Bow Shopping

February 13, 2012

A little over two years ago when I started playing cello I purchased a cello package from my wife's oldest son. He had gotten the cello, bow, and case while he was in high school and I bought the whole kit from him.

The cello was probably around $1700 new. The case is a very nicely padded, soft-sided model complete with shoulder straps and wheels. The bow is made from carbon fiber. The whole package has been great for me but ever since playing on a borrowed bow for a week while mine was being re-haired, I have been thinking about getting a second bow. The borrowed bow was a very expensive pernambuco wood model, and it improved the overall sound of my cello tremendously.

I told my teacher a few weeks ago that I was thinking about getting a new bow. His immediate recommendation was to get the middle model of the CodaBow series, the Diamond SX. This model runs about $750. After sending an email to the CodaBow people I learned that the nearest authorized dealer was in Kansas City, so last Friday while I was in town to get my new iPhone I stopped at the CodeBow store and also at my favorite string store, KC Strings. I wasn't at all impressed with the authorized dealer and since I wasn't given a chance to actually play a CodaBow I have no real way to judge it. I'll need to find a different dealer and make another trip to play one.

KC Strings had an entire box of wooden bows that they let me sample. They ranged in price from $650 to $980. I had thought ahead enough to bring my current bow so I could have some comparison. I didn't have my cello as my errands that day would have left in in the car exposed to potential extremes in heat and cold. I started out by playing several scales and a couple pieces I know by heart on their cello with my bow. Once I had a feeling for the cello and strings I started sampling the new bows. Two stood out from the others although I'm not sure I can entirely put into words what made them stand out.

On my cello with my bow it is very easy to get a rather "blatty" sound on the A string. Both of the wooden bows that I like had less of the blatty sound, and the more expensive one actually made it hard to get the blatty sound. Both of the wooden bows felt springier. I was able to play spiccato notes very easily.

In comparing my bow to the wooden ones I noticed that the curve of the stick, particularly near the tip, is more pronounced. I also noticed that when the hair was tight enough to not touch the stick while playing the C string that the hair was much closer to the stick overall on the wooden bows than on my carbon fiber one. The screw knob used for adjusting the frog was very tight on some of the wooden bows. I assume the screw would gradually loosen over time, but I set aside several bows that seemed far tighter than others.

While KC Strings was ready to send both of my favorites home with me on approval, I wasn't prepared to make a selection and purchase so quickly. I had set out to play a new composite bow and ended up playing several wooden bows. I'll have to make another trip with my cello to try the bows again on my instrument to see what I think. And I'll have to travel to Wichita to the authorized CodaBow dealer there to try one.

One final note, I compared my current carbon fiber bow to the selection of carbon fiber bows on display at KC Strings and found what appeared to be an identical match. The matching bow was priced at $160. Stepping up to a $750 bow will be a large step up.

Author's profile picture

Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.