Brazilwood has been the standard wood used in bows for a very long time. This strong wood has an attractive dark finish, warm tone and is strong, yet resilient. Unfortunately, the supply of quality brazilwood is becoming scarce. Only a small percentage of the stock is suitable for producing an acceptable violin bow. A decent quality stick cannot be found for under $100, coupled with the fact that they can easily break in the hands of a careless beginner, make them a poor choice for most beginning students.
Nashville Violins recommends a much better alternative to a poor quality wood bow. Most of our student outfits are supplied with a Glasser brand fiberglass bow with horsehair (also available with synthetic hair). These strong sticks are machined to be very similar from bow-to-bow, with a good weight for the beginner. They are heavy enough to produce a good characteristic introductory tone, and durable enough to withstand most abuse. There is no reason for a beginning student not to start with this type of bow. Even though a student may outgrow it quickly, the price is very reasonable and the bow can be used as a spare bow, as well. As a player advances to new tonal possibilities, the requirements of the bow shift rapidly. As early as 6 months into studying, a student may benefit from the use of a better bow.
A student is ready for a better bow when:
An advancing student should choose Brazilwood for their first “real” bow. Better windings and frog materials generally have nothing to do with how a bow plays, but the use of better fittings generally translates to a better quality stick. A “fully-lined” frog will have a strip of metal on the rear of the frog, whereas a “half-lined” frog has no such piece, but is generally cheaper. It is generally best if a student can buy the best bow affordable. Purchasing a bow that can perform better than a student's current playing ability can assist a student in advancing into more demanding techniques later. As a truly advanced player, a student will have different requirements from the stick and selection will become much more difficult. A student should not be overly concerned with how the grip feels (it can be changed) and be careful not to get a bow too much like the one he or she may already own. The next bow should be better!
Advanced players may continue with a Brazilwood stick. Often referring to “signed” bows, which use much firmer, choice wood, often hand selected and produced by a skilled maker. A beginner is not likely to appreciate the qualities of this type of stick, but an advanced player can really push the tonal gamut. Players sometimes refer to the feel, weight, balance or springiness of their better sticks.
The very best bows are usually made out of a superior quality wood called pernambuco. Again, the selection of the stick can be quite difficult. A good brazilwood stick often plays better than an average pernambuco bow, but a fine stick will have life. Pernambuco is very strong, yet highly resilient. The life of the bow is generally much longer, as pernambuco is less likely to lose its strength and curve. This is one reason old master bows can reach into the hundreds of thousand of dollars in worth. A word of caution to any student wanting a pernambuco bow: Do not be fooled into thinking that a cheaper pernambuco bow is good just because it is made out of pernambuco. Always strive to purchase a good bow and judge its quality by not only looking at it's beauty, but by listening for a quality sound.
There are a number of new materials being used for violin bows, with more experimentation all the time. In addition to fiberglass bows mentioned earlier, bow makers are also using carbon fiber, graphite, and many hybrid materials and design modifications. Some of these products are being accepted by advancing players, particularly for the consistency and durability.
Whatever choice is made, remember to enjoy and grow from the experience!
To view our current selection of bows, click here.
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