Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Written by Andy Fein, owner and luthier, Fein Violins:

Pernambuco. Per- nam- boo- koh.
Pernambuco wood has been the standard wood for violin, viola and cello bows since about 1780 when Francois Xavier Tourte began to use Pernambuco and developed the modern violin bow. Pernambuco is the best possible material for bows. It possesses the right qualities that can be transformed into a good bow stick - rigidity, strength, responsiveness, elasticity, acoustic quality and beauty. Anything else is a substitute.

Amazingly, your bow is half of your sound.
A good bow can bring out a tremendous amount of sound from your instrument and enable you to play a wide variety of techniques. When advising people on purchasing a good instrument and bow, I always suggest that they put more of their budgeted dollars towards the bow than they might imagine. The difference between a $600 bow and a $1,000 bow is tremendous. It's hard to get the same acoustic difference adding $400 to an instrument value.

Nobody has ever been held back in their musical development by too good of a bow. The converse is true too often.

When choosing a bow, first hold it in your hand in playing position, but don't play a single note. How does it feel in your hand? Some bows feel like a beautiful extension of your arm. Some immediately feel like a baseball bat with horsehair. Eliminate the baseball bats.

Try several bows of the same quality. Often, one bow interacts with you and your instrument far better than any others. That's a keeper.

If you play spiccato- great! Try it with several bows. See which one bounces best.

Weight matters. But not as much as you would think. A bow with good balance will feel light in your hand. A bow with a balance point too far out towards the tip will feel heavy in your hand. You be the judge - No one plays with your bow arm except yourself.

Pernambuco is a rare wood. It is close to being an endangered species. The best thing you can do to help preserve Pernambuco is-- not break your bow. To that end, always loosen it when you have stopped playing. And... Don't drop your bow or knock it to the floor! Bows break very easily when dropped. Very easily. Very, very easily.

Other ecological considerations for bows are in the fittings. Stay away from any new bow that has ivory or tortoiseshell. Those are illegally made from endangered species. If you have an antique bow with ivory or tortoiseshell, it is best not to cross your country's border with it. Leave it at home. If you are caught bringing an item with endangered species material across a border, you risk having the item (your bow!) permanently confiscated and a big, fat fine to go with it. It has happened. Don't risk it.

The playing qualities of a bow should be the most important consideration. All the gold or silver, abalone, mother of pearl and pretty wood for the frogs and fittings are nice bells & whistles. But they are just decoration. Try to concentrate on the playing qualities when considering a bow. But hey! Who doesn't like a pretty gold mounted bow???

Here are links to my bows-

Violin Bows
Viola Bows
Cello Bows

Happy bowing!

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