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If you have picked up a stringed instrument recently, whether a violin or a viola,  you no doubt understand how much effort goes into picking the right instrument.

Just as important though is picking the right bow.

The bow you choose, violin bow vs viola bow, will go a long way toward helping you produce the precise sound you want when playing.

Figuring out the right bow for your instrument and your skill level can be overwhelming without the right guidance.

That is why we put together this quick guide with some information that highlights the top products and the top characteristics you want to consider when looking for your bow.

Why bows matter

Different bows can produce different sounds on the same instrument. Again, as a beginner this does not matter as much because an untrained ear won’t be able to tell.

But as you become more advanced, the subtle differences become much easier to hear. Even if you can’t hear them, most of the time the audience can.

Having a suppler bow, for example, will produce a fuller, smoother sound. By comparison, having a bow that is too soft will lack definition and clarity. 

A strong, stiff bow tends to produce a brighter sound, more focused as well. But if it is too stiff, the sound will become rough and edgy. 

The goal is to find a bow that gives you all of that, without too much of one over the other. That means you want something with quick response to your movements, a smooth and broad sound, but one with clarity and focus. 

For different musical genres, a slightly brighter sound might be preferred, and vice versa. 

Violin bow vs. viola bow: What’s the difference?

There are a handful of differences between a violin and viola bow, namely to do with size and shape.

For example, the average violin bow weighs about 60 grams while a viola bow weighs about 70.

The viola bows are taller than violin bows as well. Most viola bows have square heels while most violin bows have round heels. 

However, beyond this, you can find key differences in materials used to make the bow, shape, and size for either type of bow. 

Below is a quick video on how bows are made, which explains more about the material and the building process.

Materials used

Whether you are looking for a violin bow or viola bow, you will find that they are made from three main materials for the stick:

  1. Brazilwood
  2. Pernambuco
  3. Carbon fiber

Brazilwood refers to many hardwoods from Brazil, a material perfect for beginners. 

Pernambuco is a heavier, dense wood from Brazil as well, but is quite rare and reserved for professionals in most cases.

There are many types of this wood so you can find a range of elasticity and strength, but it has become harder to manufacture in recent decades. 

That said, many newer designs are carbon fiber, with varying grades, all bonded with resin. 

Size

The size of the viola is larger than that of the violin, which means your fingers are farther apart.

It also means the strings are thicker, heavier, and need a bigger bow. 

Sound

Given that the viola has thicker strings, the sound it produces is slightly slower and deeper than that of a violin.

The violin is the most popular choice for high pitched instruments, but that means it takes longer to hear the sound from a viola compared to a violin from the moment you touch the bow to the strings.

Be aware of this so that you don’t blame the bow for this delay, especially if you are changing from a violin to a viola, because otherwise you will be slightly behind the tempo. 

Again, because the strings on the viola are heavier, the bow needs to be heavier.

That is why most viola bows are 10 grams heavier than violin bows.

You might not notice this difference in weight at first, but if you get the wrong bow for your instrument, it could damage it with time. 

Shape

Shape matters too. You can find round or octagonal bows, but most makers produce round bows.

If you were to take two bows from the same wood, one round and one octagonal, the octagonal one would be stiffer, with a one dimensional tone and no nuance. 

This, again, matters based on how experienced a player you are and the sound you want to achieve. 

Where you hold

The biggest difference though is in the frog, known as the part of the bow which you hold in your hand.

On a viola bow, the part you hold is round but on the violin bow that part is pointed.

This difference is often easier to notice than the 10 grams of weight. 

Options for you

Now that you understand the differences and similarities between a violin bow or a viola bow, you have a better idea of what to look for.

To help you with this, we have highlighted some top products for violins and violas so that you can find a bow that suits your instrument and your musical expertise. 

Always consult an industry professional before using any new product to ensure it is appropriate for your needs.

SNY Violin Bow 4/4 Brazilwood with Horse Hair Full 4/4 Size

If you are in need of a violin bow, this is a great option. It is handcrafted using 100% natural, unbleached Mongolian horse hair.

This horse hair is much stronger and more durable than horse hair that has been bleached or otherwise processed with chemicals.

Moreover, the stronger, natural horsehair produces a more beautiful, warm tone when you play your violin.

The handle is made of black sheepskin and the stick is comprised of Brazilwood.

It has a great balance point which makes it very easy to control. You can adjust the stick as necessary which is equally important.

Everything designed on this violin bow is handcrafted so it provides exceptional bounce stability without being compromised by Machinery processing.

With this design you can actually adjust the screws when you put your rosin on the hair as tightening the screws will bring the hair closer to the stick and vice versa.

View at Amazon for more information on how this product might work for you.

Pros:

  • Suitable for a full-size violin
  • High quality Mongolian horse hair
  • Good Brazilwood stick for beginners and intermediates.

Cons:

  • Better for beginners because of the stick material, not for advanced players.
  • Only full size bows available and not fractional sizes, so it won’t work with children who use fractional size violins.

VingoBow 4/4 Size Black Horse Hair Carbon Fiber Viola Bow

For a viola, this is a high quality carbon fiber option. This design for violas uses black Mongolian horse hair as opposed to White.

The black hair is thicker and that means it has greater resiliency than the white hair and produces a louder tone when you need to be heard in the back of the room. It’s actually easier to rosin as well.

The stick is made from high-quality carbon fiber which is stronger and more durable than the traditional woods used for viola bow sticks like pernambuco.

But the design process means it’s also lightweight, weighing just around 70 grams.

Even though it’s carbon fiber it is very flexible and has a lot of bounce.

You won’t find any gap between the frog and the bow stick.

The screw is very easy to use so you can loosen or tighten the bow hair as necessary, something you will have to do when you apply rosin.

The shell is beautifully crafted from mother of pearl.

The grip is made from genuine leather with a proper balance between the grip and the winding.

View at Amazon to learn more about how this product could potentially work for you.

Pros:

  • Carbon fiber stick design with better flexibility and balance, and a lighter weight
  • Black Mongolian horse hair with better resiliency and a louder tone

Cons:

  • Only available for a full size viola
  • Black hair does mean a louder tone which might not work for every player

SKY Viola Bow Brazilwood Beginner Student Level Well-Balanced

If you want a viola bow, this is great for a beginner. This particular design is the student model intended for beginning players.

It is comprised of Brazilwood, the most common stick material for beginners.

When you look at the design for the stick you will see that it’s very straight in grain, density, strength, and color.

You get high-quality attention to detail with crafted design.

In addition to being straight and well-balanced, the stick is complemented by genuine Mongolian horse hair from a stallion.

What’s nice about this brand is that you can change your bow as your skills improve too.

While this one is Brazilwood bow for beginners, you can eventually upgrade to the carbon fiber bow, then to the pernambuco bow, and finally to the snakewood bow once your talents progress. 

The shape is a round stick and the final product has an oil varnish finish. It sounds very bright and it feels very soft on your fingers.

The bow is lightweight and therefore very easy to carry but it’s still quite strong and stable so it will last a long time and endure a lot of practice and play.

View at Amazon to learn more about how this product might work for you.

Pros:

  • White mongolian stallion horse hair
  • Leather grip
  • Available in all sizes and 4 different stick materials

Cons:

  • Horsehair only, no options for synthetic

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