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Guitar Tips: Playing Guitar With A Violin Bow

Published: Tue May 26, 2009  News Feed

It's not as easy as it may look...but if you love what bands such as Led Zeppelin, The Creation and Sigur Ros have done in the past, the violin (or cello) bow can be a great trick to add to your repertoire!

Led Zeppelin, The Creation, Sigur Ros

Playing with the bow: Led Zeppelin, The Creation and Sigur Ros

Sure...an eBow is a really cool effect that we recommend to any guitarist interested in further sonic explorations of his instrument...but using a violin bow can produce different sounds, and be much more challenging...besides, playing an actual violin bow looks really cool onstage, too!

Basically, there's no "correct" way to do it as a violin bow is not meant for guitar anyway, but here's a few tips we collected, that may help you to achieve some good results:

You'll need three things: One- An electric guitar (they sound better bowed compared to acoustic.) Two- A bow (Note: You will need rosin.) Three: an amp with more than one distortion setting (recommended reverb/delay more than any other.)

Once you have all you need to adjust your shoulder strap so that the guitar comes down below your stomach. (Adjust the strap all the way lose.) You want to hold the bow the same way you hold it as if you were playing violin. One exception- you may want to extend your finger across the bow. It makes it easier when you’re playing. Don’t let any pedantic killjoy tell you you’re holding the bow wrong- you’re not. This is completely different from playing a violin.

Set your amp to a regular tone (no freaky metal stuff yet)  and set just a little bit of distortion, with added reverb/delay for best results.) Slide the bow across the strings (You’re sliding where you’d normally pick.) It may take several times for you to get a vibration. Okay around with the amount of pressure you place on the bow. It may also take you a while to find a comfortable position. You want to avoid hurting your wrist at all costs (though playing with a flat neck will hurt your wrist anyway.) There are some special guitars that have a curved neck. This allows you to play the strings more accurately.

It’s hard to play chords with a bow- but you can still try. You could make an entire 4-minute song based off of G and A with a bow. It’s also hard to hit higher notes (above fret 12.) without it sounding scratchy. I recommend watching this for technique inspiration:

You can notice the player’s body position. (Note how the back is slightly arched and one knee is up.) It may take you a while to figure out how you want to play.

Vibrato: Yes, you can do it. It’s difficult, but it can be done. You can even bend the strings; as well as hammer-on’s pull-off’s. (Play around with other guitar techniques as well. You may end up with a cool new sound!Refer to the link above for vibrato and string bending inspiration!)

Usually, it’s easier to do power chords. But there's no list of what works with a bow and what does not. You’re gonna have to figure that out by yourself. Also refer to this other video for inspiration:

Important points

Cleaning: A rag! Get a cloth rag (preferably cotton) and wipe your strings. You need to do this after every time you play with the bow. Guitar strings weren’t made to have rosin on them- and I’m sure if you want to play Metallica later on, you don’t want sticky strings. So wipe them down with a dry cotton rag.

Rosin: All you need to do is apply it to the bow. You don’t need to place it in water or chip pieces of it off. Just slide it across the hair of the bow. (About 14 slides will do for guitar.) You’ll need a lot of rosin to make the strings vibrate. (Amount of rosin may need to increase depending on the type of your strings.)

Bow: Try tightening it to the highest it can go without ripping the hair. You don’t want it too lose, and you don’t want it too tight- so somewhere in the middle there- have it firm, that's all.

Effects: All effects need to be tweaked from scratch based on the bow squeaky sounds. in other words your normal distortion settings won't be good when you replace the guitar pick for a violin bow.  Best results as a matter of fact may be by using the bow and only one pedal (a BOSS DD3 digital delay or a RE-20 Space Echo for instance).

Strings: Because the Bow basically rubs on the strings to produce a noise, older the strings the better, as older strings loose their smooth texture by the pickups due to the constant picking and strumming. Also using a cleaning solution for the strings before playing with the bow will help you A LOT.

Palm Muting: it will be hard to do while playing with a bow, but you could (only to try) use a little masking tape by the bridge to simulate the muting technique, it’s worth a try!

Playing: Yes- you may want to play like Jimmy Page. That’s cool. But he wasn't the first nor the last to use a violin bow, so besides Jimmy Page, you may want to check 60's freakbeat combo The Creation (Eddie Phillips was the first guitarist to use a violin bow) and Sigur Ros.

Violin Bow

Dolphin Music offers some affordable violin and cello bows, so if you're a guitarist looking to expand your horizons, why don't you try one?

Stentor Bow Round, Half Ebony Frog 4/4 (only £13.21!)

Stentor Bow Round, Half Ebony Frog 3/4 (only £13.21!)

Stentor Bow 4/4

Stentor Bow 3/4

Led Zeppelin, Dazed And Confused

The Creation, Making Time

Sigur Rós,  Svefn g englar

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