Our Shop Manager Sam takes a look at some of the Synthetic and Carbon Fibre Violin Bows available
I’m often asked what the differences are between traditional wooden bows and carbon fibre bows. Players want to know what difference these bows will make to their playing, whether this is in feel, articulation, balance, bounce, flexibility or sound. Synthetic bows (encompassing fibreglass, hybrid and carbon fibre bows) fall in two main categories – those designed to replicate the playing feel of wooden bows, and those designed to “be better” than wooden bows. I’ll come back to this point later.
There are two main benefits to synthetic bows. First is the consistency and reliability of the stick itself, particularly noticeable in cheaper non-pernambuco bows up to about £500. Rather than being crafted from potentially inconsistent natural wood, synthetic bows are manufactured from consistent materials giving repeatable bows. This means that you could play any number of the same model of bow and the sticks will feel the same with only slight variation in the hair. The result of this is that synthetic bow makers can relatively cheaply and reliably make consistent bows that out-perform their wooden price-equivalent counterparts by about two or three times.
The second benefit is synthetic bows tend to be much stronger than wooden ones. Arcus, who make high end Carbon bows, offer a 30-year warranty with their bows, and CodaBows offer between 5-year to lifetime warranties depending on the model of the bow. Synthetic bows tend to be less susceptible to wear, warping or damage because of the strength of the materials used.
Synthetic bows are made from quite a wide range of materials. The most basic “fibre” bows are fibreglass – strands of glass fibre woven and suspended in resin. Priced at up to around £150 (for violin bows) these are very popular as “first upgrades” make great student bows. Hybrid bows, such as the H Delille bow we offer, combine Carbon Fibre technology with a pernambuco veneer, giving the bow a wooden look and comfortable feel in the hand. CodaBows and Arcus bows are made from Carbon Fibre tubes. Coda’s unique design uses space-age materials such as Kevlar inside these tubes to create a familiar playing feel, and their own synthetic material “Xebony” replaces the Ebony fittings on a wooden bow. One of the benefits of the modern materials that manufacturers use is that these bows don’t contain any materials that would need CITES import/export licences, meaning they are worry-free for musicians who regularly travel.
Most of the bows mentioned above are designed to have similar characteristics to wooden bows in terms of weight, balance and flexibility. Each maker has a range of bows at a range of prices depending on what the player is looking for. Arcus bows are designed slightly differently – to be “better” than a traditional wooden bow. Violin bows are lighter at around 50-52g, rather than the traditional 59-62g. They are also designed and manufactured to give a bigger sound and various models claim to either give brighter or darker sounds as the player wishes. The Arcus bows I have played do feel different and take some getting used to, but there are definite merits to these bows. However, if you regularly change between bows this means having to reacclimatise to your wooden bow.
I’m still not sure though than any Carbon Fibre bow I’ve ever played will be able to replace a fine hand-crafted wooden bow made from top-quality pernambuco. Synthetic bows tend to have less breadth of sound and tone-colour compared to fine wooden bows, and less subtlety and nuance under the fingers. However, my conclusion is that carbon fibre bows absolutely have their place in the modern range of bows. I personally always keep a carbon fibre bow in my case as a spare because of its dependability. CodaBows violin bows range from the Prodigy to the Diamond GX with several models in between, costing between £350 and £1000. For the price these make great bows for students and advanced players alike, or as spare or teaching bows with their familiar playing feel and work-horse reliability.