A great way to find the best bow for you and your fiddle is to try out different ones. Many shops around the world (both local and online) let you try out bows for a period of time and only charge you to ship the bow back to them.
Call around your area to see whether any local shops have bows you can try. It’s a good idea to only deal with shops that specialize in violins/fiddles/strings, and not just general music. Any shop that actually creates violins/fiddles is a great shop to try bows from.
Have a price range in mind when calling companies. They’ll ship you a selection based on your budget and what they have available.
After you receive the bows, here’s the trial process:
Put a small sticky note or a colored sticker on the end of each bow to keep track of which company it came from.
Eventually, you’ll need to ship the ones you don’t want back.
Make sure there is rosin on each of the bows.
Play each bow for at least 30 seconds on the G and D strings.
You’ll be amazed how each bow changes the tone of the fiddle! If you don’t know how to play yet, have a teacher or friend who plays fiddle or violin do this for you.
Note one or two bows that you feel are best and one or two that you feel aren’t as good.
Repeat Steps 1 through 4 for the A and E strings.
If you find a trend where one bow doesn’t sound as good, eliminate it from the bunch.
Continue this process over the next few days until you’re down to two or three bows.
Spend time testing these “finalists” for the next couple of days/weeks.
Consider price in your decision and call the companies to find out more about the bows before you make a final decision.
Here are some additional points to consider when trying out a bow:
How does it feel in your hand? Do you find it easy to do certain techniques? Do you prefer a lighter or heavier bow?
Does the bow feel easy to balance at the frog? At the tip?
What kind of sound does it bring out of your fiddle?
Is there anything on this bow that makes it look different from the others? If so, you should ask the company about it.
What do your teacher or friends who play fiddle think of this bow?
Don’t feel rushed through this process. Sometimes you’ll have different opinions on different days. Always write down your observations and then note them for making future decisions.
Because every fiddle player has a different technique, you shouldn’t rely on someone else’s opinion as much as your own. It’s good to hear how another fiddle sounds with a bow you really like, but don’t let other players totally change your opinion. This is ultimately the bow you’re going to be playing with for a while, so it has to be comfortable for you!
If you’re more of a beginner player and are interested in a bow upgrade, you may not be able to tell a drastic difference in bow quality. In this case, try to find an advanced player and see what he thinks of the bow’s quality. Have the person demonstrate various passages and give his feedback to help you in making a decision.