Bows tend to be an overlooked ingredient when shopping for a great-sounding violin outfit. After all, the finest Guarneri played on a bad bow will suffer in response and tone, no matter how much it is coaxed! Once you've decided to purchase a bow for your new instrument, or are ready to upgrade from the bow you have been using, we're happy to help find the best option for you and your instrument. Here's a good place to start.
Choose your material.
Whether you're playing a violin, viola, cello, or upright bass, most bows are made from one of a handful of materials, listed below. The difference is between these popular materials makes an audible impact on the tone you'll achieve, as well as strength and playability of the bow.
- Fiberglass bows. These are made from a mix of plastic and glass fibers, making the bow extremely strong and resilient. Fiberglass bows are usually the most affordable and the least likely to crack and break. Shop fiberglass bows >>
- Carbon fiber bows. Bound with plastic polymer resin, carbon fiber bows are durable yet flexible, which is an ideal balance for many players. The material handles well under extreme temperatures and comes at a more accessible price point than many wood bows. Shop carbon fiber bows >>
- Pernambuco bows. Made from the heartwood of the Pau Brasil tree, native to Brazil, these are often heralded as the best quality of wood for instrument bows. The dense, slow-growing wood offers players high strength and spring, and is identified by the rich, reddish brown hue. The lightweight nature of Pernambuco wood is more responsive to the vibrations of the violin, sending those vibrations back through the bow to the violinist's hands, helping fuse the violinist more deeply to the violin. This is one of the reasons Pernambuco bows are suspected to give richer sounds and performances. Shop pernambuco bows >>
- Brazilwood bows. Brazilwood comes from the same tree as Pernambuco, giving them many shared characteristics in strength, tone, and resilience. Unlike Pernambuco, which comes from the dense heartwood, Brazilwood bows come from the faster-growing, more abundant, sapwood of the tree. In recent years, the Pau Brasil tree has become endangered, making it unsustainable to harvest. This drives the cost on existing bows, and wariness in musicians, as many of the newer varieties are illegally harvested. Research the manufacturer carefully before purchasing to ensure your bow was made sustainably. Shop brazilwood bows >>
- Snakewood bows. Snakewood is usually preferred for Baroque and period violin players who prefer as softer sound. It is very sustainable, strong, and has beautiful markings in the wood to identify it. There are many imitations out there, so be sure the bow is actually made of Snakewood, and not just painted to look like it.
- Hybrid bows. Hybrid bows are made with a strong carbon fiber core and a wood skin wrap. The wood warms the sound, while the carbon fiber is durable and less susceptible to warping.
Opt for high quality.
A well-crafted bow will bring the best out of your instrument, coloring and articulating the sound. Even for beginners, an instrument needs to sound smooth and warm for them to achieve and inspiring tone. We recommend trying a good quality bow so you can see how it feels in your hand, against the strings, and observe the tone it creates. We offer a 10-Day Home Trial if you'd like to test up to 3 bows and keep the one that fits best. We vet each bow manufacturer carefully to ensure they are legitimate, practice sustainable harvesting, and stand behind their products.
Look for a reputable brand.
The best bow is the one that plays beautifully for the player. That said, some of our favorite bow artists are Glasser, Core Select, Knoll, Revelle, W. Dorfler, and Howard Core. Of course, this all depends on your personal preference, and which company offers the style and make of bow you like best.
After reading this and now knowing a little more about stringed instrument bows and the different types available, we hope that we made it easier to find the best bow for you and your instrument. If not, please contact us! There are countless options available and we'd love to help find the one you love.