Orchestra Bow Guide
Finding Your Perfect Bow
For most players, learning to use the bow is the most challenging aspect of performance. Investing in a high-quality bow is essential to mastering the dozens of refined techniques involved in playing a violin family instrument. Your bow is the key to creating the best possible musical experience for yourself and your audience. That said, bows are constructed in various materials, shapes and sizes, which can make picking out a bow easier said than done. This guide will teach you what to look for in a bow, and how to care for it for years of use.
Bow Weight and Material
Throughout the years, bow makers have utilized many different materials when constructing bows, each with their own pros and cons. Long ago, certain types of wood were the standard material used. Throughout the years, technology and government regulations have led to new ways to craft bows, and to provide platers with more options when purchasing.
While the majority of even advanced players are not aware of the exact weight of their bows, they are aware of a general feeling of heaviness or lightness. Balance, weight, and flexibility all play factors into the feeling to the player, the most important aspect when choosing a bow.
The bow should feel well-balanced to the player, meaning its balance point is at the center or lower middle area of the stick. When picking up a bow, the player should hold it in the hand in a playing position to determine how natural it feels in the hand. When it is properly balanced, it should feel like a natural extension of the body.
Experiment with bows to discover which style feels best for you. Do you prefer a light or heavy stick? How does carbon fiber versus a wood bow change the sound of your instrument? Which bow is best for the character of the repertoire you are playing?
Typical Bow Weights:
Average violin bow weight: 60 grams
Average viola bow weight: 70 grams
Average cello bow weight: 80 grams
Intermediate to Advanced players
Pernambuco has been considered the best wood choice for bows since the 18th century. Found in Brazil, this dense hardwood offers the perfect combination of strength, elasticity and responsiveness. While nothing quite compares to this high quality material, environmental degradation and government restrictions in Brazil have limited the production of Pernambuco bows and increased the price point of current inventory.
Another popular Brazilian wood choice for bows, Brazilwood actually consists of several kinds of tropical hardwoods. While Pernambuco is extracted from the dense center of the tree, Brazilwood is taken from the less dense outer portions. Brazilwood is also endangered, but less expensive than Pernambuco.
Beginner to Advanced players
With the shortage of Pernambuco over the past 20 years, carbon fiber bows have become a more popular option. That said, they share very few similarities with wooden bows. These bows are manufactured from various grades of carbon fiber and are bonded with a resin.
Carbon fiber bows are popular with early beginner students for their light weight and durability, which makes bowing techniques easier to learn and perfect. Their stiffness offers less flexibility than wooden bows, making them more resistant to humidity and less likely to break or warp. These attributes have made carbon fiber bows a popular choice for a backup or for outdoor performances.
Fiberglass bows are the most popular option for students just beginning their journey into learning a stringed orchestra instrument. While they are the lowest priced bow, they are not made to the standards of wood or fiberglass bows, and are the easiest bow to damage.
Now that you know more about bow materials, shop bows.
Ease of Playability
Well-made bows make playing your instrument feel amazingly simple. You should not have to strain to create beautiful sound. Your bow should feel comfortable, manageable and easy to use.
Balance and Flexibility
Try using a variety of techniques, for example, Legato, Martelé and Staccato, to find where your bow is best balanced. Notice how a stiffer versus more flexible bow impacts the sound of your instrument. Find a bow that matches the way you play and makes your performance come to life.
Bows are strung with horsehair to create friction between the bow hair and the instrument strings. Once the bow is strung, a resin is applied to create friction between the bow hair and the strings of the instrument. This resin is a sticky, hardened sap that comes from pine trees, and is an important step in maintaining a good tone in the instrument.
Sound & Shape
The bow makes all the difference in the world to the sound of an instrument, and is therefore a worthwhile and important investment. The majority of players at any level will immediately hear the difference that a comfortable/quality bow makes in their sound, as will the audience.
Bows typically come in two different shapes: octagonal or round. Round bows tend to be more flexible, and octagonal bows a little stiffer. Likewise, bow makers will have a smoother, fuller sound and stiffer, stronger bows will be brighter, with a more focused sound.
Bow Types Based on Instrument
The length of the bow depends on the instrument. Violin bows are the longest, while violin and viola bows are generally the same length. Cello bows are slightly smaller than viola bows, and bass bows are the shortest. When the hair of the bow is pulled across the strings, the friction creates vibrations, or sound. The strings will continue to vibrate after the bow is removed, and vibrates the whole time the bow is in contact with them as well.
Lower pitched instruments like cellos and double bass need more pressure, and shorter bows compliment that by focusing the pressure on the strings.
Recommended Cello Bows
The Richter CG500 Carbon Fiber 1/2 Cello Bow is a strong and durable bow at an affordable price point. Designed for ease of playing, it's comfortable in the hand and features a black finish stick with an ebony frog.
The CodaBow Prodigy Cello Bow features a steady, firm touch that produces an even and clear tone. It provides on-string forgiveness and comfort for players, while reinforcing confidence in their performance. Best of all, the CodaBow Prodigy Cello Bow is covered by a 5 year warranty.
Considered to be the crown jewel of the Diamond Collection, the CodaBow Diamond GX Cello Bow marries timeless craftsmanship with industry-leading technology. It features a round carbon graphite stick with a Kevlar core and a Xebony frog, a silver winding and a leather grip.
Recommended Viola Bows
The Richter CG500 Carbon Fiber 13" Viola Bow is designed for balance and ease of playing while still maintaining strength and great tone. This durable bow is available in three different models, each with their own unique playing characteristics, and is strung with premium horse hair.
The Dörfler Brazilwood 311KD Viola Bow
is considered a pinnacle of expert craftsmanship from a fourth generation master workshop. Based on the style of the French bow maker Tourte, founder Daniel Dörfler paved the way for German bow making elevating to Tourte’s standard of quality.
The CodaBow Marquise GS Viola Bow features a meticulously crafted Natural Acoustic Core, and is constructed with a medley of organic plant fibers delivering a rich, organic experience. Unidirectional carbon fiber extends continuously from button to tip for heightened response and sensitivity.
Recommended Violin Bows
Like all of our Richter bows at Heid Music, the Richter CG500 Carbon Fiber 1/2 Violin Bow is durable yet consistent, and is comfortable in the hand--especially for beginning students. It features great balance and ease of playing at an affordable price.
The Dörfler Brazilwood 301D Violin Bow is a unique bow made from Brazilwood. Unlike many other Dörfler bows, this one is round as opposed to octagonal. The Dörfler name is known across the industry for its dedication to perfection and extraordinarily high quality standards.
The CodaBow Diamond SX Violin Bow is an extremely high quality bow that is ideal for touring, professional artists and teachers. This round, carbon graphite bow features a Kevlar core, a three-part adjuster and a leather grip for comfort.
Now that you now a little bit more about the bows that are best for each level of playing, and bow materials, browse the bows Heid Music has to offer.
French & German Bass Bows
There are two kinds of bows when it comes to bass instruments; French and German. There are two key differences between the two:
French bass bows feature a smaller frog, while German bass bows have a taller frog.
French bass bows are considered better for finesse, while German bass bows feature stronger power.
Recommended French Bass Bows
Constructed the old-fashioned way, the Eastman BB20F 1/2 Bass Bow - French is built with strong, aged brazilwood sticks. It features ebony frogs that are fully mounted in nickel silver and mother-of-pearl. The leather handle with imitation whalebone grips and quality unbleached Mongolian horse hair also contribute to a bow that will assist and reward a beginning player’s efforts.
A popular model for orchestral performances, the CodaBow Revelation 3/4 Bass Bow - French features a traditional design that will feel familiar in the hand. It features all high-wear components that are made with precision using industry-leading composite materials to ensure a lifetime of worry-free play.
The Arcos Brasil Nickel 3/4 Bass Bow - French Style is expertly constructed from aged pernambuco and dried to ensure that it holds its form. This bow also features a plated nickel-mounted frog.
Recommended German Bass Bows
The Richter CG500 Carbon Fiber 3/4 Bass Bow German is a perfect fit for beginning bass players, and strikes a great balance between durability, economy, and ease of use. It’s the perfect model to help beginning players to easily learn how to use their bow.
The CodaBow Inifity 3/4 Bass Bow - German is constructed from Xebony, a proprietary blend of natural fibers and resin that boasts a rich luster. It features all high-wear components (including tip plate, tip wedge, and button bearings) for a long lifetime of playability.
Much like the French-style Arcos Brasil bow, the Arcos Brasil 3/4 Nickel Bass Bow (German) is made from the same aged pernambuco wood to ensure it continuously holds its form.
Caring for Your Bow
Because orchestra bows are very often under tension, they can easily become warped or damaged. It is therefore important to refrain from:
Tapping your bow against hard surfaces
Propping it up against a wall in a way that it could easily fall or be bumped into
Setting it down on a surface where it could easily fall, like a music stand.
At Heid Music, we’re aware that accidents can happen. That’s why our esteemed luthier team is standing by to ensure your bow’s maximum playability is always met; you can be sure that your bow or instrument is always in good hands!
For more information on the wide selection of bows at Heid Music, contact us today, or visit one of our five Wisconsin locations!