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How Do I Choose the Best Double Bass Bow?

Judith Smith Sullivan
Judith Smith Sullivan

Choosing the best double bass bow depends on your style of playing, your budget, and what suits you. After you assess a bow for quality and price, use the bow to find out if it works for you. A bow is as personal to a musician as the double bass itself, so try several types of bows before deciding on one.

Double bass bows come in two styles: German and French. The difference lies in the wooden grip area, known as the frog. The German bow has a wide frog which is shaped to fit in the palm of the hand. The frog of the French bow is much slimmer, since it is gripped with the thumb and fingers.

A double bass.
A double bass.

Most musicians use only one style of double bass bow. If you are a beginning student, you may wish to try both types to see which is most comfortable for you. The price range for the different styles is similar, so it should not affect which type of bow you choose.

There are many high quality student bows at affordable prices available both online and in stores. If you have a very tight budget, consider purchasing a double bass bow second hand. Buy the best quality bow you can afford, since it will affect the ease of playing and your overall sound on the instrument.

A good double bass bow is made of either wood or carbon fiber. Wood is the traditional material but it is affected by changes in humidity. Over time, wooden bows may lose their arch, becoming straight and difficult to handle. Carbon fiber bows do not respond to humidity and never change shape. Even so, you may find that the response of wooden and carbon fiber bows to be slightly different, so it's important to try both before deciding which is best for you.

It is best to try out bows in person. In some cases, you can order several bows for a trial period from online stores, but only use this option if the company has a good return policy and if you can afford the additional expense of shipping. Online stores have the advantage of a greater selection of types and styles of bow than brick and mortar stores.

When you try a bow, first check it for damage. The shaft of the bow should be free of cracks or splintering and have a deep curve or "bow" to its shape. The nut, or screw, which loosens the hair, should turn smoothly. The hair itself should be full and clean, although some rosin residue is normal. The tip of the bow is a very common place to see damage, so make sure that it is not broken off.

The hair on the bow and the rosin used with the bow both affect its action. A bow that is not rosined well or that has too little hair will not play as easily or as loudly a bow with plenty of rosin and hair. If the bow doesn't seem to be playing well, check for thinning hair or add rosin. Adding hair to a bow is a relatively inexpensive repair, but you should get the bow at a discount if this or any other repair is necessary.

After you have found a few satisfactory double bass bows, arrange for a trial period with the store so that you can try each with your own instrument. Usually, music stores allow you one or two weeks to decide which bow works for you. Play a variety of types of music with each bow, and choose the bow that creates a deep, full sound with your instrument.

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    • A double bass.
      By: Valeriy Lebedev
      A double bass.