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The initial part of a violin, viola, or cello bow in modern models is always octogonal, but the rest of the stick can be either of round section or octogonal-faceted.

Is it simply a different external design, a different school of bow-making, or something more?

Are there reasons to select one or the other in term of sound production or control?

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2 Answers 2

A few years ago I asked this exact question to the archetier who made my bow.

According to him, bow weight and flexibility are the things to have in mind when having a bow built. These are the things that make a difference in a bow.

Now about it being round or octagonal, it was a purely aesthetic decision. The bow can be heavier or lighter, jumpy or stiff, and still be either round or octagonal. This question is in the same league as "should my bow have silver ornaments or some cheaper metal?" and "how detailed should the mother-of-pearl engraving be?". Purely aesthetic.

ADDENDUM:

Sure enough, I called my archetier and he confirmed that it's an aesthetic question. There are factors to have in mind that differ when building the bow, but the way it works is all the same. Mind you this answer comes from a guy who makes bows for a living, whose father made bows for a living before him and etc. Plus half the orchestra I work at uses his bows, so I guess it's a pretty reliable source.

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I hear you but I doubt that the choice between round and octagonal is purely esthetic, and in any case it cannot be put on the same level than decorative elements. It may not affect the sound (I want to know more and I have not seen hard evidence in one way or the other) but it certainly affects the build process and the tools used and, as it affects the shape of the stick, it cannot be easily dismissed as aesthetic without more references. Do you now a bowmake that would be willing to answer us here ? –  ogerard May 13 '11 at 20:34
    
It was my bowmaker the one who told me what I said. Here's to settle it: I'll call him on Monday and ask again. It won't be the definitive answer but atleast it'll be the answer of someone who makes bows for a living. –  Allan K. May 13 '11 at 23:13
    
+1 Straight from the horse's mouth, as it were. –  Rein Henrichs May 17 '11 at 23:42
    
+1 Thanks for checking and reporting. I appreciate it. –  ogerard May 18 '11 at 7:00

I am not positive about this, but I think cutting the bow as an octagonal might make the bow a little bit stiffer. So bow makers might do it if they feel that particular cut of wood could benefit from a little more stiffness. However, as I said, I am not sure about this.

As far as which to select, I think there is no reason to chose one or the other. The reason for this is that a bow "is what it is."

Although you might have a preference for the weight of a bow, they really need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In fact, even with weight what you think is light is often more about balance.

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If an octagonal cross section was stiffer than a round one, then airliners and tanker trucks would be octagonal too. –  Camille Goudeseune Dec 17 '13 at 16:41

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