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Cello bows - quality and playability


Rue

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I took the CF cello bow that came as part of my outfit, in immediate dislike.

Why?

1. I am biased against CF. I admit it!

2. It's noticeably unattractive. Although not as bad as the old Glasser bows.

3. I don't know how much it is worth, independently, but given it's branded with the name of the outfit and there's no information available on it...it is certainly not expensive.

And yeah...of course it's entirely adequate for me to squeak around with.

I did try it on my violin, just for fun...and was actually surprised at how well it sounded in that scenario...so I assume it can't be a complete dud.

I can certainly tell/hear/feel the difference a violin/viola bow makes. Are cello bows the same, or are they also less fussy? How much of a difference would a better bow make? Or, how well would one need to play until one would even notice bow quality? 

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1 hour ago, Rue said:

I took the CF cello bow that came as part of my outfit, in immediate dislike.

Why?

1. I am biased against CF. I admit it!

2. It's noticeably unattractive. Although not as bad as the old Glasser bows.

3. I don't know how much it is worth, independently, but given it's branded with the name of the outfit and there's no information available on it...it is certainly not expensive.

And yeah...of course it's entirely adequate for me to squeak around with.

I did try it on my violin, just for fun...and was actually surprised at how well it sounded in that scenario...so I assume it can't be a complete dud.

I can certainly tell/hear/feel the difference a violin/viola bow makes. Are cello bows the same, or are they also less fussy? How much of a difference would a better bow make? Or, how well would one need to play until one would even notice bow quality? 

I use CF only for modern music, just like many chamber/orchestra musicians. Would never use one for traditional repertoire, as they lack focus, articulation and quality.

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Makes sense.

So...just to give me a very rough measure..when do you think one would need to move up to a "good" bow...and be able to tell?

RCM level? Suzuki level?

Those I have a feel for. Not so good with a repertoire reference. 

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Congratulations on starting cello, It’s a wonderful instrument. To play it, you actually have to put  your arms around it and embrace it, and it lays against your chest and vibrates and resonates like a living breathing being. And you get to make music. Just lovely.

I bought my first cello a few years back, used from a yard sale. It was an unlabeled Chinese student model. It came with a bow, the typical cheap generic brazil wood bow that you could get anywhere for $50 (probably more these days). I never liked the bow because it looked cheap. The cello didn’t look cheap, it has absolutely gorgeous highly flamed maple back and sides and bearclaw spruce top. Just beautiful. I went to my first cello lesson expecting my teacher to take one look at that bow and order me to get rid of that abomination immediately. She took a careful look at it to make sure it wasn’t warped and said “OK”. And my teacher complimented me from the beginning on the beautiful tone that I got from that cheap bow.

As I started to make progress learning to play, I was eagerly anticipating the day that I would outgrow that horrid cheap bow and I could buy a new one. A decade later I still own that bow. Over the years i have accumulated a couple more bows. I bought them used and cheap, not as an upgrade, but just for spares.

None of these bows could be considered “good”, but they’re still apparently “good enough” for my current abilities. I can afford a better bow, and one of these days I will buy one but my point (and I do have one in here somewhere) is that a modest bow may be able to take you quite a ways. I play tested a bow once: a vintage German bow, real pernambuco and silver mounted which would easily be priced at $1000 or more in a shop. It didn’t make playing any easier, and my teacher agreed that my cheap bow pulled a better sound. Now this was a sample of one and maybe it was a dud or it just didn’t suit me, but it was an education.

Which brings me to my actual point: If you want a bow upgrade, go for it! My advice would be to try as many bows as you can. Every bow is different and there has to be a fit with cello, bow and player. One day I hope to take my cello to a shop and try a bunch of different bows and find a great one (that doesn’t look cheap, haha). Best of luck to you.

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10 hours ago, Mille regardz said:

I would think lack of focus, articulation and quality is equally problematic in modern music as it is is traditional repertoire. 

I don’t think you understand the meaning of the word traditional: existing in or as part of a tradition; long-established. Modern music has not been long established by any means.

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1 hour ago, cellopera said:

I don’t think you understand the meaning of the word traditional: existing in or as part of a tradition; long-established. Modern music has not been long established by any means.

I think I understand what traditional means, and I can see why you wouldn't want to use carbon fiber bows because they aren't traditional.

 

What I don't understand is the remark that carbon fiber bows can be used for modern music but not for traditional repertoire because they would lack focus, articulation and quality. If carbon fiber bows lack these qualities, I don't understand why they can be used for modern music. Are focus, articulation and quality less important for modern music in your opinion? 

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I've played on a number of colleagues carbon bows, and while they are different, they can work just fine. The snobbery aspect is still writ large, with some suggesting the bows make a plasticy tone (whatever that would be).

Interestingly, many touring musicians, are increasingly using carbon bows, to avoid potential CITES nonsense at border control.

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I think for touring, a CF bow makes total sense. It's certainly not as if they aren't useable. ^_^

But...one of the most endearing features of the stringed instruments is their history, manufacture and their visual beauty.

CF just doesn't satisfy that need to connect with tradition.

p.s. I also think they produce a "different" sound. Maybe not all CF bows...but certainly some. I don’t profess to have exceptional auditory accuity...but if I can tell (while not looking) when a CF bow is being used...I think that says something.

Plasticy is an adequate term, but I would use "raspy". I think maybe the frequency of vibration is different? Wonder if anyone has ever tried to measure that? 

 

@Royce J.

Thanks! I love to explore "new" interests. And while I always loved the cello...it's hard to really understand something (IMO) without having something tangible to use, to further that understanding. I think that made sense! :huh:

 

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Learning to play the cello is learning an act of balancing or juggling. You want to learn to use as much of your body weight and of the bow weight and gravity as virtuosically as possible. While compared to violin playing,  playing the cello does require mor strength, we want to minimise using muscle power as much as possible because using too much makes us rigid. I like to compare the kind of body tension needed for cello playing to that needed for table tennis. It is a complete usage of the body, but the task is divided over all muscles. Therefore it feels "light". The Cello is like the table, the bow like the bat. Now imagine having a bat made out of lead. What does that do? That is sort of what a bad bow does. You'll learn wrong reflexes and start tensing up in body areas that should not tense up, while loosing connection with area of the body that should play a role. If you are a strong person, you may be able to play fine with a heavy table tennis bat, but the smaller or less powerful you are, the more important it becomes to have no leaden bat. The ideal student bow is slightly light (but nothing ridiculous), has the right balance point and has a fast string response. This all to make it discourage tensing up. The overtone spectrum it draws out of the cello (its sound) is less important at the start. The difficult thing is that it is impossible for a non-experienced person to judge these characteristics....

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21 hours ago, cellopera said:

I hope this comment was intended as a joke. There is no dimension in which a bow is more important than an instrument.

Well, within limits (those being that the setup of the cello needs to be good), and talking about beginners in particular, I'd agree with Eloffe. But I work full time as a Cello teacher and if I'm not mistaken, you are a full time orchestral cellist. I think our framework and perspective is different, and the kind of  instruments and bows we get into our hands are vastly different. 

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CF bows can be quite nice and draw a lovely sound. I think a lot of people who have biases against CF haven't played a nice one. If you were used to several thousand dollar CF bows and only played beginner-level wood bows*, you may very well say that wood bows are lousy and look weird.

What brand and model of bow came with your cello, @Rue?

*I'm not talking about the unicorn, cheap-bows-that-play-like-a-million-bucks.

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The bow in question was a top end violin bow...played on a top end instrument by a professional.

I admit...my experience with CF is pretty limited, but that was an eye opener.

The CF bow that came with my outfit is stamped with the company name of the cello, it's not from a different company, so no way of tracking it down.

But ... from looking at similar bows that come with the outfits of competitors...I think its independent retail value would fall between $100 - $150 dollars. 

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On 10/22/2023 at 7:01 PM, baroquecello said:

Well, within limits (those being that the setup of the cello needs to be good), and talking about beginners in particular, I'd agree with Eloffe. But I work full time as a Cello teacher and if I'm not mistaken, you are a full time orchestral cellist. I think our framework and perspective is different, and the kind of  instruments and bows we get into our hands are vastly different. 

Yes, setup plays an important role and I would agree that beginners do not need high level instruments or bows to start learning, but at a professional level, CF bows are inferior across the range to pernambuco bows in terms of sound quality, balance at the tip, string response and so on. I have tried all kinds of CF bows, including two (from Arcus if I’m not mistaken) that were priced around €8000, which is mind boggling.

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