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Which is more important? Cello or bow?


PhilipKT
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1 hour ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

1) Too many choices.

2) Too many choices.

3) Because you gave them too many choices.

4) Because it took them forever to make a choice, 'cause they had too many choices.

Yes... I'm joking, but there's an element of truth here. If a player visits and can accurately describe what they want/need from a bow and give me good data to work with, I can often go to the drawer and pick a few out they like... I'm not a psychic or a genius. I just listen well and have a pretty good understanding of what the bows I have can do. Then, more times than not, their curiosity takes over and they want to try a bunch... however, the vast majority of times I've seen this happen, they buy one of the bows originally suggested for them, or something very similar.

In one memorable case, I pulled only one bow out that seemed (to me) to be a dead match to the player's description of desired qualities. They then tried a half dozen more in the shop, but ended up taking the first bow I pulled out on trial. It was returned a week later and the player headed off on a bow quest to New York, Chicago and Minneapolis. They tried scores and scores of bows, but couldn't settle on one. Came back for a visit and asked if I had anything "new". I did, so I pulled out three "new" ones and also placed the bow I'd first recommended on the table (and didn't tell them). The player played them and declared the bow they'd taken out on the first visit and returned was fantastic...just what they were looking for.  I then fessed up.  They laughed and pulled out their checkbook.

I have similar stories about instruments.

I honestly don't think this is odd or silly on behalf of the player.  If they are looking for a change (and improvement of some aspect), experiencing that change might not feel all that natural at first.  They have a process they need to go through.  Sometimes it takes 5 minutes, sometimes it takes 100 bows.  Could be part of the transformative experience. :) Maybe best to ignore the agonizing and have a cup of tea.

 

I have a colleague who owns a glorious Otto Hoyer cello bow.

We were Stand partners for a couple of productions and I asked how he gotten it, and he said he was looking for a bow, and played that and loved it but wanted to keep looking, and a year later he found himself in the same shop again after playing lots and lots of bows and being unsatisfied, played the Hoyer again and bought it on the spot. Although he was reluctant to let me try it he eventually did, and when he handed it to me I took it in my hand and smiled and said, “gosh, this is a great bow.“ And he smiled and said, “yes.” And I got that reaction without even playing it.

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@Jeffrey Holmes

PS

I think it is less a question of too many choices and more a question of not being sure what they want. I remember I Met Charles Magby in Boston in 1998 and he had some bows, and I flipped through them and pulled out a Shallock Bow, it felt fantastic. I bought it on the spot, and I loved it until I sold it at cost to the best student I ever had, who still plays it. It’s one of several bows I wish I had kept, because it was incredible.

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12 hours ago, vlnclo said:

 

I'm an amateur and I am no virtuoso. That being said, I own two cellos and three bows. If I use one bow to play both cellos, the difference in sound is enormous. The difference in tonal color and the presence of overtones is unmistakable.     If I play on either of the two cellos using each of the  three bows, there is a difference in a number of aspects of playability which influence nuance and interpretation, but the basic character of the sound in terms of frequency response is pretty much the same. Certainly the bow influences musicality and the ability of the player to produce the effect that's desired, but you can't pull a sound from the cello that the cello can't respond to. 

It's certainly true that  an accomplished musician can do much more with the bow than someone like me and I don't denigrate the role of the bow. I am simply saying that thinking of one as being more important than the other is not meaningful. I guess the only way to look at it is to regard the instrument and the bow together as one instrument. Regarding one as more important than the other is like saying that the strings are more important than the bridge.

  

And just for the record,  I can't recall any physical principle, simple or otherwise,  that says that an object that has no acoustic properties can make a sound. On the other hand if you can measure the vibration properties of the bow and relate those properties to the interaction with the instrument, you may have something. If that has been done, I'd like to know about it.

Of course a bow has acoustic properties. Hold your stick at a nodal point and flick it with your finger or a rubber doctors mallet. You will feel a “thrum” of vibration and if you listen close, you’ll hear a pitch. The stick has its own natural resonance. I have no idea what it is, although I think it is within the piano range( I’ve never listened closely enough to discern the actual pitch) and I assume the natural resonance of the bow stick contributes to the quality of sound one gets. I have no idea how it works, but I bet any competent bow maker does.
That’s why we say “this bow doesn’t work with my cello, but this one does.” The first bow I ever got was an AC Schuster. It sounded great with my previous cellos, but not so good on my current cello. I’m very fond of that bow and I still own it but it is strictly a loaner now.
When I get together with friends, we all marvel at how different a cello sounds with a different bow, and that’s judging as listeners rather than as players( players judge additional qualities like feel, response, and controllability.) Of course that wouldn’t be the case unless there were some kind of combination that worked better in one pairing than in another pairing.

So yes, of course a bow has acoustic properties.

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2 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

in my experience, a bow cannot change the core tone of a violin.

Of course I agree with this, but musical performance is much more about intention and expression than it is about core tone.

A singer may or may not be gifted with beautiful vocal chords, but they can overcome a lack of it if they learn how to control the airflow.

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1 hour ago, PhilipKT said:

@Jeffrey Holmes

PS

I think it is less a question of too many choices and more a question of not being sure what they want. I remember I Met Charles Magby in Boston in 1998 and he had some bows, and I flipped through them and pulled out a Shallock Bow, it felt fantastic. I bought it on the spot, and I loved it until I sold it at cost to the best student I ever had, who still plays it. It’s one of several bows I wish I had kept, because it was incredible.

In this case, you and your Shallock (what ever happened to him anyway?) were the 5 minute type, and your friend and his Hoyer was the 100 bows later type!  :) 

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20 minutes ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

In this case, you and your Shallock (what ever happened to him anyway?) were the 5 minute type, and your friend and his Hoyer was the 100 bows later type!  :) 

I mentioned my colleague and his Hoyer Because it so closely duplicated your own story.

My best bow was bought new in the 50s by a long time member of the Dallas Symphony. A year or so after he died, I was preparing to audition for the symphony, and I was interested in having a better bow. I asked my luthier if it would be OK to approach his widow about selling a bow, and he said sure why not.

She was herself a retired violist in the Dallas Symphony( with a Maggini viola) And said she didn’t want to sell any of his bows. But then she astounded me by inviting me to come over, pick one out and borrow it for the audition.

She and her husband had bought all their bows in the olden days when they were not so expensive, and she showed me some really fine lumber.

The first bow I picked up was the Dupuy-stamped Gillet. I heard angels singing.

”is this for sale?” 
She laughed and told me that that had been her husband’s favorite bow. She declined to sell it, but she invited me to play his other bows. I think they were five great French bows. One was a perfect Thomassin, and as I was playing it she must have seen something in my expression because she laughed again and said,”he never liked that bow. He only bought it because I made him, because I thought it was so beautiful.” I laughed too, somewhat relieved.

Only one other bow made my heart sing. Amazing, even though the hair was years old. Amazing. Played the Dvorak so effortlessly I could let go and have a cigarette while it did the work.

”ummm Caroline, I like this one better, can I borrow it instead?”

She pondered for a second and then politely refused, even after I offered to pay for a rehair.

” I don’t think I want that one leaving the house right now, but you’re welcome to borrow the Dupuy.”

I was surprised and humbled by her generosity, so I did not pester her to lend me the other bow, which was a Charles Peccatte.

Well, long story short-er, I returned the bow after the audition(a valiant defeat, by the way) but we kept in touch and became friends. She was a wonderful wonderful woman and everybody adored her including my wife( who called her,”feisty,”) and me. Anyway a couple of years before she died she called me out of the blue and said I could have the bow if I wanted it.

I did.

It remains, with the Boss and my cello, one of three things I’ll have forever.

So call me impulsive, but I’ve never regretted buying that bow, and would have bought it years sooner if she’d said yes.

I have always wondered about that Peccatte, though. I console Myself by saying it was Only Charles…

And it’s only a tool, after all…

:-)

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I'm late to this, as is so often the case, but I had an unusual trajectory in the path of bows vs. violins. 

I had played for decades on a weird violin and a club of a bow.  I had tried and tried to get them to do what I wanted and had mostly given up, but I was good enough to do gigs, and I did them.  Then, I was giving a workshop in Irish fiddling, and a luthier who attended came up afterwards and told me that I ought to try some better bows.  As it happened, I know an important modern bowmaker, and my wife, being the goddess that she is, commissioned a bow for me. 

My experience in trying several of this maker's bows proved immediately Martin Swan's elegant distinction of sound versus expression.  ALL of his bows instantly transformed my connection to the instrument, but though they sounded "better," I believe that the transformation was in my contact with the violin.  They ALL made the instrument sound better.  I have been told on another violin website that my experience was BS because I am not accomplished enough as a violinist to know (yes, the commenter was a Neanderthal though probably a virtuoso--you know, whatever), however, this maker observed me playing his bows and though I kept coming back to the bow that I had determined in the first ten minutes was the bow I most preferred, he wanted me to keep playing all of them for a couple of weeks, then the two I most preferred.  But I kept coming back to that first bow (a la Jeffrey Holmes' anecdote). That is, until the maker handed me the bow he had made over the previous few weeks, and that one was really something.  Now... I suspect that I was handed a bunch of bows to try because they were all specific types this maker makes, and what I preferred gave him information about what worked for me.  I don't think it was magic or juju or whatever, but this archetier knows what he's doing.

Well, it didn't take too much longer for this fabulous bow to point out to me that my violin was the REAL obstacle.  Actually, I realize now that it was pretty awful, but I had blamed myself for its inadequacy. This bow was the interface that demonstrated the glaring flaws of this instrument, and then... with the help of an eminent Maestronetter... I found a fabulous instrument to play.  The sound was not in the bow, but bringing out everything a violin had to offer WAS in the bow.  And it was truly a life-changing event to get that bow on a great instrument.  Mission: Accomplished. 

And Happy New Year, everyone!

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11 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

Of course a bow has acoustic properties. Hold your stick at a nodal point and flick it with your finger or a rubber doctors mallet. You will feel a “thrum” of vibration and if you listen close, you’ll hear a pitch. The stick has its own natural resonance. I have no idea what it is, although I think it is within the piano range( I’ve never listened closely enough to discern the actual pitch) and I assume the natural resonance of the bow stick contributes to the quality of sound one gets. I have no idea how it works, but I bet any competent bow maker does.
That’s why we say “this bow doesn’t work with my cello, but this one does.” The first bow I ever got was an AC Schuster. It sounded great with my previous cellos, but not so good on my current cello. I’m very fond of that bow and I still own it but it is strictly a loaner now.
When I get together with friends, we all marvel at how different a cello sounds with a different bow, and that’s judging as listeners rather than as players( players judge additional qualities like feel, response, and controllability.) Of course that wouldn’t be the case unless there were some kind of combination that worked better in one pairing than in another pairing.

So yes, of course a bow has acoustic properties.

Yes, of course the bow vibrates. Bit if that's a definition of an acoustic object, then my car door is an acoustic object, as is my dining room table. In fact everything is an acoustic object.

Given that you hear a frequency when you tap the bow, however, supports your statement. But you would have to show how that vibration interacts with the natural frequency of the cello and also that the amplitude of vibration would be enough to influence what you hear.  Otherwise, your explanation is pure speculation. It would seem to me that the combination of weight and the mass distribution along the bow could account for the performance of the bow, as well as other non-acoustic geometric properties--but that, of course, is also speculation.

It's possible that what you say is correct. It's possible that it isn't. Unless you can give a more substantive explanation, however. I can't think of the bow as an acoustic object.  

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Now retired from career as a session 'cellist in the London studios, I have seen, played and studied many bows over the past 50+ years and am now lucky enough to own representative examples of some of the finest 19th century French makers. I have no doubt about the importance of the bow for the performer - for ease of tone production, beauty of sound and clarity of articulation, and yes the bow can often enhance the playing/tonal qualities of an instrument.  I would add the following comments

1 Each fine bow has its own characteristics, (personality, if you like) which the player needs to be "in tune" with to get the best results.

2 When testing bows the player must try to eliminate the feel of the their current favourite bow, so as to approach the selection process outside of their normal comfort zone i.e. not from where they are coming , but rather where they are trying to get to.

3 It is true that a particular bow will suit a particular instrument, and some will give enhanced results the better the instrument, hence something like an FXT can release the very best from a fine 'cello which is not within a lesser instrument.

 

 

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4 hours ago, vlnclo said:

Yes, of course the bow vibrates. Bit if that's a definition of an acoustic object, then my car door is an acoustic object, as is my dining room table. In fact everything is an acoustic object.

Given that you hear a frequency when you tap the bow, however, supports your statement. But you would have to show how that vibration interacts with the natural frequency of the cello and also that the amplitude of vibration would be enough to influence what you hear.  Otherwise, your explanation is pure speculation. It would seem to me that the combination of weight and the mass distribution along the bow could account for the performance of the bow, as well as other non-acoustic geometric properties--but that, of course, is also speculation.

It's possible that what you say is correct. It's possible that it isn't. Unless you can give a more substantive explanation, however. I can't think of the bow as an acoustic object.  

You are quite right that almost everything has a natural resonance. Go look up the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse, for instance. I remember when I was a sixth grader in school when I played a particular note the plastic chair that I was sitting on would vibrate. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world when my teacher explained it to me. And of course the natural resonance of a particular stick will work better or worse with a particular cello than another stick. I definitely don’t know how it works, but I do know that it does work, otherwise people would not save it this cello and bow combination is better or worse than that cello and bow combination.

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1 hour ago, martin swan said:

I would make the same point again - you are listening to the sound not the performance.

Any performance can be compromised by a terrible sound, but a bad violin can't be rescued by a great bow.

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1 hour ago, PhilipKT said:

You are quite right that almost everything has a natural resonance. Go look up the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse, for instance. I remember when I was a sixth grader in school when I played a particular note the plastic chair that I was sitting on would vibrate. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world when my teacher explained it to me. And of course the natural resonance of a particular stick will work better or worse with a particular cello than another stick. I definitely don’t know how it works, but I do know that it does work, otherwise people would not save it this cello and bow combination is better or worse than that cello and bow combination.

Please forgive for pushing this, but I just had an additional thought. Your original posting seemed to relate to the relative role that the bow played in relation to the instrument and which is more important. One can  infer that this implies that they are both musical instruments. I can't argue that the bow doesn't have an effect on the instrument's playability and its output. But I think that the fundamental difference is that the bow cannot control pitch. If you play on a single string, a single note, the bow can't alter the pitch. However, once you start to draw the bow across the string, you can play a whole tune on that  same string with a single stroke. The instrument produces a whole range of pitches,  and I submit that, in order to qualify as a musical instrument, the object must be must be able to do that and I can't help but feel that that  is the most important aspect of a music-making device. Maybe this is just word games, but it makes me nervous not to  put things into a perspective that I can understand.

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2 minutes ago, vlnclo said:

Please forgive for pushing this, but I just had an additional thought. Your original posting seemed to relate to the relative role that the bow played in relation to the instrument and which is more important. One can  infer that this implies that they are both musical instruments. I can't argue that the bow doesn't have an effect on the instrument's playability and its output. But I think that the fundamental difference is that the bow cannot control pitch. If you play on a single string, a single note, the bow can't alter the pitch. However, once you start to draw the bow across the string, you can play a whole tune on that  same string with a single stroke. The instrument produces a whole range of pitches,  and I submit that, in order to qualify as a musical instrument, the object must be must be able to do that and I can't help but feel that that  is the most important aspect of a music-making device. Maybe this is just word games, but it makes me nervous not to  put things into a perspective that I can understand.

There’s nothing in your comment to disagree with,I always have thought that the role of the bow is to create the sound. Like Martin has said, the cello does nothing without input energy, and that comes from the bow. And the kind of bow one uses has an affect on the sound. The get together I referred to earlier Illustrated that very well.

Now, of course the cello has to do something with that input energy, And that is where the quality of the instrument comes in, and also of course, the better the player, the easier it is to take advantage of the possibilities of a given bow.

And of course, in the grand scheme of things, the original question was somewhat hyperbolic. As grand as a great bow is, it does remain an accessory. But it is prima facie obvious that there is a reason good bows cost good money, And a vast quantity of named makers make a living selling 2 ounces of wood for multiple thousands of dollars.

I was shocked, and remain so, that an elite player, with an elite cello, who doubtless owns multiple elite bows, dismissed them as mere tools, when his own experience refutes his comment.

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20 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

As grand as a great bow is, it does remain an accessory. But it is prima facie obvious that there is a reason good bows cost good money,

May I suggest that one of the main reasons some bows have become so expensive, has to do with the  collectability and investment market, not unlike Strads?

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36 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

May I suggest that one of the main reasons some bows have become so expensive, has to do with the  collectability and investment market, not unlike Strads?

Sure, I call those “celebrity instruments.” The kind of thing a rich snob would buy just so he can boast to his rich snob friends that he has a Strad or somesuch. But I’m not talking about those I’m talking about all the names known only to the trade.

those items aren’t increasing in value because of celebrity status but because they are really really good at doing what they are supposed to do.

A couple of years ago when one of the instrument houses came to town for an exhibition, I had a chance to play on a Strad, and I met a very fine young cellist who is looking to upgrade from his Amati. He played the Strad, and I offered him my bow and said, “Try this.” He did so and was dismissive. Then he handed me the instrument and he handed me his bow and said, “try this.” And he handed me a tremendously beat up old Christian Knopf. I played it for a few minutes, and it did absolutely nothing for me, But I was polite.

But that Knopf is probably worth more than my bow despite the condition issues, Even though most of the people in the world would ignore it.

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1 hour ago, David Burgess said:

May I suggest that one of the main reasons some bows have become so expensive, has to do with the  collectability and investment market, not unlike Strads?

Authorship, age, past use/ownership, attrition rate, status, supply/demand... Yup. Sounds like what drives pretty much any collectable market. 

If any specific "thing" deserves reverence or not musically/artistically (and why) can be (and occasionally is) debated, but the market for instruments and bows has historically been pretty stable compared to several other collectable markets... and participants already invested in it tend not to whine too much when values are rising.

That said, when I do, I play on two contemporary bows (I like them very much and they were made by friends/colleagues) and a nice 19th century bow I take out for special occasions (I really like that one too). 

 

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19 minutes ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

Authorship, age, past use/ownership, attrition rate, status, supply/demand... Yup. Sounds like what drives pretty much any collectable market. 

If any specific "thing" deserves reverence or not musically/artistically (and why) can be (and occasionally is) debated, but the market for instruments and bows has historically been pretty stable compared to several other collectable markets... and participants already invested in it tend not to whine too much when values are rising.

That said, when I do, I play on two contemporary bows (I like them very much and they were made by friends/colleagues) and a nice 19th century bow I take out for special occasions (I really like that one too). 

 

I had several contemporary bows that I liked very much, and the fact that they were “new“ didn’t bother me a bit. I’m not a snob. In fact all the bows that I once owned that I wish I had back are fairly contemporary. The oldest dated from 1975-ish.

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42 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

I had several contemporary bows that I liked very much, and the fact that they were “new“ didn’t bother me a bit. I’m not a snob. In fact all the bows that I once owned that I wish I had back are fairly contemporary. The oldest dated from 1975-ish.

I work with many owners who own high end instruments and bows... sure, there are snobs in the world, but I don't think I'd categorize them that way. Most, if not all, seem to be thankful for what they have and are good stewards. A majority own and use contemporary things as well.

As far as contemporary instruments and bows go, personally I get a huge kick using those I own and often will play a new fiddle or bow new to the shop to get to know it.  I almost always know and like the makers personally, so taking the item(s) out of the case makes me think of them... and smile.

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7 minutes ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

I work with many owners who own high end instruments and bows... sure, there are snobs in the world, but I don't think I'd categorize them that way. Most, if not all, seem to be thankful for what they have and are good stewards.  A majority own and use contemporary things as well.

As far as contemporary instruments and bows go, personally I get a huge kick using those I own and often will play a new fiddle or bow new to the shop to get to know it.  I almost always know and like the makers personally, so taking the item(s) out of the case makes me think of them... and smile.

I didn’t mean snob in a derogatory sense, perhaps “connoisseur” would’ve been a better term. I know exactly what you mean. I think of the maker of my cello often, I consider him a friend, and I am grateful for him

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18 hours ago, matesic said:

I can tell when a player is playing a lousy instrument, but a bow?  Nobody in the audience ever complimented a player on their bow.

It is possible I have gone off the deep end after having done hundreds of bow/instrument comparisons, but I believe it is possible to see and hear if the bow someone is playing isn't maximalizing sound/expression/intention of a player. I notice a lot that the sound coming out of an instrument doesn't match in intensity to the sound a player is physically manifesting and it more often than not has to do with their bow choice. But that is just my anecdotal evidence. 

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18 hours ago, Robinfirman said:

 

2 When testing bows the player must try to eliminate the feel of the their current favourite bow, so as to approach the selection process outside of their normal comfort zone i.e. not from where they are coming , but rather where they are trying to get to.

Such an important point ....

My sense is that most people who try bows are looking for a bow which is just like theirs but better. This is generally a bit of a dead end.

When I hear this happening (there are some telltale signs) sometimes I try to be helpful, suggesting that people play music rather than notes or scales, that they play on each bow for longer before alternating, or that they monitor their state of relaxation rather than try to listen for differences in sound. But I'm always caught a bit between trying to be helpful and letting people do things their way.

I'd be interested to know if you have any strategies you employ when trying a new bow, maybe that allow you to break with what you're used to ...?

 

 

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