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Why do viola bows tend to have curved frogs?

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#41 gowan



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Posted 06 November 2013 - 05:01 PM

I always though this was just to tell them apart, as others have said.  Failing that how do you? What makes you pick up an unknown bow and say "this is a viola bow" or "this is a violin bow"? A viola bow will *tend* to be a bit heavier, a bit longer or have a different balance point - but not always in any of those respects. In most cases the maker intended the bow for one use or the other, but once it leaves them how do you know? Do you just pick up an old bow and infer that, regardless of the maker's intent, this works better as a viola bow and I will label it as that - henceforth this will be known as a viola bow.


The fact is you can't always tell whether a random bow with which you aren't familiar is a viola bow or a violin bow.  Heavy violin bows can weigh the same as light viola bows.  And to muddy the waters, some violists sometimes use violin bows to play the viola and some violinists sometimes use viola bows to play the violin.  I can tell my viola bow with a squared heel on the frog from my violin bows with squared heel frogs because I recognize the pearl eyes and because my viola bow has a narrow strip of leather at the end of the wrapping and my violin bows don't.  The sticks look different too.  And, as Martin has pointed out and so have I, there are plenty of violin bows with rounded frogs.


P.S.  Viola bows are generally about the same length as violin bows so no help there.

#42 martin swan

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Posted 06 November 2013 - 05:14 PM

Yes, I have about 40 violin bows with square frogs, no trouble telling them apart ...!

I have a Michael Taylor violin bow with a square frog, 65 grams, and a Michael Taylor viola bow with a square frog, 65 grams. The frog and head dimensions are different, but the sticks are very similar.

#43 Omobono



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Posted 06 November 2013 - 05:24 PM

Don't you often read that viola bows are generally marginally shorter than fiddle sticks?

(Is the idea that it's harder to control a heavier stick around a bulkier instrument?)


I just lined up four of each for myself and find there is no violin bow longer than any of the viola bows. In fact all the viola bows are a touch longer with one considerably so. (exceptions prove the rule?)


The size of head and frog is the difference and the wider band of hair obvious at the heel.


(We wouldn't have any problem picking a violin and viola bridge blank would we? Or rarely....)

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#44 Blank face

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Posted 06 November 2013 - 05:55 PM

No Problem, last two are of an earlier English bow circa 1720-1750.

Thanks once more for posting this historic bows!


But here comes the question: How can we decide, if those are viola or violin bows?

I bet, most of them have a weight and a hair band, which are more in the dimensions of modern violin bows, because in baroque and classical times both was minor as today.

It can be only a speculation about the practice of a player, if he or she might prefer a bow with a particular head or frog shape, width of the hair band, weight, length or whatever for playing a violin or a viola.

And I found it always a big difference, to play a 38 cm or a 42 cm viola, I would choose very different bows.


As a generalisation, a bow of 70 gr with a broad head is surely meant for a viola, another with 58 gr and a delicate head for a violin, but there is a wide range between them.

#45 garyr


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Posted 06 November 2013 - 06:38 PM

Viola bows are generally defined by their head and frog dimensions - weight isn't much of a guide.

How do you tell apart a violin bow with a curved frog and a viola bow with a square frog?


I wouldn't be able to. That's why I ask. Head and frogs both usually thicker? More of a dumbbell weight distribution? I know on the 15" viola in the house it seems like I should tie some fishing weights to the head to help get the C string to start moving. I've tried a 1/2 size bass bow on it and it works surprisingly well. Not so good on the A string though.

#46 martin swan

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Posted 06 November 2013 - 08:09 PM

Interestingly I've found that weight isn't that relevant to the ability of a viola bow to get the C string working ....

Dimension-wise it's more to do with height, though I would also expect a viola bow head and frog to be marginally thicker. There's generally a bit more tension in a viola bow, so everything benefits from being slightly sturdier, I suppose. The force applied to a viola bow is greater, so the hair needs to start a bit further away from the stick!

#47 Stephen Faulk

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Posted 06 November 2013 - 11:20 PM

No Problem, last two are of an earlier English bow circa 1720-1750.

Much appreciated. 

#48 Stephen Faulk

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Posted 06 November 2013 - 11:25 PM

Violists are basically subversive types and always trying to confuse everyone by being into the middle of everything. It figures they would try  to use violin bows!


Anyway, interesting topic. And that Tourte (attributed) ivory frog with the large shell star is fantastic. I've seen that before and forgot about it, so it was a nice thing to see. 

#49 GailNelson


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Posted 26 November 2013 - 04:55 PM

You know it - we're just out to cause dissension in the ranks. We do like to be in the middle of everything.  B)

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