I very much appreciate the patience that this forum is showing me as a neophyte. I'm sure that at least some of you are tired of the same old questions over and over again. Nonetheless, I must ask. Please tell me about bows. To start with I'll try to skip over a few of the cliches. I accept that one gets what one pays for, a beginning student cannot possibly play at a level that is up to the capabilities of even a barely adequately made bow and that how one plays is infinitely more important than what one plays. That being said, I also understand that faults and defects in the instrument can very negatively influence the desire to learn and play. O.K., my diatribe is over, I'll get to my point.
What properties do I look for in a bow? Straight, I understand, but what about stiffness? How do I judge what is too stiff and what is too flexible? What is too light or too heavy? Are the qualities of a bow something that is dependant on what one is used to or are there definitive limits to what is best? How do I judge balance, is there an optimal balance point? Does it really matter what kind of material it is made of and if so, why?
The search for great technique does not always lead to great music, but the search for great music does always lead to great technique.
I really like a bow which visibly resonates as you play it. Good pernambuco bows have this characteristic, but I think that most players either don’t recognize it or particular care if the bow has it. Their loss. A “fusion” type bow with a carbon fiber core and a veneer of wood has more resonance (in my experience) than straight carbon fiber. No clue why.
A main fault with inexpensive bows is their hair. It should not take more than a minute or two to initially charge the hair with rosin. Good luck if it takes you 10 minutes of the application before you produce any sound. I have a couple of those. Good white horse hair is expensive (greatly in demand). No one wants black horse hair, but I have found it to be very playable. The hair should be evenly distributed across the tip and frog ferrule and should not be crossed or have many sagging hairs.
I have found light bows that appeared heavy in the hand and heavy bows that appeared light. That is what balance is all about. Not a problem with most bows.
The frog button should be loosened at the end of play and the hair should touch (or very nearly touch) the stick when loose. If this does not happen, it generally means that the hair was knotted too short. It could also be a humidity problem.
Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible. —Frank Zappa
The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed. —William Gibson
I only have a couple years in so may not be much help. Also..you didnt say what kind of bow you have now or I just missed it. Ill assume you dont have one or its low end quality.
Anyway..my story I went to the local shop after 1 year of playing and probably tried out every 500 or less pernambuco and carbon fiber bow they had in that range. I was upgrading at that point from a glasser fiberglass bow so honestly I had alot of room for upgrade. The bow I settled on and felt the easiest for me to play the little tune I was testing them on was a werner pernambuco. There was a braided carbon fiber I really liked but was just above what I wanted to spend. It got thrown in the mix somehow...sneaky salesman I bet When I bought my fiddlerman violin about 2 months ago, they sent a pernambuco bow with it and its great. It seems a little lighter but I havent done any scientific analysis on it. Just feels right. Either try out several bows in a shop or out right buy a fiddlerman pernambuco bow or have them send a few for you to test. Given you already have a solid (not necessarily expensive just a ) decent instrument and youre going from say a fiberglass bow youll feel a difference. At least I did. Im really pleased with my werner bow and the fiddlerman pernambuco was a nice surprise with the violin I bought from them. Its just as good as the one I spent half a day picking out. Obviously theres many levels above that but hey..you could spend all your time and money gear shopping. Im Guilty of the buy better gear syndrome here (Except the soloist fiddle..it was an early 2 year reward to myself). Guilty of it mainly in the guitar world, which is way worse than violin world in my opinion. Too many different choices and styles to choose from.
I'm not sure there is an optimum for any bow characteristic. My impression is that it may be easier to learn the basics with a stiffer bow, but at some point you can do more with a more flexible bow. Bows are designed to bounce a little. If you play short, quick bow strokes, the stick should bounce up and down even if the hair stays on the string. Beginner bows are often stiff, and better bows are more flexible, but I think there is such a thing as too flexible.
As Irv says, the best bows seem to resonate a little. I've met people who care so much about the resonance that they consider the cheapest brazilwood bows to be superior to the most expensive carbon fiber bows. For me, the right balance of stiffness and flexibility matters more.
I don't think weight matters as much as balance point. A light bow with its balance point more toward the tip will feel heavier than a heavy bow with its balance point toward the frog. The balance point should be somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of the way up from the frog; the exact spot within that area is a matter of personal preference. Tip-heavy bows tend to be easier to keep straight across the string and require less effort to get good volume and tone, but they are also harder to control when it comes to articulation. Frog-heavy bows tend to feel lighter and be easier to control, but it takes more effort to produce the same volume and tone quality at the tip. It's basically a trade-off between volume/tone and agility.
I actually prefer two different bows for different purposes. My primary bow for classical music is lighter and has a balance point closer to the frog, which I prefer for maximum control of articulation and especially for off-the-string bow strokes. If I'm playing Baroque music or folk music, I prefer to use my backup bow, which is more tip-heavy and less bouncy.
As you can probably tell, there's a lot of personal preference in choosing a bow. And a bow that may work for one person on their instrument may not be the bow for another player.
First, get a decent bow without breaking the bank. This will tide you over. The Fiddlerman Carbon fiber bow fits that bill. Although I don't own one, I have played it and it works better than the price. When I started out, I couldn't tell the difference between two instruments, much less two bows. But as my ear developed, I started hearing it. Then, as you can over time, try as many bows as possible. My teacher carries 3 bows with him and I tried them all.
When I felt I was ready to start looking, I ordered bows of various price ranges from different companies and spent a week trying them all. When my teacher came for a lesson, I had all 6 lined up. He guessed quickly what we were doing that day! So, side by side, we played and compared them all and I was pleasantly surprised that he picked the two I had earlier chosen.
The most expensive one I ordered felt and sounded the best, but was twice as expensive as the other I liked without sounding twice as good. So I chose the lesser one and it's served me fine. When I'm ready to upgrade I'll go through the same process again. It was actually fun.
So take your time, cast your net far and wide to help figure out what may work for you, and enjoy the hunt.
Bad times make for good stories.
I'm not sure my two cents here will help you but when I first started playing I bought a violin set up that had two VBSO's included made of brazilwood I managed to use one of them and the other was so badly warped that it couldn't be used.
The one I was able to use was cumbersome on top of it I was using steel core strings and I know the fact is no one is going to sound like a virtuoso when begging but I certainly had not helped myself out with the set up I was using.
Before I had found the fiddlerman videos and this forum I had already purchased and U.S. made violin I found out about the fiddlerman carbon fiber bow and bought one along with some new strings to try to tame down the harsh sound of my first violin.
When I had started using the carbon fiber bow I noticed it felt like my bowing arm had been set free I could even tell a difference all be it only slight in the sound of the steel core strings bowing with the carbon fiber bow.
The entire feel of this bow made it much easier for me to judge the amount of pressure and speed I was suppose to be using while learning so weight for me was important or at least a factor seeing this fiddler man bow is a bit lighter than the one I had been using.
I need to purchase another bow but am on the fence I want to try a wood bow again but need to get my scales out and weigh the one I have now and see if I can't figure out what I can get as close to this carbon fiber in a purnambuco.
But as has already been stated I think its up to you as to what will work for you,seems to be as many choices as there are for strings.