Rohan de Korte broke his bow. It’s an occupational hazard, and to be fair, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra cellist isn’t too cut up about it; it’s a chance to upgrade to a slick new one.

But for a professional string musician, buying a bow is not as simple as ordering one from bows.com. Like the rest of their (literally) finely tuned instruments, bows need to be extremely well made and specifically tailored to suit the particular musician. “It needs to be strong wood, and it needs to be flexible,” explains de Korte, bending his half-broken bow backward. “So you need a certain amount of variation but not too much more. It can’t flex sideways. It has to flex up and down only.”

Luckily, the MSO is just about to embark on a whirlwind tour of London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Ulrichshusen and Copenhagen – giving de Korte the perfect opportunity for a quick stopover in the world capital of bow-buying, Paris. “There’s this street in Paris called Rue de Rome and it has about 40 violin shops on it and there are some famous makers,” says de Korte, dreamily. “When I lived in Cologne I used to go on the morning train to Paris to get a re-hair. It was my little indulgence.”

While some musicians use modern instruments, many professionals prefer antiques. De Korte’s neat, weathered little cello, for instance, was made in the early 1800s. Though little is known about its history, the only thing that’s certain is that his cello has survived countless wars and passed through the hands of many musicians. “It’s German, probably from close to where Bach was at the time he wrote his six cello suites, so that’s when it was made,” says de Korte. “Maybe Bach had it in his hands and thought, ‘I’d write for this instrument’.”

To match such a storied instrument, a bow is often equally antique. The very best bows are made from the wood of caesalpinia echinata, otherwise known as brazilwood or pernambuco. Inconveniently, pernambuco has been harvested to near-extinction, so bows made from it are extremely valuable. De Korte fully expects to break the $20,000 mark buying his new bow. “That’s a lot of money and that’s not the most expensive one, I’m sure,” he says. “Instead of buying a new car this year, I’ll buy a stick with horsehair.”

To be fair, de Korte’s new bow will be the Ferrari of sticks-with-horse-hair. “French bows are a bit like driving a sports car,” he admits. “You know once you get the feel of it you sort of can’t go back to a sedan or a family wagon.”

The difference between a bow and a bit of wood, explains de Korte, is its resonance, strength and flexibility. For the bow to work well, it needs to withstand some serious pressure, while being sensitive enough to pass vibrations to the tips of a musician’s fingers. If a bow’s too strong, you can’t feel anything; too soft and it’ll bend. “The cello’s the voice, but the bow is how you use it to speak,” says de Korte. “So everything that you can do with the cello comes from the bow and they have to match each other. You can get a perfect bow for an otherwise great cello, but somehow they won't sound right together.”

To find that match, de Korte plans to spend three full days wandering Rue de Rome, trying out bows. “I’ll take the cello with me and just play them. You can try and quickly find out which one feels the best because it’s kind of how I feel playing it,” he says. “ I’m hoping there will be one with my name written all over it.”

And, once he finds the right one, de Korte will be flying direct to London to play the Proms under chief conductor Sir Andrew Davis – followed by the Edinburgh Festival, the Concergebuow and the Tivoli Gardens. “ Hopefully I’ll have it sitting in my hot hands for the London Proms,” beams de Korte. “I know, I’m a little bit excited about it all.”

This article is presented by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra