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Choosing violin bows can be tricky if you are not sure for what you are looking. Decide the type of material that will suit you best, and then find a selection of bows in your price range. All of the sticks should be straight when the violin bows are loosened, and the wood should rest on a level table when the bows are on their side. Get a feel for the weight of the bow, as a too light or too heavy product will be difficult with which to play. Test the violin bows out for responsiveness and wobbling when making even strokes.
Quality violin bows come in two main types: wood and synthetic. Wood bows are typically made out of brazilwood or pernambuco, the former being less expensive. Quality pernambuco bows are often ideal to use with more expensive, high-quality instruments. Synthetic bows are meant to replicate the sound of a wooden bow while being more durable. They tend to work best for students, although well-made synthetic bows are often used by even the most advanced players.
The cost of a violin bow varies greatly. As a general rule of thumb, you can expect to spend up to half of the cost of your instrument on a good bow. If you are working with a student instrument or lower quality violin, spending a large amount on a bow is not typically wise, as it will do little to improve the sound of your instrument. A high quality instrument, however, often needs a high quality bow to reach its full potential. Even an excellent violin can sound poorly with a cheap bow.
Once you have a few options for potential violin bows, begin inspecting them by loosening the hairs of the bows and laying them flat on a level table. The wood at all parts of the bow should touch the table. Any areas that stick up, especially in the middle, means that the wood is warped and the bow will not play properly. Holding the product up, look down from the tip to the frog to visually inspect how straight the bow is. If you are looking at a synthetic bow, this is also an important step, as poor construction or storage can cause these materials to warp as well.
The weight of the bow is also important, and it is typically recommended that violin bows weigh around 0.13 pounds (60 grams). While this is standard, some players prefer a slightly lighter or heavier bow. The best way to check the weight is to play with the bow for at least half-an-hour to determine how well it works in your hand. To test the balance of the bow, make steady, medium-sized strokes on the A or D string for several minutes, accenting the down and up stroke. If the bow wobbles at any point, especially at the beginning or end of a stroke, it is likely not balanced well.
Violin bows are meant to be an extension of the player. By testing the bow out for a decent length of time, you will be able to get a feel for how well the bow responds with the strings and how easy it is with which to play. In most cases, try to test the bow on the instrument you will be using it with, as violin bows can work differently on individual violins.
@Lostnfound -- A college friend who played violin in the college orchestra used to tell his friends to buy the best bow they could afford and worry about getting a flashy violin later on. He always recommended a wooden bow. He said they just sounded better.
I do remember he saved his money and got this bow he'd been drooling over for months. I think he paid $500 for it and he said that was a bargain because the music store owner didn't really know what he had.
I caught an "Antiques Roadshow" not long ago where a guy had a violin made in the 1920s. It was worth about $1,000. However, his bow was made by some German company and was over 100 years old. The appraiser said it was an extremely rare bow. It was worth something like $15,000. Choose your bows wisely.
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