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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Pauline L Difference in fiddle bows? (60* d) RE: Difference in fiddle bows? 06 Mar 06

Bert said I can well understand the aesthetical preference for a well made wooden bow, but as an engineer I wonder if any fiddler could tell the difference in a blindfold test if the parameters were exactly the same.. It is obvious that bert is an engineer, not a violinist. I have played with many bows and bought a few, and I certainly can tell their relative worth blindfolded. A typical wood student-quality bow is difficult to handle and sounds crummy, even in the hand of a great violinist. Even my beginning students can tell the difference. I have two reasonably good pernambuco bows which I bought in the last 20 years for $400 and $600. If I put them away in the wrong cases, I don't remember which is which by sight, but I can tell a world of difference in the way they play. Professional violinists wouldn't even consider buying a bow for less than $1000, and they (and I) can certainly tell the difference. Some violinists and fiddlers use more than one kind of bow, suiting each to a particular kind of music. Baroque bows, for example, are often preferred for fast reels. Some people use a conventional wood bow and "choke up" on it instead of using a Baroque bow. Choking up on a bow is holding it somewhat closer to the tip than usual to get better leverage. The weightiest part of the bow is the frog.

The best traditional bows are made of pernambuco, but that is a natural source which is limited, and other materials are being used. Brazilwood is a generic name for non-pernambuco wood from Brazil. The cheapest kind ($40) of bow is made of fiberglass. It is nearly indestructible, so it's used in schools. I assumed it wasn't any good until I tried one, the K.Holtz FG bow ( . It was surprisingly good. It is light weight and easy to control, and it sounds pretty good. Now I recommend it to students. There are lots of carbon fiber bows of different qualities in use. I tried one that sold for about $100, and it was pretty bad. I've tried others that are a lot better. The more expensive ones are better. The advantage of carbon fiber is that you can buy a good CF bow for less than a wood bow of comparable quality.    I've played with an Incredibow (, which has a carbon fiber stick and hair made of "a space age material." I tested it extensively and wrote a review of it ( . I liked it a lot for most kinds and nuances of music except that it was hard to get it to play loudly.

Another factor to consider in evaluating bows is upkeep. The hairs need to be slackened when the bow is put away, even overnight, and tightened just before playing. If this simple act is neglected, the quality of the bow deteriorates fast. Rosin is important, too, and there are many kinds.

There is a lot more to violin bows than meets the eye, and a lot more than can be quantified with the current state of the art. The same is true of Strad violins.

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