Bow (string instrument)

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Cello bow
Various bows by viola , double bass (German bow form), gadulka and kemenche

The sheet is in string instruments coupled to horse-hair -covered hardwood stick which the strings , and consequently also the carcass offset of the instrument vibration, and thus brought to the blades.


Gold-mounted violin bow ("gold bow") from the Ouchard workshop in Mirecourt
Cello bow with:
1 leg (twist grip)
2 thumb leather
3 wire wrapping
4 bow rod
5 horse hair covering
6 ferrule ("ring")
7 frog
8 eye (ornament made of mother-of-pearl)
Tip of a violin bow
Frog of a violin bow. Above it the back end of the bow stick with the signature of the bow maker. The frog path between the frog and the pole can be seen as a silver line. Right above the leg. Below left is the metal ring from which the bow hairs emerge.

The essential components of a modern bow bow are the wooden bow pole, the horse hair covering, the so-called frog and a tensioning device built into the pole. There are various metal fittings in the area of ​​the frog. Depending on the material of these fittings, one speaks of a nickel silver, silver or gold bow.


The horsehair fabric of the bow stick is also reference called and clamped in the frog and in the arc top. It usually comes from a mold . Horse hair has a scaly structure that simplifies the transfer of power from the bow to the strings. The hair is usually pre-sorted by hand and defective hair is sorted out before the cover is made.

There are synthetic alternatives to horsehair. These hairs lack the natural hair structure, which is why more rosin is needed. The machine production can avoid faulty hair.


The rod can be round or octagonal. Suitable woods are Brazil wood , Brosimum guianense or related species. The latter was mainly used for baroque arches.

The tip of the bow is an inseparable part of the pole, directly attached and not attached. It is hollow and takes the front, knotted end of the covering. For aesthetic reasons, the lower surface of the tip is often decorated with a thin layer of ebony and ivory - the platelet .

At the other end of the rod, above the frog, a maker's signature can often be found on master bows, which is stamped on both sides of the rod. Immediately in front of the frog, a leather wrapping is often attached to the rod, the thumb leather , and then a fine wire wrapping that shifts the center of gravity of the bow a little backwards.


The frog holds the covering at the bottom and carries the rear end of the bow pole with the clamping device on the upper side. He also helps the musician hold the bow. It is traditionally made of ebony, but numerous other, equally valuable materials are in use, such as ivory or horn . The name of the frog comes from its appearance, which is reminiscent of a sitting frog. Another interpretation of the name refers to the frequent jumping away of the frog on old bows that have no modern tensioning device.

The rear fastening of the cover is embedded in the lower area of ​​the frog. The horsehair is held and spread at this point by a so-called ring made of nickel silver , silver or gold . The ring is arched at the top and flat at the bottom. It is made from appropriately shaped parts - ring bracket and ring plate - soldered together and sits precisely on the so-called tongue of the frog.

Often in the middle of the frog there is a round mother-of-pearl ornament on both sides , the eye. A simple eye consists of a disc made of mother-of-pearl, which is usually around 6 to 7 millimeters in diameter (see picture on the right). In the case of a Parisian eye , the mother-of-pearl disk is also surrounded by a narrow metal ring (see picture "Gold-mounted violin bow" above).

On the bottom of the hollow frog is covered by a removable plate, the thrust , even slide called. The thrust is often made of mother-of-pearl, but it can also consist of nickel silver, silver or gold.

Clamping device

On top of the frog which is Frog railroad screwed, a recessed metal sheet of the same material as the ring. When the bow is stretched, the rear part of the bow rod slides in this path, which is hollow at this end up to about the middle of the frog. There is a screw in the cavity. The threaded rod of the screw is surrounded by a ring nut, the frog nut, which is screwed into the frog in the middle of the frog's track. A turning handle, the so-called leg, is placed on the screw of the clamping device at the rear. The leg is usually made of the same material as the frog and, with good bows, is often decorated with embedded metal rings and a mother-of-pearl eye on the end surface.

The pin, screw and frog nut together form the clamping device. When turning the leg, the frog is pushed further backwards or forwards (towards the tip of the bow). Depending on this, the hair of the covering is stretched more tightly or relaxed.


Cello bow
Violin bow
  • whole length with screw: 75 cm
  • Length of the pole: 73.5 cm
  • Game length: 65 cm
  • Rod diameter (thickness), decreasing from 8.5 mm (frog) to approx. 5 mm (tip, head)
  • Width of the cover: 8–9 mm
  • Weight: 55-64 g, usually around 58-62 g
Viola bow
  • same length as violin bow
  • Thickness: 9 mm to 5.5 mm
  • Weight: 58-75 g, usually about 70 g
Violoncello bow
  • whole length: 70 cm
  • Play length 61 cm
  • Thickness: 10.5 mm to 7 mm
  • Cover width: 11–12 mm
  • Weight: 70-85 g, usually about 80 g
Double bass bow
French form (above) and German form (below) of the frog for the double bass bow
  • German or Dresden form:
    • Bar thickness: 12 to 8 mm
    • Total length: 68.5 cm
    • Bar length: 61 cm
    • Game length: 53 cm
    • Width of the cover: 1.8 cm
    • Height of the frog: 5.5 cm
    • Height of the head: 3.5 cm
    • Weight: 118-130 g, usually about 125 g
  • French form:
    • Bar thickness: 12 to 8 mm
    • Total length: 70 cm
    • Bar length: 61.5 cm
    • Game length: 53 cm
    • Width of the cover: 1.7 cm
    • Height of the head: 4 cm
    • Height of the frog: 4 cm


The tension of the cover on the first string bows was created with the middle finger on the violin and the thumb on the violin . These arches were round (arched upwards).

Initially, all bows had a plug-in frog. The tension of the bow could only be roughly adjusted, namely by changing frogs of different heights and adjusting the hair length. In the middle of the 17th century, the arches were also provided with a rack to regulate the tension. Since the middle of the 18th century, the rod was drilled at the end and the frog was tightened with a screw, the leg. This made it possible to fine-tune the bow tension, which enables the musician to find an optimal compromise between jumping ability and a calm position of the bow.

Early baroque bows for the violin weighed around 40 to 50 grams and were around 50–65 cm long. They were made from a wide variety of woods, such as yew wood , especially high-quality wood from hard snakewood and ironwood . From around 1700 the bows became increasingly longer in order to be able to better execute long notes. In addition, the larger concert halls required a more powerful tone, which is why the bow bars were made with a larger diameter, which made them heavier and therefore more sluggish, but above all stronger and more resilient.

Around 1800, the trained watchmaker François Tourte developed the forerunner of the “modern” bow. He found that pernambuco wood (also known as "pernambuco wood") achieved maximum rod stiffness with a weight that was still acceptable. With this heavy wood, the bow was initially very top-heavy, but thanks to the sharp tapering towards the head and the use of heavy metal parts on the handle side, it achieved a good balance again. With the construction of the frog ring it became possible to stabilize the cover as a wide band, which in turn enables a stronger tone. From this time on, the bars were mainly bent to reduce the risk of breakage. Modern violin bows weigh approx. 61 g with a total length of approx. 73 cm.

In 1962, Leon and Ray Glasser invented and patented the bow made of glass fiber reinforced plastic in New York . In 1989 Claudio Righetti received the first patent for an arch made of plastic reinforced with carbon fibers. Arches made of composite materials (glass, aramid (Kevlar) or carbon fiber , e.g. in epoxy resin or polyester ) reach a level like simple wooden arches. They are mainly used in music schools because of their mostly lower prices. Worldwide they are rarely used at leading universities such as Vienna, New York or Berlin, as well as by professional orchestras, soloists or chamber musicians compared to conventional poles, as they have so far neither the tonal variety nor the technical finesse of a master bow maker traditionally made wooden bow.


Sound generation

Bow hold (violin)
Bow position ( violoncello )

When the horsehair of the bow is stroked back and forth on the strings , the stick-slip effect creates a vibration and thus the sound . Before playing, the horsehair is rubbed with rosin in order to increase the frictional resistance between the strings and the bow covering.

The direction of the bow, in which you move the bow on the string from the frog to the tip, is called the downstroke , the reverse is called the upstroke . With the instruments of the violin family, strong beats are preferred with the downstroke, weak beats with the upstroke.

Sometimes the wood of the bow stick is hit on the strings to create the sound. This rare way of playing is called col legno . Otherwise, a string instrument can also be used like a plucked instrument by plucking the strings with your finger ( pizzicato ) . So the bow is not absolutely necessary to produce the sound.

Bow hold

Violin, viola and cello bows are held by the thumb on the frog, while the index finger and little finger balance the bow ; Middle and ring fingers lie loosely. With the Suzuki method , a special beginner's bow position is also often taught, in which the thumb is not on the frog but on the hairline.

There are different bows for the double bass. The French bow is constructed like a cello bow and is held the same way. Such arches are z. B. used in France, Italy, England and partly in the USA. In the German-speaking countries, however, the German bow is used almost exclusively . Such bows have a comparatively tall frog, the outer edge of which is held in the palm of the hand while the thumb lies over the bow stick. The index finger provides additional support on the bar. The little finger balances on the frog. In principle, the German bow posture enables greater sustained power transmission, while the French posture is more agile.

Well-known bow makers

The templates for the modern bows were provided by the Englishman John Dodd (1752–1839), who was the first to split the wood so that it no longer broke, and the German Christian Wilhelm Knopf (1767–1837), who ran the frog track made of metal, and the French bow maker François Tourte (1747–1835), who, under the influence of violinists Viotti , Kreutzer and Paganini, gave the bow its current shape and was the first to use pernambuco wood. The French violin maker Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume did not build bows himself, but invented a number of innovations such as the round so-called “Vuillaume rail” or bows made of alternative material (metal). Many of the important French bow makers at the end of the 19th century such as members of the Lamy family, Dominique Peccatte, François-Nicolas Voirin, but also Hermann Richard Pfretzschner worked in his workshop for at least a while. Eugène Sartory achieved further improvements at the beginning of the 20th century .


  • The well-known violinist Giovanni Battista Viotti coined the motto "Le violon, c'est l'archet" ("The violin, that is the bow"), with which the outstanding importance of the bow is expressed.
  • The round arch has an outwardly curved (convex) arch rod.
  • The Korean vaulted board zither Ajaeng is played with a hairless bow made of forsythia wood rubbed with resin .


  • Friedrich Wunderlich: The violin bow: a font for the expert and all violinists. Schuberth, 1952, OCLC 15346837 .
  • Joachim Brandl: Sticks and their macroscopic determination. Master's thesis, University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, 2012
  • Various: A History of the Violin Bow. Read Books Ltd, 2016, ISBN 978-1-4733-5890-4 .

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