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Ok, for those of you out there that didn't know, I've been on a bow safari. I've tried a ton of bows over the past few weeks, and have certainly learned a few things about bows in the process. But I'm happy to say that the search is over, and I've purchased a brand-new Camurat. French guy, NOT dead.

So, in the last week or so, we've had an f-hole tutorial and a scroll tutorial. I think it's high time for a bow tutorial. Let's start with bow heads...during my search, I noticed for the first time that there's a few different head styles, like the "hatchet" style, for example. The two Vignerons I've played both seemed to have a very different, more rounded style...

Can anyone out there post some pictures of the different sytles, maybe explain a little about history behind them (who used it, etc.), and perhaps give us some tips on bow identifaction? Does the tone produced by a "hatchet" bow differ from the tone produced by a bow with a more rounded head? Is so, why? If not, are the differences is styles purely decorative? The books on this subject all seem to be outrageously expensive...so any information on this and other bow-related subjects would be much appreciated.

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OK; Style first.

Please pardon me for connecting to some of our websites archive photos... They are easiest ones for me to access quickly.

Most styles are, more or less, an adaptation of one period or another of the Tourte styles...

Try and note the similarities and differences in the following bows.

The Hill shop settled on a standard "Tourte" hatchet style head:


Some makers used varied styles. The following two bows by Ouchard illustrate a Simon/Peccatte/Tourte influence and a Voirin/Tourte influence.:


Lamy was influenced by Voirin:


If there is interest, I'll see if I can get a few more images up on my personal website over the next couple days.

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Needless to say, you've got my vote too. And ditto on the tutorial threads...

Jeffrey, thank you for these examples. So are these makers -- Peccatte, Simon, Tourte, and Voirin -- the main guys who most makers emulate? I think I'd find it helpful if I could see "textbook" examples of the major types of heads...though I'm guessing that the Hill is pretty much a standard Tourte-style head. Plus, is there a site that defines the different parts of the bow? I mean, do bowmakers use special nomenclature for the different areas of the head -- like that inside trailing edge?

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Dear Jeffrey,

Rest assured, there is interest--at least from one. I'd love to understand more about the various bow styles.

On my recent bow safari, I tried two different bows from one particlular maker. One was his "standard" model and the other was his Pajeot model. I liked the standard model greatly (and bought it) and the Pajeot didn't do a thing for me. I'm not sure if it was just due to the normal variations of bows, or the model made a difference.

So I vote for charging ahead with this topic.

BTW Larry, what is the next step up the chain of enlightenment after "member". After these tutorials I may have something to look forward to.

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With the Hill (Tourte), I noticed that the head seems "fuller" than the rest. Like there's more wood between the front and back of the head. I also noticed that the "trailing" edge of the head seems to be a constant curve, as opposed to an almost linear line in some of the others. It also appears that the "leading edge" is more steeply slanted, with the resulting top angle being relatively sharp. Are these characteristic (if my observations are right, that is) of the classic Tourte "hatchet" head?

Maybe it'd be easier if I phrased my question differently -- say we have a bow whose owner claims is a "hatchet-headed" Tourte. What are we looking for to determine whether it's the real deal?

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Jeffrey wants help from me, but one thing I don't have any of is bow photos. How about if I tell what I look at, instead?

This might not quite agree with the photos posted before, but my distinction in the two Tourte styles rests on the line at the very front of the bow.

On the older Tourte style, followed by makers such as Lamy, Voirin, Sartory, the German makers like Nurnberger, etc., the end of the bow forms an enlongated "S"--or maybe you could call it similar to the "f" of an f-hole, with the same curve (in the opposite direction) at the top and at the bottom.

The other typical style for me is as made by Peccatte, where the top of the head has a distinct point, and the line on the front is therefore more like a "J" (still has the curve at the bottom, but not at the top). That's also the later Tourte style, but Peccatte makes it more extreme, so he's my model for that.

Beyond that, there are a couple of other aspects.

For instance, the line of the back of the head, blending into the bottom of the stick, which can be a long broad curve, a sharp curve at the top, then straighter, which can meet the hair at various angles. Different makers blend this into the body of the stick in various ways, some consistently poorly in certain specific ways that are diagnostic.

Between the front and back of the head at the bottom, with the hair, is the face, more or less rounded and sometimes dead flat, depending on the maker, and coming off from the hair at various angles upwards from the line of the hair.

Another very characteristic thing is the modeling of the sides of the head. Tourte represents an extreme, in that it seems that there's no flat line at all on the sides of his heads-everything is curving and shaped in the most elegant way of all makers. On the other hand, some, particularly modern makers, leave the sides of the head so flat they look like they planed the stick and didn't bother to do anything to the head at all.

Still, you can put those things together in various ways, for instance, if you take one of the standard forms and simply make the head longer from front to back you get something similar to what many of the older second rank of French makers did. If you bring them closer together, and make the head wider at the bottom, but narrower at the top (trumpeting towards the hair), you have something like many lower quality later French makers. If you just broaden the bottom, so that it's too wide compared with the top of the head, and the whole thing is too much, you end up with a second-rate German. These things are all relative. Generally "too much" of anything--too big, too small, too trumpeting--is an indicator of a lesser maker, though "lesser" can mean a lot of different things--for instance, in an old French bow it can mean "made by a second-rate maker whose work is worth only $40,000, instead of $100,000"). :-)

Regarding the bevels on the back of the head, these are personal, and diagnostic, but not usually easy to see on photos. They can be parallel-sided, bigger at the top, or bottom, or, as one maker consistently did (Francois Peccatte, I think? Do I remember correctly?), at slightly different angles to the head.

Everything above is a gross generalization.

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First; Thank you Michael. I like your descriptions of the Tourte styles. I think you may expect me to comment on the mention of "lesser" makers (seeing as I really do like Voirin school bows)... and I will.

I think history has proven a preference for the Peccatte/Tourte style much like the more bold, almost masculine style of golden period Strads eclipse the grand pattern Amati instruments. I guess one could debate finish and workmanship, but the preference overall is clear.

Tourte bows, to me, illustrate a progression of style... The same kind of progression that can be seen from early Strads to a 1715 concert fiddle. The later Tourtes are really perfection in terms of the "modern" bow... and some of the the wood he used was amazing.

Still, I do have a love of the elegant and flowing style of earlier Tourtes (and the more masterful makers who emulated this style). There is a certain finesse in the make... and in the way a really good one plays.

Peccatte and some of the makers of this group (Maline, Henry, etc.) did tend to leave a flat spot on the cheek (although not as severe as some later, less recognized makers) that Michael mentioned. Peccatte especially, had a funny, kind of awkward, transition from the head to the stick (behind the head; he tended to over-cut). Maline, on some bows, took the pointy forehead to an extreme. Simon tended to flair the head a bit as the it approached the hair (or headplate).

Voirin, Lamy and Sartory followed Tourtes integrity of line (no flat spots) pretty well (Voirin and Sartory better than Lamy, I think), but Sartory, in his later bows, took the full cheek idea to a “chubby” extreme.

I put together a group of photos including (from top to bottom) the Stern Tourte, another later Tourte, a Tourte model by Dominique Peccatte (rare... I've only seen a few), a more typical Peccatte and a Simon. See what you think. Notice the “Roman nose” on the later Tourte... and Peccatte’s interpretation of it.


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Since I know nothing about good bows, except I like them and they cost more than I can afford, I am finding this thread helpful. I have always liked octagonal bows. I think this is just their looks not the way they play. I find it unbelievable how head styles seems to make such differences in playing but I can not tell a difference in feel or playing of octagonal verses round bow that is consistent! What am I missing? The other question is did makers of fine bows use wood that is typical for them. As is there a pernambuco that looks like Peccatte in color or pattern? Does one maker use more brown than red wood? Are certain makers more likely to use more firey wood? How long does it take for a bow to get broken in? I never hear people talk about it but to my ears a bow sounds better after it has been played in for a while like a new violin. Maybe it just takes me a while to get use to it.

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Now to put all this information to practice. I don't think the head on the Stern Voirin looks at all like the other Voirins pictured in this thread. Do my eyes need more training. Or did Voirin occasionally revert to something even more Tourte-like. I recently had the pleasure of seeing a classic Voirin up close, and I was struck by how small the head was--especially when compared to the relatively massive Hill bows that I've seen.

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Is there a correlation between players' preferrence for the Tourte/Peccatte style over the others and a possible difference in performance between differing head styles?

What really amazed me on my bow safari was that slightly different examples of what's essentially a very simple machine -- 60 or so grams of pernambucco, horsehair, and small bits of metal -- can produce such a wide (though subtle) varitey in the tone of a single instrument.

With violins, I can understand the differences. Fiddles are much more complex -- more parts, more wood, a ton more variables that can affect its sound. But a bow, like I said, is a very simple structure. Why is there such a big difference -- given the same materials, style, and method of construction -- between a Peccatte and a Chinese copy?

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For Richf:

"Now to put all this information to practice. I don't think the head on the Stern Voirin looks at all like the other Voirins pictured in this thread."

Good eye! The Stern Voirin is on the early side (Voirin was probably in his mid-20s when he made it)... made for Vuillaume. I find that earlier Voirin heads remind me of Simon... Maybe they sat side by side in Vuillaume's shop.


Yes, the variation of design, style, strength and balance is perhaps more subtle, and n a smaller scale, with bows than violins.... but small differences can affect a the "feel" or performance of the bow in significant ways. For example, the shaft on a Peccatte school bow leaves the back of the head pretty "straight", where Voirin curved the stuck as it left the head... big difference in the way these two models behave; especially when you're playing up there. One detail that does not come out in photos is that certain makers purposefully did not make the stick round, but more triangular or egg-shaped. Again, makes a big difference in the way the stick handles.

Concerning materials and construction: The given (same materials and techniques) in the scenario is a huge one! The 19th century bow makers had access to (literally) tons of material from which to choose (pernambuco was used in the textile industry) and the benefit of being alive at the "right" time... developing a tool that has been only well copied since. Really, it's the same as the quest for the recreation of a Strad... only it's just a stick (or is it!!??).

That said, there are a number of very fine contemporary makers today (you recently purchased a bow by one of them...). In your search, you did manage to try a number of bows from the “dead guys”. Can you describe the feeling of the Peccatte as it compares to other bows you tried? Was there a difference in the way the bow produced sound? It's "power"?

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Regarding the Camurat -- last night while at Michael's shop, the Camurat received the official Michael Darnton Seal of Approval. Also, while I was at the shop, the Camurat also received very nice comments from a local violin professor who really put the bow through its paces on a couple of Michael's fiddles. Jeez...before I heard this guy, I thought I was getting pretty good at this instrument. It seems that I have a very VERY long way to go...wow.

Regarding our tutorial, Jeffrey, with so many makers using so many different styles -- the Tourte model by Peccatte for example -- is it possible to definitively attribute a particular bow to a certain maker on the basis of its style alone (in identifying an unmarked bow, for example)?

By the way, how's it coming on that glossary of terms? Even in just the beginning stages of this tutorial, I've already run into a few terms that I've never heard before. In particular, what is "chamfer"? Also, what part of the head does the "cheek" refer to? I'm guessing that the cheeks are the sides of the head, but I just thought I'd ask before I really get confused. Thanks again to everyone who's contributing to this post -- it's fascinating.

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This response by Scratchy Rosin in another thread nicely defined chamfer:

'A "chamfer" is a angled flattening of a sharp edge normally to half the original angle. Thus a 90 degree corner is broken by a 45 degree chamfer into two more gentle (obtuse) steps of 135 degrees. This feature can also follow a curved path in three dimensions, to break the edge formed by two intersecting curved surfaces.

'The term is a corruption of the french "Chien-Frein" or dog brake; the purpose being to avoid the sharp edge from breaking into ragged pieces, or dogs.'

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"is it possible to definitively attribute a particular bow to a certain maker on the basis of its style alone (in identifying an unmarked bow, for example)?"

Definitively is the word that stops me... Opinions in this industry are just that... opinions. There are good ones and not so good ones... and new data is available as research continues. Understanding that; If one has had the opportunity to study enough bows and keeps up with current research, yes.

Glossary: I type terribly slowly, so I'm going to keep this as simple as I can (these terms change a little depending on who is using the term... For example: The French call the "frog" a "nut". Let's stick with a glossary for the heads for the time being:

Face: the bottom (hair side) of the head (where the head mortice is located).

Face plate: ebony and/or metal, ivory or other material applied to the under side (face) of the head

Cheek; side of the head above the face plate

Nose: Leading edge of the head

Point: The bit that protrudes beyond the nose

Throat: usually refers to the back side of the head as it leaves the stick

Chamfer: the nearly 45 degree cut that runs down the back side of the head along the throat to the face plate

Just noticed, while I was typing this, that deepblue has indeed proved that a picture is worth a thousand words!!! Thankyou!

(Hey, is that a drawing of a Louis Tourte or a good Dodd?)

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Regarding the octagonal vs round issue: I get various opinions from bow makers as to whether they do this themselves, but my understanding is that many makers of the past planed the stick to octagonal first, noted the weight at that point, and if the stick was still a bit heavy, would proceed to knock off the corners, making a round bow. Therefore, in general, round bows are of slightly denser (heavier) wood, and have a bit crisper feel, whereas octagonal bows can tend to feel a bit more sluggish. On the other hand, some octagonal bows are just heavier.

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RE: "In your search, you did manage to try a number of bows from the "dead guys". Can you describe the feeling of the Peccatte as it compares to other bows you tried? Was there a difference in the way the bow produced sound? It's "power"? "

The Peccatte is by far the best bow I've ever played. On Michael's Canon, the Peccatte drew a deep, very rich, very focused (yet full) tone -- the bow felt light, but drew a "heavy" sound.

However, what really impressed me was how easy it was to play. Where other bows would be whispery when played with extremely light pressure and at slow speed, this Peccatte drew a solid tone. Converesly, where the tone on other bows would "bottom out" and "crunch" at high pressure, I wasn't able to overpower the Peccatte. One my Geipel***, techniques like upbow spiccato were pretty difficult to control consistently. With the Peccatte, it's nothing.

Apart from the fact that the Peccatte had a round stick and a gold and tortoise mounted frog, I can't honestly say that I can really remember anything specific about the style. However, I was merely a "journeyman" at that time, and as such, could not be expected to notice such subtle nuances of chamfer and head angle. However, now, as a full-fledged "member," I am enlightened.

In comparison to the Peccatte, I remember that the John Norwood Lee bows I tried that day sounded very dry, sometimes harsh when under pressure. All the Lees were, however, very responsive, but none of them gave me the same tone with the same amount of effort. Don't get me wrong, they were great bows for the price -- they just can't compare to the Peccatte. Then again, I could've bought a truckload of Lees for the price of the Peccatte. Is the Peccatte worth the price? Hell, yes.

To be honest, when I walked into the shop, I wanted a stronger stick. And in that respect, I thought that I'd like the feel of the Norwood Lees better. How wrong I was. Now, after playing some quality "dead guy" bows, I have a new appreciation for more flexible sticks.

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