Master Hand Violin Shop

  • 546 S Main W Street
  • Broadway, VA 22815
  • 630/ 292-2641

    Store Hours

  • By Appointment Only
  • Owner

    Elizabeth Ecklund

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    Brazilwood, Pernambuco, or Carbon Fiber -- How do I Choose?

    By Diane Bruce

    Choosing a bow can be a daunting task, requiring much research and discussion. For instance, how much money should be spent? How long should the bow last? What kind of material should the bow be made of? Only the customer can answer the first two questions, but at Master Hand, we frequently help with the third. Historically, there were only two material options: pernambuco and brazilwood. With the advent of greater technology, carbon fiber has become a credible bow option as well. For this article, fiberglass will be discounted, as there is no good reason to buy it.

    Deciding between brazilwood and pernambuco is not as cut and dry as it may seem. Both should come from the same brazilwood tree in South America (although sometimes wiley companies try to use an alternative brazilwood tree for brazilwood bows). The difference between the two bows comes from what part of the tree the wood is taken. Pernambuco comes from the denser, slow growing heartwood of the tree, and brazilwood comes from the less dense portion. Thus, the quality of either stick is still on a scale with not much difference between a high end brazilwood stick and a low end pernambuco stick.

    Why are pernambuco bows typically better and more expensive than brazilwood? They are better because the sticks are more dense, and they can better withstand the pressure of tense hair and vigorous playing without being subject to warping. The density adds control and vibrancy to playing. This, of course, does not mean that brazilwood bows automatically warp and have dull sound. When properly cared for, brazilwood can have a very long life span, as well. And wood is not the only factor in a bows playability; a master bow maker can make a brazilwood bow that is far superior to any company pernambuco bow. It just happens that the master bow maker usually does not use brazilwood.

    Where does carbon fiber come in? First of all, some children (and some adults) just should not be allowed near anything breakable, including bows. Carbon fiber is a great choice for these people because it is resistant to many little "oops's" that a wood bow is not. But beyond that, well made carbon fiber bows can play better than similarly priced pernambuco bows because hey, synthetic material is cheaper to work with than over-harvested and endangered, rare wood. Carbon fiber is eco-friendly. The major drawback to carbon fiber is that it tops out earlier than pernambuco, so bows in the $1000+ price range only rarely include carbon fiber as an option.

    Ultimately, a bow has to play well for the player and sound good on the instrument, and that is just not something that we can decide for you.


    BONUS TIP I: If you're not sure how to tell if you are holding a brazilwood or pernambuco bow, just remember that pernambuco has denser grain. Thus, the wood looks like dark grain flecks on light wood and a brazilwood looks like light flecks on dark wood (or possibly is too hard to tell because there is too much light and dark).

    BONUS TIP II: If you are concerned about sustainability of brazilwood, you should know that much research is going on in the area of finding a suitable alternative wood. Currently ipe appears to be the front runner, and already there are some ipe bows available in the cheaper price ranges.


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