February 2011

The Great Pflugerville Bow-Off

February 26, 2011 09:06

OK, I'm not a blogger.  So I'm having to force myself to do this.  The professionals in the audience may find this beneath their level, but maybe some other folks with not many Benjamins will find it interesting.  Here goes...

I've reached a point that the $25 bow I've been playing with just doesn't cut it any more.  So my delayed Christmas present is a new bow.

There are some GREAT bows out there, but I have financial constraints. 

I looked at local stores, but nothing in my range clicked for me.  The closest was an octagonal bow which was significantly above my limit.  So, I decided to check out Shar's offerings in their February bow sale.

The Criteria

The Options

The Package

After calling up Shar and requesting a trial with my choices, I got an email with tracking info.  The package came on the projected day.  When I opened the cardboard box, I found a very nice bow case with ample cushioning to protect it.

The case contained my three choices.  Each was already rosined, ready to go.

The Inspection

All three choices have Parisian eyes, full-lined frogs, and three-piece screw buttons.  All  have silver(ish) windings with leather wraps (the two higher-prices one have lizard-skin texture).  The VB6 Meinel is octagonal, while the others are round.

The Guy Laurent's silver fittings have a finer sheen and surface texture than the "German Silver" (nickel alloy) ones.  The gap between frog and wrap was smaller on the Meinels than on the Laurent.

The First Playing

I couldn't help myself.  I went for the most expensive first.  This was actually a mistake, as I got spoiled.  The tone was impressive from the first bow stroke.  I kept coming back to this bow, just to hear the rich, full tone it produced.

The next was the least expensive.  The octagonal section intrigued me.  I have never had much interest in 8-sided bows -- I can't tell you why.  I guess I just like the way the round bows looked.  This bow had a very different feel from the one I have been using.  It felt lighter, and the balance point was closer to the bow hand.

The middle-priced bow (Meinel 1 star) handled much like the Laurent.  Its tone was also very good, but not quite as imporessive as the Laurent.  It's a good bow.

The Pudding (as in, the Proof is in...)

The first evening after they arrived was Bow Test Evening.   I started with the pieces our orchestra is doing (can you spell p-r-a-c-t-i-c-e?), then moved to concerto excerpts and scales.  I settled on the start of Zigunerweisen as a standard tone test -- it felt good, and sounded good.  It also showed off the differences between each bow.

Another standard test was the first movement of the Bach double concerto, to check ease in string crossings, staccato, tone production, and articulation.  This turned out to be a key test in my final decision.  The Toreador's March from Carmen also put these babies through the wringer, and showed a wide difference in articulation between the final choice and the others.

I did A-B, B-C, A-C, and A-B-C comparisons on lots of pieces.  Along the way, I found a couple of ways to compare the choices.  One interesting test was to set up a very fast off-theing tremolo at the tip, then move it toward the frog, to see where control got difficult.  Another test was to play a passage at the frog, taking very light staccato strokes for each note.  The amount of work to pull this off varied quite a bit from to bow.

I imposed on my wife to listed to the differences from across the house.  She confirmed what I heard right under my ear.

In this price range, one might expect that bows would be all alike.  I was surprised at the variation in bows.  I expect that even within makes and models, there is a lot of variation.  So the choices are among the bows that are on hand, and I did not have a chance to try 5 of each model.  But I could recommend any of these to someone in my price range.

The Results

The Laurent had the most impressive tone of the lot, by a wide margin.  It also had a wonderful chatoyance and finish.  Its sliver mounting kept drawing me.

But in the end, the least expensive one was most nimble.  The weight and balance just worked for me in the areas I was looking for.  I'm not sure how the octagonal cross-section played a role, but this particular bow worked really well in my hand, for the kind of pieces I play.

The Meinel VB6 met my first criterion -- articulation first -- better than the others.  If my top criterion had been tone, the no-brainer choice would have been the Guy Laurent model.

Too bad I can't afford both.


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