Weighing' the Difference of Bows (specifically violin & viola)
When you are shopping for a new violin or viola bow, be careful to note the differences. There is the shape of the stick, quality of bow hair, quality of frog, and weight. In this blog, I want to share specifically about what difference the weight and shape make on the bows we carry here at K.C. Strings.
Violin bows typically run between 55 and 62 grams. Viola bows tend to be 62 and 75 grams. The latter may be useful for five-string violins since they have a C string. The heavier bows tend to be a little stiffer, but that is not always the case, as much of it has to do with the quality of materials. You can get a stiffer stick with a lighter weight with a synthetic bow (carbon fiber and such) but the sound tends to be not as warm as with a wooden bow. Personally, I find that a heavier wooden bow gives me a warm enough sound for long tones and enough response for faster notes, but the balance has to be just right so I'm not fighting the bow for fast string crossings. This usually requires a more skilled maker to achieve, which translates to a more expensive bow. I do know musicians that prefer the opposite, opting for a lighter bow. The balance for a lighter bow is more forgiving but requires higher quality wood so the bow is not overly flexible, making the bow lighter, stiffer, and more expensive. If you have a food scale at home, you might try to weigh your current bows to have a point of comparison.
There are three different cross sections (shapes) for the stick as well. Octagonal, Cylindrical and a hybrid. The hybrid starts as octagonal at the frog and transitions to a cylinder around the winding. Octagonal bows tend to excel at fast technical work and cylindrical bows tend to be better for getting a full, robust sound for slower playing. The hybrid in between. The shape does not tend to affect the price.
Here at K.C. Strings there are three bow makers that we sell that I recommend to professionals: Lev Sobol (who is our master bow maker), Jon Paul (which has synthetic bows), and John Brasil. Lev Sobol is based in Moscow. His bows tend to be the heavier, well balanced kind of bow. They range in price from $1,600 to $3,600. Jon Paul bows are great synthetic bows; however, we at K.C. Strings only carry Jon Paul bows under $1,000. John Brasil is a mid range bow maker with a price point of $580. We also have an assortment of other bows, from student to professional level, and you can expect step-up violin and viola bows to start around $130.