History of Bows
Until bows, early string instruments could only be plucked and strummed. Believed to have been derived from archery bow designs, bows for instruments have been around since the Byzantine Empire. Shorter and lighter than current bows, the original bow was modernized in France in the late 1700s, changing in harmony with alterations made to stringed instruments. Thanks to its invention, tons of different bowing styles have been developed to create unique sound effects and give players more projection and control in sustain, slurs, and dynamics.
Choice of Bows
The type of bow you buy is just as important as the string instrument you're playing. You can purchase an excellent stringed instrument, but if your bow isn't up to par, it may not sound quite the way you expected. Bows vary in several ways including wood, hair, balance, and shape.
Brazilwood and Pernambuco are both grown in Brazil, and are great woods for a string instrument bow. Considered to be the ultimate choice for bows, Pernambuco is a lightweight and rarer wood due to deforestation, making it an excellent choice, but a bit more expensive. Brazilwood is inexpensive, yet produces eloquent sounds and is the most common wood selection for bows.
Carbon fiber, fiberglass, and composite bows are inorganic, so they don't warp. Easily resisting changes from ups and downs in temperature and humidity, carbon fiber bows are more durable than wood bows. Fiberglass and composite bows are long lasting, making them ideal for beginners who have yet to develop sturdy handling and pressure when bowing.
Traditional bows are strung with horse hair, but several synthetic types are also in use and have been developed to mimic organic texture and sound production.
Grip paddings can also vary. Normally glued together, they are made of various materials such as a single piece rubber or leather, or wound silk, copper, nickel, or silver wire.
Whichever bow you go with, its size should be to scale for you and your instrument. Though all are a bit heavier at the frog than at the tip, each bow's balance and weight will differ to that of other bows based on material and the instrument it's intended for. The stick can be round, or octagonal, but all bow features including the fulcrum (balance point) are up to personal preference and should match the comfort of your hand, as well as your playing style.
Our bountiful bow selection at Sam Ash covers violin bows, viola bows, cello bows, and bass bows. We carry several brands of quality bows in assorted sizes like Carlo Robelli, Glasser, Dorfier, and more to meet your stringed instrument needs.
Be sure to rosin up your bow before playing. Rosin provides grip and friction so the bow can make the strings resonate more evenly and project the notes. A bow without rosin simply doesn't sound good.
When not in use, loosen the bow using the screw to remove excess tension on the hairs and prevent potential warping of the stick. During use, your bow should be taught enough to create a slight curve in the stick, so that your bow can "smile" back at you. Be sure not to make the bow too loose, else it will fall apart, or too tight, else the hairs will wear quicker and break prematurely, plus it can induce faster warping.
At Sam Ash, we're happy to help you choose, maintain, and replace your bow. We also have instrument repairs on-site in our stores in case you have an old bow that needs to be restrung. Take a look at our bowing charts and instructional music books to learn and improve bow hold and bowing techniques, or sign up for lessons at Sam Ash Learning Centers, where we have highly-trained, professional music teachers on staff that are ready and eager to teach string lessons!
Not sure which bow is best suited for you? Give us a call at 1-800-472-6274, where real musicians are standing by with the musical knowledge and expertise to help you satisfy all your musical needs!