An Explanation of Violin, Viola and Cello Bow Weights

When you look at an instrument bow listing, you’ll see something like: 61.2 g. This is not the amount of sugar you burn off per hour of practice, and it’s not the amount of rosin you’re supposed to use. It is the bow’s weight. From frog to tip, this number is the sum of all the parts attached, built in and comprising the bow.

Why is this important? It doesn’t mean that you should pick a heavy bow because you have been living at the gym. A bow’s weight, along with its weight distribution, can determine a bow’s feel, sound and playability. Therefore, this seemingly simple concept should not be underestimated or overlooked.

While it would be nice just to pick up what Itzhak Perlman plays, bows don’t work that way. The ideal bow is specific to you. Here is some foundational information about bow weight and balance, along with their effect on your playing, to help you find your ideal match.

Bow Weights and Applications

An instrument’s bow should fall into the following weight ranges:

  • Violin bow = 57 to 63 grams
  • Viola bow = 67 to 73 grams
  • Cello bow = 77 to 84 grams

Generally, heavier bows are easier to control, which makes them work better for many beginning students. They also may have a bigger sound and more focused tone, if that fits your sonic preferences.

Light bows are just the opposite. Those players who use the weight of their bow arm to create sound, rather than relying on the weight of the bow, tend to like lighter bows.

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There are signs if a bow is too light or too heavy for you. If there is pain in your hand, the bow may be too heavy. Pain when playing is never good, so avoid injury and uncomfortable playing by trying a lighter bow. If you feel like you are not getting enough sound out of your instrument, try a heavier bow, but if the resonation sounds dampened, there might be too much weight.

There are many other differences that are affected by each individual situation. A bow may sound different on different instruments or with different types of strings. For this reason, use your instrument to test the sound and feel when trying bows. I also recommend playing music from your own repertoire.

However, take caution: Sometimes bows that are stiffer will give the illusion of feeling heavier. Keep in mind that a bow’s stiffness and weight are two different variables.

The Bow’s Balance Point

Weight alone is not an issue, but goes hand-in-hand with the balance point. From a technical perspective, balance point is similar to center of gravity. It is the distance from the frog end to the point where the bow balances. Since the length of a violin bow is 73 to 74 cms, a viola bow is 72 to 73 cms, and a cello bow is 69 to 70 cms, the distribution of the weight across the length determines the balance point of the bow.

This distribution of weight can create the illusion that a particular bow is lighter or heavier than it actually is, which is why you should consider both the weight and balance point when choosing between bows. In general, the balance point of the bow should follow these guidelines:

  • Violin = 9.5” to 9.75”
  • Viola = 9.5”
  • Cello = 9.0” to 9.25”

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Hold off on taking out a tape measure, though. While luthiers use this to test the craftsmanship of their work, players test it by playing the bow and feeling where the balance point lies. A bow that is more tip-heavy will have a higher balance point while more weight at the frog will lower the balance point. Bouncing the bow on the string, or spiccato, is a great method for quickly feeling the balance point. A bow that is perfectly balanced is said to feel the same weight across the bow when held at a 45-degree angle.

When shopping for a bow, be aware of weight and balance, but keep your ears and mind open. It is sometimes more of an art than a science.

“The truth is in the playing of the bow,” explains bow maker Eric Swanson. “It’s not so unusual to find a bow that defies all the rules and just works. There is something beautiful and mysterious about an amazing bow that can’t be scientifically quantified, and that’s one of the things I love about bows.”

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