Fiddlers, what do YOU look for when buying a bow?

Fiddlers, what do YOU look for when buying a bow?

I’ll be buying a new bow soon and I am curious.

When YOU are buying a new bow, what do you look for?

Re: Fiddlers, what do YOU look for when buying a bow?

Quick note:

There’s a lot online about giving advice about what *I* should look for, but I’m curious to what personal things each of you look for.

Re: Fiddlers, what do YOU look for when buying a bow?

I got a nice bow (Schmidt) for £100 in Birmingham UK - at the Hobgoblin music shop (there are other branches in England). The shop has been going for quite a few years now and staff are knowledgeable. I only have a cheap fiddle but this bow makes all the difference to my playing.

PS I’m getting a bit annoyed with my cheap strings and of course good strings make a lot of difference too. E string that goes out of tune most easily would be far better sounding if I replaced it with a morer expensive string!

Good luck with finding the right bow.

Re: Fiddlers, what do YOU look for when buying a bow?

For ITM and other folk styles I’d say response, response, response…
Check out Müsing, or Arcus if you’re loaded 😉

Re: Fiddlers, what do YOU look for when buying a bow?

Titch, what do you mean by response? Like the ability for the bow to easily "hook" into the strings upon direction shift?

Re: Fiddlers, what do YOU look for when buying a bow?

Yup, the ability to instantly translate your movement into sound, I suppose. I went from a really good quality French bow to an Arcus M4 after many many years and noticed the difference at the start of every note, in particular the clarity of ornamentations…not saying they’re great by any means…but better than they were. I’ve tried all the Müsing bows too and £ 4 £ the C2 comes fairly close.

As with all things violin, try before you buy, one mans stallion is another’s donkey 😉

Re: Fiddlers, what do YOU look for when buying a bow?

> When YOU are buying a new bow, what do you look for?

So far, every time I’ve upgraded bow it has instantly made me a better player, and so that’s my simpleton method: pick something that requires chucking the bow around a bit, fiddly string crossings, double stops, etc, and see if the new bow does it better. Diminishing returns after a certain point, of course, but it’s worked so far.

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Re: Fiddlers, what do YOU look for when buying a bow?

One man’s stallion is another man’s donkey? Nice saying that - though my sympathies are usually with a donkey!

A good bow can make such a difference to fiddle playing. My fiddle is a basic student one (£100 new), but some people say mu fiddle is a nice one cos the bow makes a v pleasant sound.

Re: Fiddlers, what do YOU look for when buying a bow?

I think there are some very good German violin bows which an improving player should look at and try.

Re: Fiddlers, what do YOU look for when buying a bow?

Well it’s mainly intangible stuff. Something to do with the balance I think. More or less what Calum was saying. Try something tricky and see if it will do it. See if it feels right.
I do like a lighter bow personally, but one that will still grab the string well. Kind of minimizing the effort. I can always press down harder if I want more sound, but I find I get more tone from bow speed than pressure, so I like a light weight bow I can really throw around without any strain. How well it grabs the string is of course dependant on the hair and how much rosin I put on rather than the stick, but it’s something I would look for in a new bow all the same. No point in buying something that will need a rehair to work the way I want it to.

Re: Fiddlers, what do YOU look for when buying a bow?

To put it simply: feel and tone. And it’s best if you can get access to a bunch of bows to try out and compare.

For me, if it feels good that means it’s not too soft or bouncy, or slow, or other things that I can’t describe but I can feel.

But tone is key, and by tone I mean the sound itself but also articulation - as in clean ornaments and other things - just making the things that you do sound good, crisp and clean. And six different bows will give you six slightly different shades of tone. I have two favorite bows. one cost $3K, the other $100.

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Re: Fiddlers, what do YOU look for when buying a bow?

A good bow for me will be responsive and unforgiving, grip well, and deliver a good tone - and will scratch too with chop bowing at the heel.

I prefer lightweight and springy, good for ricochet and other off-the-string bowings.

The Arcus M4 (carbon fibre) does all these things.

Re: Fiddlers, what do YOU look for when buying a bow?

Assuming the bows you are looking at dont have any actual defect, i.e. the stick is straight, the frog fits properly etc. then there are three things I look at:

First the stiffness - tension the bow normally and drop it on the strings, see how it bounces.

The second is weight and balance - There are numbers for the ‘correct’ weight and balance point, with a little variation, but a small variation can have a big effect on the feel of the bow, and they interact - if the balance point is nearer the tip it will make the bow feel heavier.

The third and probably most important thing is the moment of inertia. It is not something that you can easily put a number to so it isn’t mentioned in bow descriptions and it is something many people overlook, but it is what make the difference between a £100 bow and a £10,000 one. Imagine you have two bows with identical stiffness, weight and balance. But one has a stick that is quite fat up at the tip, and it probably has a heavy silver wire grip to get the balance right. The other is very slender up at the tip, and probably has a light tinsel or whale bone grip to keep it balanced. They are both te same weight, but on the first bow a lot of the weight is at the tip and the frog, on the second more of the weight is concentrated in the middle of the stick, near the axis of rotation when you rock the bow between strings. Think about the first bow as two people sitting on the ends of a seesaw, in the second bow they are sitting in the middle. The second one is much easier to start and stop rocking, because it has a lower moment of inertia. This ease of rocking actually makes far more difference to how easily a bow plays than the weight, balance or any other factor, and a bow with a very fine tip changes angle and direction so easily it almost plays itself. Unfortunately, to make the tip that light whilst keeping the required stiffness requires a very stiff but light piece of wood, and wood like that is very rare and consequently expensive.

Bows are generally priced by their quality and you get what you pay for. If you sort through a box of £1-200 bows some will suit you better than others, but none will play as well as any of the bows in a £1,000-£1,500 box.

Re: Fiddlers, what do YOU look for when buying a bow?

Thank you Mark, a very interesting and clear explanation. (No surprise there.)

I’d wondered about the weight distribution issue but not seen it described.
Not an easy thing to measure objectively, maybe a bit easier to compare bows.

Re: Fiddlers, what do YOU look for when buying a bow?

Last time I was just looking for carbon fiber. And i’m satisfied.

Re: Fiddlers, what do YOU look for when buying a bow?

Thanks everyone!

Re: Fiddlers, what do YOU look for when buying a bow?

Yes, response! Of course it should pull a good, full volume from the box. Texas fiddler Eck Robertson once stated — "given a choice between a descent fiddle and a great bow or a descent bow and a great fiddle, take the great bow." Years ago I had four bows on trial loan from Shar Music. That weekend, after a concert, I asked Aly Bain what to look for in a bow. In his laconic style, after exhaling a Marlboro hit, he simply said "BALANCE".
A few years previous to that I got to try a three thousand dollar bow. It knew what I intended before I even could process it. Probably similar to driving a Porsche (so I’m told). Don’t cheese out on the bow!

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