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This question has bothered me for a long time, and I hope someone qualified will reveal the answer.  I notice that there were 3 gold medal winners in the recent VSA competition, and yet I haven't been able to find one I like as well as my Fetique, at any price whatsoever!

Yes, certainly I can find acceptable.  Yes, I can even find "very good", if I'm lucky.

My luthier introduced me to a Brazilian school where I found a very good bow I like a lot, at a fraction of the price I just sold the Fetique for in Chicago.

So the question is:   Given the fact that everyone acquires pernambuco from the source, why can't I find a modern bow I really, really, really like as much as the one I sold?  I understand part of the value of the Fetique is "antique", but given that modern work is judged so exemplary, I don't understand why I can't find a suitable replacement for the one I sold.

Am I just looking in the wrong places?

(sorry, I hope this is clear.  I'm really not terribly good at describing these kinds of problems...)

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New bows and old bows are different animals. Old wine and young wine. Not better or worse, just different. 

 

Sorry, can't agree.  The real issue is, is it true that there was much more suitable pernambuco available in earlier times?  Or is it really a question of suitable workmanship.

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A couple of theories ... making the assumption that your observation is correct

 

1. modern archetiers are making bows for modern players who play on cranked up mega-violins with high tension strings, and who are largely obsessed with making more noise than anyone else at auditions

(this would correspond to my feeling that modern bows tend to be heavy, stiff, and a bit uncommunicative)

2. modern archetiers train in schools where the great French makers learnt through apprenticeships - in other words, modern archetiers, like modern VMs, are forever re-inventing the wheel and have to figure out everything for themselves, rather than doing what they are told to do by someone who knows better. Nowadays you need a whole lifetime to figure out how bow-making really works - in Fétique's day, you could just have Husson show you, which must have saved a lot of time!

 

I don't believe quality of wood is a major factor, though choice of wood may be. 

 

I also think that the entire trade has become focused around images, and our standards for finish and execution are now impossibly high. And yet look how gammy a Vigneron or a Simon can be, or how rapidly some of the great early French bows were made.

 

I have a slight feeling that everyone these days is trying to make bows for "top soloists" rather than for players.

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Well pernambuco is certainly a fairly "rare" wood these days.

Unobtainable?

By no means.

 

Still makers (bow or violin) are just that; makers - and their products are as they are, from superb to well, perhaps the opposite.

After dealing with very many bows over the years (mainly re-hairing- but also as a violin player) I have found that very often, if and when playing a specific bow, the name and country of origin is of little value.

 - the bow plays as it plays.

The musician likes certain qualities in his or her bow or violin, and those quality's are intrinsic to the piece (the bow) being used. Usually it's not exactly the name, or the price of the bow, but its inherent qualities.

 

Those qualities, I have found, are not really specific to a certain maker only, but are found to exist wherever one finds them. 

I'd be out trying different bows, until I found exactly what I wanted. Name or no name.

I have some very "common" bows that play extremely well.

For me.

Then again, I've looked at and played some 'famous' name bows, that both have and have not impressed me much.

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A couple of theories ... making the assumption that your observation is correct

 

1. modern archetiers are making bows for modern players who play on cranked up mega-violins with high tension strings, and who are largely obsessed with making more noise than anyone else at auditions

(this would correspond to my feeling that modern bows tend to be heavy, stiff, and a bit uncommunicative)

2. modern archetiers train in schools where the great French makers learnt through apprenticeships - in other words, modern archetiers, like modern VMs, are forever re-inventing the wheel and have to figure out everything for themselves, rather than doing what they are told to do by someone who knows better. Nowadays you need a whole lifetime to figure out how bow-making really works - in Fétique's day, you could just have Husson show you, which must have saved a lot of time!

 

I don't believe quality of wood is a major factor, though choice of wood may be. 

 

I also think that the entire trade has become focused around images, and our standards for finish and execution are now impossibly high. And yet look how gammy a Vigneron or a Simon can be, or how rapidly some of the great early French bows were made.

 

I have a slight feeling that everyone these days is trying to make bows for "top soloists" rather than for players.

 

Thank you very much for this reply.  It also conforms with my own thoughts.  I suppose the reason it occurs to me is because all the fine old French bows feel light in my hand, compared to what I've experienced in modern work.

 

In fact, I recall an interview (in The Strad?) with a top violin soloist who proclaimed old bows too light for modern work.  If someone famous is willing to attach her name publicly to such a statement, I'm thinking there must be (at least) two schools of thought!

 

Thanks again.

Larry

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 I don't know that old bows would be too light. Maybe someone like PZ said it, but I can't agree. Modern work or old work, same volume, same dynamics. Unless modern bows, according to him/her, appear to be putting out 140 dBs. 

 

 I agree with Mr. Tucker's assessment that some no-name bows can be quite good. Which is bizarre. Perhaps the sentiment that the good ones are being held onto while bad ones are out in the market is true? (I seriously doubt this, though)

 

 

I also think that the entire trade has become focused around images, and our standards for finish and execution are now impossibly high. And yet look how gammy a Vigneron or a Simon can be, or how rapidly some of the great early French bows were made.

 

I have a slight feeling that everyone these days is trying to make bows for "top soloists" rather than for players.

 

 This is very insightful. Bows can be picture-perfect, but looking good doesn't guarantee playing good. However, I'd have my reservations as well that bow makers are trying to make soloist-grade bows. Just because I know what good soloist bows should be, and the mark isn't getting hit quite satisfactorily.

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I know nothing...

 

But, (there is always a but...) My luthier loves to tell the story of a friend of his that is a "famous" violist. Seems this famous violinist loves a bow he paid $25 for better than any other bow he owns, and he owns a lot.

The point I think is that bows are very personal - more so than the instrument even. I lurk a lot of various forums, and frequently hear people trying hundreds of bows and not finding "the" bow. If bows are not personal, then I have to believe that old or new is not the deciding factor, I assume there are good old and bad old, and there are good new and bad new - if the question is, "are you more likely to like a "good old" bow, then I don't think so, I think there are some great bow makers today, and they can compete with the old makers...

 

But, I know nothing...

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I also think that the entire trade has become focused around images, and our standards for finish and execution are now impossibly high. And yet look how gammy a Vigneron or a Simon can be, or how rapidly some of the great early French bows were made.

Yes. Some new bows I see are so exquisitely executed and seem so aesthetically precious that I'm not really comfortable handling them. I admire them greatly, but personally, I just want a tool I can carefully use without feeling guilty about it. There's a psychic burden in being the caretaker for such preciousness.

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 I admire them greatly, but I feel like I personally just want a tool that I can use without feeling guilty about it.

More later, but this is a very interesting point.  Some people used to describe modern bow making as being closer to making jewelry.  And, IMO, we should not forget for one moment that these objects are for the purpose of helping musicians technically and tonally.  The playing qualities of bows, as with violins, should be the most important consideration.  And when a competition doesn't even judge that, what happens:  The most perfect "piece of jewelry" can win gold without being fit for a beginner.  Not that this is likely to happen; I'm obviously exaggerating.  

 

In the past I have played bows by a few award-winning makers which ranged from mediocre to bad.  And while some were occasionally pretty good, they didn't ever match up against the very best bows of the old masters.  I remember one noted maker saying that the reason we can't match the old makers is simply the wood; about the best we can do, according to him, is make something similar to a mid-range maker like a Thomassin.  This was about 15 years ago, and I wonder if he still holds that opinion.  (I forget the specific maker or makers he used for his comparison.)

 

I know that this has been argued over and over, but I think judging bows for playability, even if flawed and imperfect, would eventually be of benefit to players.  And to me that is what counts most.  I know that the powers that be at the VSA over the years have been a very gifted and sincere lot.  And if they have NOT figured out a way to judge bows for playing I'm sure it's not without trying.  I'd like to hear a more thorough defense of their position.  

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But, (there is always a but...) My luthier loves to tell the story of a friend of his that is a "famous" violist. Seems this famous violinist loves a bow he paid $25 for better than any other bow he owns, and he owns a lot.

The point I think is that bows are very personal - more so than the instrument even.

But, I know nothing...

 

Actually I think you know a great deal.  Either that, or we just think the same way.  The former Principal Cellist of Detroit SO used to say he played a bow he won in a poker game for $15.  Having known the man, I can believe this story completely.

 

I agree that bows are even more personal than instruments.  I have no trouble finding instruments I like; the problem is affording them (but then I'm way past that point in my career, I'm just using it for an example.) OTOH, I have a difficult time finding a really fine bow, either old or new.  

 

A few years back now I sent for an old Hill bow with tortoise frog from Ifshin (are we allowed to use business names?).  I desperately wanted to like it because it was pretty to look at.  Alas, the thing didn't play for sh*t,  and I soon returned it.

 

I sold the Fetique because I found a modern bow that produces a brighter sound, and of course something "brighter" is bound to sound louder to our ears, have more presence, etc.  Unfortunately, it doesn't have the subtlety of the Fetique I sold (for retirement purposes, just to be clear).

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The internet has changed bow making right from the acquisition of knowledge and raw materials, all the way to selling the bow.

 

A lot of our information comes from the internet now, and the internet is often where we start our search even if we intend to retrieve that information elsewhere. Forums like this allow us to connect with other craftspeople, makers, suppliers, shops, auctions, performers, professional associations, etc. all have websites, and we start there. Because bows are such a visual and tactile tool, we gravitate a lot to photos online. Shops often have photos of at least part of their inventory, makers have examples of their work, auctions usually have photos of what is for sale, many performers have photos of their instrument and bow if not on their own, in their head shots. We are constantly looking at photos, and depending on the nature of our professional work, we may have far more interaction with good/great bows via those photos than in person. Sharp, crisp lines and intense contrast photographs better than soft lines, curves, and similar colours. Some aspects do not photograph well or are extremely difficult to photograph such as arching, which is why we see a lot of side profiles of frogs and heads. How we look at bows, and what we look for is influenced by the medium through which we see them.

 

When it comes to supplies, suppliers, and raw materials, many people are purchasing through online suppliers and automated websites. Precise information, quantitative measurements, and clear photos are what many people look for. That makes sense when buying tools and mechanical parts like screws and eyelets, but is harder to do with things like wood, which we typically measure with qualitative measurements. We see a lot of emphasis being placed on tight grain and lucchi numbers because you can see grain in a high resolution photograph and lucchi numbers are a quantitative measurement, but you can't pick up the blank, tap it to see what it sounds like, flex it a bit to see what it feels like, etc. if you are buying online. Similarly, bold and dramatic are easier sells because they pop out of the crowd better, so we see a lot of bright coloured shell and extremely dark ebony. 

 

Sitting at the bench to make a bow, you then have to make a large decision: do you make a copy/model heavily influenced by a particular maker, or do you make something original? Because we have access to photos of really great bows, copies can be very similar to the original work. If you are making a copy for a competition, often you will have access to the original bow you are copying if not for the entirety of the making process, for a period of time when plenty of measurements can be made. Some of the copies that result as so faithful to the original that they copy the tool marks (if any) left by the original maker, and often the graduations as well. That dedication to replication does not necessarily lead to a bow that plays and feels like the original especially if the graduations are copied, because each piece of wood requires something different. If you are making a *insert pedigree maker here* model, or a "influenced/inspired by ** model" there are a lot of things to consider in that making process. If it is being evaluated by someone who is familiar with that original maker then they will be making direct comparisons, and there may be an opportunity to see the two side by side. There is almost always an opportunity to see photos of the two side by side. While this can be successful for a lot of makers and it is pretty common for bow and instrument makers to stick to a well known template, it is also a risk you take if you attach a name that is not your own to your work. Original models are challenging because if you intend to keep the frog and head within the realm of traditional looking frogs and heads you will more than likely make something that looks similar to a particular maker (intentional or not) and if you decide to deviate dramatically, you run the risk of decreasing your potential customer base as there are plenty of players that don't want a "weird" looking bow.

 

After making that decision, you have to complete the bow. Chances are you have acquired "the best" materials and tools you can afford or have available to you, and you want to make the best possible bow you can. The best usually means being extremely particular about the finishing stages of the bow and the aesthetic result, especially if you aim to promote it via photographs. Even if you attempt to put words to how the bow feels on a website, photos have a far greater impact. If it is destined for a competition, workmanship and aesthetics are significant factors and tool marks, asymmetry, or a lot of things that are called "character" are usually avoided. Currently bows are not judged for how they feel/perform and while I doubt any maker sets out to make a bow that does not play well, that is not the deciding factor in competition. 

 

Selling a bow is not an easy thing to do, especially for makers who have yet to establish themselves. Competitions give a maker an opportunity to attain an award proving that their bow is a great bow, and it is another one of those quantitative measurements that is easy to point to. Mentioning an award on a website, or having the certificate hanging on your shop wall gives you something physical to point to that shows you do good work, where things like testimonial pages are subjective and in a lot of players' minds carry less weight. A lot of that selling does not happen in person, where either a maker has an arrangement with a shop that carries their bows, or the maker is contacted (often through email) and ships bows to a potential buyer. As a personal example, I own bows from a couple of Canadian makers who I have never met in person, and have tried bows from countless others, most of whom I have had little if any contact with.

 

It seems like a lot of it comes down to how we take an "old" craft, and integrate it into the modern world we live in. When most everything around us is mass produced, machined, and laser precision is the norm, that absolutely impacts how we look at and make bows. None of that suggests that we make better or worse bows than in the past but that we make different bows for a different environment which may or may not be suited to the personal tastes of each player.

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Respectfully to any makers,

 

If you make great playing sticks on a regular basis, the public will beat the proverbial path to your door.  Sadly, these days it is hard for a young player to acquaint himself with a great bow.  They end up not necessarily having very good concepts; plus, they always simply must have something to play on, and often what they have sucks; so they often, or occasionally at least, buy in haste, out of hope or desperation.  But when you put a great playing stick in their hands, IMO they get the idea rather quickly.

 

It seems to me that these days there is a circular thing:  players who buy things don't prove a maker is really making a great bow.  A sale is not a proof.  And getting advice from players is useful, but only as good as the players' concepts and experiences allow.  And makers who hand a bow which is even a little better to a player might be thought a genius by a poor, struggling musician.

 

Having never seen a great bow made by a contemporary maker—while seeing countless clubs— I'd ask that makers at least reconsider the new dogma that we should make "different bows for our times."  I think that is barking up the wrong tree and yet it seems to have taken hold like a bad mantra.

 

I believe that the now increasingly old new saw that personal or contemporary tastes should effect our making is is false.  IMO, there is a lot less variety of taste involved when you hand a great bow to someone.  I think if you hand some of the great bows I've played to two people who think they have entirely different tastes, they'd both find the bow extremely useable.  

 

—Yes, all this is just an opinion.  And it's really all too complex a field for us to all agree.

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Having never seen a great bow made by a contemporary maker—while seeing countless clubs— I'd ask that makers at least reconsider the new dogma that we should make "different bows for our times."  I think that is barking up the wrong tree and yet it seems to have taken hold like a bad mantra.

 

I believe that the now increasingly old new saw that personal or contemporary tastes should effect our making is is false.  IMO, there is a lot less variety of taste involved when you hand a great bow to someone.  I think if you hand some of the great bows I've played to two people who think they have entirely different tastes, they'd both find the bow extremely useable.  

 

 

 Great point!

 

 My experiences with modern bows have been similar to yours til now.

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 Great point!

 

 My experiences with modern bows have been similar to yours til now.

 

You will not make friends and influence people on MN with this attitude.  :)   But we COULD form a club of about 10 members world wide. The dues would be ridiculously high but the annual dinners would never be overcrowded.

 

I always have to preface everything I write on this subject by saying most of my opinions are dated, because I stopped looking seriously and regularly over a decade ago.  It may be that some of the better makers have arrived and I just don't know it yet.  I hope they have.  I don't get any pleasure out of whining on Maestronet.

 

But 15 years ago I was having conversations with big time bow makers who were saying things like this:  "I know my bows are stiff, but that's what people want."  Or, "There is a reason we can't make bows much better than a Sartory:  We can't get the wood the greatest old makers had."  These are not perfectly exact quotations, but they are close enough that the points are clear.

 

One maker who had seen a lot more of the bows of such makers as Tourte and Pecatte said that most people would be surprised at the variation in quality of wood some of these most celebrated makers used.  I have never understood the thought that one has to have wood that matches some number in the density department; rather, it seems the old boys figured out how to work each stick.  Of course some are better or worse than others.  It was never a science, or if it was it was never a perfect one.  

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And, in the order of simplicity, I'll postulate that with all (or perhaps against all) of the pre-conceived notions about, and with all of the various opinions about - well, bows - much like violins, they must be tried with no notion of either; the maker, or the date of manufacture , or even country of origin.

That is, in order to divorce oneself from any sort of pre-judging the product based on anything other than it's ability to perform in accordance with the musicians wishes.

It all comes down to simple, useful, or intrinsic qualities of the object - apart from everything else.

 

Very Simple.

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Really interesting posts here. As always I agree 100% with Will L, but MikeCanada's post is really illuminating too, for the other side of the issue.

 

One thing that's quite obvious is that the 19th century French makers who are so admired had no fixed principles about weight, length or stiffness.

 

I am only really familiar with British contemporary makers (Michael Taylor, John Stagg, Garner Wilson etc) but the range of acceptable weights and stiffness is very narrow for each maker.

If we look at someone like Pajeot or Lafleur, we see an enormous range of weights, lengths, and densities. Even when we come to the superb workmanship of Voirin we find nearly half of his bows are "unsellable" by modern standards, being as light as 56 grams (56 GRAMS MY GOD WHO CAN USE SOMETHING LIKE THAT, DOES IT MAKE ANY SOUND?).

Even Sartory, who is regarded as a more consistent maker thoroughly suited to modern playing, demonstrates an enormous range of stiffnesses and weights. 

 

From this I would conclude that the entire concept and intention of bow-making has changed utterly, and that rather than working through a pile of wood, making the best bow out of each stick, and servicing a wide range of musicians, the modern maker must produce a consistent product which is judged first on weight, second on looks.

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I always have to preface everything I write on this subject by saying most of my opinions are dated, because I stopped looking seriously and regularly over a decade ago.  It may be that some of the better makers have arrived and I just don't know it yet.  I hope they have.  I don't get any pleasure out of whining on Maestronet.

 

But 15 years ago I was having conversations with big time bow makers who were saying things like this:  "I know my bows are stiff, but that's what people want." 

What do you think about the possibility that they are right? I don't have much of a market, these days, for wimpy violins either. Playing styles have changed, trending from what sounds most favorable under the player's ear, to what sounds best to an audience.

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I believe the whole premise of this discussion is flawed. Some of today's bowmakers can easily rival some of the best bowmakers in history, and as a general rule are much more accurate in execution. That is not to say that your experiences are not valid, but they should be left as observations; It is when the observations jump to conclusions that we get in trouble. There is good wood available, great bowmakers available, and thousands of great players who make a living using modern bows. They may not all be like your grandma's banana pudding, but there are certainly examples that will remind you of her kitchen.

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I believe the whole premise of this discussion is flawed. Some of today's bowmakers can easily rival some of the best bowmakers in history, and as a general rule are much more accurate in execution. That is not to say that your experiences are not valid, but they should be left as observations; It is when the observations jump to conclusions that we get in trouble. 

 

I think you do the discussion a disservice.  No "conclusions" were reached by the OP (me!), but rather the root question is, given the admitted technical ability of today's best makers, and the common supply of pernambuco, players should have no trouble finding a suitable bow without having to pay $$$.

Mr. Burgess' post comes to the proper conclusion, I'd say.  If modern makers aren't making them "like they used to", quite possibly it's because modern players' demands have changed from "the good old days."

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 No "conclusions" were reached by the OP (me!)

Sorry, can't agree. The real issue is, is it true that there was much more suitable pernambuco available in earlier times? Or is it really a question of suitable workmanship.

There is good wood available, great bowmakers available, and thousands of great players who make a living using modern bows.

Looks like an either/or conclusion.....and an appropriate response.
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What do you think about the possibility that they are right? I don't have much of a market, these days, for wimpy violins either. Playing styles have changed, trending from what sounds most favorable under the player's ear, to what sounds best to an audience.

 

Well, the fact of the matter is, that if the player (him or herself ) first of,  is not at all satisfied with the resulting sound - or the response - of the particular bow (instrument?) in question - then, for him or her - it's 'no good' in any case.

And here's where the "adequacy" of the bow (or violin), to satisfy the demands of the player, varies.

 

I have found that bows that I like, are also appreciated by many other fiddlers that I know. On the other hand, many classical player find them "wanting" - to one degree or another.

 

For one very valid reason, or another.

 

Well - there you go - it's a very personal choice.

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