Friday, June 10, 2011

Bows - How Much Difference Can There Be?

Written by: Amy Tobin

When I have musicians come in to look at instruments, after finding their perfect match, I then say "now let's look at bows." In many cases the next question is then "how much of a difference can that make?" The short answer to this is a lot!

When it comes to bows,
as with violins, the difference a higher quality can make can be astounding! This happens not because of the different fittings that are on the bow (our higher quality bows come with silver fittings and gold fittings), but from the quality of the wood itself. Good quality bows are made from a type of wood called Pernambuco. This is a wood that comes from Brazil and is different than Brazilwood, which you will see on less expensive bows.

When looking at the quality of a piece of wood, bowmakers have a few different ways to know what kind of quality it is. There are actually some tools that can measure how easily soundwaves travel through the wood!

Back to the question of how much of a difference a higher quality bow can make. When you are playing, the bow that you use is part and parcel of the sound that you create. In fact, the bow is responsible, at least by half, of the sound that you get, so choosing the best quality bow that you can, within reason, is definitely to your benefit.

When I say 'within reason,' what I mean is that a great bow is not going to make a less expensive instrument sound like a Stradivarius. For instance, if you have a violin that cost you $500, in most cases I would not pair a $2,000 bow with it. If you are looking at handmade instruments, however, looking at several different kinds of bows in varying price ranges can make an incredibly astounding difference!

Instead of talking a lot about how much better of a sound you can get with a better bow, I am going to let the music speak for itself. Here are a few video clips from our YouTube site:

 Here is an introduction on different types of bows, by Andy Fein

This is a video using a good quality carbon graphite bow

Here is a video with our A. Fein $1,000 model bow


Here is a video with our A. Fein $2,000 model bow

This video is made using our A. Fein $3,000 model bow

Hopefully these videos will give you an idea of how different the sound can be! All of these were made using the same violin so you can really compare apples to apples.

The other consideration, when deciding what kind of bow to get, is whether it matches your instrument. Bows and violins are like people. Just because one bow sounds great with one instrument, does not necessarily mean that it will sound great with yours, so taking the time to play several bows, at several price points, will really be worthwhile. As with all things, it's not always about price. You might find that a particular bow, that is less expensive than another, might actually be a better fit for your violin and your style of playing.

Above all, taking the time to try different bows, with your instrument, is key. When you find that bow that fits, it will be one of those 'aaaahhhhh' moments that you are not likely to forget.

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