How do you know when it’s time to upgrade your bow? Most people spend their entire budget on their violin, leaving the bow as an afterthought.

Now, honestly, for a beginner violin student, it is just fine to have a cheap clunky bow. It is truly more necessary to have a decent sounding violin than bow. HOWEVER, if you make it through those first painful twelve months of learning violin, then you need to evaluate your bow and seriously consider upgrading it to match the quality of your violin. Because at this point, the second year of learning violin, a really bad bow could be holding you back.

It is difficult to know how much you need to spend on a bow to get out of the “student” range and into “artist” range. However, if you’re asking yourself the question, read the rest of this short article, and then continue to do some independent research on this topic. You will feel better when you make your decision that it was an informed purchase.

Here are some things to be aware of as you prepare to upgrade.

First, get help

The most important thing is to find a dealer you trust to charge fair prices, and find a trusted adviser who knows what they are doing when it comes to bows. You need professional opinions. Maybe that’s your teacher, or maybe someone in the shop can help you choose a bow that is right for you.

I bought a bow for $3000 back in 1995. I just bought another one for $900 which I love better than the $3000 one. It makes me feel sick to my stomach that I paid that money for a bow which is inferior, but live and learn. (I no longer trust the shop where I bought it.)

Here are some very rough guidelines, since I know people really want it spelled out for them:

  • You can get a decent pernambuco bow that is acceptable for an intermediate player for about $125.
  • You should plan to spend over $500 to get out of the student bow range.
  • To match the quality of your violin with your new bow, plan to spend about 30% of your violin’s value on a bow.

May lightning strike me now for putting this in absolute terms, but this is just a rough guide. So now you have a rough idea what you need to spend.

Next, experiment

Choose three bows that are in your price range and try them out with your violin. (It’s important that you take YOUR violin with you and try the bows on that. The hardest part is finding a bow that is the perfect mate for your individual instrument.)

Listen while others play on each bow with your violin. How do they sound? The type of hair and the mileage of the horse hair on the bow will make a HUGE difference in the tone. Ask the shop if your three bows all have the same hair and if it’s all fresh hair.

Sound is subjective from player to player, so the way the bow responds in your hand is of equal importance to the SOUND the bow produces. You want a bow that is responsive and stable–it doesn’t bounce when you don’t want it to, and does bounce when you do want it to. Does the bow feel balanced, or is it “tippy”? How is the spiccato, how is the sautille’? Does it feel overly heavy?

Some of the “comfort” issues you might notice are merely the thumb leather or grip, and that can be customized to your preferences, or additions can be put on to your ergonomic preference, such as rubber tube, foam, or other grip gadgets.

Remember, if you don’t live near a good violin shop, LOTS of places will ship several bows for you to try, and if you purchase one, you don’t even pay return shipping on the others!

Like any major purchase, shop for a bow before you need one so that you can take your time making the choice. Haste makes waste, as they say.

Good luck, and I hope this helps!