Expected life span of wooden bows

October 31, 2017, 8:42 AM · We know that many violins made more than 300 years ago are still in active use, but what about bows? Do (wooden) bows age to the extent that they are no longer up to the job, and if so what would be the expected life span?

Replies (14)

October 31, 2017, 8:57 AM · If you mean a change in flexibility and how it changes over time, then I think its very difficult to quantify.
At what point does the strength of a bow decline to the point that it's no longer playable? Who knows?

I know that bowmakers can measure the stiffness of a bow, but do we have stiffness measurements from the 19th century which we can compare? Other than changes in flexibility, not much else changes in a bow. Weight distribution doesn't change, or total weight.

And what does "up to the job" really mean? Some people like a flexible stick, and some like a stiffer one. It depends on one's level of technique, and what one is used to. Bows can lose their camber, but camber can be fixed (Ive had it successfully done on different bows). Wear can take place, but not if you cover the grip/brand area with leather as many do.

I suspect the real issue with bow lifespan is simply accidents.

October 31, 2017, 9:30 AM · Or wear and tear in the mortise.I had an Emile Ouchard that had that very problem and was beyond hope of repairing.
Last year I tried a Grand Addam at a Toronto shop made circa 1835 that was in superb condition and had lots of strength.I personally like collecting bows because of their longevity and lack of maintenance.
October 31, 2017, 9:35 AM · There are still folks playing with Tourtes made in the early 1800s. So at least 200 years.
October 31, 2017, 9:58 AM · I don't think we have run the experiment long enough yet. As Lydia said, some very old bows still play and sound extremely great.

Edited: October 31, 2017, 11:44 AM · Do you have to "play in" a bow the way you do a violin? I mean for its tone.
October 31, 2017, 12:01 PM · I heard that Kreisler would buy a bunch of Hills, tighten the hell out of them and wear them out. I imagine that is a bit of an exaggeration, and I have no primary sources to back that hearsay up.
Edited: November 2, 2017, 7:51 PM · My Richard Weichold violin bow was made in Dresden sometime before the maker died in 1902. It is a tossup whether it or my 10-year old Paul Martin Seifried are the better bow - but a Weichold can be a relative bargain price-wise - if you can find one.
October 31, 2017, 2:34 PM · Ditto--200 y.o. Tourte bows are still good bows. With any bow; don't over-or under-tighten it. Have at least one back-up bow for routine practicing and rehearsals. Use a qualified technician for re-hairing. Watch out if you break bow hairs frequently; If the bow hairs break on only one side, it could become out of balance and warp the stick sideways. Avoid the sun and heat.
October 31, 2017, 6:17 PM · I wonder if bow wood dries out over time and becomes more resonant?
November 1, 2017, 9:31 AM · "I wonder if bow wood dries out over time and becomes more resonant?"

That's always been my assumption. Why would they not?
Go pick up a piece of firewood that's been in a pile outside for 20 years and compare the weight to that which has been harvested more recently, even if aged a little.

November 2, 2017, 2:04 AM · I am pretty sure bows are made using dried wood. And we keep them in relatively constant humidity. So apart from the changes in humidity there should not be any drying going on.
November 2, 2017, 4:19 AM · Bows are not firewood being made of such dense material.I have had my mint condition Prosper Colas for twenty years and haven't noticed any resonant changes.It's not better or worse since I bought it in 1997.Not being the devils' advocate but just searching for answers.Perhaps being so dense they lose moisture over many decades,perhaps centuries.Just don't know.
November 2, 2017, 5:21 AM · Well I have a old bow 100+ years, and a new one. I don't think there's so much of a difference as to how long it will last unless it is exposed to the elements or gets smashed by accident.
Edited: November 2, 2017, 4:50 PM · The replies so far have pretty well answered my question - I don't need to worry about one of my two favorite bows, my 100-year old German bow (anonymous), positively identified as such and dated by the master bowmaker I took it to for rehairing three years ago (he knew exactly the details to look for, and dated it at about 1920). The bow belonged to my Mother and I believe it was her second bow after she had been learning for a while, so the dates tie in. Still less do I need to worry about my three other wood bows which are all less than 20 years old. So thank you everyone for your comments!

I have another question - are there any pre-Tourte bows (i.e. Transitional/Baroque) still being played regularly?


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