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What Are Violin Bows Made Of?

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One of the most essential parts of the violin is the bow. Without it, an instrument would make very little to no sound at all. Violinists make it look effortless, gliding the bow across the strings and pulling out symphonies and concertos like magic. So what makes up a violin bow, and how does it work?

The Stick

This is likely the most recognizable part of a violin bow. The stick is the backbone of the bow, allowing it to take the pressures of playing and produce sound from the violin. Most commonly, the stick is made of the hardy, resilient Pernambuco wood found in Brazil. Less expensive Brazilwood is also used. Brazilwood is not as dense or responsive as pernumbuco, so is often most often used in student bows.  Modern technology has allowed for other materials to be effectively used, and these are gaining popularity. Many cheaper, student-level bows are made of fiberglass, which improves durability but tends to lessen response from the instrument. Today, available at almost any playing level, carbon-fiber bows are making their place in the industry. They are well-known for their resilience to weather and warping, and their durability. Also part of the stick is the leather and the lanka found towards the end of the bow, which provide a comfortable place for the player to grip the bow, also assisting in providing balance.

The Hair

The new bow hairs are shortened to the desired length by warming them up in an open flame.

This is the part of the bow that actually touches the violin and makes the sound. By gripping the violin strings (which is assisted by a coating of rosin on the hair) and pulling, a flat ribbon of horse hair causes the strings to vibrate, which produces the sound. The hair is typically taken from the tail of a white, male horse, Mongolian Stallion being the very best, though black hair is also available, it is too coarse for use in violin bows, and is reserved for bass players, and some heavy cello playing. The chosen hair is cut to size, and held in the top and bottom ends of the bow by tiny wedges of wood that cause enough tension to hold the hair in place.

The Frog

The frog is made out of hard and dense eben wood.
This is the most unusual-looking part of a bow. This piece holds the hair in place at the bottom of the bow, near the grip. Typically made out of ebony, one side us U-shaped while the other is square. It sits against the stick and uses a system of a metal ferrule and wooden wedges to hold the hair. Frogs are often decorated with a circle of silver and/or abalone shell on each side, known as the eye.

The Screw

Violin bow screws.

This is the major mechanical piece of the bow. An unassuming metal screw sits inside the end of the stick, with an end designed for the violinist to be able to hold and twist. This allows the horse hair to be tightened or loosened. One of the first lessons a violinist learns is that the hair must be tightened to play the instrument, and loosened when the bow is put away. This keeps the tension from causing the stick to warp and become crooked.

 

Every violinist will choose a different bow, depending on what they like and how it feels in their hand. While each bow, like each violin, is a little bit different, the parts and mechanics that make it up remain the same.

 

photo credit: mauroguanandi via photopin cc

photo credit: Phil W Shirley via photopin cc