You can easily find a violin or viola bow for £15 and just as easily £1000. If you search a little harder, you can find bows at £3000 and even more sometimes! So, you might be wondering why a violin or viola bow is can be so expensive.
The first thing to remember is that all things are relative, finding a student bow of a decent quality can be £40 (P&H bows are very good and come with our hire violins), but it is hardly surprising that a professional player will be looking for something better.
The question then is what makes a violin or viola bow better, and at what point the bows simply become different?
A decent quality student bow is often made from a fibreglass shaft for strength, and the shape will not deform. The weakest part of any violin bow is the tip/head. Catch this, or knock it and it is likely to break, fibreglass sticks/shaft often strengthened with a metal rod internally helps stop this. In the case of P&H bows you can buy replacement bow hair that can be clipped in and out making it perfect for new players.
A professional player will want a bow that is sensitive to their playing and is nicely balanced. This wood is known for its playing sensitivity but has become extremely rare. Pernambuco comes from the same tree as a Brazilwood bow, but Pernambuco come from the denser, heartwood of the tree and this makes it more sensitive for the violin player. Its rarity contributes heavily to the price of the bow. There is a cheaper, close alternative from a closely related tree in South East Asia and marketed as Pernambuco, which is plentiful but has different characteristics.
Secondly, another major contribution to the price tag will be the level of human involvement. If you have a single person, with all the experience, making one bow from start to finish you would expect the outcome to be much better quality than anything mass produced. Before you even start, every piece of wood is different.
Outside of raw materials, you are paying for the craftsmanship, and the possibility of finding that one bow that suits you like no other. With hand crafted bows it is also true that a finished product just works better than any other bow combining quality materials, exceptionally craftsmanship, and pure luck!
Ultimately, when you get onto the £1000’s then a bow is worth what someone is willing to pay. The point is reached when you cannot class one bow better than another, just different!