Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Wood or Carbon Bows- Which are Better?

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
 & Martha McDermott

Recently, a Facebook friend asked a reasonably simple question, "Which are better, wood or carbon bows?" And the definitive, absolutely right answer is......

It depends.
First, we need to define what kind of wood bow. Let's stick with Pernambuco as the wood we're talking about for bows.

Next, what kind of Carbon bow are we talking about?
A. Fein Carbon Fiber Bow
Your standard run of the mill carbon fiber bow is a composite of carbon fiber and epoxy.  In your hunt for the perfect and virtually indestructible carbon bow you may have seen the words 'carbon', 'graphite', 'carbon-graphite', 'carbon composite', and 'carbon fiber' thrown around.  Essentially they are the same material and in the violin bow world, are often used interchangeably. Even when talking about the same bow!

 A fun fact about these carbon graphite bows is the majority of the stick is hollow!

Hollow Portion of Carbon Fiber Bow
There is a metal support at the tip of the bow about 2.875" long, but the rest of it is completely hollow!

Metal Support in Carbon bow

Now of course we at Fein Violins were not satisfied just reading this. We had to do our own investigative reporting resulting in some of the finest research we've ever done. By sawing a carbon graphite bow apart into three different sections. How else can you see what's inside?
Andy "Researching"

Beyond the standard carbon fiber bow, your choices for different combinations of materials are endless.

A recent development in the carbon bow world is the hybrid bow. The hybrid bow has a carbon fiber core and an approximately 1 mm veneer of Pernambuco wrapped around the core. Not only does it make the bow look like a Pernambuco bow, but also adds some warmth to the sound.

A. Fein Hybrid Bows
Some carbon bows have a different material as a core and carbon fiber wrapped around it.  These bows are scientifically designed to mimic the sound of Pernambuco. But do they achieve that mimicry? Almost, but not quite.
A. Fein Soloist Bow
So the verdict?

The jury is still out.

If you are looking for a bow with a warm and vibrant sound, then Pernambuco is probably the right choice for you.

The best thing we can say about carbon graphite bows is that they are almost completely unbreakable and almost never warp. So, if you are looking for a bow that is virtually indestructible and not made from a tree on the endangered species list, then a carbon fiber bow may be for you. If you're interested in  good tone production, a good Pernambuco bow will outperform a carbon bow to most people's ears. But Pernambuco, being a wood, is a living and variable material. Not every Pernambuco bow will sound the same or work the same with you and your instrument. Carbon graphite, and all its permutations, are manufactured materials that are very, very predictable. And cheap! Carbon is one of the most common elements in the universe. So, it's relatively inexpensive to make a good playing carbon bow. Pernambuco, while not an element, is sadly far less available. Good Pernambco for bows, even less so.

A. Fein Studio Bows

Considering which bow may be the one for you? Listen for yourself!

Our recommendation? Have one of each! Use your Pernambuco bow in performances when you want to sound your best, for practicing, and in safe performance spaces such as concert halls and recitals. For outdoor and bar gigs, opera and musical pits, outdoor festivals, camping trips, sidewalk and subway busking, and when your other bow is being rehaired, use a carbon bow. And for youth orchestra concerts and rehearsals where "slightly controlled chaos" is a good descriptor for before and after? Use your carbon bow.

Have a look at some of the excellent bows we have at our shop here --> @ Feinviolins.com

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