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Bow Making as an Industry


CanoraStrad
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Hi, First post.

 

I've been lurking for while and off and on for years. Figured I'd take the plunge. (hopefully I don't loose an inordinate amount of time posting. :) )

 

I've read plenty in regards to Violin making and influences from China and other markets making it much more competitive than was a couple of decades ago.

 

Has bowing making experienced a similar shift as well?

 

I know that China and other places make bows (Purchased one for a penny +shipping off eBay a couple years back.), but has it been as disruptive?

 

Thanks for the discussion

 

Josh

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Well Josh,

 

I've got to say that much depends on the ability of the player, and their desire for a specific type of bow that plays in a specific way.  Until you become used to playing the violin, it really won't matter what type of bow is used.

A $30.00 fiberglass bow will act much the same a s a handmade professional's pernambuco bow.

 

On the other hand, as one progresses in their abilities as a player, the differences between bows and who has made, them and their playing qualities - becomes a thing of paramount importance.

 

 Particular importance has to with total weight, balance point(s), and general quality of parts used.

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"........and general quality of parts used."

Indeed. And the most important part is the pernambuco stick. And my impression is that pretty much all of the highest quality pernambuco already outside of Brazil has been ravenously acquired and stashed away by makers already in the trade. I heard that Germany no longer trains young people to be bow makers because there's no pernambuco for them to work with. So ultimately the ability to make top grade bows is mostly limited by access to materials, and not necessarily by prevailing wage scales in any particular place.

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The mass produced bow business is being disrupted by Chinese bows. You can get a Chinese bow for $50, and in some cases even less. Typically it isn't the greatest bow, but it has hair on it and can make a sound. For $100 you can get something better than that, and when you get a little bit deeper in, you start to see some ok stuff. Some shops have their own line of shop bows that are now Chinese bows. They often have a German or French sounding name stamped on them because that typically means they sell at a price that favours the shop a little more, but when you ask for some more information on La Francais a Paris or Z. Deutchmann that is stamped on the bow, you may get a fairly vague answer. They may even have a few different models in a few different price points. 

 

Once you reach the higher end factory stuff that typically happens around $1000+ that part of the market is still largely dominated by the same names that have been in the game for a long time. Doerfler comes to mind as an example. You are not seeing a lot of Chinese competition in that part of the market yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if it starts to happen in the not so distant future. 

 

As far as bow makers feeling that pain, I am not so convinced. Most modern makers in Western countries are typically selling at a price point where the high end factory stuff ends, let's say $1500+. At that end of the market, new makers are between high end factory stuff and established makers who have the experience, knowledge, and reputation that allows them to sell their bows for a higher dollar value. It may be a challenge to sell the first few bows, but establishing a client base is a challenge for any new business regardless to whether you sell bows or pizzas. 

 

The biggest squeeze I have been seeing is in repairs. Many of the cheapest bows are cheaper than even the cost of a rehair and while having the bow professionally rehaired will almost always result in it performing better than how it left the factory, asking someone to spend $60+ on a rehair when they only spent $50 or less on the bow is a tough sell. Many of those would be clients will just buy a new bow instead. If that happens to be an upgrade that can be a good move, but there are people who are buying another $50 bow, and just disposing of the old one. "Disposable bows" that are more expensive to repair than replace are becoming more common, and the attitude of if it's broken I just buy a new one is now happening in the bow world. I worry about what that means for the future of bow making because it puts a lot more strain on an already scarce wood supply.

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Are those $50 bows made from the scarce wood that's used for high quality bows? I read recently that ipe is abundant and not at all endangered. Those things have a way of changing with the passage of time though. I'm old enough to remember when Honduras mahogany was abundant, readily available, and moderately priced.

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Someone a little more versed may correct me.

 

Pernambuco used for Professional bow is made almost exclusively from Caesalpinia Echinata. C. echinata is the protected species you're referencing. My understanding is that High-End/Professional bows made today are made primarily from stock that was cut years ago and comes from either other bow-makers' collections or reclaimed sources in Brazil. The former is highly sought after.

 

Lower tier bows typically say they are made from "Brazilwood". Brazilwood, and Pernambuco for that matter, are common names for a variety of different trees, and to further the confusion are often used interchangeably. Many of which are actually different species of the same Genus (Caesalpinia), which includes C. Sappan (Sappan, an Asian species of the tree), C. Spinosa, C. Ferrea (Ironwood, sometimes seen in baroque bows, or as an experimental wood), C. Pluviosa ("False Brazilwood").

 

Ipe is somewhat common alternative wood from what I've seen. Especially for "Disposable bows" as Mike described.

 

 

It seems like overall there is somewhat of a divide where on one side lower quality/high production bows are less restrained by materials and therefore operate under a price-centric model. The other side with the higher quality bows made by specialist being more generally limited by the supply of materials. Both of which I can't imagine crossing over into the other successfully. 

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