Welcome to Violinist.com! Log in, or join the community!
Violinist.com
Facebook Twitter Google+ Email Newsletter

Recambering a bow - worth it?

Instruments: A colleague wants me to recamber my new bow. Is it worth it? Does it always help? Is there risk? Any thoughts appreciated!

From Nathaniel E Brown
Posted May 27, 2011 at 03:32 AM

I just bought an amazing playing bow for my violin. I love it and plays better than the 35 or so bows I tried in my exhaustive search.  Although it is stamped 'Kittel' it is likely a good German copy.  It is light and flexible, yet draws out an amazing tone - more so than much heavier bows (strangely enough). Good for Mozart AND Tchaikovsky.

A very knowledgable colleague feels strongly that it needs recambering.   He says its like having the alignment of a car fixed - it will work better.   I am a little apprehensive because I like it so much the way it is.  

So my questions:

1. Is recambering like alignment in that it will make the bow work better than it already does?  

2. Is there any physical risk to having a bow recambered (I would hate to put this wonderful bow at any unnecessary risk)? 

3. Is there any going back if I don't like it afterwards? (I would guess not!)

Any thoughts would be appreciated!!

-Nate

From Joshua Blevins
Posted on May 27, 2011 at 03:56 AM

1: yes

2:yes

3:I would say no

There is always a risk in re-cambering bow. I don't re-camber as many as some but I have never broken a bow. Take it to a bow luither. unless you trust your luither to do the work. Ask them if it needs re-cambering. I re-haired a hill bow that needed it. it was flabby and no power. it also had damaged head. A bow must look straight from the top as if you are looking down an arrow (some will do a even slight curve to the left of the bow, this is to counter the force to the right or away from the player while playing. It is called a french curve). side view they have many preferences: even curve from frog to tip or a goose curve were the lowest part is closer to the tip. A good curve will touch the hair while in the loose position.

From Nicky Paxton
Posted on May 27, 2011 at 03:35 PM

I shall look forward with interest to the development of this thread.  I have a German copy, from about 1870, of a school of Pajeot bow of about 20 years earlier.  It stands in dire need of recambering.  The only reason why I have not had this done is that I am hardly using it; if I were to start using it properly, I would absolutely have to have it recambered.  But I have been told by an excellent luthier that there is no knowing how long the recambering would last.  At present, the bow's only positive point is that, with the hair completely parallel to the stick when the bow is wound up, it is very good for practising string-crossing exercises.  The fact that the hair is more liable to touch adjacent strings than would be the case with a bow in good order helps me to refine my skills in that direction.

From Jonathan Frohnen
Posted on May 27, 2011 at 03:53 PM

Recambering a bow is definitely worth it but not everyone does a good job, this is truly an art.  I only trust Joshua Henry with this, www.fineviolinbows.com 

From Josh Henry
Posted on May 27, 2011 at 10:07 PM

Congratulations Nate on your new bow. Finding the right bow can be a lengthy process -- a process that usually involves the opinions of other players, teachers, and shop personnel. Your questions about the camber of the bow bring several points to mind. When you bought your new bow, did you rely on the opinions of this particular colleague? What is his background—a player or teacher that knows a good playing bow, or a repairman that knows the technical side of how a bow works (or both)? I’m not trying to criticize your friend, but rather asking why he thinks that the stick should be recambered.

One thing to remember:  You bought the bow because you like the way it plays and way it sounds. Recambering, no matter how minor will change the playability. Sometimes, the change is relatively minor, but other times, the playability is dramatically affected. When I was taught to make bows, I was taught to think about camber more as a philosophy, not just a technique. In other words, the camber of the stick is not just about the shape of the curve, but is part of a larger equation that includes stick properties, playing properties, weight and balance of the bow, and even the tension in the hand of the player. (Stick properties include many things--like grain, density, stiffness, knots, weak spots in the stick, how much hair a stick can tension, height of head and frog, and so on. Playing properties are reflected in the various strokes—legato, spiccato, martele, etc. and the stability of the bow as the player presses and releases bow arm pressure.)

MOST of the time, recambering (when properly and professionally done) will make a good playing bow play better. However, sometimes it won’t. The question that I will pose to my clients when I am asked about recambering is “Do you like the way your bow now plays?” If the answer is yes, then why fix something that isn’t broken. If your new bow does have a deficiency in a particular playing technique, then have the camber looked at by a bow specialist.

Without hair tension, the center of the stick of a properly cambered bow often touches the hair, but not always. Certain makers (like H.R. Pfretzschner and many of the contemporary Brazilian makers) put in a “3/4 camber” leaving several millimeters gap between the stick and the hair. The most common mistake that I see after a bow has been recambered is placing too much camber in the stick. I occasionally see bows that are “recambered” so badly that they become virtually unplayable. For example, there is what I refer to as the “music store camber” where a bow has had too much camber inserted into the exact center of the stick, making it bottom out too easily. I also see bows that have so much camber (especially behind the head) resulting in a bow that has a “weak-kneed” feel (the bow collapses without much pressure at all).

Now to answer your original questions: Question 1 is pretty much answered above.

Question 2: There is risk involved because the bow is gently heated up and then bent into shape. There is risk – improperly done, the stick could become scorched, burned, or broken. However, a bow specialist works with camber on a daily basis, and knows how to avoid these disasters.

Question 3: Actually, there can be “going back” to an earlier camber. When I recamber bows, I continuously feel the stick and play it as I work on the camber. I’ll often have the customer in the shop to give immediate feedback on the camber adjustments. Sometimes, I’ll make an adjustment that isn’t what the player wants, so I’ll have to reverse it. It is a more complicated process, but in a sense, adjusting the camber on a stick is like adjusting the sound post in the instrument—you can fine-tune it to a particular player. Of course, this isn’t something that you want to do all the time, but recambering is something that is often done on old bows.

Josh Henry, Bow Maker & Restorer
www.FineViolinBows.com

 

Edit: I forgot to mention above that before recambering (or straightening) a bow, very close inspection of the stick is necessary. You never, ever heat a stick that has been broken. If the stick has ever been broken and reglued, the heat needed to camber the bow will cause a glue repair to fail. It would also be tempting disaster to try to camber through a knot--you never want to heat and try to bend where there is a knot in the stick.

From Scott Cole
Posted on May 28, 2011 at 01:13 AM

 About 25 years ago, I had a french bow that was lacking in camber and stiffness. I had Moenning recamber it, and it was much better till I sold it recently.

From John Cadd
Posted on May 28, 2011 at 02:43 PM

Happy now?

From Josh Henry
Posted on May 28, 2011 at 03:31 PM

Mr. Cadd, as usual, I fail to see the value of your post here. It is quite limited in useful information and does not really have anything to do with the topic of this thread.

From Lothar Krepke
Posted on May 28, 2011 at 07:50 PM

 

Hello Josh,

I thank you...,

Lothar

From Julie Wilson
Posted on May 29, 2011 at 04:22 AM

 I had a bow recambered once and it made a world of difference! However, it had lost a level of resistance and springiness and needed more curve put back into it because it's a pretty old bow.

I would second the opinion that if YOU are happy with it, maybe it's best to just let it be. If you have any further questions or want a second opinion, find a trustworthy, reputable luthier who is experienced in that area and have them take a look and assess whether it is fine as is or needs done.

From Scott Cole
Posted on May 29, 2011 at 07:26 AM

 Happy now?

Is who happy now? To whom is the question directed?

From John Cadd
Posted on May 29, 2011 at 01:32 PM

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------.

From John Cadd
Posted on May 30, 2011 at 11:42 AM

Strictly related to the topic now.  The doubts about heating a bow stick with a flame are at the centre of this. The temperature to relax the fibres in Pernambuco are similar to the inside of a parked car on a hot day. There is a site where that was tested to protect his camera equipment. At a sunny 95F temperature outside the interior of the car will get about 40degrees hotter in one hour. That will ruin the camber of a bow.  That temperature can easily be achieved in a workshop with electric lamps. Nothing will get scorched. Very little effort is used to ease the stick into shape. When it`s the right shape keep it still and switch off the lamps.

If a maker has a special curve and the stick         might        get  left in a hot car the best course  would be to draw out the original curve for future reference.     Feel free to correct that Josh.  That`s what friendly violin forums are here for.

From Lothar Krepke
Posted on May 30, 2011 at 12:47 PM

 

Hello John,

You wrote:

Strictly related to the topic now. The doubts about heating a bow stick with a flame are at the centre of this. The temperature to relax the fibres in Pernambuco are similar to the inside of a parked car on a hot day. There is a site where that was tested to protect his camera equipment. At a sunny 95F temperature outside the interior of the car will get about 40degrees hotter in one hour. That will ruin the camber of a bow. That temperature can easily be achieved in a workshop with electric lamps. Nothing will get scorched. Very little effort is used to ease the stick into shape. When it`s the right shape keep it still and switch off the lamps.

If a maker has a special curve and the stick might get left in a hot car the best course would be to draw out the original curve for future reference. Feel free to correct that Josh. That`s what friendly violin forums are here for.

And indeed, that was related to the topic, but...

This was posted on another board in 2009:

"If you have a pernambuco bow that`s lost it`s curve you can put it right quite easily.


A heat lamp will be enough to warm up the wood instead of using an alcohol burner.


Draw out the desired curve on a strong piece of plywood.Copy the shape of a bow in good condition.At the thick end fix a few wooden blocks to hold the bow steady(on it`s side)so that the "good" outline is showing up the "bad "bow shape.The screw and hair can be disconnected and tucked in a clean plastic bag.


More blocks should be fixed below the bow curve so that as the stick is adjusted small wedge blocks will hold the new curve in place. Above the stick fix blocks to give the final shape.


Work out how to position the lamp over the bow to get it as hot as a car seat on a hot day.A bit too hot for the palm of your hand.Work from the middle towards the tip of the bow , gradually adjusting the shape with very gentle pressure on the stick.


Don`t try to rush the job. It is best to put reflective foil beneath the stick as this will get the bottom of the wood hot as well.


The lamp will be 5 or 6 inches above the stick.Arrange for a moveable support to edge it along as you work.Take roughly 20 minutes as a starter.By then the wood should be ready.

 
You will be surprised at the gentle control you have with a normally risky process.

 
Before you begin have a look at pictures of good bows to guide yourself. When all the adjustments are done keep everything in place and switch off the lamp.

Allow a good half hour for cooling down.With the frog fitted you should have a straight line from bottom of frog to bottom of tip,and curve of stick just touching that line.Always a great surprise when the stick is a good one."

And it would certainly appear that the post just above is the source of your comments at the top of this page.

To explain my concern, I must comment on the rapidly changing culture of the web -

Back in the days of Usenet, there was a label for the sort of behavior you continue to exhibit here, and on the other groups where I see your name:

It's a term that seems to have fallen out of fashion, but it certainly applies here. You are a "troll."

You are provocative simply for the joy of generating responses to your posts...

But why might that be of concern to me, and others?

I am concerned because I marvel daily at the extraordinary generosity of the many people who post here who are truly expert in their field. I could never afford to buy their expertise, but they offer it here for free! Your continual provocation will ultimately do little other than discourage those who have been so very kind in sharing their art with the rest of us.

I don't want to see that happen, and so will add my voice to those of some real experts who have already made this request of you:

Please stop the trolling...

I thank you,

Lothar

From Hendrik Hak
Posted on May 30, 2011 at 03:00 PM

 Hi Lothar,

Trolls usually go for ad hominem attacks. Once in a while I do enjoy John's input. Most of the time John is off topic, and is being more of a loose cannon.

From Hendrik Hak
Posted on May 30, 2011 at 03:17 PM

 Hi Nate,

Recambering a bow by a qualified archetier / bowmaker or repairer is not a risky business. And if your bow needs to be aligned, that is if it has a sideways curvature it would be better to get that done. Before you decide that your bow is not straight make sure you loosen the hair because sometimes the tension in the hair is not even and it pulls the bow out of alignment when you tighten it. That doesn't require recambering but only an adjustment in the hair.  Other than that why would you recamber  if your bow works well for you?  Your friend's playing style may be different from yours and he may like more tension in a bow. Which recambering can sometimes give you a bit but the process is limited by the flexibility within the wood. Sometimes a whippy bow can be made a bit more tight , but often the wood doesn't allow for much. 

But I have only limited experience in this and would love to hear from an expert.

From David Burgess
Posted on May 30, 2011 at 03:59 PM

It's not completely without risk. I've witnessed a couple of bows broken during cambering, by a couple of the best.

 

"Mr. Cadd, as usual, I fail to see the value of your post here. It is quite limited in useful information and does not really have anything to do with the topic of this thread."

Josh, you and I are pretty good at making stuff. Perhaps we could fashion some kind of muzzle? :-)

From Nicky Paxton
Posted on May 30, 2011 at 04:39 PM

A relatively eirenical comment might be this.   I'm prepared to believe that a bow can be DIY-recambered with an infra-red lamp and the other equipment itemized above, but I'd much rather not risk it.  A luthier can at least reduce the risk of breakage in a way that I wouldn't trust myself to.

Thanks also to Julie for her comment about having a bow recambered.  I'll remember it when I take the school of Pajeot bow (which I mentioned above) to a luthier for that purpose.

From Andre A
Posted on May 30, 2011 at 04:44 PM

I agree with Hendrik when he says that John is mostly off the topic, but what I do appreciate of John is that he never foulmouthed anyone and all his  posts are done in a good nature way with maybe a typical British sense of humor that not many people in the USA understand. 

I do not think John has the power to chase the real experts away, because a real expert can accommodate alternate views and don't feel threatened by it. Debate is open to anyone and none of the posters on v.com has the power to muzzle or chase anyone away, except Laurie and she is more discreet than that.

If you do not like the blogs, threads or posts that John initiate, just ignore it, it will not do the harm that you imagine. Any one has the right to say his/her say, that is what democracy is all about.

From Lothar Krepke
Posted on May 30, 2011 at 05:25 PM

 

Hello Andre,

I agree with most of what you have written, so perhaps I failed to communicate an aspect of my issue clearly.

Of course John has every right to continue to provoke those far more experienced than he.

I do not, for a moment, question his rights in this regard, but I certainly do question the wisdom or humor in his doing so.

In addition, I usually act in precisely the way you have suggested in response to this sort of behavior. That is, I have, to the best of my recollection, ignored Mr. Cadd's many posts in the past.

But, when people of the standing in the violin world of David Burgess and Josh Henry politely, but firmly, ask that John stop his provocation, and his insistence on posting misinformation, I take it very seriously, and wish to support them in any way I can.

All the best,

Lothar

From Hendrik Hak
Posted on May 30, 2011 at 07:17 PM

Regarding experts: in my first post I had forgotten to click on " previous responses" so my questions are already answered by Joshua and Josh.

David I appreciate your expertise. I have had bows recambered by either the maker or a very experienced bow sales and repair shop. At one time  a bow was recambered but the results weren't any better so the recambering was kind of undone; all within a few minutes.The last recambering  was on a new brazilian bow. I don't think any one told me there was a risk involved, but probably because the maker knew his bow well and what it could handle, and the brazilian bow wasn't that expensive and was recambered before sale. But I' m sure you and the Joshuas are right that there is some risk.

I've been told that for a cello bow it is better for stability not to have too much camber and that the hair should not touch the bow in the relaxed state. Don't know if that is true but the person is a bow expert.

From David Burgess
Posted on May 30, 2011 at 09:33 PM

Andre A wrote:

"Any one has the right to say his/her say, that is what democracy is all about."

Cool. Then we have the right to warn people about John's advice by saying we'd like to make him a muzzle, right? LOL

From Andre A
Posted on May 30, 2011 at 11:16 PM

@David;

And he can say the same to you and this becomes a mud slinging match with no end and very little civilized norms, with every one trying to score a political point. But I am not going to argue with you because I have seen a little of what I can expect in bold letters.

Adieu.

 

From David Burgess
Posted on May 31, 2011 at 01:13 AM

Andrew A wrote:

"....because a real expert can accommodate alternate views and don't feel threatened by it."

"....with every one trying to score a political point."

Holy smokes, man, do you have a need to twist this into something with pejorative psychological and political underpinnings? That makes for a good soap opera, but doesn't accomplish much in the real world, or  in the information realm.

Fact: Most of us in the trade deal far too often with instruments and bows which have been screwed up by amateur or handyman repair people, or upon their advice, and sometimes even by people who claim to be professionals.

Fact: It's generally acknowledged by our experts that one of our fundamental duties is to act as conservators, promoting proper  care and repair of instruments, in  the best interest of the owners, and for posterity. If you believe this stems from feeling threatened, please make a much better case than you have so far. 

From Josh Henry
Posted on May 31, 2011 at 02:09 AM

From David Burgess
Fact: Most of us in the trade deal far too often with instruments and bows which have been screwed up by amateurs or handymen, and sometimes even by people who claim to be professionals.

Fact: It's generally acknowledged by our experts that one of our fundamental duties is to promote proper  care and repair of instruments, in  the best interest of the owners, and for posterity. If you believe this stems from feeling threatened, please make a much better case than you have so far."

 

Very well said, David.
This is one of the reasons that I spend the time here on V.com and several other forums. I also very much enjoy the interaction with other violin enthusiasts. For the posts that I respond to, I usually put in a lot of thought and effort to try to post in a clear, knowledgeable, and professional manner that comes across in a helpful way to the person asking the original question and future readers.

People come here and ask good, serious, and legitimate questions, and expect legitimate and technically correct answers. Humor can be fun and included in responses, but lack of knowledge or experience should not be covered up with attempts at humor, and when humor interferes or conflicts with the positive experience of the community members, there needs to be restraint. There also needs to be restraint on superfluous, meaningless self-serving posting that is off-topic and of no value. (There are other social media outlets for this kind of thing.) Passion and interest for the violin is no substitute for expertise.

Also, never forget that this is the internet, and what is written now can and will be viewed for years to come. Internet archives and the Google search is a very powerful tool, and superfluous posts are still archived and indexed, but are not a useful or productive source of information.

From David Burgess
Posted on May 31, 2011 at 02:27 AM

Josh is a much better diplomat than I am. :-)

From Lothar Krepke
Posted on May 31, 2011 at 02:34 AM

 

Hello David & Josh,

Based on the comments you each have offered, I think that we may be ready for the Vulcan Mind Meld...,

Lothar

From David Beck
Posted on May 31, 2011 at 06:11 AM

During nearly 40 years of playing in U.K. professional orchestras, I never had a bow recambered - just ONE slightly tweaked for alignment.

I'd go with the advice above suggesting that if you love the way the bow plays already, don't interfere. Beware of trying to please all the many self-styled experts who pop out of the woodwork and offer advice ! Your satisfaction has to come first.

However, if your doubts do persist, make sure that any final decision is made after consulting a really TOP bow expert such as Josh Henry. In the UK I have always trusted Bill Watson. 

One-time top Hill bowmaker W.C. Retford remarks somewhere in his book "Bows and Bow Makers" that it's rare to see quality bows that have to any degree lost spring.

From John Cadd
Posted on June 4, 2011 at 05:59 PM

Message for Lothar.     The post quoted from Lemuel`s  forum  was made about 3 months after I joined that site in the days before I knew about internet etiquette.  I just thought it was genuinely useful to describe what I did. None of it had any other motives. I did say that the shop were not interested in repairing it.  It was a long time ago . I had never heard of you in those days.

From John Cadd
Posted on June 6, 2011 at 01:13 PM

Please also refer to another site by    Dr George A Borun.  SCAVM  Symposium                 Bending and Heating Wood with a Silicone Blanket.                                       

The Blanket was developed by NASA research  These are used to bend the ribs when making instruments.  The article dates back to 1992 .   Section 4 under        [ Other applications   ]  refers to re-cambering bows and ends with the words 

"This eliminates the alcohol lamp and scorched wood with it`s uneven heat "

From Josh Henry
Posted on June 6, 2011 at 04:54 PM

John--welcome back--good discussion here!
I absolutely would not recommend the use of the silicone heating blanket to recamber bows. I use these blankets to remove cello and bass fingerboards and to straighten warped necks on violins, violas, cellos, and basses. These blankets will reach a temperature of over 500 degrees F in just a few minutes, but you cannot precisely enough control the temperature to keep it from scorching the wood. When I use it to straighten necks, the wood gets hot enough to produce smoke, and depending on the time it takes to completely heat the wood in the neck, it often will have charred spots on it when I remove the blanket.

The process of cambering/straightening a bow is not about how much heat you can direct at a stick, but rather about evenly heating up the stick to the core. This process of evenly heating up the stick should be done in small segments to pinpoint the camber adjustments. Something like the heating blanket will heat the outsides of the stick too fast (scorching it), but leave the insides of the stick not hot enough to safely camber (causing risk of breaking it when bending). Also, the heating blanket would only preferentially heat up one side of the stick, unless you wrapped it around the stick, but I would not recommend that either, because if you heat up too much of the stick at once, it will be near impossible to keep it straight with the correct camber (temporarily turning the stick into something like a wet noodle).

I personally use an alcohol lamp to camber bows, but other bowmakers use small heat guns, the traditional French "charcoal pots," bunson burners, and hot plates. Good results can be obtained with a number of different tools and techniques, but the underlying principle of any heat source when cambering is complete, even heating of the stick.

Josh Henry, Bow Maker & Restorer
www.FineViolinBows.com

 

From John Cadd
Posted on June 7, 2011 at 12:58 PM

Thanks Josh .I must say I`ve felt a bit bruised and battered this week.   The blanket idea did not appeal to me .I imagined lots of burnt fingers .  The stick is going to be out of sight until unwrapped again. Your description underlines how tricky it can get.  There is a bow topic on the double bass site that mentions blowlamps .They vary depending on the gas used. The yellow cans are useful if you need to bend some solid steel in a few seconds.  maybe a bow is like an Italian Pizza . Best cooked with a wood fire on a gentle heat.

From Nathaniel E Brown
Posted on June 11, 2011 at 07:24 PM

 Thanks for all the responses! 

I have been reading and meaning to post a thank you to all the thoughtful responses and advice. 

Josh, your post was most helpful. I had decided not to monkey around with a recamber, especially since I am so pleased with its current performance.  However, the same colleague with his doubts was sending some bows to Jose DeCuhna for some repair and rehair - so I sent mine along to see what he had to say.  I'm guessing many of you know him? A wonderful bowmaker who's opinion I  trust. His did say that the bow could be recambered, but it was not in desperate need. He also said that doing so would make it work better, but since the bow is so light, I might not like it as it would get hard to control..too lively and bouncy.   He suggested that if I was interested in adding a small amount of weight, we could go from there.  So he affixed removable lead weights on the frog and tip.  If I like them, he could make wedges and integrate them.  

I was most pleased with this solution.  I am awaiting their return and am anxiously waiting to try it out!  I like this idea best because it allows me to try it and if I don't like it, I can just pull them off.  

Again, thanks for all the good advice.  I will post my thoughts again after I try it out.

Nate


Suzuki Violin School

"Where did the Suzuki CD go?"

Good news! All the Suzuki Violin School CDs are available now as digital downloads on Amazon.com. But why take the time to search for them all? We've collected links to each album for Suzuki Violin Books 1 - 8.

Get them now! Vol. 1 | Vol. 2 | Vol. 3
Vol. 4 | Vol. 5 | Vol. 6 | Vol. 7 | Vol. 8