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Amanda Grow

A Leap Above Terrible

August 26, 2009 at 4:50 AM

So in my last entry, I went through the trials and tribulations of an out-of-practice player trying to come to terms with both my level of skill and my level of instrument. I spent some time out of town, did some work related things that kept me busy, but ultimately got back around to violin concerns. Today I made an important step in the process: a step above terrible. More like a leap really.

I find my play skills are something along the description of "atrophied". I used to play decently, but time and lack of use have degraded my abilities. With some musical therapy, so to speak, I can get back on track.

Meanwhile I came to grips with the quality of my instrument. While I'm ultimately content with the violin itself (for now, it's just a student instrument so I tried to set my expectations to realistic levels), I had three candidates for upgrades: the rosin, the bow, and the case.

The case I figure is something I should only be worried about if I plan on carting my violin around with me. As of yet, I'm not ready to transport it anywhere so no sense worrying about the riding car of the violin if it never takes trips.

The rosin is in a really annoying form to me. The rosin I'm used to from my olden days is in a rectangular shape with a sort of cork (or something) backing and it's just well... bow shaped. It looks like something you run against a bow-like object. The rosin I have right now that came with the case is more like a pine tree hockey puck on a strip of fabric you'd use for waxing. It's awkward to work with for me. To me, rosin is like a knife sharpener. What I'm used to is one of those nifty sharpeners that you just run the knife through and presto, sharp knife. This rosin is more like when you have a rock that you can technically work the blade against to try and form the sharp edge. However, in the grand scheme of things rosin isn't that expensive, nor is it that big of a difference compared with other things. I can wait on this too.

So this left the bow. From the moment I held it out of the case, it didn't feel "right". The violin felt fine, sounded fine, looked cool, etc, but as soon as my fingers coiled around that stick I sensed something was wrong. I believe the term I've seen fiddle shop owners use is "throw away bows". Yep, that's an accurate description, because I sure wanted to throw this one away! It wasn't crooked or anything, but it just wasn't put together well and didn't use very good materials, even for my standards.

As I was talking with my friend who plays in the Irish session I was chatting with her about violin woes. She broke her E string tonight, her pegs aren't staying, little annoyances like that. I mentioned that I needed to go bow shopping and she said, to my surprise, that she had a bow she was willing to sell me. She had upgraded her own bow and was willing to part with her old one. So I took her up on the offer to "test drive" it this week. If I liked it, we would work out a deal. If I didn't like it, I could just bring it over to the party this weekend and give it back, no harm no foul. I figured hey, if my bow is terrible, any other bow is likely a step above terrible and that's an improvement.

She happened to have it with her and let me have it tonight. I didn't have anything to carry it in, so I just spent time holding it. I pretty much held it at the table all night chatting with our friends. I held it in the car on the way home. Something about holding bow or instrument in hand makes you want to start using it impulsively. As soon as we got home and stepped in the door, I wandered over to the violin case. II was just going to put the bow in the case and take out one of the old bows (it was late at night after all, no time to play). I like to call the two old bows "double trouble," as I had two of these so called "throw away" bows. Three bows, 2 spots, so one of them has to go. Honestly all I was going to do was put away the new bow, but when I opened the case, I found myself compulsed to pull out the fiddle and test out this new (new to me anyway) bow.

Wow. No really...... wow. Did I drink too much at the pub and my ears deceive me? I pulled out the old bow to compare the two. Holy mother of all gods, what is this miracle bow??? I couldn't believe the difference! Even my husband came in from the other room surprised by the improvement in quality when I played with the new bow. So I've only played for 5 minutes with this new bow tonight and I'm already completely in love with it. This got me thinking, what the heck is the difference that makes it THAT much better for me?

Both were wood. The frog seemed much better - nice mother of pearl and what not. Stick was a hex stick which was the same as my el cheapo bow. Wood seems darker on the new bow, and the way the hairs are done seems much better on the new one. The hairs themselves also seem to be of better quality. I do recall that I'd seen this bow before when my friend was telling me about where she got her fiddle. An old friend of hers had a father in eastern europe who used to make violins and would send extra ones as gifts. Since the daughter didn't really know how to play, she offered one to my friend as a gift. In my friend's closet it sat for many years until she got a wild hair to start learning to play it recently. My friend loved her fiddle, but didn't really care too much for the bow and bought a new bow a few months ago. She kept the old one though until now. So the workmanship is definately a factor in the difference between the two bows. Recently the new bow had been re-haired, but it was a thinner width of hair than what I'm used to. Maybe that was it? In the end, I think the real difference is the weight and balance of it.

The new bow is definately heavier than my old one. I'm not sure what kind of wood it's made from, but it's definately darker, almost black compared to the "orangey" color of the cheap bow. I find I actually like that it is heavier. My friend was getting rid of it because it was heavy (she had upgraded to a carbon fiber bow or something like that). I tried her new bow and didn't care for it even though it was lighter and all that jazz. I think I find the light bows bounce around too much for my taste - the heavier bow weight seems to ground it to the string. I don't even get "tired" using it. It' s the same problem I have with my computer mouse sensitivity - when I play my computer games, I set the sensitivity down. I like having to work my arm and get better/ more accurate results that way. Too "light" of a touch and I just fling my mouse everywhere except where I want it.  The balance point on the bow is also a teeny bit closer to the frog than my old ones.

I don't know if it's the weight or the balance or the hairs or heck maybe it's because it was made by a little old man in eastern europe - this bow rocks my casbah. Using this bow, I am hearing the sounds I remember. THAT is what my music is supposed to sound like! It's amazing how a ton of self consciousness about playing in front of people just melted away hearing this bow pull those sounds out of my little black fiddle.

Originally I was going to name my fiddle for fun. I haven't decided what name to give the fiddle, but I'm thinking this bow deserves a name now too. I'll figure something out, because "epic bow of sheer liquid awesome" is a little long.


From Tom Holzman
Posted on August 31, 2009 at 8:12 PM

Folks are always amazed at the difference a bow upgrade can make.  In general, you get much more bang for your buck upgrading the bow rather than the instrument.  Different strings can also make a big difference.  Anyhow, glad the new bow works so well for you. 

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