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Converting a Nurnberger Violin bow to a Viola bow


Jeremy Davis
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Hello all, 

Years ago I acquired a very nice Albert Nurnberger bow from a friend who found it at an estate sale. Consensus here was that stick is an authentic Nurnberger from the 20's,  but the frog isn't. Playing it on a violin seemed to confirm this, it's quite a stunner.  As I'm actually a violist, I play that 90% of the time and the Nurnberger just sits in my case. Since the Nurnberger is easily my best bow, I like to try and play it every so often on my viola. While it has a nice tone, at only 59gr, it's just not heavy enough for any sort of power. 

I got to thinking that perhaps it would make a nice viola bow. Since the frog isn't original, I don't have much an incentive to keep it as I found it. In truth, it's as long as my current viola bow, so perhaps that what it was before someone slapped a frog on it. (744mm as measured from the tensioner button to the tip)

 

Here are pics of my bow as-is: 59g - 744mm

Jeremy2.jpg

 

Jeremy 4.jpg

 

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Jeremy3.jpg

 

 

Jeremy5.jpg

 

 

 

I've been doing some research and it seems his viola bows weigh around 69-72g. What I would like some help with is how to purchase a suitable viola frog as a replacement. The only ones I can find are on Ebay from China. While they "seem" to bear some resemblance to Nurnberger viola frogs. It would be amazing to find an original, but I imagine that is a distant possibility. I probably can't afford to commission one, so I'm left with either a cheap import and placing a want ad for some antique frogs. I would like to get as close to what an original Nurnberger frog looks like, so perhaps you folks can be of help to me.

 

Here are some pictures of Nurnberger viola frogs. 

 

69.5g (1).PNG

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7448-2bowf.1.jpg

 

 

l20105frog.jpg

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l23586frog.jpg

 

 

Here are some picture of a close replacement I found on the 'bay:

REPLACEMENT (1).jpg

REPLACEMENT (2).jpg

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A good standard balance point for viola bows is 195mm from the frog when the frog is completely loosened. (For violin bows it's 185mm.) As was already stated here, you can't add significant weight at the frog without completely upsetting the bow's balance.

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Jeremy, adding weight to the ends of the bow won't  make it a viola Bow.  I don't  think  it will work  any better  than  it  does  now.

What  makes you so sure that the frog doesn't  belong? Makers often made different models. 'Tubbs' model frogs with long rounded ferrules were popular.  Could this be one? Any Bow people  like to comment?

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I don't think you would be pleased with the result.  That said Mr. Primrose used to play with a violin bow at different points in his career.  One of my teachers in college played viola with a very nice D. Pecatte violin bow.  I would probably see if you could do a trade for a viola bow that you like.

 

DLB

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An "off the peg" replacement frog is unlikely to have the same angles where it mates with the stick's octagon, that is to say different makers and schools will show differences in this area. You would be extremely fortunate if the frog fitted. The solution a "handyman" (thanks Retford) would employ would be to file at the facets of the stick in this area until it mated better, but this would of course be vandalism on a stick of this quality.

The solution might be to take it to a competent bowmaker to make a frog to fit the stick, and make it behave as like a viola bow as he/she could manage, even if this meant adding weight at the head, maybe some lead within the head mortice. Not ideal, but better than nothing. And a bit of a leap into the unknown, as you could very possibly end up with something you didn't like, though just as possibly you might be very happy.

Good luck.

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2 hours ago, MarkBouquet clearsky said:

A good standard balance point for viola bows is 195mm from the frog when the frog is completely loosened. (For violin bows it's 185mm.) As was already stated here, you can't add significant weight at the frog without completely upsetting the bow's balance.

Thanks for this information, since I really don't know if it is one or the other (by length alone). I will measure it when I get home tonight. Quick question: Won't the violin frog influence the balance towards the tip (as opposed to if it had a viola frog?

Can anyone tell me the weight differences between a standard violin frog vs. a viola frog? 

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6 minutes ago, Jeremy Davis said:

Thanks for this information, since I really don't know if it is one or the other (by length alone). I will measure it when I get home tonight. Quick question: Won't the violin frog influence the balance towards the tip (as opposed to if it had a viola frog?

Can anyone tell me the weight differences between a standard violin frog vs. a viola frog? 

Think about it Jeremy. A heavier frog will move the balance point closer to the frog.

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3 minutes ago, FiddleDoug said:

It's not just the weight that makes a viola bow.A viola bow has more hair in it. The hair ribbon is wider, the mortise in the tip and the frog are larger. You can't make those changes to a violin bow to turn it into a viola bow.

I see. What would the measurements of the mortise be for a violin or viola bow? I'm assuming, sans-frog, the head is the only part of the bow that distinguishes it from one instrument to the other.) Perhaps the head is wider/longer for a viola bow? 

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2 minutes ago, MarkBouquet clearsky said:

Think about it Jeremy. A heavier frog will move the balance point closer to the frog.

I meant - if the bow were a viola stick (with a viola frog) it would be balanced at a certain point (say 195mm from the frog). If you installed a violin frog, it would become heaver towards the tip (i.e. balance point closer to the frog). Maybe we are arguing the same point? (I tend to explain things backwards according to my wife...)

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4 hours ago, FiddleDoug said:

OK, I grabbed one of each. Violin Frog = 13.2mm, Tip = 10.0mm. Viola Frog = 15mm, Tip = 10.8mm. Both are about 10% bigger on the viola. Give up the idea of converting a very nice violin bow to a kludged viola bow.

For you Doug,  Ok, It'll stay as-is. Now, anyone want to trade me a Nurnberger violin bow, for a Nurnberger viola bow? Even Steven?

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Viola bows I've seen are "taller" at the head than violin bows.  That is the head is a bit taller on viola bows.  This characteristic would be very difficult to change.  Bows made to be violin bows that end up weighing 65 gms or so often can be used successfully as viola bows, for what that's worth. 

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I think Conor was right on.  Before you start replacing the frog, have it checked out by someone that knows to determine if this is the original. "Consensus" is not knowledge, and this does not look replaced from the photos. 

BTW..it is also not at all definitive from the photos that the bow is from the 20's.

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10 hours ago, Jeremy Davis said:

I'll be passing through Toronto and Montreal in 3 weeks, can anyone recommend a good shop that could accommodate me? I would love to trade this bow for a similar Nurnberger viola bow...

Remenyi and Heinl in Toronto and Wilder & Davis in Montreal. Our friend Guy Harrison may have something in Ottawa on your way through...

 

DGSR:)

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4 hours ago, Jerry Pasewicz said:

I think Conor was right on.  Before you start replacing the frog, have it checked out by someone that knows to determine if this is the original. "Consensus" is not knowledge, and this does not look replaced from the photos. 

BTW..it is also not at all definitive from the photos that the bow is from the 20's.

You know, it's been so long since I acquired that bow that I completely forgot, after having a discussion about it here, that I took it to a luthier in Connecticut how confirmed the frog is original to the stick. After looking more closely, the fit is extremely good. I think that some folks in that earlier discussion were thrown by the tapered tongue/thumbpiece, but conceded that Nurnberger frogs aren't all the same (unlike Hoyer) and could be entirely possible that this frog is original. 

For some background, I acquired the bow in a trade with a friend about 7 years ago. Considering what the bow re-hairer offered him on the spot, (thankfully refused) I'm pretty sure this bow is a good one. It's too bad I'm not a native violinist! I've never had a nice viola bow, and have never played with one. I'm very keen to see what a difference it might make with my playing. 

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2 hours ago, DGerald StephenR said:

Remenyi and Heinl in Toronto and Wilder & Davis in Montreal. Our friend Guy Harrison may have something in Ottawa on your way through...

 

DGSR:)

 

2 hours ago, Ron MacDonald said:

Also Soundpost in Toronto.

Thank you both for the recommendations. I'll reach out and see if they might have something I'm looking for. 

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23 minutes ago, Jeremy Davis said:

You know, it's been so long since I acquired that bow that I completely forgot, after having a discussion about it here, that I took it to a luthier in Connecticut how confirmed the frog is original to the stick. After looking more closely, the fit is extremely good. I think that some folks in that earlier discussion were thrown by the tapered tongue/thumbpiece, but conceded that Nurnberger frogs aren't all the same (unlike Hoyer) and could be entirely possible that this frog is original. 

For some background, I acquired the bow in a trade with a friend about 7 years ago. Considering what the bow re-hairer offered him on the spot, (thankfully refused) I'm pretty sure this bow is a good one. It's too bad I'm not a native violinist! I've never had a nice viola bow, and have never played with one. I'm very keen to see what a difference it might make with my playing. 

Great.  Your trade in just went way up!

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Looking at this bow I thought I would add my twopence ha'porth ...

Am I right that the mounts are nickel?

In any case, the combination of the brand (serifs but without a star at either end) and the head shape suggest a Nuernberger workshop bow, not something made by Franz Albert or Carl Albert. I suppose it's possible that the Nuernberger shop made a "Tubbs" model frog, but I've never actually seen that swept back "catfish mouth" ferrule on any kind of Nuernberger, nor the rounded off button.

If the fittings are original, they would also confirm that this bow is a batch production or 'trade' bow. I would expect there to be assembly marks on either the stick or the frog or both - if both then we can say for sure whether the frog belongs - if the numbers don't match or only one has assembly marks, then the frog is not original.

If the second stamp says "Germany" rather than "West Germany" then we must be looking at something made pre-1948, but surely after 1930. I don't suppose it says West Germany since Nuernberger found itself in the GDR after the WWII division.

 

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