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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Why are bows so anonymous?


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.fiddlehangout.com/archive/53966

sbhikes2 - Posted - 08/25/2020:  09:19:25


Why is it that you cannot tell much about the bow. There's no label on it. You can't tell who made it or when. Why are they so anonymous? Or is the maker of the bow hidden within it somewhere?

ChickenMan - Posted - 08/25/2020:  09:43:28


I think that not all are so anonymous, maybe only the cheaper, utilitarian ones are.

The Violin Beautiful - Posted - 08/25/2020:  10:55:17


Not all bows are stamped, but most are, even cheap ones. With training, it’s quite possible to look at a bow and tell who made it and when regardless of how it’s branded. This is why a certificate is so important if you buy a fine bow. Some bows, like Hills, are just so obvious that almost no one bothers to write certificates.

For a long time the bow was treated as a mere accessory, but with Francois Xavier Tourte, that sentiment gradually changed.

Historically, some shops would import or commission bows from bow making workshops. Those bows would arrive unbranded so that the shops could use their own brands to market the bows. To some extent this is still done. These days, the majority of inexpensive unbranded bows are Chinese factory products.

Lonesome Fiddler - Posted - 08/25/2020:  12:49:31


My two upscale bows, one Brazilian the other German, have names stamped into either the frog or bow. My third bow, one that was included with a fiddle, is blank. My two good bows, by the way, were far from being outright expensive. They also have distinct personalities!

Johnbow - Posted - 08/25/2020:  13:10:33


My best bow is stamped or perhaps it’s engraved and made right here in the USofA - a CodaBow. I suppose it’s good but I’d like to audition some different bows. As an aside, I recently cleaned the hair using alcohol. I believe the alcohol cleaned the hair better than my last attempt using mildly soapy water - which was tricky to do.

farmerjones - Posted - 08/25/2020:  14:32:44


Question for Rich,
Do all (wood) bows start out round and are made octagonal if the bow is found to be too soft?

DougD - Posted - 08/25/2020:  15:14:25


I think its the other way around. Bows are first made octagonal, and then rounded later if desired (I think). madehow.com/Volume-2/Violin-Bow.html

The Violin Beautiful - Posted - 08/25/2020:  16:09:55


quote:

Originally posted by farmerjones

Question for Rich,

Do all (wood) bows start out round and are made octagonal if the bow is found to be too soft?






Traditionally, bows start out rectangular in "blank" form, then the sticks are planed into octagons. If the maker wants the stick to be round, more facets are made until the stick takes shape. 



There have been round sticks made using modified lathes instead of planing the octagon away. Vuillaume designed such a lathe, and the Hill workshop used a machine to make their HILL bows (that was a carefully guarded secret for decades).



 

farmerjones - Posted - 08/25/2020:  18:30:38


quote:

Originally posted by The Violin Beautiful

quote:

Originally posted by farmerjones

Question for Rich,

Do all (wood) bows start out round and are made octagonal if the bow is found to be too soft?






Traditionally, bows start out rectangular in "blank" form, then the sticks are planed into octagons. If the maker wants the stick to be round, more facets are made until the stick takes shape. 



There have been round sticks made using modified lathes instead of planing the octagon away. Vuillaume designed such a lathe, and the Hill workshop used a machine to make their HILL bows (that was a carefully guarded secret for decades).



 






Ahah! Like a profile lathe. One could appreciably control the stiffness at different points along the bow's length. 



I've always leaned toward octagonal bows. For some reason the ones i've tried always seemed stiffer. On a constant search for the most rigidity. Glad everybody's not looking for the same bow. Couldn't afford it. 

RobBob - Posted - 08/26/2020:  03:54:54


Bows are mysterious to many fiddlers. The trained eye can see and read a bow and those seers will amaze you with what they find. Many years ago a friend took all of his bows to violin shop along with a fiddle he wanted to get appraised. He also said if he could trade some of the bows, he would like to get a $500 bow.

The man at the shop was not real impressed by the fiddle, but he pulled a bow out of those my friend had taken in and said, you don't need a $500 bow, this one is worth at least that much.

I remember this story vividly as my friend, being a simple man, was quite pleased. I saw him last December at a jam while on the road. He was holding his bow and fiddle but not playing. It seems a kind friend brought him to the jam but he no longer can remember what it is all about. He asked me who I was a couple of times and asked me to play his fiddle. I did and we talked, but his fiddling days are about over, but he has a $500 bow.

sbhikes2 - Posted - 08/26/2020:  07:47:37


I see nothing stamped on my bow. It does not appear to have perfect fit and finish. It must be a cheap bow. It's a lot better than my last bow, though. I've tried other people's bows and they all seem the same to me, except for one that felt like a club.

RobBob - Posted - 08/27/2020:  05:22:24


Since a bow is one half of your rig, it would behoove you to find a good one. Expect to lay out an appropriate amount. Here in the southeast, it is so humid in summer we tend to use carbon fiber bows as they do not absorb moisture. Good wood bows will feel heavier under these conditions. They are fine once the humidity gets back down under 50% or so. There are lots of "name" bows out there and places like Sharmusic a brick and mortar store with a good web presence will allow you to trial bows in your home for a week. A good bow will only make you a better fiddler. Fit, finish, balance and weight are to be considered. Is your bow hard to control in comparison to other bows you have tired? All these things have to be considered.

DougD - Posted - 08/27/2020:  06:47:32


I might add that in the old days, inexpensive bows were churned out of small shops and factories in Germany by totally anonymous workes. Many of them were included in outfits with violins that were also unmarked, at least as to their true origin.
Some of these instruments and bows are not too bad. I have a silver mounted pernambuco bow marked only "Germany" that's not great, but pretty good.

RobBob - Posted - 08/27/2020:  07:02:57


I think Doug hit the nail on the head. No one signs cheap work and good makers who identify their work charge for it.

Earworm - Posted - 08/27/2020:  08:53:13


I have heard the wisdom that you should pay as much for your bow as you did for your fiddle. I don't know if this is truly necessary, but I'm interested in ideas about that.

DougD - Posted - 08/27/2020:  09:59:29


I paid twice as much ($250) for my best bow as I did for my most expensive violin ($125).
In 1997 I was hired to play solo fiddle onstage in a professional theater show, using my first fiddle ($40) and $10 bow, both purchased c. 1974. It occurred to me that if something happened to the bow there would be no music, and I figured I could spend $100 of my earnings on a spare or better bow. I went to see my luthier, and the $100 bows he had weren't too exciting (my $10 bow is actually a round pernambuco stick marked "made in France"). I asked him if he had anything better, and he scurried around the shop looking in cabinets and corners. He spread out 6 or 8 bows and told me to try them while he went to feed his animals. I liked two, one just a little better than the other. When he got back I showed them to him and he said "Ah, very good taste." My favorite was $750, but my second favorite was only $250 because the tip had been repaired (which you would never see unless I showed you) which severely diminishes a bow's value - otherwise it would have been more like $850. He said he'd stand behind the repair, so I bought it and still use it. Unfortunately he"s no longer with us, so I guess I'm stuck with it, but good fiddlers I've shown it to always think its a really good bow.
BTW, I don't play my $125 violin much - the fiddle I've used the most was $70 at an auction, but I still enjoy playing my $40 fiddle, sometimes with the $10 bow, but I still don't like it much.
Wasn't that an interesting story?

farmerjones - Posted - 08/27/2020:  10:33:32


I have found a few bows that i felt, performed above thier pay-grade.
I always seem to recomend to never go bow shopping without your old bow for comparison. (Could've saved me a lot of cash)

gapbob - Posted - 08/27/2020:  12:28:33


All my bows are labeled, except for the junker ones.



 


Edited by - gapbob on 08/27/2020 12:28:57

TuneWeaver - Posted - 08/27/2020:  13:41:22


Bow story.. I had NO idea that there was anything special about bows when I was first learning to play...NO IDEA... Anyway, I had this One bow.. we had a 'pup' of a dog, and that pup was doing something that I didn't like so I used my bow to push the pup out of the way. The bow cracked just in front of the frog.. I use thread to wrap, wrap, and re wrap the bow so that I could still use it. That expedient repair kept that bow available for another 20 years.. !! This brings up and idea for a New Topic...to be announced.

tonyelder - Posted - 08/27/2020:  17:14:14


I do understand how important it is to have a bow that is best suited to your musical ambitions. A concert violinist has good reason to find a bow that will help them in their career. And I understand why a person - who can afford it - would want to buy a bow that would not prevent them from reaching their full potential.



But, think about this... what are your musical ambitions? Are they realistic? What would it take to reach those goals? The best instrument you could afford? How much do you think it will cost? 



Consider this: How many of the very well know early fiddlers that we admire so much - had more that an average bow and and average fiddle - at best? How many do you think they had to buy before they settled on the winner? How many do you think they owned? What do you think occupied their thoughts?  That a better bow? and a better fiddle would make them a better fiddler?



Economics aside... I think they used what they had and made what they had work. And they probably never gave much thought to getting anything more than what they had. I think the secret is not finding the very best made, as much as it is making sure what you have is set up best for you and your playing style, and that you learn - not just the tunes, but how to get them most out of the instrument you have when you play those tunes.



Maybe I'm wrong - but I think that is the interesting part of Doug's story. I'm learning to live with the idea that setup and learning to play those tunes on my instrument is as important to how well I sound as a fiddler than how much money I spent to get the very best instrument made.  But - I admit - I would probably buy another instrument - if it reached out and touched me.  But I'm not looking and I am satisfied that what I have is not what is holding me back.

Johnbow - Posted - 08/27/2020:  18:34:16


quote:

Originally posted by tonyelder

I do understand how important it is to have a bow that is best suited to your musical ambitions. A concert violinist has good reason to find a bow that will help them in their career. And I understand why a person - who can afford it - would want to buy a bow that would not prevent them from reaching their full potential.



But, think about this... what are your musical ambitions? Are they realistic? What would it take to reach those goals? The best instrument you could afford? How much do you think it will cost? 



Consider this: How many of the very well know early fiddlers that we admire so much - had more that an average bow and and average fiddle - at best? How many do you think they had to buy before they settled on the winner? How many do you think they owned? What do you think occupied their thoughts?  That a better bow? and a better fiddle would make them a better fiddler?



Economics aside... I think they used what they had and made what they had work. And they probably never gave much thought to getting anything more than what they had. I think the secret is not finding the very best made, as much as it is making sure what you have is set up best for you and your playing style, and that you learn - not just the tunes, but how to get them most out of the instrument you have when you play those tunes.



Maybe I'm wrong - but I think that is the interesting part of Doug's story. I'm learning to live with the idea that setup and learning to play those tunes on my instrument is as important to how well I sound as a fiddler than how much money I spent to get the very best instrument made.  But - I admit - I would probably buy another instrument - if it reached out and touched me.  But I'm not looking and I am satisfied that what I have is not what is holding me back.






Lots of what you write really resonates.  Of course, not living during that time, I’m not sure how past generations of musicians felt about their equipment. Did they pine for that out of reach instrument, in search of that elusive tone.  Or the bow that would feel so nimble and flickable. Is this desire to have the best, the latest, something new? Internet forums are certainly new and have definitely driven our quest for gear and perhaps also to some extent our dissatisfaction with what we already have.  This is something the players of old didn’t have to contend with. It seems like some folks like their gear better than the music itself though not so much this group - check out one of the many guitar forums out there. 



I got to say I’d like a really first rate violin and bow.

Earworm - Posted - 08/27/2020:  20:57:00


I just know I thank Heaven that I broke my first bow one day, and started asking these sorts of questions for myself. I still date my real fiddling quest back to that event. I doubt that fiddlers of old had fiberglass bows sold to them either. 

farmerjones - Posted - 08/28/2020:  06:10:15


Yes, it's silly of me to want better.
I admit it. Ima sh!tty guitar player. So rather than get better (hasn't happened in 40 years) i chase tone. Hoping the next guitar will make it better. Silly.

Fiddles and bows, way too subjective.

Lonesome Fiddler - Posted - 08/28/2020:  14:06:50


quote:

Originally posted by tonyelder

But, think about this... what are your musical ambitions? Are they realistic? What would it take to reach those goals? The best instrument you could afford? How much do you think it will cost? 

 






My fiddling ambitions have never been realistic. My dream is simply to fill an acoustic space with unadulterated pleasure. I let my ears do the talking. I do what I can with the money I can reasonably depart with.

TuneWeaver - Posted - 08/28/2020:  14:34:18


quote:

Originally posted by Lonesome Fiddler

quote:

Originally posted by tonyelder

But, think about this... what are your musical ambitions? Are they realistic? What would it take to reach those goals? The best instrument you could afford? How much do you think it will cost? 

 






My fiddling ambitions have never been realistic. My dream is simply to fill an acoustic space with unadulterated pleasure. I let my ears do the talking. I do what I can with the money I can reasonably depart with.






ONCE, there was a guy living here in Bloomington , who was a 'specialist' in bow making.. I visited him.. His bows went for tens of THOUSANDS of dollars.. Each hair was looked at carefully, and was rejected if it didn't look 'right'..  Sure..  for tens of thousands of dollars, I'll check Each Hair on my bows..But seriously.. I've never played using an expensive bow,, I doubt that I could tell the difference from then $100 bows that I have now.. Thoughts?

Lonesome Fiddler - Posted - 08/28/2020:  15:14:38


quote:

Originally posted by TuneWeaver

quote:

Originally posted by Lonesome Fiddler

quote:

Originally posted by tonyelder

But, think about this... what are your musical ambitions? Are they realistic? What would it take to reach those goals? The best instrument you could afford? How much do you think it will cost? 

 






My fiddling ambitions have never been realistic. My dream is simply to fill an acoustic space with unadulterated pleasure. I let my ears do the talking. I do what I can with the money I can reasonably depart with.






ONCE, there was a guy living here in Bloomington , who was a 'specialist' in bow making.. I visited him.. His bows went for tens of THOUSANDS of dollars.. Each hair was looked at carefully, and was rejected if it didn't look 'right'..  Sure..  for tens of thousands of dollars, I'll check Each Hair on my bows..But seriously.. I've never played using an expensive bow,, I doubt that I could tell the difference from then $100 bows that I have now.. Thoughts?






Tuneweaver -- I've never wielded a genuinely expense bow, either, but when I did shop for upscale bows I went to a couple of L.A.'s upscale shops. I gave them a price range (damn, I can't remember precisely what that price range was...) and they each brought in a case of bows to test. I vaguely remember playing a bow that was truly excellent but it was just too expensive for me. In any case, I wound up buying a labeled German bow at about a couple hundred bucks for my go-to-bar jams fiddle, and an 800 buck Brazilian bow (which I believe is Pernambuco) for my prized Dimbath fiddle. BTW, I know I'll be considered a cotton-eared idiot for saying this, but though worthwhile I found the choice of bow to be far less important or revelatory than any fiddle choice.



Finally, oh yeah.  Notwithstanding what I say above, the better bows did gve me more volume, better tone, and more ease & control than the cheaper ones.  The Brazilian one, in particular, gives me lovely midrange.


Edited by - Lonesome Fiddler on 08/28/2020 15:20:36

ChickenMan - Posted - 08/28/2020:  15:16:09


At Clifftop, a bow maker popped into a late night jam and had 3 different bows. We all took turns with them. Each was different, all better sounding than my CF bow, and one was near perfect for me. If the 5 of us, each had a preference and each bow has at least one (or two) person prefer it over the others.

tonyelder - Posted - 08/28/2020:  16:38:28


My bow shopping story... In fact, I posted it here a number of years ago in a similar discussion.



I was back in TN visiting folks. I had brought my "best bow and fiddle". I went to Nashville with both - to visit the Violin Shop (Fred Carpenter). I told Fred that I had been playing a few years and thought I was ready to get a better bow. I had brought along my bow and fiddle to do comparisons. To his credit, Fred brought out several in the price range I was willing to spend. Fred told me that I should only buy a bow if it makes a noticeable difference. I couldn't tell the difference, really. So I took his advice and didn't buy one that day. I did buy another bow later - without trying it first. I had confidence that it was a good investment ($300), so I got it (Coda Bow Classic). I don't regret it, but... I wouldn't consider it head and shoulders above other bows I have.



edit to add - I need to add that I may not be "advanced" enough to recognize how much better it really is. Ignorance is bliss.


Edited by - tonyelder on 08/28/2020 16:41:46

boxbow - Posted - 08/31/2020:  07:17:49


My best all around bow is worn-looking and anonymous and it cost me about $300. Of course, I actually paid that for the all but worthless fiddle that came with it in an all but worthless case. I consider myself lucky on that deal. I still play the fiddle and it only fits that old case, but it's the bow that salvaged an otherwise bad deal.

DougD - Posted - 08/31/2020:  10:10:50


A little story about an inadvertent bow purchase.: I used to go to an auction that often had musical instruments, especially violins. One night there was a pretty nice old leather covered case with a fiddle and bow. The violin had the peghead broken off, so it was worthless to me - I don't even remember what it looked like, but I thought I could use the case. A friend of mine who was kind of a shade tree luthier eventually came over and said he was leaving because the PA system was giving him a headache, but he thought he had a neck he could put on that fiddle. I asked him if he wanted me to bid on it for us and he could have the fiddle and I'd take the case and bow. He said OK if it wasn't too much, and when I asked how high to go he said $25.
So I bid 25 bucks and got the outfit. I don't know how the fiddle came out, but the bow turned out to be a pretty nice old silver mounted Pernambuco German bow. Not great but quite good. And I've used the case for years and still have it.
A pretty good night's work at the auction.

RinconMtnErnie - Posted - 08/31/2020:  16:04:30


Better quality new workshop bows are generally marked. For example, one of my wood bows is a German Dörfler bow, see doerfler-bogen.de/en/bows



Their bows have model numbers, and one to three stars to indicate general quality. Of course there are differences between individual bows, but that gives a place to start from. 

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