maxr

Cheap but OK-ish 'Baroque' bows?

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I recently bought an old 18thC fiddle in Baroque setup. I'm looking for a period style bow to suit it, and unfortunately I don't have £1000-1500 to spend. I play mostly Scottish and English folk with some Irish and French, and intend to get back into amateur Baroque etc. period classical.

I have two David Van Edwards period style violin bows (one snakehead, one 'transitional' 18thC). They're excellent bows, but before I got this fiddle I had them shortened to about 640mm overall to use on nyckelharpa, where they work very well. However I'm tall, and they now feel too short for me to use comfortably on fiddle. After a good deal of searching I threw the dice and bought an Ebay Chinese Baroque snakehead violin bow. The 'melodywoods' Ebay shop has these on permanently. This is 700mm long, and light at (I'd guess) 50-55 gms.  Unusually for a Chinese 'Baroque' bow, it's straight when untensioned and convex when tensioned - snakewood with bone fittings and a screw frog, well made and an elegant shape. It was cheap enough to risk the Ebay purchase at £54 (US$70?), and astonishingly good value at that.

image.jpeg.5ba0c42f86970615343b4319b6da13d3.jpeg

Don't you just love the captions above - direct from Ebay :)

Although this bow plays well, it feels ultimately too 'whippy' and not quite enough tension for me, compared to both my modern bows and the two other period bows I have. On the other hand, what I'm more used to is the tramlines style tracking of my Codabow Gold. I've played some new Chinese 'Baroque' bows in violin shops which feel very like a modern bow in weight, balance and length. I gather that's not the way a Baroque bow should be ('snakehead' design rather than 'transitional') , and maybe my criticism of the Ebay bow I just bought has that basis?.

So - any recommendations please for cheap Baroque bows that work as a Baroque bow should, or recommendations on length, weight etc? It looks to me like a few of the Chinese workshops are making good sound Baroque style bows at amazing prices, but rather more are selling 'Baroque bow shaped objects' designed to feel like a modern bow.

Thanks, Max

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Those are nicer looking than the "Baroque" sticks that were coming to Gainesville from China via our local shop a couple years ago.

So... while most of the bows from that period are gone, bow makers reconstruct the models from paintings and drawings and the few historical examples that survive.  Standard weight/length/head shape didn't exist, varied town by town, country by country, decade by decade.  In general, they are significantly (10g) lighter than modern bows and the camber of the stick lends itself to a bow stroke that has a lot of natural decay.  The modern Tourte bow was developed for sostenuto among other things.

I now have 4 Baroque sticks: a cheapo from China, a French 1720s model by Pieter Affourtit, and two sticks from David H. Forbes, one long "sonata" bow, and one short "dance" bow.  The short stick is so much fun, dance music becomes so naturally rhythmic.  The Chinese bow is noticeably clunkier.

A super cheap trick for experiencing a Baroque bow is just to hold your own modern bow a few inches past the frog.  Holding the bow higher negates the weight of the frog, gives you the feeling of a lighter bow.

I don't think you're going to find a source for very fine cheap Baroque bows.  Fortunately, that's probably "authentic".  I think any effort made to understand period performance is worthwhile.  I felt like my playing gained nuance even the first time I tried the super cheap trick.

I think the key is mastering the bow stroke with a modern bow first.  Experiencing how much easier the Baroque stroke is with a Baroque bow is pretty gratifying, and if you already know what you're going for, approximately, you can allow the bow itself to be your teacher.

I'm not sure how helpful this all is to you.  Reading it again, it's a bit disjointed.

PS- David had a ton of fun making my two bows and is interested in making more historical bows.  They take less labor than modern bows so you should be able to get one from a fine bow-maker for a fraction of the cost of a modern bow.

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Thanks Stephen: I used to play in semipro Scottish ceilidh and dance bands, and there's no 'bow police' there, so I've been holding modern bows North of the frog for many years. It seems to make more sense all round for dance and folk music, and it saves lots of energy compared to the 'over the frog' hold. With my Codabow that means my thumb is about 1.5" above the frog and my little finger only just over it.  I can't see any reason why the Chinese archetiers can't make first rate Baroque bows, because some of them are making extremely good value modern bows and have excellent violinists in-house. I'm not sure whether they have good players of Baroque setup instruments yet though. My favourite moderately priced Chinese bow workshop is www.wangbows.com . I've had a number of excellent value modern style bows from there, but haven't tried their 'Baroque' style ones.

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I bought one of these from Amazon last year: Vio Music#709 Old German Baroque Style Beautiful Snakewood 4/4 Violin Bow.

It seems OK to me, they still sell it for $95. It is shorter and lighter than "a modern bow."

If your hair is too loose, remove some (maybe 5 hairs at a time) cut from inside to keep the ribbon wide and uniform. Fewer hairs with the same stick distortion mean more tension in the remaining hairs.

For baroque music, especially Bach, you might want a "soft" feel that allows you to play 3 & 4 string chords without "whipping" them.

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Thanks Andrew - I've found that new bows are often fitted with far too much hair, and I've ended up removing up to 1/3 of it on some bows. I tension the bow lightly and cut any hairs which protrude out from the ribbon, indicating they're not tensioning like the rest. The 'Bach bow' idea with an astonishingly convex stick and low hair tension is interesting - not least because, so far as I understand it, there are no bows surviving from his period to that design, nor illustrations of such bows.  So, perhaps when Bach wrote 3 and 4 string chords, what he had in mind was 'do what seems to make musical sense with the bows available'?

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Thanks guys. The Amati auction bow is unfortunately a bit too long for my purposes at 743mm. Pierre Affourtit makes beautiful bows, but we're talking about cheap bows here. I know many of the better know makers charge over $1000, but you can certainly get a good plain Baroque bow for considerably less than that, check out David Van Edwards (UK) website. 

 

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