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The Perfect Bow (for me). Does it Exist?


itrebmirag

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I’ve been looking for a bow for several years now and picked a gold mounted Richard Grunke. I love the bow and have grown with it so much, but as I have matured as a musician and my taste became more refined, I have some issues with it. The pros, the stick is extremely strong and rich. Even the lightest pulls produce such broad and powerful sound. The cons, it’s so stiff and frog heavy. After all these years, it’s still a bit uncomfortable. The sound is also, not “buttery?” I’m not sure. It would be wrong to equate this feeling to old French bows, but that’s the only example I have of this very velvety, smooth sound.


The problem I am facing right now is I’m not sure where to look. I’ve sort of exhausted the inventory around me. My local bow maker and luthiers recommend me to just keep trying bows. They give me the look like I’m asking for too much, but are too polite to tell me off. The main issue I’m finding as I try bows are that they are either too buttery and soft that I lose power and a clean spiccato. I haven’t found a bow as powerful as my Grunke yet either. Also, when I find something with the attribute I like, the sound tends to be either too weak or “generic?”

I really want a bow that is well balanced through-out the stick, on the lighter end, and to effortlessly pull a big sound while being able to be smooth and buttery. Can this exist all in one bow? I know many professionals carry multiple bows for different repertoire but I’m a very one-bow and done person. 

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I'd say this is a 3-body problem - violin, bow, player - with no unique solution. Whatever bow you try will obviously perform differently according what violin you use (let's not get into strings and rosin!) and how well you can adapt your playing to make the best of its qualities and forget its limitations. Having chosen a bow, don't ask what it should do for you but what you can do with it. And if you can't, keep trying.

Having said that I disclaim any technical authority in violinism!

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8 hours ago, itrebmirag said:

I really want a bow that is well balanced through-out the stick, on the lighter end, and to effortlessly pull a big sound while being able to be smooth and buttery.

I don't know what "buttery" sounds like. :)

Have you found bows that worked but were unaffordable? If not, and you have tried a lot of different bows without success, then maybe it is your violin and not your bow. 

I have found that many ~60g early 20th c. H.R. Pfretzschner bows are pretty reliably good bows, and are still affordable. You might also try some good carbon fiber bows. The Codabow Luma model (58g) might work for you.

You could also take a few days to fly or drive to a city with more dealers so you could try a greater variety of bows.

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The short answer is "no" - I'm not sure there is a "perfect" bow for any specific player. That said, there are likely some "near-perfect" bows out there, something that feels good in the hand, draws a big and nicely colored sound, and is versatile, i.e. can do good bouncing strokes along with on-the-string work. As Matestic so aptly put: this is also about you and your instrument. No other player can pick a bow for you. 

And as others have suggested, there is nothing like trying a bunch of bows. I live in Albuquerque, so I'm grateful to have the Robertson Violins shop here in town and they always have an amazing inventory. Big cities like LA, NY, Chicago, probably Dallas, Denver, Atlanta, Cleveland, etc. should all have good shops with lots of options at different prices. 

Contemporary makers are probably your best bet for finding something under $15,000 or likely even under 10K that is a step up from what you have, maybe even close to perfect. When you start looking at old English or French bows, get ready to shell out the big bucks!

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Teissica is correct, there might not be a singular bow.

The realm, reality, of music is so large that not one bow can express all necessary data.

Not saying that things need to evolve but they do.

If "a" bow is for you, enjoy the process in finding it. Otherwise, enjoy what one has. Which should not restrict what you seek.

This thing with gold is silly. 

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I played on contemporary bow that has strong but supple, nervy stick. It put out smooth strong sound that has this "singing" quality, which is what I think most people mean by having a buttery sound or feel.

I've tried at least 30 or more contemporary bows from various regions throughout the years, they are mostly a camp between heavy/sturdy (that usually somewhat stiff) and nervy/nimble/supple (that usually don't put out a lot of sound). Even after tasting some of the best 20th century French maker works, my conclusion was it's rare to have power and smoothness at once. Not to say there isn't any, but my bow certainly didn't put out the biggest sound but it's the smoothness that I really appreciate as it's rare to come by such quality. So keep looking! 

Or stretch your budget and start looking at older bows. I recently acquired old French school bow that put out overtones that's unlike newer bows, but that's whole another topic there.

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It always fascinates me how many musicians have bows that they don’t like.

my conclusion is that when trying bows, there’s a tendency to listen to the sound rather than the music. People try (understandably) to make a rational choice by playing scales and staccato diddles, but the quality of a great bow is more elusive than that. It’s a tool for expression after all.

i wonder also if the lucchi meter has killed bowmaking. 

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8 minutes ago, martin swan said:

It always fascinates me how many musicians have bows that they don’t like.

my conclusion is that when trying bows, there’s a tendency to listen to the sound rather than the music. People try (understandably) to make a rational choice by playing scales and staccato diddles, but the quality of a great bow is more elusive than that. It’s a tool for expression after all.

i wonder also if the lucchi meter has killed bowmaking. 

A few people taste the wood instead, in the case of pernambuco. Apparently it works to a degree, I have not tried it myself.

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3 hours ago, martin swan said:

It always fascinates me how many musicians have bows that they don’t like.

my conclusion is that when trying bows, there’s a tendency to listen to the sound rather than the music. People try (understandably) to make a rational choice by playing scales and staccato diddles, but the quality of a great bow is more elusive than that. It’s a tool for expression after all.

i wonder also if the lucchi meter has killed bowmaking. 

I believe many musicians chose a bow based on one or two things they really love about during trying out stage. I fell into that trap for years before I had my current one. It was almost always a bow that bounce well, and produced powerful sound.

Many bow can have fine balance and produce powerful sound and have lively spring, but for me the ideal bow need to have that magnet like quality that it "hugs" the strings from frog to tip (especially), in a nutshell.

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12 hours ago, martin swan said:

It always fascinates me how many musicians have bows that they don’t like.

 ( ... )

i wonder also if the lucchi meter has killed bowmaking. 

What picks do you use? I do keep over a hundred of the Dunlop picks that I use. Usually mediums and Jazz IIIs. But what is your formula. Let's not get into strings and gauges just yet. My guitar skills are very limited.  

Yes, I agree that the Lucchi meter has made things difficult. More wood for me.

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18 hours ago, martin swan said:

It always fascinates me how many musicians have bows that they don’t like.

my conclusion is that when trying bows, there’s a tendency to listen to the sound rather than the music. People try (understandably) to make a rational choice by playing scales and staccato diddles, but the quality of a great bow is more elusive than that. It’s a tool for expression after all.

I actually took a long time picking up my Grunke. It has this sort of power in its core that I think is unique and really helped my instrument speak. Even playing Mozart and Bach, I felt that it produced a great sound that would be appropriate. Now that I've played on an excellent bow, I want more or at least I know what else I am looking for.

On 11/22/2023 at 6:19 AM, GeorgeH said:

I don't know what "buttery" sounds like. :)

Have you found bows that worked but were unaffordable? If not, and you have tried a lot of different bows without success, then maybe it is your violin and not your bow. 

 Buttery as in a very round and smooth? I can't explain it exactly, but I can definitely feel it and find that quality in other bows.

I've found the "perfect" bow once when I was trying out stuff. It was a finished repair and already owned, but the bow maker let me try it out. It was a lovely Sartory with its original tinsel lapping. The way I remember it is that it just fit perfectly in my hand. It had the perfect pull, stiffness, and produced so many colors. It may have been a pinch-less powerful than my Grunke, but it really was an eye opening event for me.

On 11/22/2023 at 12:40 PM, Zeissica said:

The short answer is "no" - I'm not sure there is a "perfect" bow for any specific player. That said, there are likely some "near-perfect" bows out there, something that feels good in the hand, draws a big and nicely colored sound, and is versatile, i.e. can do good bouncing strokes along with on-the-string work. As Matestic so aptly put: this is also about you and your instrument. No other player can pick a bow for you. 

And as others have suggested, there is nothing like trying a bunch of bows. I live in Albuquerque, so I'm grateful to have the Robertson Violins shop here in town and they always have an amazing inventory. Big cities like LA, NY, Chicago, probably Dallas, Denver, Atlanta, Cleveland, etc. should all have good shops with lots of options at different prices. 

Contemporary makers are probably your best bet for finding something under $15,000 or likely even under 10K that is a step up from what you have, maybe even close to perfect. When you start looking at old English or French bows, get ready to shell out the big bucks!

I've tried near a hundred bows and only a couple stood out to me. The perfect one was not available haha. Many of them felt very "generic"? 

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19 hours ago, Shelbow said:

A few people taste the wood instead, in the case of pernambuco. Apparently it works to a degree, I have not tried it myself.

This gave me a good chuckle. Thanks 

For similar situations like OP's, I ended up with two bows to satisfy my playing. A very nice Nurnberger for the the heavier stuff and a Thomachot for everything else. 

Switching from calfskin thumb leather to kangaroo actually made the bows feel a bit more comfortable as well.

@martin swan 

"It always fascinates me how many musicians have bows that they don’t like."

I think it is due to finding bows at great prices but hoping to tweak them to work and compensate a bit. I had 8 bows at one point but only about 3 really worked for me. 

 

Edited by PaganiniVuillaume
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2 hours ago, PaganiniVuillaume said:

For similar situations like OP's, I ended up with two bows to satisfy my playing. A very nice Nurnberger for the the heavier stuff and a Thomachot for everything else. 

This isn't exactly a practical option for those of us who want to play Haydn and Brahms in the same programme. I've recently switched allegiance from my "nimble" bow to one that produces a meatier tone. Either it's getting more nimble with time or I'm figuring out how to use it better.

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4 hours ago, itrebmirag said:

 

I've tried near a hundred bows and only a couple stood out to me. The perfect one was not available haha. Many of them felt very "generic"? 

In the narrative of the hunt for the perfect bow, there always is one somewhere in the past that wasn't available. It's like the White Whale ...

 

 

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My teacher would always say "A coffee table is a coffee table!" (refering to the fact that I should go practice instead of worrying about hardware, that's him on the left next to me.) In this case a fly rod is a fly rod.  I'm afraid that it's very easy to get caught up in a search for the "perfect" bow or instrument and spend a lot of time, money, and energy in the pursuit.  For any piece of equipment it will take time for you to adjust to its particular qualities, facts, or advantages.  If you were presented a sample of bows that included Tourte, Pecatte, Simone, along with contemporary French and American bows in a blind test you might be quite surprised at what you liked the best.  Go play and make music on something your brain and your senses will learn their way around your equipment.

That said it is fun to try things and if you get a chance to try something rare and wonderful, don't pass up the chance.  I look at my bows and instruments and I'm quite sure that all of them are light years better than I deserve and I'm lucky to have any of them!

Now go practice!  :-)

DLB

(End Pontification)

Happy Holidays!

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6 hours ago, Blank face said:

And the Sensei spoke: "It's not the hunt for the perfect bow, but the hunt for your perfect mind. And there it is where you will find it".

Sounds like "Zen in the Art of Archery". My favorite book and the best book I know about teaching and learning.  I used to be a competitive archer and it really helped me a great deal to let go and just shoot.

DLB

"Then comes the supreme and ultimate miracle: art becomes “artless,” shooting becomes not-shooting, a shooting without bow and arrow; the teacher becomes a pupil again, the Master a beginner, the end a beginning, and the beginning perfection."

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3 minutes ago, Dwight Brown said:

Now go practice!  :-)

I agree, and apply it to myself as well.  But I have found that practicing and playing is so much more enjoyable when I've got a new toy!  I also make noticeable gains in my abilities at each step up in hardware, which of course is also related to how much I practice :-)

I've had a very similar experience oscillating between a strong German bow and a 'buttery' (possibly French) bow.  Sticking with the buttery bow now, and trying a more powerful violin, with good results!  

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