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Everything posted by MikeCanada

  1. I guess the "why?" would likely be that on many instruments, it is the bottom string that can use all the help it can get. Particularly on violas and basses, where in a perfect world the desirable string length for the bottom string would be longer than many musicians find comfortable to play. There are exceptions to the rule, but a lot of smaller violas have a relatively good sound on the upper strings, but the C just doesn't cut it compared to the larger instruments. Basses can be similar, where the upper strings sound ok and the upper register can actually be quite nice on smaller instruments, but you lose a lot of bottom on smaller instruments. Basses have a tendency to be smaller and have shorter string lengths than some of the instruments used historically as well, with a standard (nothing is really standardized on basses, but there are some pretty common trends) string length of 41.5-42" being quite common now, when some of the older instruments used to have string lengths in excess of 44-46". Many of those instruments have had their string length shortened and often the outline has been modified as well, but they used to be the bass equivalent of having an 18" viola. While still quite rare, that is one of the main advantages sighted by the proponents of the vertical viola, that you can create an instrument with a string length as long as it "should" be, and players can still get around it. More often than not it is the bottom two strings that are having their pegs reversed. From what I have experienced on the relatively small sample size of instruments I have encountered with this configuration, the bottom string can improve sometimes quite dramatically, where the other string typically doesn't change all that noticeably. It could also be that on instruments where the bottom string improves, the player is so happy with that result that they aren't really paying attention to what happens to the other string. There are likely instruments out there that do not experience a positive change and even have a negative one as a result, but the solution to that is take a few minutes to put it back the way it was and forget about it. While it is not a silver bullet for every instrument, it is completely reversible, involves very little commitment, and is free other than your time, so I don't really see the harm in trying it.
  2. The strings on the instrument likely should have been replaced back when it was seeing regular use. I don't remember how old they are or when they were last replaced, but they sound like they are long over due for a change. While it hasn't been played any longer than maybe half an hour on a rare occasion since then, I have made sure to keep it in a humidified environment with the rest of my instruments, it has been kept at pitch for most of that time, the bridge is straight, and the soundpost is still standing in what appears to be a good location. The pegs could potentially use some work, but I have felt worse on a recently set up instrument.
  3. I have a violin that has not been played for a significant amount of time in the last 5-ish years. It sounds like it needs to open up a bit as a result, and my violin technique could also use a significant amount of refreshing as well. It was made in 1991 by a maker who is still alive and while it might benefit from some adjustments, it has remained in a humidified environment, does not have any open seams or other immediately apparent concerns and I would like to play it for a while before doing so. I am currently overhauling my violin bows, which will all benefit from significantly more than just a rehair. The strings on the instrument (Dominants with a Pirastro Gold E) need to be replaced, and I have a "new" set in the string tube in the case from at least 6 years ago, possibly longer. Do those strings, particularly the synthetic Dominants have a shelf life I should be worried about? Will I be further ahead buying new strings, or am I over thinking this? Is there anything else I should be looking for/concerned about with an instrument that looks healthy but hasn't been played for that period of time?
  4. You didn't mention checking for open seams, and they are pretty good at creating a buzz. Quite often it is the top or the back that has opened up from the ribs, but any glue joint could open up and cause a buzz. Work your way around the instrument lightly pressing at regular intervals around all of the glue joints looking for movement. Often the ones that buzz really well are the ones that are very close together that you can't see very easily. If you do find a spot that you suspect is the problem, have someone put some pressure on it to hold it closed while you play and see if the buzz has disappeared. This could also be a previously repaired crack that has reopened as well. It could also be up in the peg box. If you have too much string poking out the hole in the peg, it can rattle against the back/sides of the peg box. It's also pretty common for the string on the peg closest to the scroll to come in contact with the second peg from the nut. Usually this is the D string touching the A peg but some makers are reversing the peg orientation. In a lot of cases it is firmly touching the peg and not going to rattle, but sometimes it might. Depends on the geometry of your peg box. If you have a fine tuner(s), they can buzz/rattle as well, especially if you have it loosened all the way. If that doesn't locate it, then it's worth a trip to the shop/luthier as they find and fix these things pretty regularly, and depending on what the problem is you might need their help anyway.
  5. There are some cellists out there that use that system. The C and G switch pegs so the G is on the closest peg to the nut and the C is on the second last peg, while the other two on the opposite side remain the same as they were. I have heard it referred to as "Chicago tuning" because that is what they use in their orchestra, but I might have the wrong city. On double basses with an extension, the same change is made. The lowest E/C (B depending on the extension) string is moved to the higher peg on the bass side, where the A string (on a bass in 4ths, the second lowest string) goes to the peg closest to the nut. That way the string does not have to travel all the way back down the peg box to the "correct" tuner after going up over the extension. On the majority of older extension models and a few newer ones by certain makers, the scroll would have a hole drilled through it so the string would pass over the extension and down to the A string peg. On a lot of the newer models, a pulley system is used so the scroll does not have to be drilled and instead the string goes back through the body of the extension and down to the A string peg at almost a right angle to the extension. The benefit is no hole through the scroll, and a lot of extension makers are using that downward pull to hold the extension in place with the only other modification to the instrument being a new nut and a pin/screw into the neck under the extension at the E string. It has significantly less permanent impact on the instrument and can be entirely removed and restored to original with the exception of the pin/screw hole under the nut, instead of a hole through the scroll, or a significant portion of it cut away as was done in the past. A lot of bassists that have an extension added (with the exception of poor workmanship) express that both the A string (that hasn't changed at all other than peg placement) and the E string when the extension is closed improve in clarity and tone. How much of that is attributed to which peg which string goes to instead of the additional mass of the extension and things like setup adjustments and new strings that often accompany that trip to the shop, that's open to speculation. There are a few bass makers and luthiers that suggest making the switch even without adding the extension. The consensus is that on some instruments it opens up the E string a bit more, and the A string feels tighter, which lets players dig into it a little more. I can't explain the science/math behind it, but I'm not convinced it should exist on all instruments. It would in theory work on every instrument it if created the same effect on every instrument, but that is not the case. Every pegbox is slightly different, some pegs are thicker/thinner than others, some fingerboards and nuts are thicker/thinner than others, the string diameter itself varies from string to string, all of which will effect the angles created, and that is just in the pegbox. Changing the feel or resonance of the bottom strings may or may not be desirable given the sound and feel of the rest of the instrument. If it is a great instrument, then is it going to become even more great? If it is a terrible instrument, is this change really going to save it? Considering it is one of the few adjustments a player can make on their own without a trip to the shop and if you don't like it you can change it back a day/week/month later, it doesn't seem like you've got a lot to lose trying it, but it isn't a miracle cure for every instrument.
  6. Music festivals are fantastic. If it is a performance heavy festival where the festival brings in players and there are multiple concerts a day for the duration of the festival the performers will have a busy schedule, but they will also have some downtime. If it is an educational festival where they have a bunch of students coming to study with them for a week, two, a month, etc. again, there is busy time and there is less so. Getting in contact with the performers/faculty ahead of time is a good idea, but if you explain who you are and that you would like to approach some of the musicians while being respectful of their schedules, you can likely get a festival schedule/itinerary from the board/organizing committee, director, etc. If it is a festival that is local to you or one you are particularly interested in, you might want to consider volunteering or becoming involved in some capacity, as it gives the festival a chance to get to know you. Quite often there are performers/faculty who return to the same festivals, so it gives you an opportunity to get some face time with them as well. We have a local chamber music festival that has a luthiers' showcase component. Luthiers are invited to show their work in one of the large rehearsal spaces for a few hours during the afternoon. The luthiers are encouraged to bring finished instruments, but also some tools and work in progress to give both the professional musicians and festival goers (that are often amateur players) a chance to see some of the "behind the scenes" work that is involved, get to know the makers, ask questions, and try some of their work. There have been different formats over the years. A few times a piece or entire concert has been played on these instruments, and other years they have had a less formal session where the professionals will play a movement of Bach or some other short work to the people who came to the showcase and offer feedback on the instruments. Often the performers will come in before or after the session is open to the public to have a closer look when things are less chaotic. A few of the performers themselves have purchased instruments from the luthiers present either at the showcase or because of it, and some of the festival goers have as well. It might be a little late for this summer, but it's worth a shot suggesting it festival organizers. It doesn't cost them anything besides opening the space, (which they typically have rented for the entire festival anyway) setting out a few tables and chairs, and getting a few volunteers to show up to make sure nothing walks out the door. It has been really popular with the public at the festival we have, it sold a few instruments, got luthiers' names and faces out in some daylight, and adds something a little bit different from the typical masterclass, pre-concert talk, concert, reception, rinse and repeat tomorrow that happens at a number of festivals.
  7. It is one of the metrics that is used as a selling point for wood. Some people abide by it religiously and will only work with wood that is above a certain number or within a certain range, others pretty much ignore it. The thinking is typically that a higher number is better, but apparently Lucchi himself wasn't entirely convinced how that translated into a finished product. There are some great bows out there that don't "score" particularly well by some of the old makers, but there are a lot of bows and instruments from back then that didn't necessarily use the calibre of wood we have available today. We can get our hands on amazing stuff from all over the world now, but the distribution networks pre-internet let alone pre-electricity were much smaller. Knots and imperfections in the wood can also influence what you get for a reading. As far as selecting good bow wood goes, there is some good information in the "What's a good bow?" thread that's buried about 3 pages deep right now. If you have a chance to examine it in person to look for flaws and things you want to avoid that tends to be preferable, but you could request some high quality photographs of the specific pieces you are considering, which the seller may or may not provide. You also want to be absolutely positive that both the seller and you as a buyer have the right paperwork to export/import Pernambuco. It is a CITES Appendix II listing, which means that raw materials (bow blanks) cannot be sold across international boarders without proper documentation. While every wood seller in Brazil "has papers", you don't want to be caught up in buying controlled materials if something is a little fishy. At the very least, contact the appropriate agency/department in your own country (border control/customs/etc.) to see what they require.
  8. Here are some thoughts from a slightly different perspective: someone who a decade ago would have considered attending this program. Violin/bow making is not an easy field to get into. At the time I was looking to do so, I had no idea where to even start. The general consensus was that you go study/apprentice with a violin/bow maker for years, and eventually you come out the other side a maker. I started asking makers about studying with them. Some of those people where people I had known for a few years in various ways, some I had just had a brief conversation or email exchange with, by then end I was just cold calling anyone I could find contact information for. By the time I hit about 30 makers from one side of the country to the other, I was getting pretty discouraged. Some didn't have enough space in their shop for another body, some didn't feel comfortable/interested in teaching, some did not want to take on a beginner, some strongly discouraged me from entering the profession, but the answer from all of them was a resounding "No." A few of them mentioned violin making schools. The only one that I could find in Canada at the time was a guitar making school in Quebec where making a violin was an option, which didn't seem like a good idea. My french to this day still needs some work. The other options were the American schools but cost and time were both factors as I had just finished an undergraduate, and taking on a mountain of debt to move to a different country to study something that I didn't even know if I would enjoy or become any good at was a leap of faith I wasn't prepared to take. Summer/shorter programs were also mentioned, but many of them with caveats such as "I don't know if that one is still going" or "I'm pretty sure they stopped doing it a few years ago" and turned up a lot of dead ends. Eventually the VSA program at Oberlin was something I came across. While it is much better today, the website I encountered at the time wasn't very helpful/informative. I asked a few of the makers that had told me no about Oberlin, and the take away I got from those conversations was that it is a program where established makers go to refine their skills and share with colleagues, and that it was not for beginners. The UNH program was also mentioned and had an even less inspiring webpage, but they welcomed beginners. As a quick aside to Nathan, not all summer programs are created equal. I absolutely agree that if you attend a week or a month of summer programs with no previous knowledge, you don't come away a maker, or a luthier who could/should compare themselves to professionals. However, there are plenty of professionals who did get their start that way, and plenty who have been to Oberlin or one or more of the other programs over the years to hone their skills and pick up some valuable information from colleagues they would not otherwise have the opportunity to work down the bench from. Some of the programs are complete wastes of time, some are instructed by people who have no business being instructors, but some of them are extremely valuable to this profession and should not be lumped in with the former. I got my start at UNH studying bow rehair, repair, and making with Lynn Armour Hannings and George Rubino. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to study with both of them, and while I have no business suggesting my work is approaching the level of theirs, they have been instrumental in building the foundation I now have on bow repair and making. I know I have a lot to learn from here, but I also know that there are people out there who have received far less training than I who make far greater claims about their work. There is a good chance that if I was looking for programs to attend now, I would end up at the course this thread is based on. The website is as good or better than some of the others out there for summer programs, the "syllibus" or "syllubus" (depending on which part of the site you look at) details outline the whole program, and going home with a high quality finished instrument is presented as a fact. There is some reference to switching the out what you are working on for a prefab part, but it is downplayed quite well. Yes, build your own Stradivari is boldly claimed, and bookmarked by "Learn the craft of luthier making and create that amazing instrument you will play and cherish forever" and "Your instrument will be comparable to many high end custom violins in the market and you will have created it yourself." To someone with no prior knowledge or experience, the course is sold as one that results in a great violin. It claims that you will not be a professional violin maker at the end of it, but "It is designed to walk you through the process of building a violin and afford you the basic knowledge to continue the art." I read that as "I will be able to go home and make another one, because I have been through the process and have the basic knowledge required to continue on my own." In essence, I can be on my way to starting a career in this field in a fraction of the time one would spend at a violin making school, for a fraction of the cost. While there has been a consensus here that the program offered is essentially "Violin maker's fantasy camp" and the intended audience is retired people, or people with the resources required to take a month away from what they usually do, travel to Maine, and spend roughly $7500 (at minimum) in tuition, room and board, and tools and materials, there are also people out there that would see this as an opportunity to start or switch to a career in violin making. For an initial investment of <$10 000 and a month of time, they went to a program with no previous knowledge, and came home with a professional instrument they largely made on their own. Many modern makers are selling instruments for that amount of money, so essentially the course pays for itself when you go home and sell the instrument. Maybe you took advantage of the prefab parts while at the course, but that was because you only had a month and were going on field trips and concerts, but at home without the distractions you should be able to do one from start to finish in a month or two tops on your own right? I mean, you've already made one so it's going to get faster/easier from there. You bought the $2200 tool package so you don't require any more tools, and the materials for a new instrument can be had for $600-1100, so you invest another $10 000 in materials (because you're going to sell your second violin in a month or two when it's done anyway) and you've got wood to keep you going for the rest of the year, and 9 more instruments to profit from. Doing the math, I've invested $20 000 and by the end of the year if I make 10 (I've already made one in the first month while at the course) and I sell them all for a "conservative" $10 000 a piece because they are professional quality instruments, I made $80 000 in my first year as a violin maker after an initial investment of $20 000. If I went to violin making school, I would still have two more years to go and I would be spending that amount of money instead of making it. Sorry this got wordy. The point I am making is at a time when getting into this business is difficult and comes with a lot of up front cost, this presents itself as a way to get there faster and cheaper than any of the other options. It compares itself to the other violin schools even if the website adds a disclaimer trying to distance itself from it, the Facebook post Jerry shared makes it sound like you're just throwing away money and learning unnecessary busy work if you go for three years. You come out with a professional instrument, and the knowledge necessary to continue. My takeaway from the information presented is that I could fast track my way into a career as a violin maker. I am glad that I made the decisions I have to get me to where I am today on my journey to eventually becoming someone who could use the word professional in front of bow maker, but I admit I could very well have been sucked in by this and gone down a very different path.
  9. I agree if you just put a new set of strings on two days ago and one breaks, replacing the broken string isn't going to result in a huge colour difference. Depending on the type of string, even a few weeks or a month or two isn't going to be a problem. If you are replacing the string with the same type of string, it will be noticeable for a while as it breaks in, but that period might not be all that long. If the string does break relatively quickly like that though there is a chance that either the string was defective, or there is a problem with the setup of the instrument. Typically a rough spot in the nut or bridge grooves, or a sharp edge on a fine tuner for loop end strings is to blame. If it is a problem with the instrument, that problem needs to be addressed to prevent frequently broken strings as a result. If the strings are older, or the replacement string is not the same as what was on there/matches the existing set, the difference is much more dramatic. That tends to happen too often in school instruments when the only time strings are replaced is as they break, and they are replaced with whatever the teacher happens to have in the string drawer not necessarily the appropriate choice for the instrument. Straightening the bridge, or maintaining a straight bridge is absolutely necessary for the health of the bridge and the instrument. The above videos are helpful, and there are a few different ways to get there. Although basses are a bit of a different animal, I really like video "Upton Bass: Complete Double Bass Bridge Care and Maintenance" on YouTube (I don't know if I can link until I meet the post minimums) as Gary addresses some of the guess work involved. Knowing if the feet of your bridge are in the correct location is extremely valuable especially if the bridge has fallen over and you are putting it back yourself, but also knowing the string length of your instrument can help if the bridge is leaning forward or incorrectly positioned. The little stick that bridges the gap between the fingerboard and bridge seems like a great idea that wouldn't be too difficult for other makers to implement either.
  10. The log itself is quartersawn much the same way you would differentiate between quartersawn and slab cut for instrument making. The board is cut from the outside of the tree towards the centre along the radius of the log, and there are plenty of diagrams that will illustrate that which I cannot provide here because of how new my account is. The board is cut parallel to the log/tree such that the grain runs along the length of the board. From that board, blanks are cut along the same plane. If you look at the end of a blank or the tip of a finished bow, you can see that the growth rings of the tree should run relatively parallel to the face plate instead of perpendicular to it. That is what we are referring to when we talk about quartersawn. If you are purchasing wood from a bow maker or a dealer that regularly handles bow wood, it usually is not a concern because they know that is how the wood needs to be cut. If you are purchasing from a hardwood dealer, especially one that does not deal with bow makers on a regular basis, you have to be mindful of grain orientation. There might be some Pernambuco out there like that, but you are far more likely to run into that problem if you are working with "alternative" woods. (The term "alternative" woods bothers me, but that's another rant for another day) Run out is when the grain of the wood does not follow the stick, and "runs out" at an angle. While sometimes it isn't a problem and there are many great bows out there that have run out, it can also open up when you are bending the stick. Sometimes you can hear it happen, stop bending, and save the bow. If it is going to happen it often happens during the initial cambering stage when the bow is slightly oversized, so you can sometimes plane through the lift while still staying above your desired finished dimension. Other times it just goes. You ask a lot of the bow in the first third behind the head, especially in German bass bows, so if you can avoid it and select a different stick a lot of makers do. While run out is often to blame, there are some sticks that just don't want to be bows and you end up breaking a few along the way regardless to how careful you are with your wood selection. Depending on the makers you talk to you might get a number around 1 in 10 that don't make it, but that number is higher/lower for each individual and woodpile. Broken sticks isn't usually a topic bow makers want to dwell on very long so I wouldn't suggest it as a casual conversation starter.
  11. The unhelpful answer is that it is extremely difficult to identify and attribute those bows. Until very recently we had next to no information about regular people and although we hold some of them in high regard now, luthiers and bow makers are not high profile people. Even the most highly regarded living makers tend to keep to themselves and we know very little about them. I could name a few makers who I hold in high regard and/or who have won awards and recognition within the music business, but if you were to ask a brass player let alone a non-musician, I doubt they would be able to name a single bow maker. This is in the age of the internet and when governments tend to keep the basics of at least when you were born and how much tax you owe. By contrast I was looking at some of the information on Hill bows recently, and we don't even have birth and death dates for several of those makers. All of that to say that we have little information on even some of the most well known makers out there. This gets even harder when you start looking into good but not pedigree bows, because there is even less information out there. There are plenty of current makers who have produced a small number of really good bows, but maybe they're part timers, hobbyists, or took it up later in life. They don't even register on the radar now, so I can only imagine how little information we would have on Allen the lawyer from Northampton who made 50 pretty good bows in his spare time 100 years ago. Throw in sticks that were stamped under a different name, the stamp has worn off, or they weren't stamped to begin with, and you are left with a huge guessing game. Bows were not held in particularly high regard until quite recently, so there is a really good chance that a ton of them did become marshmallow sticks and tomato stakes. Unless a bow was really fantastic, it typically stayed with the violin when it was passed on or sold and if the person interested in the instrument already had a bow they preferred, what's the point of keeping the old one that's comparatively not as good around? Cases aren't like the ones we have now with enough space for 4 bows. Repairs have also come a long way in the last few decades, as there were plenty of things that just could not be repaired with the methods and materials available to them in the past. Head splines and butt grafts are relatively new because of the glues/epoxies we have available for example. I have living colleagues who have heard "throw it out and I'll give you a new one" from makers, because saving the bow wasn't a viable option. What does that leave us? Bows with names we have never heard of before, or no name at all. Some of them are still quite good, but they are often overlooked because they do not have the big names everyone is looking for. There is a good chance that they are hiding in plain sight in old violin cases, and many of them get overlooked because they could use hair, a winding and perhaps a tip or some camber, and how do you justify putting that amount into repairing/restoring a bow that doesn't have much market value? I have worked on and played some quite good bows both old and new, but selling a stick with no name or one you've never heard of is an uphill battle, so a lot of them tend to get overlooked.
  12. You can change just one string. The reason it's typically advised to change all of them at the same time (do it one at a time so the bridge and soundpost don't fall) is so the tone is consistent across all four strings. If you have an old set on the instrument and replace just one string, it can seem out of balance with the rest of them. That can also be a problem if you are replacing it with a different brand/type of string, as they all have unique characteristics. If you are just learning the basics at this point, then you are less likely to notice those subtle differences. Where did the string break? If it broke at the nut or at the bridge, there is a chance that you have a rough spot that should be addressed by a luthier so you do not continuously break that same string in the same spot. If it broke somewhere else or ravelled, then there is a chance that it was a manufacturer defect. In that case if you know what the string is and it isn't years old, quite a few manufacturers will replace the string if you ship it back to them as they like to have a look and see if they screwed up somewhere. It is also a good idea to take a pencil and put some graphite in the grooves in the nut and bridge to help the string slide over them both easier. That's a tip that comes up pretty often, but it's worth repeating if this is your first string you are replacing.
  13. Grain orientation is absolutely important. If the blank was not quartersawn and the grain ran perpendicular to the face plate, the head mortise would be cut with the grain and there's a good chance you would split the head in half trying to cut the mortise. If it is quartersawn, you are also compressing with the grain instead of across the grain when you bring the hair up to tension. Some makers like it to be slightly off by a few degrees, the theory being it adds strength and helps to avoid heads from breaking off. I absolutely agree that anyone with eyes can tell if a frog is factory produced. The point I was making is that some makers do a significant amount of the work on a machine and then finish by hand. Depending on how sophisticated they get with their machine work and how quick they want to do things, choices can be made to reflect that. I have yet to meet a maker who machines part of their frog who does not shape the throat by hand for example, but that is something a lot of us really enjoy doing. As far as floaters go, there are obviously some sticks that are not going to become bows, but there are a lot of old bows that aren't absolutely fantastic wood. Bows were largely seen as an accessory until fairly recently and did not fetch the prices they do today. Most old makers did not want to waste sticks so they tried with everything in their woodpile, and there are a fair number of bows out there with knots, run out grain, and even floaters. If it feels as light as pine I'm not going to waste my time but if it bobs a bit instead of dropping like a rock, it isn't destined for the wood stove just yet.
  14. As someone who still has a long way to go on the bow making journey, here are a few thoughts. Wood: Pernambuco is what the majority of players are looking for. Some of that is because they have been told by teachers over the years that Pernambuco is the best, but that is largely on the spectrum of fibreglass-carbon fibre-composite-Brazilwood-Pernambuco, and the other options are not considered. Ipe, Snakewood, Amourette (unfigured Snakewood), Ironwood, Bloodwood, Wamara, Massaranduba, Bulletwood, Beefwood, and a few more are other woods you will hear about. Many of them were used historically with great results to the point that some players are not aware that their stick is an "alternative" wood. It can get complicated to identify different species as the names mentioned are the English names we have given rain forest hardwoods that come from countries where many different languages are used, and most of the names are variations on colour/appearance and the fact that they're really hard. "Ironwood" for example is a name given to over 30 different species, and depending on the type of wood working you are doing it can mean something very different. Generalizations can be made about the sound of different woods such as having a tendency to emphasize certain overtones or having a brighter or darker sound and similar generalizations can be made about the wood itself, where some are denser/heavier than others, some are stiffer, more lively, etc. I have only made a few bows using different woods so I cannot make personal assessments about which woods fall into which categories, and it is also worth noting there can be a significant amount of variation between two different pieces of wood of the same species. Wood Selection: There are a lot of different opinions and methods for wood selection. At a minimum, the wood has to be strong/dense/heavy enough to become a bow which can be challenging to determine if you are going strictly through a hardwood dealer and using some of the other species listed above. If you are looking for Pernambuco, you are more than likely purchasing directly from bow makers. Because of the CITIES listing it is significantly easier to purchase wood from within your own country. If you are purchasing blanks (essentially a square dowel with a block on one end large enough to cut a head from) instead of boards/logs which are quite rare now, you are looking first to make sure the blank is large enough to be suitable for the type of bow you are making. After that knots, worm damage, excessive run out, or anything else that could be a problem during cambering gets ruled out. If the imperfections are on the edge of the stick and will be planed out they can be ignored and sometimes you can still bend through a knot, but given the cost of bow wood many makers will not buy something that looks risky. Colour or discoloration, how close it is to quartersawn and if the blank was cut nicely or has a bunch of tear out from the band saw also play in for different people. Some do a "tap test" where they will tap the wood and listen to it to see what pitch it generates and how long it resonates. Some strongly believe in the highest Lucchi meter readings they can find, some pay no attention to them at all. Some prefer wood that sinks, some like floaters, and some have entirely different methods as well. It is a relatively personal process. Making: There are a lot of choices to be made. Usually the maker has a specific model in mind be it their own or a copy, and that comes with certain parameters. Head and frog height and shape, but also the dimensions behind the head and at the end of the stick, the camber, weight and balance, winding, tip material, and sometimes a few other things. All of those choices impact how the bow will play, and many of them impact each other. 60 grams and 9 1/2" is a fairly common weight and balance point for a violin bow but if you are making an exact copy or have a commission where something different has been requested then you accommodate from there. Graduating a stick down to the final weight and balance you are aiming for while maintaining the correct amount of strength, stability, and flexibility is largely done by feel, and can be very different from stick to stick. What would be too much for one bow could be not enough for another, and the same measurements that result in a wet noodle on one bow could make another a club. Until you've done a few, that is probably the most difficult part that has the largest impact on how it will play. What to look for: Other than the typical advice of play a bunch and eventually you'll just know when you find a good one, this gets really subjective. Some people have a preference for the colour of the wood, but there are methods used in making and finishing that significantly change the colour you are seeing from what the bow started out as. You can treat a really yellow piece of Pernambuco to look that Hill chocolate/black colour if you want to, so what you see is somewhat smoke and mirrors. There are certain things you can look for in a frog and button that suggest they were made by hand instead of machined, but many makers use a lathe, milling machine and sometimes even a CNC machine for part of their frog and button making, and the machines have become sophisticated enough that many of the handmade effects can be emulated on a machine. Some people use really colourful pearl and like fancy eyes and inlaid buttons, others make the aesthetic choice of a solid button and no eyes. Just like with instruments you can often tell if something is cheap and mass produced instead of more expensive and handmade, but after that the reputation of a living maker or the pedigree of an older bow has a lot to do with value/price, and I am sure that discussion has been had here before. Hopefully that gets a little closer to the answers you were looking for, coming from a player who is becoming a maker.
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