Decision Factors for Wood or Carbon Fiber Bow
One way to choose a wood bow or a carbon fiber composite bow is to get both. The way the price on carbon fiber bows has dropped, it’s an easier move than you might think.
The first carbon fiber bow I got was about $200. A substantial chunk of change at the time, but less than a Coda bow. I used it most of the time. Eventually I had it rehaired even though it looked disreputable and grody. It still played well. Eventually I gave it to a student who had purchased what I thought was a good wood bow that somehow went bad.
I have several carbon fiber bows right now. I use one which rides around in my violin case. A few are standing by for the needs of my students. My research into the subject of wood bows vs carbon fiber bows alerted me to the availability of very reasonably priced bows.
I began this research to help in the decision process of which kind to get. Now I look at it differently.
Wood and Carbon Fiber Bows Compared
A few back issues of Strings magazine got me started. Then, Google offered a good selection of pages on the topic of wood vs carbon fiber composite bows. Several very well crafted articles turned up. It was a little disturbing that they typically used the same language in their descriptions. We can charitably call that lazy writing, and avoid the plagiarism slam.
Here is a great article that saves me a lot of time comparing the two kinds of bow. On ConnollyMusic click Wood Bow or Carb on Fiber Composite Bow.
The big “find” was the page at Consordin.com which features seven carbon fiber bows for comparison. One of my students is wanting a carbon fiber stick. I have one I can let go of for $60, but who knows if the one that sells for $39 on Amazon might be just as good.
I ordered the Fiddlerman branded stick for $70. It arrives Tuesday. After I give it a good workout I’ll update this post, or send an email.
Finally, here is my personal experience with these bows. When I go somewhere to play fiddle I take a carbon fiber bow. And here are my totally subjective reasons.
1. They are easy to use and responsive enough for all the different kinds of playing I do.
2. I don’t worry about a mishap that would damage the stick, or even break it like a wood bow. They are tough. Just this morning I dropped my bow at a church service performance. No big deal. No problem.
3. Reasons 1 and 2 engender a feeling of freedom and enjoyment.
I own two expensive pernambuco bows. At least the $1000 neighborhood is expensive for me. The first one I carelessly broke at a student’s house. It’s repaired now and as useable as it was before the tip got snapped off. But, the value of the bow is reduced by about 50%.
The second bow was a Christmas present from my wife Alison. We both went to Tampa to visit luthier John Importuno. He had me trying a good number of bows in the $1000 range. He commented on which ones brought out the more brilliant sound and which emphasized the gutsy sound of the lower strings, which is my preference.
At first I could not really hear this, but Alison could. This property of wood bows, good ones, that is, to enhance or modulate the sound of your violin also came up in my research. Isaac Salchow and Bill Lee, bow makers of repute talked about this quality of tone shaping. The core sound of the violin is not changed. It’s a subtle enhancement.
I ended up with a light German bow that I really like. It hasn’t left the house. It stays with the violin in a stand on the hearth. (We didn’t even have a fire in the fireplace this year. No danger.) The violin also doesn’t leave because it is always tuned to 432 Hz. I would be disrespecting this instrument to force it up to 440 Hz. I fell in love with it at Royce Burt’s house because I thought it sounded like Liz Carroll’s fiddle. It stays at 432 Hz. End of story.
What to Pay for a Good Violin Bow
If $1000 sounds like an incredible sum for a bow, here’s what Strings says. “You can get a lot more bow for the money than instrument for your money.” Meaning, you can upgrade a good violin with a great deal of money. Or improve your sound for less money by upgrading your bow.
If you have a fiddle in the $1500 to $2500 range, you would have to look at $10,000 to $15,000 to make a real difference. Gack! Getting a fine pernambuco bow is one tenth the cost.
Okay. Bottom line time. If you read this far you must really be interested in bows. Let’s suppose that you, like so many fiddlers, have a beginner bow. It came with the violin. It’s even showing some wear and loss of hair. You are thinking of getting a new bow. My advice: get a carbon fiber composite bow. You can get a good one for under $100. Refer to that review of seven bows and think about it.
High quality wood bows are more essential for classical violin, or high level swing and jazz. For old time fiddle, bluegrass, Irish, Cajun, contest fiddling, a bow that costs under $100 may be all you need.