Many violinists probably don’t think much about their bows. But have you ever wondered what violin bows are made of? The actual makeup of the bow has changed over the years.
Violins aren’t complete with the bow; if you attempted to play without one, the violin’s sound wouldn’t be very good. The motion of the bow gliding across the strings emits the sound the violin is meant to make for beautiful symphonies and orchestral concerts.
Knowing what a violin bow is made out of can be helpful. For a beginner violinist, it can be beneficial in creating the best sound. Here’s everything you need to know about the violin bow, including the materials used in violin bows and how and why the strings react to them.
Parts of the Violin Bow
The violin bow is made up of different parts. For beginners who are learning to play the violin, you’ll go through each of the parts to learn how they work.
The stick is the support piece for your bow. It’s usually referred to as the backbone since it’s the part you hold and control. The stick is usually made up of types of wood, usually, pernambuco wood or Brazilwood, which are woods both found in Brazil. Pernambuco is more expensive because it’s denser than Brazilwood.
Modern materials for the stick include fiberglass and carbon fiber through the help of advancing technology. Both of these newer, modern materials, particularly carbon fiber bows, help make the bow more affordable.
Hair makes up the bow part, which is what touches the violin strings. When the hair hits the strings, the sound is created. The hair is coated with rosin, a sticky substance that helps when sliding across the strings to grip it. It’s strung tightly between the bow tip and the frog.
The bow screws
The bow screws are found on the inside of the stick’s end. The screw’s design allows the violin player to hold it and twist it, which either tightens or loosens the hair on the bow. The adjustment changes the bow’s grip on the hair and helps keep the stick from warping due to tension.
The thumb leather on a bow protects it from your fingers and thumbnail. The thumb leather is made of synthetic materials, leather, or reptile skin.
The leather can come from animals, including goats or cows. There are animal-friendly alternatives with synthetic bow wraps. These are usually made with artificial leather and are more available.
The grip at the bottom part of the bow and made of hardwood, and the frog is a part to keep the bow hair in place. One side of the frog is shaped like a “U”, and the other is shaped like a square.
The frog sits on the stick and has wooden wedges and a metal piece that holds the hair. Many times you’ll notice the frog has silver circles on each side, or a shell, which is called the “eye.”
Bow makers use an adhesive called hide glue, which attaches the horsehair to the shaft of the bow. It’s a natural product made from animal hides, usually, pigskin or cattle hide. There are alternative glues available that don’t use any animal materials.
What is a Violin Bow Made Of?
Your violin’s bow strings are typically made with between 160 to 180 individual strands of horsehair. The individual hairs are ‘dressed’ – meaning they look for and remove any imperfect hairs so that only the best quality hairs remain.
Bow hair is almost always authentic, even though there are many forms of synthetic hair available. The hair for the bow usually comes from the tails of horses in cold climate locations like Siberia, Canada, and Mongolia. The cold weather creates hair that’s more thick and strong.
Your bow hair can help you get the most out of your instrument. Players of all levels can make a vibrant sound by choosing an expertly made bow to help produce it.
Bow hair colors
Bow hair can be found in a variety of shades for playing. Usually, the shades range from white hair to gray to black. Most violin bows show white or gray. The horse hair isn’t bleached or dyed, since this can cause damage to the hair strands, and your violin’s sound will suffer.
Black hair tends to be more coarse to grab the strings more swiftly. For this reason, it’s utilized better for lower-register instruments, such as the bass.
Bow stick and bow tip
Two materials in the fabrication of the stick of the bow and tip are wood and composite materials. As mentioned previously, the bow is made of wood, carbon fiber, or fiberglass.
The tone quality of your violin is determined by the quality of your bow stick. Fiberglass bows tend to be more hollow on the inside, and the least expensive. Carbon fiber is an excellent alternative to traditional wood and is more affordable.
Wooden bows can create a clearer, warmer sound for string players, but tend to be less affordable than a carbon fiber bow. There are hybrid violin bows, which are new to the market. They are created with both carbon fiber and wood to help be more cost-effective while creating a warmer sound.
When to Fix Your Violin Bow?
If you take violin lessons, your instructor may walk you through the steps to swap out your bow hair. At the very least, your violin teacher should inform you to replace it every six to twelve months, depending on usage. It’s essential to keep your bow in good condition as a string player.
Bows can be repaired with new hair pretty easily. It doesn’t cost much to do it, either, and many people can do it themselves.
If you’re unsure when to restring your bow, here are some signs to look for failing bowstrings on your violin:
Can’t tighten the hair with your screw
- Hairs breaking on your bow
- The bow is creating a scratchy sound
- The air is very dry; there isn’t much humidity
- The hairs look dingy and dirty or are starting to smell
If you have questions, you can always reach out to a professional player or instructor for more direction. Bow makers claim that synthetic bow hair can be more durable than horse hair, even though it does give your violin sound a different tone quality.
Modern Violin Bows
Pernambuco wood for violin bows is credited to bow maker François Xavier Tourte of the 19th century. He discovered that it was an ideal wood for violin bow sticks due to the proper mix of weight, strength, and beauty.
Since then, it became the standard wooden material for making bows. Now, many bows can be made using less natural ingredients and no wood, but with the ability to still produce a great sound.
There is a precise recipe for making a productive violin bow. From the shape of the cambre of the stick, carving and gradually heating it to mold the wood properly. Adding much rosin to the hair helps to develop the vibration for smoother-sounding notes when gliding across the violin strings.
What’s the Best Bow for the Violin?
Players often look at sound quality being the main difference between the different materials on a bow. The wood type can also be a factor.
So, what is the best bow for you to play the violin? If you’re just starting as a beginner in your learning, it’s probably the best option to keep your violin materials less costly, until you’re sure you are going to stick with it.
The more professional players may opt to invest in good quality wood. They’ll choose their string instrument bows by the weight of the bow with thick hairs, and claim that the modern bow doesn’t help the violin serve its purpose.
Depending on your skill level with the violin, and whether you’ll be playing in warmer climates or really cold climates, it’s a good idea to do some experimenting with different bows. The popular choice may not always be the best choice for you or produce the high-quality sound you’re looking for in your bow.
The important thing as a violin student is that you’re excelling in your craft. In some cases, that extra effort may be because of your choice of bow. Work with varying bow sticks and lengths, look for different bow materials, and see which one suits you best.
Whichever violin bow you choose to work with, ensure you’re repairing the bow when it needs it to keep your bow working properly and efficiently. Soon, you’ll see the benefits that having a good bow can provide for your violin playing, and tackle beginner violin songs with ease!