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KB_Smith

The Other Half of Your Instrument - Your Bow

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I learned an interesting and important lesson this week - just how important your bow is to the quality of your play and practice.  I am a novice student, having just finished my first year learning to play a violin.  I bought an "Old French Violin" last year on eBay.  And, as you might expect, it is a German trade violin from one of the many workshops in the Markneukirchen/Shoenbach region with a fake French label in it.  It is genuinely old, but just not a very high-quality violin.  But it plays nicely and sounds beautiful in my instructor's hands (a professional violinist in the Washington D.C. area). 

So now about one-year into my playing, my bowing has improved significantly, but I still struggle with getting nice clean & clear tones from the instrument.  My instructor suggested I go into any of the violin shops in the area and try some better bows.  My bow is another $100 eBay purchase - supposedly an "Old German Bow" that is more likely a Chinese product according to my local violin shop.  Shocking, isn't it (said in sarcasm)?!  So, two days ago I went into my local violin shop to try bows.  I noticed an instant improvement in the quality of the sound from my instrument.  From the very first bow the dealer handed me to try, the feel of the strings under the bow was better - not grinding.  Much smoother feel as the bow more easily flowed over each string, and with much less vibration (that grinding, growling kind of vibration) from my G and D strings.

 I tried 8-10 different bows, eliminating some quickly, then playing again the best 2-3 bows in a "playoff."  I was absolutely amazed at how much better the violin sounded under these bows.  And interestingly, I tried bows ranging in price from around $1,000-$5,000.  The $1400 bow I finally selected actually sounded and felt better to me than the $5,000 bow I had tried, and I had no idea of the price of any of the bows I was trying until I made my final selection.  So, I think the price of the bow is not as significant in determining the best bow for you as is actually playing your instrument with various bows and selecting the one that works best for you and your instrument.  The sound from my violin is so much cleaner, and there is much more clarity in the tone.

I know I'll enjoy practicing much more when the instruments sounds better.  Lesson learned - the bow is the "other half" of your instrument, and probably just as important to your ability to play it well.

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On 7/16/2020 at 2:03 PM, KB_Smith said:

I learned an interesting and important lesson this week - just how important your bow is to the quality of your play and practice.  I am a novice student, having just finished my first year learning to play a violin.  I bought an "Old French Violin" last year on eBay.  And, as you might expect, it is a German trade violin from one of the many workshops in the Markneukirchen/Shoenbach region with a fake French label in it.  It is genuinely old, but just not a very high-quality violin.  But it plays nicely and sounds beautiful in my instructor's hands (a professional violinist in the Washington D.C. area). 

So now about one-year into my playing, my bowing has improved significantly, but I still struggle with getting nice clean & clear tones from the instrument.  My instructor suggested I go into any of the violin shops in the area and try some better bows.  My bow is another $100 eBay purchase - supposedly an "Old German Bow" that is more likely a Chinese product according to my local violin shop.  Shocking, isn't it (said in sarcasm)?!  So, two days ago I went into my local violin shop to try bows.  I noticed an instant improvement in the quality of the sound from my instrument.  From the very first bow the dealer handed me to try, the feel of the strings under the bow was better - not grinding.  Much smoother feel as the bow more easily flowed over each string, and with much less vibration (that grinding, growling kind of vibration) from my G and D strings.

 I tried 8-10 different bows, eliminating some quickly, then playing again the best 2-3 bows in a "playoff."  I was absolutely amazed at how much better the violin sounded under these bows.  And interestingly, I tried bows ranging in price from around $1,000-$5,000.  The $1400 bow I finally selected actually sounded and felt better to me than the $5,000 bow I had tried, and I had no idea of the price of any of the bows I was trying until I made my final selection.  So, I think the price of the bow is not as significant in determining the best bow for you as is actually playing your instrument with various bows and selecting the one that works best for you and your instrument.  The sound from my violin is so much cleaner, and there is much more clarity in the tone.

I know I'll enjoy practicing much more when the instruments sounds better.  Lesson learned - the bow is the "other half" of your instrument, and probably just as important to your ability to play it well.

 From the very first lesson I have with my students, I teach them about instruments and bows. A quality bow makes a huge difference, and the better the player is the more of a difference A good bow will make.

It is a tremendous shame that so many teachers don’t teach about equipment at all, or, worse, that they deliberately influence their kids to buy product that benefits the teacher in the form of hidden commissions.

I’m glad your teacher encouraged you to experiment.

Even if you are no longer on the market, it is an excellent idea, as well as being a lot of fun, to continue to play as many instruments and bows as you can, and develop a sense of both what you like, and a sense of how much your preferences are going to cost.

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Welcome to the Dark Side.

People often say you should devote 30% of your budget on the bow, or some such.  I suspect, though, that if you have a fine, inexpensive violin, you can often get more juice and better investment value by spending as much if not more on the bow than on the violin.  An excellent contemporary instrument and a Tourte?  Could be better in many respects than a $5,000 stick and a $100,000 antique violin.

 

Edited by Ernee

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You also can get excellent carbon fiber (CF) bows these days that perform very well and sound great for much less than an antique pernambuco bow.

Just like wood bows, a bow buyer should still try several different CF bows to see what plays and sounds best for their particular violin.

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I've tried several CF bows now...up to $1500 in price. Nope. They all sound "off".

But...as important as the bow is (very!), the sound it produces is more important to the sound quality under the ear. I don't know if the audience would notice.

Same with rosin.  All rosin works, but some will work/sound better under the ear.

And...price isn't an indicator of how well the bow will play, beyond a basic "quality" level of course. 

Once you are looking at well-crafted bows that are made of quality materials - it all becomes entirely individual.

And..finally...as you improve, what you require in a bow may change. I don't play well enough that I need a bow that has just the right bounce to do a flying staccato - but if I did, I might need a different bow.  Not necessarily one that is 'better', or more expensive, but one that will function better for that technique.

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