The Violin is not complete without the bow, for the bow is the real partner of the violin. Without its partner, the violin would surely not make any good sound at all. But with the bow, the violin can elicit good sound, and in the hands of a violin virtuoso, the bow can produce great magical music when sliding along the strings. With this perfect motion, the violin would elicit great symphonies and concertos. Hence, it would be good to consider the materials out of which the bow is made if you want to create great sound using the violin. It is also good to study at the onset, the different parts of the bow.
What are the Different Parts of the Violin Bow?
The bow has different parts. As a beginner in playing the violin, you should know the following parts of the violin bow:
1) The Stick
The stick is undoubtedly the most prominent and recognizable part of the bow. The stick is the support of the bow and is called the backbone of the bow. It takes most of the pressures created during the playing of violin in order to create great sound. The material of the stick is of hardy and resilient Pernambuco wood or the less expensive Brazilwood. These two types of wood are primarily found in Brazil. The Brazilwood is the less expensive material for the violin stick. It is not dense as compared to the Pernambuco. It is also less responsive.
Aside from these two types of wood, other modern materials are used for the stick, and these materials are mostly produced with the help of contemporary technology. Sticks made of these materials are increasing in popularity likewise. These materials include fiberglass and carbon-fiber. The fiberglass is ideal for use by students who usually want an affordable bow. On the other hand, the carbon-fiber bows are increasingly becoming popular, and they are available for any type of violin players.
2) The Hair
The violin bow has hair appendages. Modern bow hairs are shorter and are designed according to the desired length. This is usually done by warming the hair up using an open flame. The bow hair is the part of the bow that really touches the violin. As the hair hits the strings, a sound is created. The hair has a coating of rosin. When the bow is slide along the strings and pulled, the hair then grips the strings.
The hair is generally made of the tail of the white Mongolian Stallion. The hair of the tail of the Mongolian Stallion is the best material for the bow’s hair. However, there are also some sticks that have black hair. Black hair, however, is coarse and obviously not that good for violin use. However, it can be used by heavy cello players and bass players.
The hairs are set at the bottom and top ends of the bow and held by small wedges of wood. These wedges cause a bit of tension that holds in place the hair.
3) The Bow Screws
The primary mechanical piece within the bow is the violin’s bow screws. This not-so-prominent screw is set inside the stick’s end. This screw has been designed to allow the violinist to hold it and twist it. With every twist of this screw, the horsehair is either tightened or loosened. The hair needs to be tightened to play the violin. Thus, the violinist needs to adjust this simple screw to adjust the bow’s grip on the hair. A simple adjustment of this screw can prevent the stick from warping due to excess tension.
4) The Frog
Made of Ebony hardwood, the frog is known to have an unusual appearance among the different parts of the violin bow. Situated near the grip at the bow’s bottom part, the frog keeps the hair in place. One side of the frog is U-shaped while the other side is square-shaped. The frog is set against the stick and sits on it. It is stacked with wooden wedges and a system of the metal ferrule in order to hold the hair. In many instances, the frog is frequently adorned with a circle of silver on each side. Sometimes an abalone shell decorates it. The circle of silver is also known as the “eye.”
Different Types of Materials & Woods Used to Violin Bows
The bow is generally made of a long wood adorned with other materials that are intermittently lined between the bow’s two ends. As mentioned above, hair fibers run along the edges of the wood between both ends, although in some cultures, a single piece of string runs between both ends. Violinists, however, much consider the type of materials used for the bow stick. Their choices include Pernambuco, Brazilwood, and carbon fiber.
1) Pernambuco Wood
The primary choice of wood for the violin bow’s stick is the Pernambuco. It has been the primary choice since the later decades of the 18th century. It is popular because it is dense and heavy. This wood is hardy to Brazil. It possesses the right mix of elasticity, strength, and responsiveness. The Pernambuco have many subspecies; hence, you have plenty of choices when it comes to the use of Pernambuco.
If you are a master bowmaker, you would inevitably exert extra effort and time to find the best Pernambuco sticks. You would undoubtedly reject a lot of potential woods just to zero in on the Pernambuco wood that has the right mix of elasticity, responsiveness, and strength. Yet, there is a problem with using Pernambuco. First, it is getting scarce due to forest degradation. Secondly, the Brazilian government has imposed restrictions on the cutting and exportation of this type of wood. Thus, it is now very difficult to find a violin bow made of Pernambuco.
If you are going to look at the quality of Pernambuco that is used for the bow, you will notice that there has been a gradual degradation in the type of Pernambuco used for bows. It is believed that the previous bows made of Pernambuco are of great quality while the later Pernambuco bows have diminished in quality. Experts believe that the Pernambuco species used in the earlier centuries had become extinct at the beginning of the twentieth century.
2) The Brazilwood
The Brazilwood is definitely an umbrella name that encompasses different types of tropical hardwoods. The Brazilwood is an excellent alternative to Pernambuco. It is more affordable than the Pernambuco, and it is suitable for use by those who are tyros and intermediate players of the violin. The price range of Brazilwood violin bows is from $50 to $200.
Modern technology has further extended the choices of materials for bow sticks. At present, even fiberglass and carbon fiber are used for making synthetic violin bows. These materials have been instrumental in making the price of bows even more affordable to students and beginners in violin playing. There are also bows made of less ideal types of woods. Bows made of these cheap woods, however, are more affordable and are surely not of good quality.
2) Carbon Fiber
Carbon Fiber is one of the great materials produced using contemporary technology. These fibers are around five to ten micrometers in diameter. These fibers are mostly made of carbon atoms. They are characterized by high stiffness, low weight, high tensile quality, high chemical resistance, high tolerance for high temperature, and low thermal expansion. Carbon fibers are often combined with other substance or materials to form composites. Thus, carbon fiber is also good as the base material for the violin stick. Synthetic bows made of carbon fibers are available for newbies as well as intermediate players of violins.
The Contemporary Violin Bows
We owe the design and made of the contemporary violin bow to the works of the bow-maker Francois Tourte of the 19th century. He found out that Pernambuco was an ideal wood for making violin bows owing to its right mix of resiliency, weight, beauty, and strength. Thus, Pernambuco became the standard wood material for making violin bow.
The making of the bow requires perfection. Bow-makers, at the onset, need to shape the curve ( cambre) of the stick. By carving and gradually heating the stick, bow-makers are able to carve and shape the wood. The screw of the contemporary violin enables the frog to move and eventually adjust the tension of the hair. The hair usually numbers up to 150 hairs to be very effective.
In less expensive bows, bow-makers usually make use of synthetic or nylon hair. The addition of Rosin—a sticky substance from tree sap—is then applied to the hair to create more vibration for the string and better-sounding tones.