violin, viola and cello bows - pernambuco, snakewood, carbon, baroque

general information about bows

Violin bows weight range 55 - 74 grams. "normal" range 59 - 64 grams.

Viola bows weight range 67 - 75 grams. "normal" range 69 - 74 grams.

Cello bows weight range 79 - 90 grams. "normal" range 80 - 86 grams.

Snakewood bows are usually heavier and more tip heavy, since snakewood is a very heavy wood, and carbon fiber bows are usually lighter. Pernambuco bows are usually in the "normal" range, since they are the most traditional material and pretty much define what is "normal"

Violin bow standard length: 750mm.

Viola bow standard length: 745mm.

Cello bow standard length: 720mm.

The balance point is measured from the end of the adjustment screw.

Violin bow normal balance point: 255 - 280mm.

Viola bow normal balance point: 250 - 280mm.

Cello bow normal balance point: 240 - 270mm.

I tend to prefer bows with a medium heavy weight and a fairly tip heavy balance point, but bow choice is extremely personal and depends on the instrument, the strings, the type of music and the player. Many good players keep several bows to use depending on the music or the development of their technique.

There are many other variables that affect the feel of a bow, such as stiffness and flexibility, and amount and speed of springiness. It's hard to give numbers to these things without a physics lab, so we try to describe the bows with terms such as slow or fast, bouncy, stiff, flexible, and so on.

A major factor determining the above characteristics is the type and quality of the wood used for the stick. For the last 200 years or so Pernambuco has been the preferred wood for top quality bows. Unfortunately Pernambuco is now much depleted and endangered (mostly not through bowmaking!), and its trade is restricted. Bowmakers are turning to other materials, including woods that were popular for bows before the discovery of pernambuco, such as snakewood or ironwood, or modern materials such as carbon fiber. Excellent bows can be made with all these materials, which each have their own distinctive character and sound. Since good pernambuco is now hard to find, restricted, and expensive, you can often find a better bow for less money by looking at other materials.

You may wish to look at the International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative

5 string instruments add difficulties to the bowing, notably that there is usually less clearance angle between strings, so its easier to accidentally touch other strings. There is no specific weight or balance of bow that helps with this, although higher hair tension and a slightly stiffer bow can help.

Part of the setup I do on every instrument is to maximise the clearance between strings by shaping the bridge, and sometimes the fingerboard

Baroque style bowing can be achieved with less clearance, and I sometimes stock some baroque viola bows and baroque cello bows. This is most helpful if you are looking for a baroque tone and wish to play in the baroque style with fast light detache strokes.