A violin without a bow gives a very different sound! As important as the actual stringed instruments are, the bows are just as important.

In the most basic sense, a bow is a long piece of shaped wood with some type of material stretched from end to end to form a ribbon. In the case of bows used with classical musical instruments, generally the ‘stick’ is a formed piece of wood (pernambuco being the most sought after) that is carefully shaped and the ‘ribbon’ to join the ends is made from horsehair. Pernambuco is an endangered species and other woods and synthetic materials are being used more often now when making new bows. Some success is being had with carbon fibre bows.

A bow maker, known as an archetier, makes, repairs, and restores bows for instruments such as the violin, viola, or cello. Much time can be spent to get the correct shape (called the camber) of the stick. And up to 200 horse tail hairs can be used for a violin bow, more for larger instruments that normally have a wider ribbon.

As the bow is moved across the strings, it causes vibrations which the instrument puts out as a sound. The same instrument can give different sounds depending on the bow used. Thus the choice of bow is a very important and personal decision for each musician.

Do you play a stringed instrument with a bow? Do you have a bow story to share?


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