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Bows:round vs. octagonal

Instruments: which shape works better??

From Jay Azneer
Posted July 6, 2006 at 05:04 AM

Is there any inherent difference in handling between a round vs. an octagonal bow? I've always been partial to octagonals but now, since I'm planning on buying a new bow I'd love some advice.

From Gennady Filimonov
Posted on July 6, 2006 at 08:29 AM
It is a very subjective topic.

Personally I prefer round sticks. But I have tried some superb octagonal bows by Tourte as well as those of Clement that I would not object to having.

Most other makers, when they make octagonal sticks, they tend to be too stiff.

From Cheng Hooi Lee
Posted on July 6, 2006 at 08:46 AM
I agree with Gennady - somehow round is better.
From Pieter Viljoen
Posted on July 6, 2006 at 08:47 AM
I owned an octagonal stick that was pretty stiff, and kind of bright. Round ones to me are generally more supple, but there are definately good octagonal sticks... in fact my next bow purchase is going to be a lovely octagonal Millant.
From Audrey Roncigli
Posted on July 6, 2006 at 10:59 AM
I've got 2 rounds and 2 octogonal.
The octogonal are to my mind, more dynamic and answer quickly.
But the round can be very fast too, depends on what you play and how you play !
Best
AR
From Kevin Huang
Posted on July 6, 2006 at 11:03 AM
I tend to prefer round sticks, but I'm in the process of acquiring a beautiful and beat-up octagonal Albert Nurnberger for use on stage with my electric violin.

Generally, I feel that I can get more force while maintaining finesse with a good octagonal stick. With round sticks, I tend to feel that I can get more finesse while maintaining force.

From Jay Azneer
Posted on July 6, 2006 at 12:38 PM
Kevin said--Generally, I feel that I can get more force while maintaining finesse with a good octagonal stick. With round sticks, I tend to feel that I can get more finesse while maintaining force.

Please exsplain further I'm getting lost in my head with your answer.

From bill _
Posted on July 6, 2006 at 12:55 PM
It is all subjective.
From Kevin Huang
Posted on July 6, 2006 at 01:19 PM
bill said it better than I did.

Most of that is in my head, not the bow!

From Nathan Cole
Posted on July 6, 2006 at 01:54 PM
Just for those curious, all bows are octagonal at a certain point in their development. If the maker feels the stick is strong enough to be rounded off, he'll do it, often granting a more flexible sound and additional tone colors to the bow. If not, it stays octagonal. But don't forget what was said above, about some of the most incredible-sounding bows (especially Tourtes in my experience) being octagonal.
From Angelo Eftimeo
Posted on July 6, 2006 at 03:09 PM
While I agree with the comments that all bows begin octagonal, I don't necissarily agree with the reasons as to why some are/are not rounded off. In the US round sticks outsell octagonals by a ratio of over 10 to 1, so a bow maker/bow manufacturer has to take into consideration the market when making bows to sell. Structurally there is little if any strength difference between a round or octagonal stick, and if a strucural engineer (or Physics major?) looked at the math they would probably find that on average (because after all this is wood and all sticks are different) round sticks of equal weight and dimensions would be stronger. An example-you have a 62.5 gram round stick and a 61.5 gram octagonal, the round stick originally was probably a 62.5 or 63 gram stick before the edges were rounded off, thus making (potentially) a stronger (or at least slightly denser) stick. The difference would probably be so slight that the variance of the wood wouldn't allow an accurate comparison, and I obviously see strong sticks (as well as "noodles") of both types. Another case where personal preference wins out, but the market place does tell us that most players prefer round.
From Pieter Viljoen
Posted on July 6, 2006 at 09:28 PM
Actually I had a really nice Nurnburger that was octagonal, so was my E.F. Ouchard, and this Millant is octagonal too. Honestly, it's not what I look for but it seems I like octagonal bows.
From Gennady Filimonov
Posted on July 6, 2006 at 10:05 PM
Angelo actually made a very astute observation.
From Gennady Filimonov
Posted on July 6, 2006 at 10:05 PM
Angelo actually made a very astute observation.
From Gennady Filimonov
Posted on July 6, 2006 at 10:08 PM
Angelo actually made a very astute observation.

wow.......the key got really stuck and made three entries. sorry.

From Peter Schafer
Posted on July 6, 2006 at 10:25 PM
oops - didn't see the above posts. Never mind...
From N.A. Mohr
Posted on July 7, 2006 at 03:39 AM
I wondered about round vs. octoganal sticks too...and set out to see if I could find any differences. So I do have two better bows...one of each that I play...both are approx. the same quality.

I don't notice a big difference. I use the round bow more because it seems to suit my violin better but I doubt it has anything to do with the shape of the stick. Besides, there are so many other factors that can affect bow sound, I don't know quite how one would really test the concept fairly.

From John Greenwood
Posted on July 21, 2006 at 05:46 AM
Greetings! I am professional bowmaker and as one who plays and has experimented extensively with the difference between octagonal and round bows, I'd like to present the following observations:

1) All things equal (including the specific wood of the stick, frog, button, and wrapping), there is no consistent or predictable difference in tone and playability between a round and an octagonal bow. I feel that these perceived differences are a notable example of "psycho-acoustics" (ie. A round bow = "round," sweet tone, an octagonal bow = a more "angular," focused, or brighter tone.

2) In bowmaking, all bows start out as octagons. When the bow nears completion and the weight, stiffness, and balance of the final bow are in view of the maker, he evaluates whether these elements are what he is seeking. If more wood must be removed to make the bow more flexible, reduce weight, or optimise balance, he can continue to reduce the octagon further, which is time consuming, or instead, round the stick. Most makers will go to rounding the stick which is easier and quicker for the bowmaker and at no loss of quality.

3) Round sticks are indeed stronger gram-for-gram compared to octagonal bows of equal weight, assuming that the wrapping, frog, and button are of equal weight.

4) All things equal, the balance point of the round stick will tend to be closer to the hand, making it feel lighter at the tip. This balance difference can effect the "feel" of the bow in the players hand and could influence the player's perception of it and therefore influence the way the player produces tone with it. The skillful bowmaker can compensate for these balance and strength differences throughout the making process and can theoretically produce a round bow which plays equivalently to an octagon one.

5) The loss of mass from rounding an octagonal stick into a round one is approx. 7% of the stick weight, which will also make the round bow more flexible, but intriguingly by a factor of less than 7%. Therefore, the round stick optimises stiffness vs. mass. A good thing.

6) A bowmaker who desires to complete an octagonal bow will generally start with a stick of greater stiffness and/or less density to end up with a stick of equal strength and weight to a finished round stick. It is possible that a less dense stick will end up sounding brighter. Please note that we're now comparing sticks of different density and/or stiffness.

7) For the bowmaker, completing a beautiful symetrical octagonal bow is a particularly exacting process that requires several additional hours of extra painstaking work. This is something that the bowmaker might wish avoid if players weren't particularly appreciative of them. Since players are generally much more interested in playability than the bowmaker's "perfect octagons," we see many more round bows.

From Jay Azneer
Posted on July 21, 2006 at 05:34 PM
Thank you Mr Greenwood. I have always found octagons more pleasing to my eye but I didn'tknow if there was any other reason for prefering one over the other.
From Henry Z Liao
Posted on July 22, 2006 at 03:11 AM
No wonder why my brother broke the octagonal bow I gave him so easily. Oops.
From Gennady Filimonov
Posted on July 22, 2006 at 06:14 AM
John G.,

Interesting post.
First and foremost I am a player and I am also a collector and a dealer of Fine French Bows.
I am surprised you left out a rather important ingredient and that is the design of the particular bow and its creator.

In my opinion the reason most people feel an octagonal bow is rigid and stiff, it is due to the very flat throat of the stick. A design which many contemporary American makers favor even when they are making round stick bows. They are not the only ones.

It is quite natural for an octagonal stick to be rigid and stiff due to that particular element. Although, there are octagonal bows that end up being a noodle due to the density or lack of it in the stick.

So in retrospect, what you say is partially true, but there is a bigger picture surrounding this subject.

it is one of the reasons why so many still love the 19th century French bows for their elasticity, reserve power etc.

I think design, choice of materials and the artisan, all play a very big role as to the outcome of each individual bow.

From John Thornton
Posted on July 22, 2006 at 08:29 AM
I've got an unstamped octagonal bow with an ivory frog and a silver sole plate with two (?gold?) pins holding it in place. The head is rather square looking with a sharply defined brow that resembles some made by Dominique Peccate.

I also have another silver mounted round bow, with an ebony frog, and whale bone/leather, stamped Vtor Fetique A Paris.

The octagonal bow is a little heavier and of smaller diameter than the round one, while the round bow is lighter, but the stiffness/flexibility is about the same in each one.

Being a little heavier, the octagonal bow draws a slightly graver tone, while the lighter round bow draws a more brilliant tone.

Which one should I like the best?

From Danielle Goatley
Posted on July 22, 2006 at 02:07 PM
The one that best compliments your instrument?
From Jack Chessa
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 04:49 AM
Well for what it is worth being a Structural Mechanics Professor, I thought that I would look at the mechanics of octagonal and round cross section bows from a beam theory point of view. If we assume that we have an octagonal bow and a round bow of the same cross sectional area, and assume that this yields bows of the same mass we get the following:
1) The round stick is 25% stiffer than the octagonal bow but that
2) depending on the orientation the octagonal bow is 23%-30% stronger than the round bow.
So again this is assuming the two bows have the same cross sectional area. So this would not be the process discussed by Mr Greenwood where one "rounds" down an octagonal bow. In this case the cross sectional areas are not the same and the resulting round bow would obviously be less stiff. That being said I believe that the dynamics response of the bow/hair/string system is really what we perceive. That is why some bows work better with some instruments than others. This is a very complex mechanics problem and way beyond the 15 minutes I spent on this. But an interesting thread none the less.
I have a pdf with my calculations and some other opinions, but it seems that I can't post pdfs here. If people are interested email me at jfchessa@utep.edu and I can send it to you.
From Henry Wang
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 05:08 AM
Jack:

Could you elaborate on the difference between "stiffer" and "stronger" wood? The difference would relate to a question I posted in another thread "flexible bow or weak bow?" in which I inquired the difference between "flexible" and "weak". I am puzzled.

From Peter Carter
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 12:04 PM
Great topic.It puzzles me how certain bows can be heavy and stiff,yet dont have the perceived strength of a more flexible bow.
From Jack Chessa
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 05:22 PM
Well it was brought to my attention by Martin Jervis (I hope he does not mind my mentioning his name, but he was very astute in finding my error) It seems that the octagonal stick is in fact stiffer than the round stick. But only by 0.2% Also the strengths of the octagonal stick can is greater than a round stick when the pressure is applied perpendicular to the flat (again only a 3% change) and less than a round stick when the force is applied across the corners (again only by 5%). Basically it makes little difference. Sorry for the incorrect post earlier.
From Ted Sinoski
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 05:09 PM
I would agree with John Greenwood's observation. The ratio of stiffness to mass (weight) along the length of the bow together with the overall weight seems to determine in large part the STATIC "feel" of the bow in my experience. If you calculate (or look up in a handbook) cross sectional properties of beams. the bending stiffness of an octagonal cross section and a circular (round) cross section with the same cross sectional area (i.e. same weight) are virtually identical.
From Jack Chessa
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 05:27 PM
FYI strength is how much force you can apply before it breaks and stiffness is how much it flexes when you put a force on it. So think of the adage of the oak and the willow. The oak is very stiff but can break in a very high wind. The willow is very flexible and will stand up to some very high winds. Of course there are things that are stiffer and stronger. They are not directly related. I think that we are really perceiving the stiffness in a bow through its dynamic response. We only perceive the stiffness through an unfortunate incident ;) Usually with your stand partner.
From Jack Chessa
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 05:32 PM
Ted I believe that it is a dynamics issue not a static issue. The hair on vibrates the string through a stick slip phenomena and the stick slip is induced by the wave propagation in the bow and the hair. Also by the very subtle biomechanical forces we as musicians apply . It probably best no to make too much of the science of it. But it is interesting to consider all the design possibilities with composite bows. I don't think that they have really been fully exploited yet.
From Jack Chessa
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 05:32 PM
Ted I believe that it is a dynamics issue not a static issue. The hair on vibrates the string through a stick slip phenomena and the stick slip is induced by the wave propagation in the bow and the hair. Also by the very subtle biomechanical forces we as musicians apply . It probably best no to make too much of the science of it. But it is interesting to consider all the design possibilities with composite bows. I don't think that they have really been fully exploited yet.
From Andres Sender
Posted on July 6, 2008 at 08:58 AM
Admitting that this is probably of no import, is the stiffness of the octagonal stick .2% greater in all directions, or only across the points? If the latter, what is the figure for perpendicular to the flats? Thanks!

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