How Do I Play a Violin Bow on Guitar?

Most people are familiar with the legendary guitar-bowing of Jimmy Page, in songs including 'Dazed and Confused', 'How Many More Times?' and 'Kashmir'.

Using a bow on a guitar has also been done by avant-rock band 'Sigur Ros', and the 60s psyche band 'The Creation'.

However, it's not something most people decide to to try out for themselves!

Maybe it's because the majority of guitarists simply don't have bows in their possession, maybe it's because of the availability and ease of e-bows, or maybe it's just because they think it will be too tricky! It could even be that they just don't dig the sounds that Mr Page makes with his bow.

Whatever the reason, we're here to provide the truth about using a violin bow across the strings of a guitar. Below are four tips to help you to take your creativity to new levels, using a guitar and a violin bow.

Please note: This trick works significantly better on an electric to on an acoustic, but hey, if you can get it to sound cool on an acoustic then go you!

1) Go on the A string whilst you move across the low E string

Due to the low bridges on guitars, bowing individual strings is not as do-able as it is on a violin, viola, or other traditionally bowed instrument.

However, you can get some really cool droning effects going on with the A string whilst you move across the low E string. Doing this the other way round it tricky, though, because the string pushes in as you fret it and the bow can’t reach it. Experiment, you’ll find your way! I recommend trying some modes out! 

Similarly, getting chords to sound exactly how you want them can take some practise, but OH MY GOD when you do! It's like having your own psychedelic string quartet, controlled by your fingers.

The limitations here are what makes using a bow across the strings feel like you’re playing a whole new instrument. In a good way.

2) There's no 'right way' of using a bow on your guitar

Sorry, those who like to be instructed. You're not going to find a sincere tutor to show you the 'right way' to do this.

It's a creative technique, it's not how guitars or bows are supposed to be used, and therefore you can go wild and have fun.

Don't be afraid! You might discover a new trick that nobody has used before...

3) A little distortion, reverb and delay will create the best results

If you want to please ears, a little reverb and delay will make bowing on a guitar sound a lot more musical than without, and, as with any rock guitar technique, a little distortion will bring out the sustain a bit more than a clean sound would.

As we said earlier, this the most fun and aurally pleasant on an electric guitar.

4) Apply some Rosin to your strings

If you want to get any sound out of your strings, you'll need to apply rosin to the bow. This is what gives the hair of the bow a slightly abrasive surface, enabling it to 'catch' the strings. Read more about the Rosin here.

This will make it sound really cool, but it's important to wipe down your strings after you've played with a bow! If you don't, you'll have sticky strings which are unpleasant and difficult to play when you return to using a pick or your fingers.

So, there you go, playing your guitar with a violin bow! It's worth a try; you'll be entertained if not enthralled by the new sounds you make, and it’s highly likely it’ll help along some new creative ideas.

Why not go get a beginners violin while you're at it, and learn on the side? https://zinginstruments.com/best-violins-for-beginners-review/

Enjoy!

Roz is a music teacher and our go-to person for anything music theory! When she’s not teaching or writing for Zing, Roz writes and plays in alternative/ psyche /art rock band The Roz Bruce Infusion.

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