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super expensive viola bows worth the extra money?


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The best frugal solution is to search long and hard for the next undiscovered great bow maker. Perhaps, if you develop a feel for what you are looking for in weight, stick stiffness, and balance, you can have one made for you by one of these good yet "undiscovered" makers. Perhaps I was just lucky, but I did that and have a real treasure in my viola bow andi t was a real bargain.

This is the thing that keeps me in business. Seriously, the price of the old master bows (French, English, and German) are all skyrocketing. I don't think that too many people would argue that most Ouchards or Vignerons (and Peccattes and Lupots and ...) are great playing and sounding bows. Many people just can't afford the prices the better examples are commanding on today's market.

Just like in violin making, there is a renaissance today in bowmaking. Take some time to contact makers to have bows shipped to you for tryout in your home, lessons, orchestra--wherever situations you play your instrument in.

I'll also second the statement in an earlier post: when trying out bows, listen for the sound. Most bows can be playable in most situations, but a superior sounding bow makes you a superior sounding player. This is not to ignore the playability, the stiffness, balance, response, etc.--the factors that make bows play well, but be sure to play music that you can evaluate that bow by the sound it pulls from your instrument. Don't just find the spiccato point on each bow and then move on--there are far more important bow strokes to focus on (legato strokes for example).

Do try to play as many bows as possible in your price range, however 15 at once would be quite overwhelming for most players. I recommend that the player make the first pass through the bows quickly, usually spending no more than 30 to 45 seconds with each bow. Separate them into two piles: one that you immediately liked and the second for the bows that you immediately disliked. Almost always when trying bows, your first impression will be your most accurate. Once the selection is narrowed down to perhaps 6 bows, then focus time on each one. The final two or three bows should be tried out for one week if possible at home. Once the bows are at home, practice in the room that you usually practice in because you know the sound of your instrument there. Also, during your practice sessions, try to play no more than two bows during your session. The next day, play the other bows. In this manner, you will not be confusing the feel of several bows all at once.

One of the most common mistakes that I see people making when looking for a better bow is to pick a bow that is similar to what they are used to playing--a more expensive, but 'student-playing' bow. This is where the advice of a fellow player, teacher, and yes--even a salesman in a shop can really be helpful. A second pair or hands playing the bow can really help (most of the time) in helping a player evaluate a bow.

One word or caution: other people's recommendations are based on their preferences and often their instrument. If they like a super stiff bow, that is what they will recommend to you, even though your instrument and playing style might be hindered by such a bow.

Hunting for a bow that does everything well is a challenge. Many players eventually end up with several bows that each have a superior area of playability. Examples of different bows: a bow for quartet playing, or one for heavy orchestral music (Mahler, Brahms), or one for Bach and Hayden, one for solo concerto work. Very few bows perform well in all areas of playing, so if you can only afford one bow at this time, pick one that best suits the style of music that you play a majority of the time.

Have fun and enjoy your playing time. Don't get so wrapped up thinking about all of the little things that are happening with your bow that you tense up. In reality, most players forget about the bow when they are playing because the right bow becomes an extension of your hand--it just responds the way it should.

Josh Henry


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Excellent points all, Josh.

Maestronet is lucky to have such an outstanding group of professionals like Josh, willing to share their thoughts and experiences. I, for one, am grateful to learn from them. :)

Thank you for the compliment. I joined Maestronet not only to share my experience, but also to learn from others.

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