Finding the best violin bow is not unlike that moment in Harry Potter when Harry is searching for just the right wand. Some bows are unwieldy in his hand while others are too weak. But then the moment he finds the right one – it’s as if the stars align. A bright light shines and magic is in the air.
With bow shopping – there will come a moment when you know you’ve found “the one” that is best suited to you – not because there will be a flash of lights and swirling mystery around you – but simply because it just feels right. Just as no two people are alike, no two bows are exactly alike.
Searching for a bow comes down to searching for the one that is best matched to your instrument, playing style and ideally, your budget.
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Check out these brands (in no particular order) before ordering your new violin bow.
1. Fiddlerman Carbon Fiber Violin Bow
Easily one of the most popular violin bows on the market, the Fiddlerman is a great option for tight budgets.
Its carbon fiber design offers excellent durability, making it a great option for beginning young players as well as for those wishing to play outdoors.
2. D Z Strad Violin Bow (Model 300)
The DZ Strad Model 300 is an affordable option for those wishing to stick with a traditional wood bow.
This bow has an octagonal stick, lending itself well to a more focused sound. The ebony frog has a beautiful fleur-de-lis inlay and the turning screw also boasts a lovely in-lay design.
3. Fiddlerman Wood and Carbon Fiber Hybrid Violin Bow
This is another popular model from Fiddlerman that offers an interesting “hybrid” of both a wooden and carbon fiber stick.
The stick itself is carbon fiber and wrapped in Pernambuco. The benefit of this is to have both the durability of the carbon fiber structure while also having the aesthetic of a traditional wood bow.
4. Kmise Carbon Fiber Violin Bow
This is a great option for beginners and tight budgets.
It offers the durability and even a variety of different colors (fractional sizes only) to appeal to young learners. With its heavier weight and octagonal stick, it naturally lends itself to a stable, clear sound.
5. VINGOBOW Carbon Fiber Violin Bow (Art No.106VB)
This bow is a highly-rated favorite for many violinists.
Its unique feature is the use of black Mongolian horsehair, as opposed to more traditional white horsehair. The black horsehair is thicker than traditional white hair, giving a robust, “wild” sound that is useful for outdoor or loud venues.
This, paired with the carbon fiber stick, make it a viable option for outdoor or precarious, crowded environments.
6. VINGOBOW Antique D. Peccatte Model Master Pernambuco Violin Bow
The VINGOBOW Antique D. Peccatte is an elegant copy of a Dominique Peccatte violin bow design.
Its Pernambuco stick is octagonal in design and offers a sweet, clear sound. This bow would be a perfect fit for advancing students looking to explore new colors and bowing techniques.
7. CodaBow Prodigy Carbon Fiber Violin Bow
CodaBow has successfully secured itself as a reputable manufacturer for carbon fiber violin bows.
This particular CodaBow is praised for its balance and crisp response. The brown diamond weave finish gives the bow an interesting aesthetic that is reminiscent of traditional wood bows while also remaining modern, sleek and sophisticated.
8. CodaBow Diamond SX Carbon Fiber Violin Bow
This is the perfect “step-up” for advancing, intermediate players as well as active musicians looking for a durable, reliable bow with a focused, bright tone and lively response.
Advancing players will find that this bow offers a lot more range to explore colors and styles, while advanced players will find this bow to be a reliable tool on the road.
Its Kevlar-core, sleek black design and visible carbon fiber finish are classic trademarks of CodaBow quality.
9. D Z Strad Pernambuco Violin Bow
This bow is a lovely copy of master bowmaker Dominique Peccatte.
As a traditional, rounded-stick wooden bow, it offers elegance, warmth, and projection with an even response.
This bow is perfect for advanced musicians and professionals alike as it will offer subtlety and nuance for varied playing.
10. CodaBow Diamond GX Carbon Fiber Violin Bow
At the top of CodaBow’s Performance collection, the CodaBow Diamond GX is a quality choice for advanced and professional musicians.
Offering a warm tone and robust sound, the Diamond GX has a wide spectrum of nuance and expression. It is very responsive to the subtleties and expression of the most advanced players.
Its Kevlar-core strength lends it well to fast and articulate passages while also offering excellent resonance in more lyrical styles. It is equally as strong in ensembles as it is in solo performance. While it still maintains the classic carbon fiber weave pattern, it instead tips its brown finish is reminiscent of its wooden ancestors.
BUYING GUIDE AND QUALITIES TO LOOK FOR IN A VIOLIN BOW
While it may seem obvious - make sure to check that the size of the bow matches the size of your instrument. As an example, a ¾ size bow should be matched with a ¾ size violin. A 4/4, or “full” size bow, should be matched with a 4/4 full-size violin.
The weight of the bow will definitely impact tone quality, sound production, and playability in relation to the instrument and the player.
It’s not to say that a particular weight is going to be better than another - but just that weight is a variable to consider. Generally, a heavier bow is going to give you a more robust, bold sound, whereas a lighter bow may offer more ease of playing in fast passages.
For some weaker violins, a heavier bow may help boost sound, whereas stronger violins might actually sound more abrasive with the extra weight.
- Lightweight to average bow = around 55-62 grams
- Heavy bow = around 63-65 grams
Each bow has its own balance point where you could literally balance the bow lengthwise on your index finger. This balance point determines how the weight of the bow is distributed and ultimately, the ease of playability for certain passages.
The actual stick of the bow should be straight and unwarped. While the bow will always have a natural concave curve to the stick - it should not be curved or warped beyond that.
To check for warping, hold the bow down in front of you so the tip is pointed to the floor. Gaze down the length of the stick from the frog. If the stick looks twisted, or like it is bending out to the left or right, then it is likely warped and is definitely not a suitable bow to purchase.
Bow Testing Tips
Choose a few musical excerpts of varying styles. This will allow you to see how the bow performs in all conditions with your style of playing.
Fast passages will allow you to test the springiness or bounce of the bow, whereas lyrical passages will allow you to test the warmth and color of the tone as it matches your instrument. Be sure to vary dynamics as well to test how the bow enhances or hinders projection and tone.
Play for your teacher and musician friends! It’s always a good idea to play for someone else who can have a more critical perspective. Sometimes it’s best for the listener to close their eyes or physically turn around so they can truly focus on sound and not the bow itself.
Record yourself playing each of the bows while keeping a numbered list of the order in which you played them. This will allow you to remain unbiased when objectively listening back to the recording.
Pros and Cons of Wood VS Carbon Fiber
You’ll find that there is a broad range of cheap to expensive bows for both wooden stick bows and carbon fiber bows. While many purists may prefer wooden bows - carbon fiber bows have equal footing in the playing field and are known to be used even by professional violinists.
So what exactly are the pros and cons of these materials?
- Often offers greater nuances and subtleties to the sound
- Often handcrafted and unique - each bow will offer a slightly different quality
- Higher risk of breaking if dropped
- Susceptible to temperature and humidity changes
- Consistent throughout temperature and humidity fluctuations (perfect for playing outdoors)
- Durable in precarious environments (such as playing in crowded venues or being around playful children)
- Offers an alternative to the use of Pernambuco wood - a wood typically used for violin bows which is now endangered
- Aesthetic - many carbon fiber bows are not designed to imitate wood. The black carbon fiber or pattern may be off-putting to some violinists. Some brands disguise the bow to look more like a wood bow.
- Less individuality to the bow because they tend to be more uniformly made.
Round VS Octagonal
There are two variations to the actual stick of the bow: some will be smooth and rounded, while others will have a more octagonal structure. The differences are quite subtle but worth mentioning.
Rounded bows tend to have a softer quality, offering a smooth and full sound but sometimes lacking clarity for more articulate playing.
Octagonal bows tend to have a slightly stiffer quality, offering clarity and power but sometimes lacking in nuance.
Generally speaking, horsehair is by far a better choice than any kind of synthetic hair on the market.
While this is a distinguishing factor to look out for, the type of horsehair itself may not be as crucial and probably shouldn’t be a dealbreaker in your final decision. The reason for this is because the hair on a bow rarely outlives the life of a bow itself - it’s something that will need replacing after some time since the hair will naturally fall off from ageing or use.
For cheaper bows, it is often easier to replace a bow than to pay for a luthier to rehair. In fact, many luthiers will not rehair cheaper bows for this very reason.
This is why it’s one of those take-it-with-a-grain-of-salt factors. Higher quality horsehair on more expensive bows will naturally contribute to the quality of the sound - but it’s a variable that is subject to change once you get a rehair.
Similar to online shoe shopping, many companies and manufacturers will offer a kind of trial period for trying out and purchasing a bow.
These in-home trials are an excellent way to test-run the best violin bows with your instrument without the pressure of immediate commitments. Keep an eye out for this option when shopping for bows.
Some companies may even offer a selection of the bows from a range of styles and prices - cheap to expensive. Be sure to check on the in-home trial and return policies before moving forward with a purchase. This is especially suitable for those who wish to purchase a bow as a gift since it ensures that the violinist can still choose a bow that is best suited to them personally.
As you can see, there are many factors to consider when searching for the best violin bow - ranging from the material the bow is made out of to how the bow itself is designed.
When testing bows, it’s good to play a variety of different passages to get a feel for the potential of the bow for a particular violin. It’s also good to record yourself and play the bow for your teacher or a musician colleague to get an objective opinion.
Despite all the variables, there is a wide variety of cheap to expensive bows to match any budget and playing style.