Tone vs. Playability in a bow


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I  started looking at modern makers, I couldn't believe what I found. I went to a modern makers' exhibition in Berlin, and found 10 bows that handily beat everything I'd seen looking around at various shops, and trying out plenty of bows, and at a significantly lower price than I'd looked for preciously. Modern bowmaking has reached an extraordinary level, and I can't speak highly enough of the playabilty, sound, or craftsmanship of both of the bows I bought from multiple-award-winning makers for *less* than the price of one older and significantly lower-quality (albeit collectible) bow. 

A fine endorsement indeed of what is currently about and a reminder of how fortunate we are despite all the talk of problems with trade in endangered wood and animal products.

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NyViola, I agree that modern bows are a very good idea, and I've had some excellent modern bows for under £3000. New Brazilian bows of better quality can be astounding, and often more like £1000.

However, if shops are showing you inferior, wonky and lumpy Nürnbergers, Pfretzschners, Morizots and Bazins which don't play well for up to $10,000, they are taking the piss. Was this in New York by any chance? 

Maybe the occasional rarer Bazin in perfect condition should sell for more than that. It's true that none of these workshops always produced masterpieces - Pfretzschners can be a bit whippy, Nürnbergers can be tank aerials, Bazins can have a cannonball attached to the tip and Morizots can be zombies, but for $10K you should be able to get something that's in perfect condition, right length, right weight, and which plays superbly. I'm really shocked by your description of what you're being offered.

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Hi Martin,

I didn't so much mean that I was seeing inferior, wonky bows, as that a nice bow from a TOP quality maker was a bit out of range. There were a few nice hills, but they didn't float my boat, and I just prefer what's coming out of top modern makers' shops. I loved an EA Ouchard, a Vigneron, and a Fetique, but they were all out of my price range. As nice as they were, they were comparable, but certainly not superior to my Nehr and Fournier. It's a slightly awkward place in the market.

Brazilian bows can be quite a steal, I agree!

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First of all, you should divorce yourself of the idea that price equals quality!  At this point, I'd suggest you contact a well-established modern maker with your needs, ask if what you want is even possible; if it's not, they will tell you rather than waste their time.  When I was researching modern bows I was told if I didn't like the one I had commissioned I didn't have to buy it, someone else would. 

 

I second Brazilian bows!  I recently bought two at an embarrassing price point.  I prefer both to my Fetique.  The search for perfection can be long and frustrating, and often unsuccessful in the end.  I advise getting the best compromise, or repairing the one you already have.  Keep in mind that "perfect is the enemy of the good."

 

BTW, first-class modern makers' bows are about $4-5,000.  If you need names of some highly-respected in the field, drop me a PM.

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Wow, there is a lot of fantastic feedback here, thanks for all your responses!

 

Here's a little bit more information on me based on some of the questions raised.  I grew up playing violin and was pretty accomplished as a youth, but at this point I'm just an advanced amateur player that just plays for fun these days, so no lessons or rigorous daily practice anymore. Since I don't play as much as I did growing up, I can't really justify having multiple bows at my disposal, so unfortunately this will be my sole bow.

 

Based on all the comments, I'm now leaning towards going for playability because I don't know if my skills (and ability to spend enough time practicing) will ever be great enough for me to be able to learn to adapt to a bow that doesn't feel as natural to me right now.  Better to get a decent sounding bow that I can control rather than a better sounding bow that I can't?

 

I actually think that the difficulty for me in picking a bow could be due in part to having tried so many bows that it's been easy to nitpick each one.  If I were in a situation where only a handful of bows were available to me, I think it's possible I would have chosen one already out of necessity.  I would say that at least 30% of the bows that I've played are actually from contemporary makers, and many of them have been terrific players but they tend to fall short on the tone side compared to older bows.  But I have no bias against contemporary bows, and now that I'm thinking about putting playability first, I may very well end up with one.

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Pfretzschners can be a bit whippy, Nürnbergers can be tank aerials, Bazins can have a cannonball attached to the tip and Morizots can be zombies

Martin, love your descriptions (I did have a Pfreschner that was "whippy" or "wimpy"). 

I'm interested  ... how are where are these Brazilians you mention marketed?

 

Is this the sort of thing you are referring to?

 

http://www.unitedstrings.com/

 

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Hi Omobono,

L'Archet Brasil is a trade only supplier, but they do supply bows by one or two makers who are extremely good - Manoel Francisco in particular.

I've been dealing with Alessandro Carlesso for a while now and rate him very highly - unfortunately he's had to move recently because of severe flooding in has part of Brazil, and it will be a couple of months before he's back in the saddle.

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Mellowpa,

You're largely correct in thinking that because you've had a plethora of choices, it's difficult to narrow down what you really want/need.  I call it the "Baskin Robbins effect."

When I bought my Marcel Fetique back in the mid 80's, Moennig sent me three choices, all very distinct from each other!  I chose the one I liked best and mostly forgot about the others (well, except for the beautiful wood of the Jules Fetique, but that one was out of my price range anyway).  As I said before, "perfect is the enemy of the good."

I was happy with my choice for decades, and still like it a great deal.  I bought the Brazilian ones recently so I could sell the Fetique to prepare for retirement, only to discover I like their individual qualities a great deal also.  Many professional players have a choice of bows for different repertoire, so it's not as if the "perfect" bow exists anyway. 

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" My problem is that the bows I find with the rich and warm tone that I'm looking for have been harder for me to play - less control, harder to get off the string, feels a bit heavy."

I have never tried bows by F.X. Tourte, D. Peccatte, Maline, Persoit, E.Pajeot, but I heard that many of them are quite difficult to handle. I think that it's worth to learn how to play with a stick which provides the best sound color on your instrument. Of course at the end of the day maybe the right solution is always the bow you can handle.

 

Great discussion!

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  • 3 years later...
On 2/17/2014 at 6:41 AM, martin swan said:

Hi Omobono,

L'Archet Brasil is a trade only supplier, but they do supply bows by one or two makers who are extremely good - Manoel Francisco in particular.

I've been dealing with Alessandro Carlesso for a while now and rate him very highly - unfortunately he's had to move recently because of severe flooding in has part of Brazil, and it will be a couple of months before he's back in the saddle.

Hi Martin,  At an upcoming VM workshop a rep from L'Archet Brasil will be stopping by with a truck load of wood and bows.  I'm not sure if this will give the attendees an opportunity to buy at wholesale prices, but I can hope.  Their website lists 19 bowmakers with Manoel Francisco placed prominently on top.  Is there a way to tell who makes what bow when buying an L'Archet Brasil bow.  Of course for how well the bow plays and sounds it makes no difference, but down the road...maybe.

Thanks,

Jim

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It's like finally stopping to ask directions after being lost but knowing your not far from your destination.  When you ask the guy points across the street. <_<  I could not find any good photos of L'Archet Brasil bows, then all of a sudden it's as if Google figured out what I wanted and and all the shops that carry the product  and have nice photos so that you can clearly read the name of the maker above the frog showed up on the search page.  Even a couple of you tube videos with the company's owner clearly stating that the bows are all made by individual makers.  Question answered, sorry for wasting web space.

-Jim

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  • 3 years later...

I have given the debate topic of this thread a large amount of thought over the years. And after years of buying and selling (many) bows, developing a taste for what works for my playing style and instrument, I have settled on two bows that for me personify the sound versus playability question.

 

One is a very old bow by a very fine known maker that has a dark, dense sound that is even throughout my instrument and always comes in first or second in bow comparisons with colleagues. However it is a bit unwieldy to play, particularly repertoire which requires an agile right hand, like Mozart (and consonant attacks are more difficult to actualise..everything is beautiful, but round). It is not a subtle bow and it really can crank out sound. 

 

The other I commissioned from a well-known modern maker. It is a “copy” of another bow I really admire, but “improved” upon to make it more responsive. I have never played a bow that allows me to have this feeling of control from frog to tip and with articulation and shapes. The feeling is really extraordinary. However, the sound is thinner, leaner, more narrow in comparison to my older bow and others like it. The high register, especially, is a bit thin. I truly enjoy playing this bow, but I sometimes feel like I am making too much of a professional compromise in sound and spread.

 

I realise this is a crisis of privilege, but I have trouble deciding which bow to use for any given situation. Just curious how you all would advise clients or colleagues on the matter?

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I am still looking for a bow on which I get an up and down-bow staccato the way Ivry Gitlis had it ^_^. Too bad I can't get there.

I also once had an interesting experience in a restaurant in Budapest. A group of musicians came in to play some music, they played Czardas among other things. The lead violinist played in amazing virtuousity, a viola and accordeon accompanied him. We started to talk and I also played few notes on his instrument and bow - the bow was worthless, a stick far too weak for anything, for me impossible to make a sound let alone play staccato. But he was so adjusted to his instrument and bow that he could do an amazing things with it. t is obviously possible to do technically difficult things on cheap sticks.

Nevertheless, I am convinced Ivry Gitli had a decent bow when he played Elgar's La capricieuse.

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On 1/6/2021 at 3:47 PM, qwerty189 said:

I have given the debate topic of this thread a large amount of thought over the years. And after years of buying and selling (many) bows, developing a taste for what works for my playing style and instrument, I have settled on two bows that for me personify the sound versus playability question.

One is a very old bow by a very fine known maker that has a dark, dense sound that is even throughout my instrument and always comes in first or second in bow comparisons with colleagues. However it is a bit unwieldy to play, particularly repertoire which requires an agile right hand, like Mozart (and consonant attacks are more difficult to actualise..everything is beautiful, but round). It is not a subtle bow and it really can crank out sound. 

The other I commissioned from a well-known modern maker. It is a “copy” of another bow I really admire, but “improved” upon to make it more responsive. I have never played a bow that allows me to have this feeling of control from frog to tip and with articulation and shapes. The feeling is really extraordinary. However, the sound is thinner, leaner, more narrow in comparison to my older bow and others like it. The high register, especially, is a bit thin. I truly enjoy playing this bow, but I sometimes feel like I am making too much of a professional compromise in sound and spread.

Same here but the other way around - it's a modern Chinese Sartory copy that gives me the tone, an old anonymous German the control and agility. I pick and choose (violin too) according to what I'm trying to play

11 hours ago, uguntde said:

I am still looking for a bow on which I get an up and down-bow staccato the way Ivry Gitlis had it ^_^. Too bad I can't get there.

I also once had an interesting experience in a restaurant in Budapest. A group of musicians came in to play some music, they played Czardas among other things. The lead violinist played in amazing virtuousity, a viola and accordeon accompanied him. We started to talk and I also played few notes on his instrument and bow - the bow was worthless, a stick far too weak for anything, for me impossible to make a sound let alone play staccato. But he was so adjusted to his instrument and bow that he could do an amazing things with it. t is obviously possible to do technically difficult things on cheap sticks.

Bin there too, more than 20 years ago but Budapest must be still crawling with them. "My" band had a cimbalom instead of an accordion and an ancient viola player who didn't seem to care what notes he was playing. The fiddler, of course, was amazing and clearly had never set foot in a conservatory. I could imagine what Brahms must have felt.

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