Is a old bow like an old violin?

September 10, 2016 at 07:50 PM · I was thinking about something and a question came up to mind. Is an old bow like an old violin? Do some people like old bows better than new? Why?

I'm pretty sure people like old violins because the sound and wood is more mature right?

So do people like old bows because the sound is more... mature?

What makes some people prefer old bows?

Replies (57)

September 10, 2016 at 09:14 PM · Why do people like old French bows?

September 10, 2016 at 09:31 PM · A fine violinist told me that a bow can loose its oomph. The stick wears out. I'd like to know the general opinion on that.

Thanks for starting this thread -- interesting topic.

September 10, 2016 at 10:51 PM · Bows can definitely lose their camber over time, at which point they'll feel kind of soggy, and they'll then need to be re-cambered, but doing so is a bit dangerous (the stick can break). And whether or not you like it once the camber has been restored is possibly in question.

There are some very fine bow-makers working today. However, I think the quality of wood that they are working with is not as good as the best-quality wood that was available earlier, before we really started destroying the planet with acid rain.

Anyone looking at old French bows should also be looking at contemporary bows. There actually aren't an abundance of contemporary bows available for trial, though.

September 11, 2016 at 08:38 AM · I prefer old French bows over modern bows. I have owned newer bows and they have, as a rule, been aggressive and edgy, and lack subtlety of colours, compared to an OFB. I don't think OFBs improve greatly over time, but have always been good. OFBs, in good condition and certified, have been good investments over time. I doubt modern bows will appreciate in value in quite the same way.

If I had to choose I would rather have a good violin and a great bow rather than the other way around.

Cheers Carlo

September 11, 2016 at 12:38 PM · IS an old player like an old violin?


Both are well worn and falling apart ...

September 11, 2016 at 03:47 PM · According to the blind test done in París a couple of years ago, players like Elmar Oliveira, Giora S. Ilya Kaler and many others were unable to distinguish consistenly good old Italian violins from good modern ones. I think that the results of such a test with old and modern bows could be very similar as long as you don't try your own bows to avoid identifyng them. At least that's what I've done with some friends. True we didn't have Tourte or Peccatte bows in the trial but we've done it with good examples by Bazin,Gillet,Morizot,Sartory,Ouchard,Vigneron P.,V.Fetique, Voirin, Laberte, Lotte, Lamy P. and new bows by Clément,Nehr,Bigot,Fuchs, Camurat and others without being able to identify them randomly. I think our perception changes when we have previous information about what we are playing, especially when comparing.

September 11, 2016 at 05:04 PM · I think our perception changes when we have previous information about what we are playing, especially when comparing.

Spot on - absolutely correct!

September 11, 2016 at 07:57 PM · There are modern makers who are doing copies of great bows, as well. They won't feel like the original, but they will feel similar enough that they will be identifiably similar to other bows done by the copied maker.

September 12, 2016 at 10:29 AM · I would rather play with an original OFB than a modern copy of one, just as I prefer to play on an OIV rather than a modern reproduction. In my opinion, a copy can never be as good as an original.

Cheers Carlo

September 12, 2016 at 03:09 PM · Often-but not always--I have found new bows to sound "green." That is, they sound flat, boring, with a lack of articulation and resonance. But it's complicated, because I've also played older bows that sounded one-dimensional, as if the original wood just wasn't great to begin with.

September 15, 2016 at 03:45 PM · @Scott. I like your description. "New Bows sound "Green"." I may borrow that.

Cheers Carlo

September 16, 2016 at 10:30 AM · Sorry to desagree with that :). There are wonderful new bows producing much better sound than some old ones, once again in my personal experience and with my instrument- and of course I am talking about the very best modern makers - they do have good pernambuco storaged. I don't mean modern bows are better or worse than the old masters'- I own both and like them equally - but if we try to judge without prejudice what bow we are testing and we are lucky to have around some of those bows we could be surprised. I think it very much depends on what you have available at that moment and in that place, bows and violin. My last experience was a couple of days ago in Paris trying bows by Dodd,J.A.Lamy, Kittel, Simon,Tardon and a well known modern maker whose bows worked as well if not better and at least one of them pulled the best sound from my violin. Now, we all know that some qualities of sound are very subjetive especially when talking about preferences. The "best sound" for someone could be not desirable for someone else, very "coloful" and "rich" could mean "too dark or muted" for others with different taste or needs. But if we listen without reference of price and try to put aside the maybe "romantic " tendency I think we all have to own and collect something old with a little bit of history, maybe we will increase our chances of getting the best bows for our instruments, old or new.

September 16, 2016 at 10:53 AM · @Scott. I like your description. "New Bows sound "Green"." I may borrow that.

Cheers Carlo


Perceptions like these can have a mysterious way of disappearing during blind or double-blind testing. ;-)

Keep in mind that expectations can have a major impact on perceptions, whether with violins, bows, or wine tasting. It's simply human nature.

September 16, 2016 at 12:01 PM · One could say the same about modern violins and bows; their perceived greatness is not necessarily born out by blind or double blind tests!!

September 16, 2016 at 12:38 PM · In a recent "blind" experiment, the concertmaster of a major symphony was quite surprised to find out that the bow he liked best was made of carbon fiber.

September 16, 2016 at 12:40 PM · I agree with Lyndon, but that's why they should't be questioned either when they come on top.

September 16, 2016 at 01:12 PM · Yup, things turn out the way they turn out. Sometimes they reinforce various kinds of beliefs or assumptions (whatever those might be), and sometimes they don't. How people make choices is fascinating stuff to study.

September 16, 2016 at 01:58 PM · Agree with that too. Sometimes it seems to be more a emotional than a rational issue, comparable to politics or religion. I never understood it, there is nothing healthier thant not being sure of almost anything.

September 16, 2016 at 02:24 PM · That's the problem with double blind experiments, nothing really comes out on top for 100% of the participants, we say its a winner when 51% vote for it, we're about to vote for a president in America, just because one candidate comes out on top does not mean there really is a winner!!

September 16, 2016 at 02:42 PM · I would very much like to know what that carbon-fiber bow was. :-)

September 16, 2016 at 04:56 PM · Lidia, I don't know myself what carbon-fiber bow it was. The people conducting the series of experiments have been gathering data on what people prefer, and how they make this determination when "hearing with their eyes" is removed from the process. The researchers are quite adamant that their research not be turned into some kind of bow or instrument making competition, so they don't release information on the identity of contemporary products used.

I'd like to know too! ;-)

September 16, 2016 at 05:05 PM · FWIW, the Arcus S9 I tried sounded enough like wood (on my violin, anyway) that I would not have assumed it was carbon-fiber unless I knew that in advance. It still had a little bit of that carbon-fiber edge, but not so much that it wasn't within the range of variance in wood-bow tone.

September 16, 2016 at 05:18 PM · That's why these blind studies are so bogus, they won't reveal who the winners are, just the "winner was modern" or "so and so preferred carbon fibre". This is ridiculous because the assumption is all you have to do is buy modern, or carbon fibre and you're a winner to, which is just plain not true. If you don't reveal the name of the winners and losers you aren't saying much of anything and yet people take these "studies" so damn seriously.

No serious customer wants to buy a violin that a majority of people prefer, anyway, they want to buy the violin that they prefer, end of story.

September 16, 2016 at 05:30 PM · Lyndon, I would hope that people won't make assumptions like that, and I think most people wouldn't just assume that any and all carbon fiber bows are created equal.

There are numerous events which ARE designed to be instrument making competitions, and I think that would the best place to look for competition-style results, if that is what one is interested in.

September 16, 2016 at 05:44 PM · I certainly don't take such conclusions away from these studies. My understanding is that they are trying to inject some scientific reasoning into the received wisdom predominant in the string world (i.e., that old Italian violins and old French bows are unequalled in quality). I don't think most rational people would conclude, say, from the double blind study done in France a while back, that modern instruments are necessarily better. Rather, my takeaway from that experiment was that some old violins are great and some new violins are great - neither old nor new has a monopoly on greatness.

September 16, 2016 at 05:53 PM · To even begin to make the studies fair, you'd have to reveal the qualifications and positions of the testers who picked the old instruments vs those that picked the new instruments, then you'd need to know which Stradivari we're talking about, and which modern makers violin and what they cost, if someone found out that the modern winner cost $100,000 they might think twice about calling the study a win for all modern makers, etc.

I mean the Stradivari's are picked basically randomly, whatever is available for the test, and the modern makers undergo an extensive shootout of multiple instruments to determine the best of the best modern available, if they had a similar best of best shoot out for Strads, the results would presumably be much stronger for the Old instruments, and in fact would be the only fair way to conduct the study, unbiased.

September 16, 2016 at 06:00 PM · David - is there a link for the study that you mentioned? I'd be interested in learning more about that. I've read about blind studies of violins, but I haven't come across any studies of bows.

September 16, 2016 at 06:17 PM · The way I chose my bows was to go through hundreds and hundreds of bows at auction at one time. Initially I didn't look at the catalogue but just played them. No modern bow jumped out at me as the must have. Old French bows as a rule where the best overall, and over the years I bought these, although I do have three early Hills and a Bauch in my collection.

When I was less experienced I bought two new bows, which I loved at the time, one a gold and ivory Malcom Taylor, and the other a gold and tortoiseshell JS Finkel. Neither now has a place in my collection. Too "green" in sound and too flashy in appearance!

Cheers Carlo

September 16, 2016 at 06:20 PM · Meg, nothing on the bow experiment has been published yet, to the best of my knowledge. I only learned a little about it from talking to the people who conducted the experiment. I'd originally been asked to be one of the players in the experiment, but I quite rightly confessed that my bow-evaluating chops have gone so seriously downhill after 40 years of hardly any practice, that I wouldn't be of much value. So I guess they had to fall back on that major symphony concertmaster guy. LOL

September 16, 2016 at 06:31 PM · Studies promoted and organised by modern makers are clearly biased from the outset. Their whole premise is to promote new work over old.

Chanot also compared his instruments to Strads in blind studies, guess what, his were better. Chanot the new Stadivari? No!

Cheers Carlo

September 16, 2016 at 06:33 PM · Carlo, what led you to the belief that these studies are organized by modern makers?

September 16, 2016 at 06:34 PM · ditto, how can they be so blind to their bias in the studies, I mean the big one In Paris was run by a top modern violin maker, and a French woman hell bent on "proving" that moderns were better. So they designed a study were the moderns practically couldn't lose!!

September 16, 2016 at 06:38 PM · Why are these studies done at all if not to promote new work? There can be no other reason to do them at all. Play a great old instrument, it needs no champion to promote it.

I am not biased against modern instruments, I have a Capicchioni which I rate very highly. Is it better than a Stradivari or Guarnieri? No.

Cheers Carlo

September 16, 2016 at 06:44 PM · Maybe the big time Antique violin dealers need to get together and have their own "study" where they pick the absolute best sounding antiques and use only moderns from makers that will disclose their name and price range.

September 16, 2016 at 06:55 PM · Carlo, the research started out as the desire of a bunch of nerds to understand what makes great violins great, and also on a desire to know how to reproduce them, should that be possible.

They started out by using Strads and Guarneris as a reference standard. Later, they realized that Strads and Guarneris can be all over the map, and also that they aren't always preferred by either players or listeners, when they don't already know what's being played.

While we can all understand motivations of financial enrichment, not everything, for everyone, is primarily motivated by that. ;-)

We get quite a number of high-level engineers involved in our business, simply because they think violin sound is such a fascinating challenge.

September 16, 2016 at 07:38 PM · Lyndon wrote:

"ditto, how can they be so blind to their bias in the studies, I mean the big one In Paris was run by a top modern violin maker, and a French woman hell bent on "proving" that moderns were better. So they designed a study were the moderns practically couldn't lose!!


I am eagerly looking forward to your evidence for any of that.

The facts: The paper lists seven principals or authors in the Paris experiment, only one of whom is a violin maker. I wish you'd be more careful about the accuracy of what you post.

September 16, 2016 at 07:48 PM · Since you're one of the founding forces behind this "Modern is better" movement I hardly expect you to perceive the bias in your own judgments, David.

September 16, 2016 at 07:59 PM · Lyndon, that's just a bunch of BS. In the first place, claims of new instruments being equal or superior go back at least to the 1800s. Second, I was solidly instilled in the notion of antique instruments being better, and had to be convinced otherwise. In other words, I continued to learn. Maybe you can too.

And I continue to love SOME antique instruments. Yeah, I can be kind of snob about what's junk, and what isn't, but the same goes for my assessments of contemporary instruents.

September 16, 2016 at 08:06 PM · scientific reasoning on quality in music... Hm... That's like drinking bread, or hearing a great drawing...

September 16, 2016 at 08:07 PM · Carlo,it is not surprising to pick an old french bow from an auction since the presence of top modern bows in auctions compared to old French ones is insignificant. And I would say it is almost statistically impossible to think that your Capricchioni is worse than ALL the 600 Strads or 150 Guarneris left to everyone's taste or ear . My point is that Strad, Guarneri and the great old Italians are usually a warranty of a very good violin, but not always of a great one. How would the best of the old compare to the best of the modern ones in a blind test? We will never know, and we wouldn't probably even agree in selecting the best of each. But it doesn't really matter, it should not be a competition, I like just thinking that the best violin at a certain moment and a certain place is just the one that sounds the best, be it 300, 50 or 1 year old. And life goes on! :)

September 16, 2016 at 08:27 PM · Steven, I guess I should have written "scientific reasoning on perceived quality."

September 16, 2016 at 09:14 PM · Since auctions have come up, please, someone let me know if one of my instruments comes up for sale at auction. I am looking to buy, since my current wait list time drives most people away.

I'm not looking to buy a fake or a badly damaged instrument, but if something ostensibly made by me comes up, please send me that info anyway, and I'll figure the rest out on my end.

September 17, 2016 at 02:31 AM · Trying an instrument for less than a few days doesn't give a real picture of what it is like. The novelty of an unfamiliar sound can be initially attractive, but only after some time can one understand how it really sounds and how to play the instrument well. These trials are pointless as they don't reflect real life. I liken these studies to a blind dating show, true love after a few minutes? No, and not with violins either.

Cheers Carlo

September 17, 2016 at 03:39 AM · Meg, the issue with mixing science with art is perception. Science can tell you how loud, clear the violin is mixed together with specific bow and with specific player.

Science deals facts, not opinions nor perceptions. It's just not possible for science to describe what some people do and dislike.

A good philosophical discussion that I often get into is describing a specific colour, say we're talking about red, the only reason that we can distinguish, identify and recognize(given everyone is not colourblind) colour red, is because we standardized colours, with reference. Colour red describes the light traveling at specific energy/wavelength, but it still doesn't describe how we see it, some may see it brighter, darker and etc. Now, if we add on top of that to say, what is the best looking colour? Well, that depends on preferences and environment.

If we apply that to violins or bows, it depends on person to person with many different environments. If we scientifically analyze that, again, we'll get the facts, not what and how people perceive it.

Bottom line, I love violins and other forms of art, and my career is in sciences. I submit that superiority, in context of this art cannot be defined by science, nor in scientific reasoning.

-rant/too much information cropped out-

September 17, 2016 at 11:17 AM · Violins are hardly the only arena where branding sways people's opinions. If they were, the entire advertising industry would be out of business. Recall the study in which researchers put carrots in McDonald's wrappers, and previously scornful toddlers were suddenly delighted to eat them.

I think trying to tease out how much of people's perception is based on the actual sound of the instrument and how much is based on the label is a very interesting and valid pursuit.

September 17, 2016 at 12:56 PM · Carlo, in the real world, hardly anybody (nobody?) tries 25 or 50 violins for a year, devoting extended time to figuring out how to get the best from each and every one. Instead, most really good violinists can decide very quickly which violins to take out of the running, and which to give further consideration. Sort of a process of elimination.

So the experiments do not try to establish, or use, some sort of "perfect" or "idealized" testing protocol that the experimenters came up with. They are more interested in staying close to the methods that violinists actually use, within the structure and time frame which allows the instrument to remain anonymous to both the player and to the audience (when an audience is used).

Despite the short time frame, some interesting things have emerged. For instance, many players were of the belief that they could tell immediately upon playing whether a violin was old or new. As it turned out, their overall accuracy was more like random, or flipping a coin, statistically.

You may not find things like this interesting, but some of us fiddle geeks do.

The tests are what they are, and aren't what they aren't, and the protocols are quite clearly laid out in the resulting published papers, so there really doesn't need to be any confusion between the two.

September 17, 2016 at 01:11 PM · Steven, scientific reasoning is applicable to fields outside the so-called hard sciences.

I'd refer you to the work of Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman for studies on judgment, perception and decision-making.

September 17, 2016 at 01:55 PM · Lyndon wrote:

"I mean the Stradivari's are picked basically randomly, whatever is available for the test, and the modern makers undergo an extensive shootout of multiple instruments to determine the best of the best modern available, if they had a similar best of best shoot out for Strads, the results would presumably be much stronger for the Old instruments, and in fact would be the only fair way to conduct the study, unbiased."


Lyndon, I don't think that's quite accurate. Once more, please check your "facts". In the Paris test, for instance, the paper states that they started with a pool of 15 modern and 9 old Italian instruments, and six of each were selected using preliminary blind tests designed to eliminate instruments with the least impressive playing qualities.

The Strads and Guarneris, of course, had already gone through an additional and perhaps even more rigorous "shootout", undertaken by many generations of musicians. This select group of violins was thought to not only represent the best violins of the era in which they were made, but the best violins of all time, widely believed to be the reference standard for superiority. I'd say that this would tend to give the disadvantage to the modern instruments.

Sure, I don't doubt that the outcomes could be different, whether by winnowing the modern test group from a larger number of contemporary violins to start with, or by doing the same with the Strads (if there could be some kind of agreement on which were best). Speculation about "what if" can go all over the place, and in both directions.

September 17, 2016 at 02:05 PM · Meg, I think making distinction between hard and non-hard science itself represents that a field is not really science.

Kahneman's field is considered in economics for that reason.

I think you are referring to logical reasoning.

September 17, 2016 at 02:42 PM · The Pepsi challenge has something to say about the benefit of blind taste testing.... what is it people want when they have to drink a case of the stuff over a month or two.... hmmmm. Do you pick your wife by closing your eyes so you can better understand her personality and not be taken in by her physical attractiveness and the way she looks at you ..... what instrument inspired the players over weeks and months and years down the road... obviously some will prefer modern over old, but to hang your hat on the "objectivity" of the blind test in the name of "modern objectivity" (which of course is superior to anything else) will often leave you having to pick your hat up from off the floor.

September 17, 2016 at 04:11 PM · "Trying an instrument for less than a few days doesn't give a real picture of what it is like. The novelty of an unfamiliar sound can be initially attractive, but only after some time can one understand how it really sounds and how to play the instrument well. These trials are pointless as they don't reflect real life. I liken these studies to a blind dating show, true love after a few minutes? No, and not with violins either."

This is absolutely true, and it also applies to bows. For one thing, people tend to go for brighter and louder first. Sometimes people go for what they have been used to, and others for whatever is totally different. That's why I recommend that one should have an instrument for two weeks to really judge. The process can become a total mind-f#ck. This is why I distrust any kind of short-term or instant "blind study." It takes time to not only adjust one's playing to an instrument, but to plumb its depths. Both violins and bows are required to do many things in order to make music.

And one other thing: like brand-new violins, new bows can definitely change. They can change in sound, losing a bright, focused tone over time, and they can change in flexibility. Sometimes they can warp in weird ways. Articulation can change. Always true? No, but that's the risk of a new bow. It may always sound like it does initially--ore it may not.

Pepsi is too sweet. But then, I gave up Coke (the ideal blend of sweet and fizzy) almost two years ago.

September 17, 2016 at 05:56 PM · All violins and bows can change, whether new or old. However, the highest rate of change probably occurs with new violins, within the first few weeks of being strung up. For this reason, I don't think it's a good idea to try to make decisions about a violin when it is that new. Same thing with an older instrument which hasn't been under string tension for a while. They go through a "settling in" period when they are brought back to playing tension.

I try to have my violins under string tension for a minimum of a month before they go out the door. That, along with some careful pre-stressing to accelerate arrival at a state where they "plateau", can get them very stable within that short amount of time. I don't know if bow makers could do something similar or not. But I've had violins come back in after ten years of use, with nothing done but string changes (not even a soundpost adjustment), and with the owner still quite happy with the sound.

Yes, I'm aware that there are some horror stories about new violins changing. My guess would be that they had not yet sufficiently plateaud when the owner made the purchase decision, or that they weren't built right in the first place. One advantage of having been a restorer was the chance to see what typically goes wrong with a wide variety of instruments over time (including Strads), figure out why failures happened, and be able to avoid repeating these mistakes, or even incorporate preventive strategies into new instruments.

September 17, 2016 at 11:31 PM · When I read the Paris?? study I beleive it said they had about 30 modern violins for the initial modern shoot out.

September 18, 2016 at 12:44 AM · Here's a link to the publication on the Paris study.

The test instrument description begins at the bottom of page three, and is as I described.


September 18, 2016 at 05:55 AM · David Kang asked "Do some people like old bows better than new? Why?"

I own 2 bows, made by Hill-trained makers, similar weight & with very similar pernambuco, dense of grain and with a hint of flame. One is from 2005, the other from circa 1920.

Someone I can't trace now has posted on that he/she considers newer Hill bows to play as if "filled with water".

Compared with the OLDER of my 2 bows, the NEWER one does give that sort of impression. The OLD bow responds more speedily in saltando and spiccato strokes - it's livelier ! If I'm not using jumpy strokes the sound produced is much the same.

The sample-size here is too small to have any great significance; yet maybe my observation will shed some light for the OP.

September 18, 2016 at 08:41 AM · That begs the question, what happens to pernambuco as it ages?

Cheers Carlo

September 18, 2016 at 08:58 AM · Presumably it dries out and the resins in it harden.?????

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