Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

Bow Purchase


Jeremy Davis

Recommended Posts

**I've updated this story in my latest post June 2019**

 

Hi Folks, 

I've recently decided to upgrade my viola bow in an effort to reinvigorate my efforts in the practice room. I've played the viola for over 30 years, but only for fun the last 15 or so. Recently though I've rededicated my efforts and study, and am steadily getting back to my former ability. I'm not a professional player and am only searching for a bow to enrich my studio and practice. One day I hope to play in a small group or semi-professional Orchestra again, but right now it is about technique and form.  

Never having had a nice viola bow, I've always suspected that it was holding me back. So, I saved up the money, did tons of research and created a list of makers who's bows I wanted to try in the $5k-$6k range

Ultimately I chose 10 bows to try: a few antique,  but most were contemporary makers by design. 

The good news is that my suspicions were confirmed. Indeed my bow was holding me back. With most of these bows I could suddenly play difficult passages more easily and tone was improved overall. Almost immediately my right hand was in sync with my left and familiar music was new again. So, needless to say I was excited and set down to the task of choosing one of these bows to purchase! This methodology might seem presumptuous to some, but I know myself and the rabbit hole of endless decisions and doubt (over having too many options) will only make my eventual decision impossible to backup. So, I decided from the beginning that - even if I was happy with only one or two of these bows - I would not do a second trial.

So, I won't go into the details of each maker's bow,  but suffice to say that I played on each bow to get first impressions about which of them made an impression. Ultimately I took comprehensive notes on each bow's pro's and con's before settling down to a top 3. This took several days and, by the end, I felt that I had a good sense of what each bow could offer me. This was also an educational process and I learned that I needed a stiffer stick (as I have a rather heavy bow arm) as all the soft sticks fell flat for me. 

While several makers jockeyed for the 3rd position, there were two major stand-outs for me. Bow One and Bow Two. Both bows were round sticks of medium stiffness (maybe Bow One a little stiffer) well-balanced, and produced wonderful tone on both of my violas: a late 18th century viola and larger contemporary instrument. (note: not all the bows traveled-well between the two - and this was a major concern for me)

So here's my dilemma. Bow Two and Bow One were neck-to-neck most of the time. I would like one for one piece but the other for a different one. In some cases, I like them both for the same piece but for different reasons. I would characterize Bow One as a super-charged race car. It played fast pieces extremely well and with almost surgical-like precision, but was a bright bow in tone (and a glorious resonance would be produced on the D and A strings) but sometimes lacked the ability to pull emotion out of my viola's lower register. On slow pieces requiring more finesse, it seemed to be hard to control - or hold back - if you will. Still a lovely bow and a strong contender. 

Bow Two on the other hand is much more refined in terms of handling and tone. It is darker than Bow Two, but brighter than many of the other bows I tried. It too played fast pieces well, but not with the precision of Bow One. It is a few grams heavier, weighted a bit more towards the tip, and that really gave me much more control over the bow when playing in the upper 1/3, not to mention advantages with tone. My wife compared the other maker's tone to a well-aged wine - smooth but with lots of color, whereas Bow One was like Champagne - bubbly and bright. 

In my notes for the bows, Bow One blew me away with what I could do with it, but Bow Two I fell in love with. I still struggled with my decision so I made lots of recordings of back-and-forths between the two bows so I could hear them from a distance. In most cases Bow Two won each time. While Bow One transmitted it's precision and lovely upper-register tone, it didn't move me like the Bow Two. So, I made my decision and purchased Bow Two. 

I had to take about a week of rest after the intense bow trial as I was experiencing some finger-tip numbness in my left hand. So, when I started playing again I was a bit rusty to say the least. So, I tried to ignore my bumbling and get back to playing as I did during the trial. I'm close now, but finding the bow much changed. Maybe it's all in my head and I'm just having regrets now that all my options are back in the shops. It seems very heavy to me all the sudden, and my control of it seems to reflect that. I'm not playing with the same confidence as before.  I find myself thinking about the Bow One quite a bit and wondering if I made a mistake. 

I'll be the first to admit that my bow technique is not good. I tend to play at the tip too much and because of my stronger heavy arms, I don't play with much finesse in the lower bow. This is something I am working on. It's also something that makes me think that the Beginning - with its effortless lower-bow playability - was the better choice for my goals. I mean, it didn't sound bad, I was just moved emotionally by the Bow Two more. Maybe this is simply a matter of indecision and poor bow technique and I'll grow into Bow Two. 

Perhaps some of you have had similar issues with new (& expensive) purchases. I would appreciate your advice. 

 

(sorry for the long read, but congratulations for making it to the end...) -Jeremy 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Jeremy,

As I was reading your story, I realized you fell in love with the Tepho as you went along, and while you were playing a lot. I've also had the experience of thinking "I can't play at all" after taking a break from the viola during a business trip, or sometimes even after playing the violin for a week or two. I suspect that once you get back into the routine, you will fell more comfortable. 

The other thought I had is that you mention early in your story about your general indecision and doubt. This is part of your personality and it is something you alone can deal with. It is easy to obsess about "the gear" and wonder if there is something better out there (there often is) and whether or not you made a bad decision. I think you were methodical during the process, and picked out the best of what was offered. 

My personal opinion is that you feel your bow technique is weak, then work on that. I think part of you knows you got a good bow. Now comes the task of getting the most out of it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It sounds like you liked the tone of the Tepho more but the Begin handled better...this is an age-old problem with bow selections, which is why may players have at least 2 great bows...and often many more.  A tip heavy bow can seem great AT FIRST...but then can grow tiresome as you continue to use it.  Not saying the Tepho is tip heavy, only you would know that, but it may be based on your description.  Can you return the Tepho?  If both bows came from the same dealer, then it might be very easy to swap them out.  Personally, I would tend toward a bow that handles better...tone can be adjusted in other ways.  And if somehow you can get them both, do that...  In either case, good luck!!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Don't have an answer, but I can say that I've often second guessed my own equipment choices. One thing that gets it off of my mind are all the people I've met that have never fussed about equipment and still play fabulously. I've also looked at enough stuff over the years to realize that nothing is the perfect choice.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am someone for whom getting a great bow, and that changed everything, realizing my violin was also a problem, and then getting a great fiddle to play, and that changed everything... I understand some aspects of your problem.  We are rightfully instructed that it is a poor worker who blames their tools. and indeed, you've got to work with what you've got.  But it can be cathartic to change something like a bow and realize the profound difference that can make.  When I went through the bow process, a particular bowmaker gave me a bunch of bows to try, and used my response to them to make a bow that was truly awesome, but to be honest, there were two others among the six I had to work with that would have been delightful.  All of them were in another league entirely from what I had been using.  My guess, from what you have written, is that you had two bows that you really liked, and after wrestling between them, made a rational choice as best as you could...  It is REALLY hard to choose between two great choices, but you choose, and move on.  This philosophy is taken from a different aesthetic tradition, but it applies in this case, I think.   

Link to comment
Share on other sites

10 hours ago, Jeremy Davis said:

 One day I hope to play in a small group again or semi-professional orchestra, but right now it is about technique and form.  

.........

 I find myself thinking about the Bégin quite a bit and wondering if I made a mistake. 

.........

I'll be the first to admit that my bow technique is not good.

As someone once told me about a piece of equipment,  don't worry about it --  it's better than you are...   But what someone said about swapping if they came from the same dealer sound like a good possibility.

 

10 hours ago, Jeremy Davis said:

 Bégin as a super-charged race car. It played fast pieces extremely well  ...On slow pieces requiring more finesse, it seemed to be hard to control - or hold back

It's probably a matter of bow control on the slow pieces.  Very slow scales using double stops, whole bow, paying extreme attention to intonation and to not letting the tone break.  I've thought I've had bows that could do anything with no help from me,  but it was probably because I wasn't demanding enough at the time.  Don't get fixated on "stuff".

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I remember my first "Oh my god it can be so easy" moment when trying a bow of a teacher. 

I got a couple of good bows, basically to cover exactly the same differences you descripe. 

If I had to choose only one of my bows I would actually go for playability, assuming differences are small in sound and playability. I cannot tell you what to do. Maybe the following thought:

You get home after tireing long day but want to play that one piece shortly. Not testing bows, not working on technicd, just that small piece for fun. Which one will you grap?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you all for the excellent advice. Zeissica hit the nail on the head in describing what is "standard equipment"  in this body - indecision and doubt about all subjective purchases. If you were to go with me to buy new shoes, you would need to take a vacation day. I have yet to like a pair of shoes once I get them home!

True to form, I am also a gearhead. I am always tweaking and upgrading to something better in almost all aspects of my life. It's one of the reasons I got into the luthiery (for myself only) because I wanted to have complete control over all the variables of an instrument's sound and performance. In that respect bows mystify me because I can't tweak anything - only my own technique. (sigh)

Unfortunately, the two bows came from different shops. I've seriously thought about buying both bows, but could only do so if some more money becomes available to me. Then again, I really don't want two viola bows (see opening sentence) - I know that I would forever be torn between which I should use and never really committing to either. 

In some respects I am splitting hairs, that's why the decision was so hard - they both are great bows. If I'm honest, I do feel that the Bow Two will serve me better in the long-run as my technique improves. Perhaps even as my instrument improves as well. 

I've played the same factory-made viola for most of my life. When it first came into my life it was a HUGE upgrade over the cuttingboard-with-strings that I started with. It has a big sound and lots resonance and, in truth, allowed my sound to develop to what it is now. As I've matured though I've come to discover that that big loud sound isn't necessarily a good sound. I now understand it to be "boomy" and "metallic". I recently purchased a very interesting smaller viola from the late 18th century that has a really sweet, if not, loud sound. As a narrow viola of awkward proportions it doesn't have the lower register extension of my more contemporary instrument, but is much smoother in all other respects. As much as I like it, it isn't what I'm looking for. Really, neither viola meets my needs as a serious instrument going forward, at least in-terms of what I define a viola should sound like under my chin. So, I'm currently seeking out a new instrument, and hopefully I'll get to play it in September. I'll report more on that later...

In the meantime, a good friend has lent me a nice well-made contemporary viola (Italian) and the Bow Two really comes back to life on that instrument. I think I'll keep playing it until my new instrument arrives so I'll have something good to compare it against. Until then, I will be redoubling my efforts on improving my bow technique. The nice thing about spending $5k on a new bow is that there are no more excuses for putting it off. I need to live up to the investment. 

Thanks again all for the perspective! 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 year later...

Hello folks, 

It's been a minute since I've replied here (school is always so busy), but since it is summer and I've had time to reflect on my experience I wanted to give an update and pose a few new questions now that things have changed for me.... Fair warning, this is a looong update. So only for those who like long reads...

**Update: I've played with Bow Two since we've last spoke two years ago, and in that time my wonderful viola from Manfio finally arrived and I finally had the chance to play them both together (and have done so since November of 2017) 

Before I comment on how they work together, I should say that I've spent a lot of time in private study working on my bowing technique and have made quite a bit of improvement. There's something about having nice things that makes you want to rise to the occasion, no? 

My new viola: If you aren't familiar with the sound and power of one of Luis's violas, let me tell you, they are a force to be reckoned with. My viola, "La Valse" is an exceptional instrument and I've not played it's equal. Please understand this isn't hyperbole...it's very simply a superb viola. Easy to play but with the tone of a much larger instrument. Darker, but clear and sonorous too.  I'm also happy to report the response is lighting-quick and I don't have any doubts as to the ability of my instrument to play whatever you throw at it. My instructor was also equally impressed.  I could (and perhaps should) write about my experiences with La Valse, but I'll save that for another time. Anyway, it's my forever viola so, that allows me to eliminate at least on part of the equation. Any difficulties I have at this point or either me or my bow. 

If you remember **last time on Bow Indecision**, I described Bow Two as being a somewhat heavier bow, and between it and Bow One, it had the darker tone. It also felt a bit tip heavy, so that adds to the power of Bow Two when playing at the tip. (which, I might say, has never been an issue. Actually, it's more of a problem as playing at the tip too much was one of the primary flaws in my technique. I'm happy to say that tendency has been eliminated. ) Both bows had stiff sticks (which it turns out I love) but Bow One at 69g was lighter (and brighter in tone) and balanced closer to the frog whereas Bow Two @ 71g is heavier and weighted towards the tip. 

So, when you add a dark bow to a dark instrument, you get Mordor. Just kidding. The overall sound is decidedly dark to be sure, but I honestly like it and so do folks who hear me play, so I can't say that it is an issue. What is an issue, is my ability to play quickly - precisely - anywhere on the bow, and especially at the frog. Don't get me wrong, I do ok. Certainly a thousand times better than I did with my student viola or antique instrument coupled with a tubby clumsy bow. I might even say that I would perfectly fine with how I'm playing now if it were not for my memory of Bow One I tried a few years ago. 

You see, I've got heavy arms. I'm a bigger guy. This has always helped me get the most tone out of my violas but has held me back in terms of being nimble and quick. I think it is what contributed to my tendency to play at the tip. My arm+my heavy old tubby bow= the musical equivalent of bad English dubbed on a foreign movie. Things just didn't match up. I've learned a lot the past few years about how to counter that issue, and thanks to my practice and having a fine viola and bow I've been able to make a 65-70% improvement these last few years. Even so, playing at the frog is a chore and in the lower 1/2 of my bow (Bow Two), I get the "shakes" sometimes. The notes can waver and wobble and the stick bounces a bit. I can counter it somewhat, but I can't kick the feeling that this bow really is too heavy of a bow for me, or at least not balanced in the way I need. I've been able to confirm this somewhat by playing the viola with my Albert Nurnberger violin bow. While it is a softer stick, it is lighter at 59g and plays like a dream near the frog. It's quick and without the wavering wobbles, Problem is - you guessed it - it has no power to make my viola sing as I know it can. 

If you'll recall from my first post, Bow One was one of 10 trial bows in a group that included a mix of antique and contemporary makers. Unfortunately, it was the very first bow I tried and with a group like this, any one of them was going to impress me. I figured if Bow One was that good (and it was), the others must be better. From the moment I picked it up, I could play things I had struggled with for years. It was effortless. It felt like a race car. It made my playing articulate and precise like no other bow had before and I was truly impressed. The others all had their qualities, but none matched Bow One's playability. Bow Two came very close, but the Begin had the edge for speed and precision. At the end of the next two weeks, Bow Two and Bow One came out on top. I decided to go with Bow Two because while it played well enough, it had a warmer and more-powerful tone which is what I was concerned with at the time. I should remind you I was playing on a student viola that had a bright nasal tone (according to my instructor) . I knew that my new viola would be different, but I figured that if I could play with Bow Two well enough and it made my student viola sound better, it would be the best bow for both. So, I reluctantly settled on Bow Two and sent the Bow One back. As you know from my first post, I had my doubts about having chosen the right bow. Bow Two and Bow One came from different shops, so a swap was out of the question. What was done was done and I stuck with it. I checked on the status of the Begin over time, and sadly was informed that that bow was sold some months later. 

As well as I've gotten to know Bow Two, and even play well with it, doubt nags. It's more than doubt really as I honestly feel like the Bow Two isn't right for me. It's a fine bow, to be sure, and I'm often shocked by how well it does with some passages. Overall thought, it is just weighted better for someone with lighter arms, smaller viola, or a better technique. (or all three). I'm thinking that the brighter sound of Bow One might not matter so much on my Manfio. 

Fast forward to this week... I stayed in touch with the shop that had the gold mounted bow by the maker of Bow One, and they just now notified me of two more in stock! A gold mount and a silver.

Soooooo...... I have to know.  

As I'm writing this, both Bow One's maker are on their way along with another contemporary maker for good measure. I know they will be different than Bow One that I played before, but I think I have better perspective now on what I'm playing on and what I'm looking for in a bow. 

What I would like to know from you folks are any tips or advice you might have on how to audition this next round. I'm very comfortable with my instrument and very familiar with how Bow Two plays. What should be my first steps in understand the differences but being objective about each bow. I don't want to assume they will be better than my current bow. After all this, I very well may realize I'm fine....but I need to be sure. I would love to hear your thoughts! 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Obviously, play the things in which the Tepho seemed unsatisfactory.  I would suspect that you would find that each bow has its special characteristics that might be missing from others.  Then you might be in the position of needing to have two bows, one for one type of playing, the  other for things the first one isn't quite as good at.  I know that people have different  bows for chamber music, for orchestra, etc.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...
On 6/13/2019 at 3:34 PM, Jeremy Davis said:

My new viola: If you aren't familiar with the sound and power of one of Luis's violas, let me tell you, they are a force to be reckoned with. My viola, "La Valse" is an exceptional instrument and I've not played it's equal. Please understand this isn't hyperbole...it's very simply a superb viola. Easy to play but with the tone of a much larger instrument. Darker, but clear and sonorous too.  I'm also happy to report the response is lighting-quick and I don't have any doubts as to the ability of my instrument to play whatever you throw at it. My instructor was also equally impressed.  I could (and perhaps should) write about my experiences with La Valse, but I'll save that for another time. Anyway, it's my forever viola so, that allows me to eliminate at least on part of the equation. Any difficulties I have at this point or either me or my bow. 
 

Hi Jeremy! Thanks for your kind words on my viola! I am happy you are in love with it!!!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you’re worried about bias toward a particular bow, try playing all the bows you’re shown without looking at the stamps. It might even be worth doing it a couple times and having a friend see if you pick the same one consistently.

Another idea that comes to me would be to pick a piece that’s unfamiliar to you and try with all the bows. If one allows for better articulation, this method might make it more obvious. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 7/7/2019 at 3:11 AM, A432 said:

What you're going for in as bow, first and foremost, is the sound it draws out of the instrument.

Once you've got a clear winner there, with all feasible options tried, you learn to live with the limitations of it.

 

 

Have to agree with this.

I see so many players coming and trying bows, looking for something that responds exactly like their current bow but somehow magically BETTER. If it doesn't do exactly what they're used to, they feel uncomfortable and move on ...

The truth is that a genuinely better sound will almost always come in the shape of a bow that requires a significant change of technique.

So, follow the sound and try not to disappear up your own ****hole :lol:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...
On 7/9/2019 at 6:51 AM, martin swan said:

The truth is that a genuinely better sound will almost always come in the shape of a bow that requires a significant change of technique.

 

Hi Martin - would you please dive into this a little more?  I'm not challenging you, I'm seeking clarification.  What I think you're expressing is that each bow will draw a unique sound from an instrument, but that in order to make a significantly different (some would say "better") sound from a particular instrument, even with a bow of possibly greater quality, what's required is significant investment in adjustment of playing technique.  I'm a decent cellist.  I think I can hear differences in the many bows I have played with my cello.  But as I'm not a world-class cellist with incredible technique, I could be handed a masterpiece and it would only make a marginal difference in the overall quality of my playing.  I'm the only one that can make my bow changes smoother, not Monsieur Fetique.  Is that kind of thing what you meant to express?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

I would say that you can also run into a situation where you have already changed your technique, and in the process you find that your old bow doesn't suit you as well any longer, and you are now looking for something different.

I went through a change in right-hand technique that meant that I went from liking very flexible bows to liking strong sticks, probably best expressed as going from not liking Sartory to preferring Sartory. Unfortunately, when I first went shopping, Sartory's work was in my price range; when I was shopping for my changed technique, it was not. (I regret not having bought a Maline or even a D Peccatte when they were "affordable", since I think I'd still have loved the same bow even through the technical transition.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

I agree about changing bows, especially better ones, nearly always necessitates a change in technique to get the most out of the new bow. I recently changed to a lighter bow that, when I first tried it, didn't excite me. But after having played on it for a couple of weeks, I've modified my hold a bit, and increased the bow speed on some passages, etc. and I love it now. It is less fatiguing to play, even through we're only talking about a difference of 3 grams. One of my musical acquaintances will often switch bows between say Haydn and Brahms in chamber music, and I noticed that his hold changes accordingly. And of course the sound follows suit.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A level of maturity and experience is necessary to accommodate for a bow's possible weaknesses.

Working with multiple bows is a luxury, but currently it is becoming more necessary. On any given program, we might start with Bach and end with Piazolla or Prokofiev or Bartok?. Stylistically, i sometimes see parallels between Bach and Shostakovich as both composers challenged their listeners and the adherence to melodic ideas and phrasing were similiar. But the off-the-page joy ( and wonder if we care ) of recent composers require a variety of skills.

I do believe that in Brahms ( and sometimes other composers of the era like Tchaikovsky ) the color changed required between his first violin sonata to his last might require a more powerful bow. I have changed requirements from his sextets to Symphonies 3 and 4. Silky string crossings are passed over for rapid response and depth of tone. Activating the space or hall becomes an extension of the music and the instrument.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.


×
×
  • Create New...