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Pauline Lerner

August 30, 2005 at 7:12 AM


I’ve always owned and used classic bows made of pernambuco wood from Brazil and horsehair from long haired horses in the colder parts of China and Russia. I’ve heard about and tried Baroque bows and carbon fiber bows, but I didn’t really understand why people use them until recently, when I test drove an Incredibow owned by one of my students. It’s fascinating to me as both a scientist and a violinist/fiddler. Incredibows are made by Ed and Carolyn Wilcox of Serenity Mountain, Arkansas. As they explain on their website,

Consider this: relatively little has changed in bowmaking in at least the past 250 years!... What other technology stopped changing it's product 250 years ago?

The stick is made of a hollow, tapered graphite/epoxy (carbon fiber) tube, and the “hair” is made of an undisclosed “space age” material. The hair is pretensioned and is not tightened and slackened before and after playing as the hair of a conventional bow is. The Incredibow weighs much less than a conventional bow, never needs to be rehaired, is guaranteed to last for at least three years, and is “nearly indestructible.” As befits a space age bow, the stick of the bow comes in many different colors, including pseudo-wood, brilliant solid colors, various bright colors with sparkles, and stunning holographic patterns of colors.

Most important, though, is the ease of handling. Here are my strictly subjective perceptions: The Incredibow feels different from the conventional bow partly because it weighs so much less. It is easy to play quick notes, as in jigs and reels, and to do string crossings, as are common in Scottish fiddle music. In these ways, the Incredibow is similar to a Baroque bow or a carbon fiber bow, which are used fairly frequently by players of Irish and Scottish fiddle tunes. It is very easy to produce a smooth, even sound with the Incredibow. It does not squeak or squawk if you press down too hard on it, and this is a great boon to beginning students and anyone who must listen to them. The sound quality is just as smooth and even at the lower half of the bow as it is at the upper half. I found myself venturing closer to the frog with the Incredibow than I would with my own bow. However, I did have trouble playing crescendo and decrescendo; there are times when you don’t want a very smooth, steady tone. After playing for a while, the thumb of my bowing hand started to hurt, and I realized that this happened because I was pressing down hard on the bow when I wanted to play loud. I tried staccato, spiccato, dashed slurs, dotted slurs, and Scottish snaps, and, at first, I found it more difficult to bounce with this space age bow than with my old fashioned bow. Other violinists have had the same experience. However, after playing with it for a while, I was able to get a good, controlled bounce. Beginning students should find it easier to play with an Incredibow than with a conventional bow because there is less technique for them to learn. If they want to switch to a conventional bow later, it would be difficult for them. This is not necessarily a problem, since they can do almost everything they need with the Incredibow. I’ll stick with my old fashioned bow, though. I don’t mind missing out on holographic shimmers and psychedelic colors, and I like the greater range of expression that my own bow gives me.

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