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Jim Bress

What's a good bow?

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I started to comment the "Good quality violin pernambucco bow" thread, as a fo;;ow-up to Ben's posts, but I thought I would rather start a new topic instead of my questions hi-jacking that discussion.

 

I am not very good player (in my my judgement), but I do play daily (mostly) and take weekly lessons.  I would say my best qualities are that I enjoy playing and I'm improving.  However, bows are a bit of a mystery to me. I have played multiple bows on the same violin, and multiple violins on the same bow.  I know bows make a difference in how one plays and the sound that is produced when paired with a particular violin and player.  But I don't know what makes a good bow. 

 

Are there balance, weight, flexibility parameters that are considered acceptable? 

 

What are the qualities of bow wood that distinguish them from kindling, good, and great bow wood? 

 

Is there an old vs. new issue because of the availability of higher quality wood in the past?  That's probably enough questions for now.

 

Thanks,

Jim

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Looking at a bow is fine, playing is different, and selling em is another. 
So...what is a good bow ? 

If the bow will do everything a top player wants then it's 'good'. 
It may be a rare and v.expensive collector's piece or an affordable modern stick.

Bear in mind that players like Yuri Bashmet have used cheaper bows very well. 
 

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I feel that before I express myself on this subject, it would be enlightening to see some elite bow makers explain what they believe is "good", and specifically how they infuse that goodness into their product.  :)

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My tiny  personal experience:

 

Bows make a difference.

 

When I returned to playing...and bought a 'real' violin, I also bought a 'real' bow.  But the first one I bought...while way more expensive than anything I'd ever had...was too light (Brazilwood).  But I didn't know that until I played it long enough - to realize the bow bounce and instability wasn't soley due to my handling of the bow.   However...in the 10+ years it's been sitting in the case, it's held it's camber really well...so the stick is okay.

 

Then I bought 4 of the better imports which were just coming out on the market  (3 violin and 1 viola) - each a silver mounted pernumbuco - each which is WAY better than the light brazilwood.

 

I finally bought a much better bow about 3 years ago - and it makes a huge difference.  But it's also a mass produced model...just a higher priced one (Wild).

 

After that I bought a much cheaper viola bow...which handled better than the 'better' viola bow.  It's just really ugly...lol.

 

Two years ago,  I bought 2 viola bows in ironwood and ipe and a very heavy violin bow in snakewood direct from China to check out.

 

My two go-to bows are the Wild and the ipe viola bow (which I use on my violin mostly).  I think I actually prefer the ipe.

 

Sooo...

 

Based on my experience I'd say a 'good' bow is made of better wood, with better fittings, and has a good balance and weight.

 

The rest is icing!

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Looking at a bow is fine, playing is different, and selling em is another. 

So...what is a good bow ? 

If the bow will do everything a top player wants then it's 'good'. 

It may be a rare and v.expensive collector's piece or an affordable modern stick.

Bear in mind that players like Yuri Bashmet have used cheaper bows very well. 

 

Okay, I agree with everything you said, but I don't feel more enlightened, so I'll start from a different angle.  If I was a bow maker (I'm not), what properties would I look for in the wood that can potentially lead to the production of a really good bow?  The implication is also what properties to avoid.  Are any woods besides pernabucco marketable as a good bow.  I guess I can loosely define a good bow as a bow that a professional level player would want to use (and buy).  I will define marketable as the cost of the materials compared to the price you can sell it for as favorable.  

 

-Jim 

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Woods are:

 

1. brazilwood (good brazilwood can be better than poor pernumbuco)

2. pernumbuco

3. ironwood

4.ipe

5.snakewood.

 

I've come across a couple others mentioned over the years...but they are much less common than the five I mentioned in my earlier post, and then relisted in this post.

 

Pernumbuco is the 'high quality' standard.  At the moment if it's not pernumbuco, people are less interested.  Historically, all the woods listed have been used.

 

There is also 'name confusion'...and I don't have the time right now to sort it all out.  I did once, but didn't write it down in a retrievable place.

 

Finally - I've been told that makers will reserve the silver (and/or gold) mountings for the better sticks.  But since there seems to be an awful lot of less expensive silver mounted sticks...and an awful lot of more expensive nickel mounted sticks...I  don't know how much weight that holds.

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Are there balance, weight, flexibility parameters that are considered acceptable? 

Balance, weight, flexibility.  I like a bow that will stay on the strings.  I'd rate weight first, then balance and flexibilty last.  I have 2 functional bows.  If you could see what I use 99% of the time you guys would disown me.  It is an older black fiberglass, maybe even hard plastic, with the brown hardwood frog and hair from a $29.99? violin outfit.  It barely holds rosin and might weght 57g on a good day but I can still learn music using it without fear of damage, I just keep hacking away.

 

To spoil myself somedays I'll break out an old french bow I have.  It adds a 1/4 inch more length for playing and the hair lays out better- just saying I know what good can be too.  

  The best story I heard about a bow was when Rynthae showed up here at MN last year inquiring about an Ebay $300.00? Lamy.  He/she purchased it and sent it out for rehair from someone trusted to do so.  Must of turned out good-never heard another word about it.

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It is pretty hard to describe what makes a "good" bow.  I have several contemporary violin and viola bows that I like.  I kind of have a routine I go through to test bows.  I notice that good articulation is something you can test easily, also tracking with very long slow bows.  Ultimately it's a very personal choice.  If you can try some bows that are way crazy out of your price range to see what the hubbub is about.  I get in a rut and tend to use one bow a lot more than the others, pretty much for no good reason.

 

 

DLB

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Actually, it's tempting to say simply that a 'good' bow is made by

Kittel Tourte Henri Voirin Tubbs Bazin Dodd, etc......

but did they make any duds ?

 

I can certainly say that there are bows by these makers I personally wouldn't be comfortable playing (don't like the playing qualities much), and others I think are tremendous... but you probably knew that already.  :)

 

When dealing with older bows, period (in which they were produced) comes into play...  What the majority of players are looking for presently may not fit exactly with some of the bows that makers produced in 1800, or 1890... (for a variety of reasons).

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I started to comment the "Good quality violin pernambucco bow" thread, as a fo;;ow-up to Ben's posts, but I thought I would rather start a new topic instead of my questions hi-jacking that discussion.

 

I am not very good player (in my my judgement), but I do play daily (mostly) and take weekly lessons.  I would say my best qualities are that I enjoy playing and I'm improving.  However, bows are a bit of a mystery to me. I have played multiple bows on the same violin, and multiple violins on the same bow.  I know bows make a difference in how one plays and the sound that is produced when paired with a particular violin and player.  But I don't know what makes a good bow. 

 

Are there balance, weight, flexibility parameters that are considered acceptable? 

 

What are the qualities of bow wood that distinguish them from kindling, good, and great bow wood? 

 

Is there an old vs. new issue because of the availability of higher quality wood in the past?  That's probably enough questions for now.

 

Thanks,

Jim

Great question, Jim!  I'll join you and VdA on the bleachers because my questions are pretty much the same as yours.  Thanks to those who have provided their thoughts and helpful info already.

 

Neil

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I suspect the bow requirements of amateur players (like myself) are not the same as those of the pros. I use a pretty soft bow that I find easy to control, but which probably isn't capable of the speed and bounce needed by soloists and pro orchestra players. I suppose a "good bow" is something a player has to grow into.

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Good question, Jim.

Qualities of "good" violins, and good bows, can be so hard to put into words, that I'd say if one experiments a lot with instruments and bows in all price ranges, and can't quite quickly notice improvements over what you already own, might as well stay with what you already have,

 

Down the road, you may start to experience much larger differences. In my opinion, that would be a better time to make a change.

 

I will acknowledge that you are trying to to take an intelligent approach to this, and I will solute you for that. Differences between violins and bows are much harder to distinguish, versus measuring lap times around a racetrack between different brands of cars.

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Jeffrey, I can see where you're coming from there. 
Perhaps a good Nuremburger is what many players would call 'good', 
where only a delicate French bow would do for another.

If 10 top bow makers got together with 10 top players then perhaps over 10 days
they'd be able to figure out what was 'good'. 

 

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I'll let someone who knows more than I do talk about what makes a good bow, but I don't know of any individual, one at a time, slug it out on the bench, make the frog, minimal machining, bow makers who use anything but silver, gold and quality wood on a bow. There is just to much energy and meticulous work involved to make lesser materials worthwhile. Unless as an experiment or as a customer order most use the best pernambuco that they can find. I personally have seen bow makers sell all of their stash of wood if they can buy a better quality batch, regardless of price. Bows made in small factory or large workshop settings will try to save money on their products since they are trying to churn them out and make a profit based on the need for medium and lower quality sticks, but the individual craftsmen generally invest to much time/effort to bother with anything less than good materials. 

This is my observation but perhaps I'm missing something in the business. I know personally of one bow maker who bought a ton (almost literally) of pernambuco wood from a defunct firm. He sold the best sticks to makers who cherry picked it for several years and at the end sold all of the remaining wood that wasn't bought to a large Chinese company. I bought the very nice ebony that he had been using for frogs when he found a source of perfect, obsidian like wood to replace it.

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Regarding bows for playing...although I readily notice the difference between bows...I'm also not advanced enough to need? different bows for different music...

 

 

I have heard players talk about the bow they use for Mozart, versus the bow they use for Bruch versus the bow they use for the Other Composer...

 

And I've heard other players say this is nonsense...one bow will do for all music... ^_^

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I've tried to post a couple of times but I'm having internet issues.  Thanks everyone for the participation.  David, your answer is spot on if I was in the market for a bow.   One day I'll probably buy a nice bow directly from a maker but that's a ways off.  My interest was sparked by Ben and Eric's posts in another thread where the quality of the wood was referred to.  Because I also do not plan on making bows, I guess my questions are more academic in nature. 

 

I'd like to leave a nice quote but I'm afraid my internet will crash again before I find it.  It goes something like "If you keep getting the wrong answers, your asking the wrong questions".

 

I'll try again.  So as a bow maker looking at wood blanks what attributes make me think (right or wrong) that this could make a really nice bow?  As a buyer, looking at the finished product (leaving out the playability variables), what attributes make me think this is a well made bow from a great piece of wood?  Why is it a great piece of wood?

 

Thanks again!

Jim

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I notice that I have a lot of very nice company over here. :)  What I tried to accomplish with my question was to flush an example of the only folks among us likely to have a really informed opinion and to tell us what they actually do to give a bow certain characteristics rather than others, and possibly even why some bows are "dogs" and some are "winners" from a practical point of view.  All a player can tell us is what they like (or the opposite) in an already finished item.  All a dealer can tell us is what sells and why, in their opinion, which may have more to do with provenance and decoration than physical performance.  It would, IMHO, be quite disappointing to have this promising thread fizzle out into a consensus of "Pile 'em up, test 'em, and pick the cherries out!", which is what I already do.  :lol:

 

I will note that when similar questions are asked of the violin carvers and tweakers around here, there is no shortage of feedback. 

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I had heard ( have no source) that the Hill shop had a test with weights they did on their bows.  As far as wood goes there are makers that use the Lucchi meter and some who don't.  Needless to say that was not available until recently.  I look for lateral stability and a weight somewhere in the ballpark of the 60/70/80 gram area. A lively bow that also can pull a big sound is wonderful.  Again, I think it is pretty hard to come up with quantifiable ways to test bows.

 

 

DLB

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I don't know if you've run across this little write-up...or if answers your question any better:

http://www.altmanbows.com/how_to_choose_a_bow.html

Yup.  I'd wager that everyone who's posted in here so far already knows at least as much.  :)

 

I guess my questions are more on the order of, "Why does a particular bow play better than another which visually appears to meet the same criteria?", as well as, "Can you nice folks really control the result in any powerful way, or do you simply select good looking wood, expertly and flawlessly plane them all to a given traditional pattern, install the fittings and hair them as well as possible, and leave the rest to luck and quantity?"

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 What I tried to accomplish with my question was to flush an example of the only folks among us likely to have a really informed opinion and to tell us what they actually do to give a bow certain characteristics rather than others, and possibly even why some bows are "dogs" and some are "winners" from a practical point of view.  All a player can tell us is what they like (or the opposite) in an already finished item.  All a dealer can tell us is what sells and why, in their opinion, which may have more to do with provenance and decoration than physical performance.  It would, IMHO, be quite disappointing to have this promising thread fizzle out into a consensus of "Pile 'em up, test 'em, and pick the cherries out!", which is what I already do.  :lol:

 

I will note that when similar questions are asked of the violin carvers and tweakers around here, there is no shortage of feedback. 

And no shortage of controversy. I will default to "Pile 'em up, test 'em, and pick the cherries out!", whether it's new, old, factory, Strads, or whatever.

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