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What Bow Should I Buy?

Learn about the different kinds of orchestral bows and what you may decide is best for you.

The purpose of this video is NOT to offer an exhaustive list of all the different types of bows of woods in regards to genus, species, regions etc. I am intentionally keeping this video simple and very generalized.

When deciding on the kind of bow you should buy, you should consider:

  • Bounce characteristics
  • Sound production
  • Durability
  • Price

Generally speaking the primary question you are asking yourself is, how much compromise are you willing to make for a lower price point?

There are many different kinds of bows:

  • Fiberglass
  • Carbon fiber
  • High-quality wood (often referred to as Brazilwood)
  • Pernambuco wood
  • Ipe wood

Fiberglass bows are very good as rental bows or bows for school districts. They are very strong and inexpensive. The downside is that they sound, look and feel terrible. They also will often have fake horse hair, which is awful in just about every way.

Carbon fiber bows often offer the least amount of compromise when it comes to features VS price and have come a long way in the last 20 years or so. They used to be a slightly better option than fiberglass because they had a much better feel, and playability but the sound always suffered quite a bit. However, the modern carbon fiber bow has improved its sound quality by leaps and bounds. The most commonly known and probably the most popular brands of Carbon Fiber bows are made by the CODA company in the USA. The sound is very good on some of their models and the bounce characteristics are supremely hard to beat. I recommended these bows to my advanced students who could not afford a $3,000 pernambuco bow but wanted a bot that was 90% as good. A lot of professionals will use these bows as well as their back up bow or outdoor bow. The benefits to these bows are that they are durable, strong, bounce very well and are relatively inexpensive. However, I have never played on a Carbon Fiber bow that could offer the warmth of sound that a high-quality Pernambuco bow.

High-quality wood bows are generally referred to a “Brazilwood” bows. Many people think that these bows have wood that comes out of Brazil but is not as high quality as Pernambuco wood that also comes out of Brazil but the truth is most of these bows are made from a wood commonly referred to as “bullet wood.” It is a wood that is very high density and very stable. It is very similar to Pernambuco wood but is not as good. Most of it comes out of China. There are some inferior woods used as well on the cheapest wood bows and the wood is usually pretty bad. These bows “can” offer good bounce characteristics and can offer good sound. The best point of these bows is that they are generally less than $500 and if made properly, can offer decent bounce and sound. However, there is a lot of variability in these bows, so an expert should play test them to find the best bow. Often times, the price point does not mean anything, so you really have to test them out.

Pernambuco bows can offer the best bounce and probably will offer the best sound. Bounce characteristic is something that is somewhat subjective to the player but a pernambuco bow will almost always have a better sound than a synthetic bow. It is illegal to buy Pernambuco wood from Brazil, so the only way you’re going to get a true Pernambuco bow is if you buy a bow that was made in Brazil, you buy an older bow or you buy a new bow from someone who has a large stock of Pernambuco wood that they purchased years ago before it was illegal. NOTE: As of 2023, Pernambuco bows are not being exported from Brazil, so we at Kennedy Violins have selected some vey fine bows made of Ipe wood, a material veri similar to Pernambuco in quality and characteristics.