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Bow Shopping Tips


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I’m considering making my first real bow upgrade since returning to playing as an adult. As I’ve never done any serious bow shopping, I’m interested in getting some tips on things to look for and to look out for. 

I have a budget that’s going to primarily get me a Brazilian or German workshop bow. It could get me a previously repaired bow of a more reputable make, but is this like getting a violin with a repaired soundpost crack? Is it reasonable to consider a repaired bow?


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Be sure to take your violin (or whatever instrument you play) and your current bow(s) to the shop(s) for comparison because the shop's acoustics will make things sound different than at home.

Establish a routine of segments of the music and bowing techniques you want to use to test all bows in an equal manner.

Test whatever bows the store is willing to let you touch (regardless of price).

Rate the bows you test in pairs: and set the first 2 aside separating the better from the worse.  Test each subsequent tested bow against the previously preferred one. If you come up with more than one "good" bow keep them both in the preferred group.

These suggestions are based on my own experience.

My last (big) bow purchase/test experience was about 20 years ago. I tested 66 bows in that session and ended up with 2 that met my qualifications for the specific instrument I was trying to achieve a specific improvement for. It turned out that both bows were from the same maker and one was priced at 2.5 times more than the other.

I did have a later test set of 5 violin bows by the same maker - he sent me 5 bows to choose from. I had a hard time choosing so I shared the testing experience with a violinist friend and ended up buying the one he liked best.

Finally, I play violin, cello and viola. Interestingly my favorite (best playing and sounding) viola bow is one I purchased on ebay.com for less than $400 (no comparison testing before purchase). It is my most recent bow purchase and the least expensive of my 5 viola bows. (I knew I was taking a chance when I bought this bow, but I was considering paying 10x more for a new name-maker bow, so this felt a bit like buying a lottery ticket. Good thing too, because after the purchase I checked and found the name-maker's bows had doubled in price since I had last tried one.)

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Obviously, the most prudent answer has been given by Maestro Victor above.  I 100% agree with everything said above.

Now I offer some personal perspective:

I learned violin when I was in junior high school.  I am advanced enough to play a good amount of major solo works, but probably not to the level of performing them (with few exceptions).  I still use the last bow I bought in high school.  I paid for it, not my parents.  It is a German bow that I paid about $3k for over 25 years ago. It serves me well but I know it has limitations.  I have since spent 2 years researching and trying to find ways to upgrade for under $3k.  Its tough.

My personal experience talking with many, many, many other amateur musicians is that they are simply in a similar position.  They use what they have.  It doesn't matter whether the bow richochets well or whatever.  I'm thinking that I may be stuck with my bow for a great while, and I can accept that.

Reason I offer this perspective, is that you start your post with a premise similar to mine.  So the real question is, what's wrong with your current bow that prompted you to start looking for a new one?  For me, there isn't anything really bad about my current bow....I just want a new bow.  So, I am putting aside my "wants" for my "needs" and in the meantime just perusing these forums for a solid education in case I am ready to pull the trigger.

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