From Robert Cunnah
Posted May 9, 2011 at 01:46 AM
I'm in the market for a mid price shop made bow, say $400 to $800 give or take. I currently use a Coda Diamond and sometimes an old wood bow that has to be about 60 plus years old and has no name but still plays nicely and is lighter than the Coda bow. I also have a second no-name wooden bow. No idea what the wood is, but they are both nickel mounted, so probably not very expensive or classic bows, just well played. Both wooden bows are in excellent condition with no camber or cracks. Here are the bows I've been researching.
W. E. Dorfler Octagonal Pernambuco Violin Bow
Arcos Brasil - Violin Pernambuco Bow Silver Fitting
John Brasil, Marco Raposo, Water Violet and Guy Laurent
All the bows are Pernambuco wood with silver fittings and ebony frogs. Basically I see the choices are French, German and Brazilian. I don't think any of the ones listed are Chinese, nothing against well made Chinese bows, however the latter seem to have flooded the e-Bay market. Realizing that the only way to pick a bow is to play with it but all the Internet stores I do business with have trial programs and excellent reputations or I can try out what's in stock at my friendly local Hammond Ashly. Of course, I'd love to own a hand made bow by some famous artisan bow maker but that's going to be out of my league for a while. On the one hand, I know that the French have considerable a reputation for making bows, the Germans make great cars and I believe also have a long tradition making excellent bows too. The Brazilians are relative newcomers but they have all the Pernambuco. I play on a 60 plus year old American made Wilkanowsky violin which has wonderful tone, but also I have an 1887 German made Stainer copy and a Chinese Snow that I bought about two years ago. They all play a bit differently and react equally differently to the three bows I use.
Any advice or opinions are appreciated about these makers or manufacturers or any other shop made bows for that matter.
I have a Dorfler at the bottom of your range and a Water Violet near the top of your range (its retail value probably is $800). I got the impression that at the lower end of your range you can't expect a great Pernambuco bow, although I felt mine is very precise, to say the least. My teacher was VERY pleased with the Water Violet. But I bought them from luthiers who didn't have multiples of each model to try so I don't feel comfortable making a general statement about the quiality of those companies' bows based on my experience. As you know, the bow has to "match" your violin. I would try a ton of different bows and see which one works the best, regardless of the company that made it.
Francesca thank you for the reply. I did like the reviews that I read about the Water Violet and I do believe that is one of the Brazilian bows. I guess that is what I a trying to discern. Is there a fundamental difference in terms of the origin of the bow? Given that I'm not in a position to spend $10,000 on a bow and probably wouldn't even if I was since I'm not a professional musician, or let's say a rich professional musician. Is there a difference between a German bow, a French bow and a Brazilian bow that are all more or less in the same price range? Making it simple, do the French have better know how, but don't have access to as good quality wood as the Brazilian makers, or do the latter have good wood but end up with a not so good bow because the makers all look like children when you look at the video for Arcus Brasil bows on their website. And the German makers always seem to make quality things whatever they make. I still have a jacket I bought in Bavaria 20 years ago that is immaculate. and my old German violin doesn't have crack anywhere. In the end does it matter, are they all production bows, try a thousand and hope to find the perfect one that sings on the fiddle you happen to own????? Or is there a balance somewhere and a sweet spot on the price and the quality.
I've had very good luck with Brazilian bows. I had one from Water Violet (to start with, you gotta love that company's name!) in about the $650 range that I loved. I traded it in on a better bow, not sorry I did, but I sometimes wish I still had it as well as the newer one. I have a higher-end Brazilian viola bow that out-played anything else I tried.
I've been told that the Brazilians did their homework on bow making: studied with the best, got experienced people to run their workshops, etc. They've got the wood, for sure, and it seems they have the know-how to go with it.
I couldn't stand the pressure anymore, I made the move and decided on an Arcos Brasil bow, Shar has a sale on right now, that was the clincher. I must have spent hours researching until you get to the point that you have to put all the elements together and make a decision for better or worse. I also read the posting where somebody was asking about repairing their daughter's $900 bow because she dropped it on it's point. That made me think you could do the same thing with your $20,000.00 bow just as easily. In the end analysis, the bow like the violin are both works of art but at the same time they are also things that you have to use. If you have to insure things just so you can use them I guess unless you're a rich professional, you'd always be worried that something was going to happen to your instrument. Can you imagine accidentally snapping your priceless one of a kind bow in two?
Robert, I read somewhere that German bows are a better buy than French bows. It seems to be a situation similar to the violin situation. In this day and age, I don't see why any country should have an advantage over any other country. Look at Morgan Anderson--an American! (Ifshin claims to be his exclusive agent so I don't know how widely they are known.) The point about Brazil having the Pernambuco is a good one, and I read somewhere (possibly an old v.com post) that the biggest Brazilian bowmakers have the advantage there. Once again, I recommend playing a lot of bows with your violin and see what "clicks". BTW, this might be happenstance, but the only under $1K CF bow I found that compared to my Water Violet was a Codabow Diamond GX (but not every GX i tried!). Is that the model you have
Oops--I forgot you said you already bought a bow. Arcos certainly is a large Brazilian bow maker. Best wishes with it!
Francesca: Yes the Coda bow I have is the Diamond and I like it a lot, it's extremely well made, I don't know how much it weighs but it does feel heavier than my old wooden bow. It also feels, "denser" but it has good balance and can dig into the strings without much finger force. It's not as springy as my wooden bow which seems to have more, "give" than the carbon fiber. I played with it almost exclusively after I bought it, just about a year and a half ago but lately I've been enjoying the feel and the sound of wood again. I think that's why I wanted to try a different bow, and one that I knew to be pernambuco, since I really have no idea what wood mine is made of. I think Coda bows are good value for money and deliver a sound comparable to wooden bows costing much more. I have three violins that are all different, the way they sound, the way they feel, even the way they smell and they are all temperamental, or maybe it's me? I'm finding out it's the same with bows. I wonder if really expensive one of a kind bows are really snobbish and will only agree to play on violins of the same social class or are they equally at home even on VSOs?
Violinist.com Editor Laurie Niles is in New York to cover the biennial event at The Juilliard School, including classes by Brian Lewis and Sarah Chang.
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