burnt reddish-orange color and in contrast to brazilwood, are denser and look like they have dark grain flecks on light wood. Pernambuco’s density makes it the ideal weight for the standard violin bow (60 grams) or cello bow (80 grams), notes Strings Magazine.
- Carbon fiber is a superior synthetic bow material (an organic polymer made of thin crystalline filaments, to be precise). As such, carbon fiber violin bows can be customized to the player’s specifications with no compromise in quality or durability. They can be shiny, matte, red, purple, silver, or gold–whatever you can imagine! Carbon fiber also won’t crack after years of use. It won’t warp if too many hairs break on one side. You’ll likely never need repairs on a carbon fiber bow.
The Feel of a Good Bow
Regardless of the material, a good violin bow should feel like an extension of your right hand. When you perform, you shouldn’t think about your bow because it flows so effortlessly and smoothly with you. A good violin bow should feel natural in your grasp and well balanced from tip to frog, with equal weight throughout.
The bow’s overall weight only slightly affects the comfort and efficiency a player experiences. Some players prefer a lighter bow, while others appreciate the heavier end of the spectrum. Provided a bow falls within the long-accepted norms of bow-making, its other characteristics will ultimately have more impact on its performance.
Violin bows generally range from 58-62 grams, viola bows from 68-72, cello bows from 78-82, and bass bows from 132-142 grams.
Play a variety of bowing styles when comparing bows, including legato, spiccato, etc., as doing so will help you note the subtle differences bow weights produce. A heavier bow will feel secure in a long bow stroke but will be harder to make jump in spiccato, notes Violinist Zlata Brouwer of the Violin Lounge. A lighter bow might feel very good to play with, but it can also feel nervous. In her experience, carbon fiber bows are the best of both worlds since they combine stiff and light, “making them easy to control and lively at the same time,” says Brouwer.
Pro tip: Does your bow feel sticky when it moves across the strings? There’s too much rosin! Please don’t use your fingers to wipe it off. Keep playing until the rosin wears down to the right amount, or gently wipe the bow with a clean, dry cotton cloth.
The Sound of a Good Bow
“The quality of your tone production can rely as much as 30% on the bow,” says Violinspiration.
Hearing the different sounds that different bows can produce on the same violin surprises less experienced players! Some differences are only heard by the violinists, while others can also be heard by the audience.
CodaBow customer Rhona R. purchased the Marquise GS to pair with her Luis and Clark carbon fiber bow and could immediately tell the difference in bows. She previously used a $4k German bow, but the sound match wasn’t exactly what she wanted. What happened when she played with the Marquise GS?
“Wow–was I blown away when I used this bow! Immediate response which brought out all the tonal qualities of the instrument–many I have never heard. I originally bought this to be a backup for my ‘better’ instrument/bow but now I have two equally strong sets! Totally amazing.”
Soft, supple violin bows tend to produce a broad and smooth sound, says Ifshin Violins. Strong, rigid bows make a brighter sound which can ultimately be one-dimensional and unsophisticated. The ideal violin bow draws the best from each, notes Ifshin.
A good violin bow should never sound squeaky, scratchy, or airy. It should not produce a faint, thin sound.
A good bow ultimately complements your violin and enhances instead of distracts from your instrument and song selection. It produces effortless, high-quality acoustics and rich tonality.
Bows That Go Beyond Good
CodaBow carbon fiber bows are better than good. They’re exceptional. Experience a carbon fiber bow’s look, feel, and sound for yourself with an easy in-home trial.