Scientifically, how does bow wood affect sound/tone of your violin?

September 20, 2012 at 05:15 AM · From what I read, high quality pernambuco wood is the way to go because it provides a certain desirable tonal characteristic to your music compared to a lower quality wood or carbon fiber.

Example:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z86jPyFYAQM

CF bow described as "colder" sound; you can find many threads here on violinist.com where people say similar things. Bland. Cold. Requires more work to make your music. etc.

This confuses me, as I don't understand how a wood that does not touch the violin can affect its sound.

That is, the bow, with the help of rosin which provides grip/friction for the hairs as they are drawn across the strings, cause the strings to vibrate and create a sound.

I'm not arguing about handling or weight, etc. but am I the only one that sees a disconnect?

Am I crazy for thinking it probably does not matter and the only characteristic that people should care about is weight/durability/handling? (I won't get into bow hairs)

Replies (20)

September 20, 2012 at 09:19 AM · I asked a professional violinist who also owns a violin shop this question a few months ago. He said, 'Yes, the wood does matter. You would not think so but it does.' I thought it was all due to the quality of the bow hair but that is not as important as the composition of the stick itself. You can always change the bow hair.

September 20, 2012 at 10:11 AM · I am not a professional bow specialist or something but I can tell there is for sure a difference in sound in different bows. And this difference outlasts the hair change. (but the hair is also very important for the sound)

I think one can not seperate the handling qualities too much from the sound, because there is a relation between how a bow stays on its path and how it sounds.

I can only talk about my experience here:

I have a bow since 3 years from a quite good living maker. As I played it first I was in awe by the quick response it creates. Later when I was getting used to that the deciding factor wether to buy the bow or not was its sound! I don't know any bow wich draws such a bright and focussed sound out of violins... and I tested the bow on maybe 30 violins since then with the same effect on all of them.

I think the sound has to do with the flexibility and response of the stick. A good stick is like an instrument itself, while it surpresses some vibrations, wich would disturb the playing it will bring others through,wich may help to project.

But still after having bought this unique bow I must say, that there are possibilities to get really good bows for very little money if you look around enough and don't be spoiled by cheap price tags. All that matters is the playability and how it sounds.

I tried carbon bows 2 or three times, but I didn't like the handling and the sound. But I know very good violinists who use them regularly, so they cant be too bad... and I think sometimes its nice not to be too worried about breaking the bow too easy ;)

September 21, 2012 at 10:23 AM · who was the first to use perambuco in a bow?

September 21, 2012 at 12:12 PM · But why are we limiting this to wood?

Has anyone here tried a metal bow by Vuillaume?

Is that even a possibility? Does anyone even consider metal bows anymore?

And though technically bamboo is wood, it is a very different technique to manufacture a bamboo bow. Has anyone tried one of these?

Thank you,

Pat T.

September 21, 2012 at 03:09 PM · Not sure who first used pernambuco for bows but the wood was initially brought into Europe for its colour - ground up and used to colour textiles.

September 21, 2012 at 03:26 PM · My "spare" bow has a total weight - and a weight distribution (i.e. balance) - very similar to my "main" bow; however, it is noticeably more flexible, which obliges me to tighten it more, with a marked change in reactivity..

September 22, 2012 at 12:52 AM · Don't use a metal bow at an outdoor concert if a thunderstorm is approaching! ;-D

September 22, 2012 at 11:43 AM · John I think wood heat/bending was used extensively in many industries when it was the main structural material - perhaps the most dramatic examples are in furniture - in particular chair - manufacture.

I wonder if Tourte has any exposure to real bow makers - they probably used the method too and would be well aware of its advantages for flexibility...

September 22, 2012 at 01:37 PM · One would hope this article ( http://www.amjbot.org/content/93/10/1439.full ) on "Wood for Sound" in the American Journal of Botany would help answer the question, since it includes a section on wood for violin bows; but it doesn't.

I have a number of bows, both pernambuco and carbon fiber for violin, viola, and cello and in my experience, the best sound from the instrument may be created by different bows for different instruments - and the setup (including string selection) can affect which bow is best. For two of my cellos (the way they are now setup and strung) the best bows are Carbon Fiber - and not the same brands (one Coda Classic and one CF Durro). For the third cello, the only really great sound comes from bows by a particular living American master maker, Paul Martin Siefried, whose violin bow vies with my F. N. Voirin for best sound on my violins.

The only thing that makes sense to me is that the stick must interact with the vibrations of the hair in such a way as to not let the hair interfere with the string vibration. This means the stick should damp the vibrations it gets from the hair.

For more info I suggest exploring the University of New South Wales Music Acoustics website at: http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/music/ It's really full of good stuff - worth bookmarking and exploring. So is this: http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/jw/musFAQ.html#loud .

Andy

September 22, 2012 at 05:40 PM · The CV of John Stagg, a Master Bowmaker based in Bristol, England (conveniently only a couple of minutes walk from Bristol's Colston Hall) is relevant in this context. After graduating with an honours degree in Engineering Science he worked on making wooden Racing Boats (which requires a deep knowledge of the properties of wood) and then trained as a bowmaker at W E Hill where he became a senior bowmaker. In the '80s he set up his own bowmaking business in Bristol. He is currently exploring other ways of using pernambuco in bows with a view to helping conserve the world's stock of the wood - see www.johnstaggbows.co.uk for more details.

September 23, 2012 at 12:13 AM · "This confuses me, as I don't understand how a wood that does not touch the violin can affect its sound."

If you tap on hair stretched on a bow, it will cause the wood of the bow to vibrate. If you tap on the bow wood, it will cause the hair to vibrate.

Couple that bow vibrating system with a string, which couples to the violin, and you have some interactive consequences which can be heard and felt, but which are not scientifically well understood yet.

September 23, 2012 at 12:28 AM · I am not a bow maker or a person who uses an expensive pernambucco bow. But, as splained to me by my Vi guy. The pernambucco wood is the perfect wood because it can handle the stress a top violinist puts on it without warping. Its amazing what a bow goes through stress wise when weilded by a top player. Less quality wood doesnt do so well, and can even warp under the pressure of tightening the bow. My student today had a cheap brazil wood bow and when I sighted down the length of the bow after tightening it I could see it warping! As far as tonal characteristics, I dont play at that level yet. I did find the carbon fiber bow to be lighter and easier to bow faster passages especially ones that require alot of string changes. imo.

September 23, 2012 at 03:18 PM · John, I think you're confusing John Lott with John Dodd. The Lott's were instrument makers, Lott II being the famous copyist that was an elephant trainer for a short while. The Dodd's were the bow makers. And it is true that he arrived at a similar bow design to Tourte, yet without the same cambre method.

Bows in Tourte's time were more or less straight sticks with a slightly more convex tendency. Viotti had a specially designed bow that was longer and straighter, but eventually collaborated with Tourte to create a newer design. What Tourte eventually accomplished was establishing pernambuco wood as the standard, the concave curvature and cambre method, the screw mechanism, and the design of the frog and ferrule to spread the hair flat.

The cambre method is one of the most significant due to it making the stick much more springy.

September 23, 2012 at 04:16 PM · @Robert:

" My student today had a cheap brazil wood bow and when I sighted down the length of the bow after tightening it I could see it warping!"

Could be the bow but more often that is caused by the hair tension being uneven across the width of the frog.

September 23, 2012 at 06:08 PM · John, the Brits probably ran out of oak; whole forests were cut down for the Navy and the shipping industry.

September 23, 2012 at 06:11 PM · Lyndon, I believe I heard that even in Tourte's time and after some bowmakers used the "French Curve".

September 23, 2012 at 06:17 PM · Lyndon I now realize I misunderstood you.

The "French Curve" relates to a slight lateral curvature to the right so that the bow will be straight when bowing with some pressure while tilting the bow to the right in the usual way.

September 23, 2012 at 08:16 PM · How do you tell a male violinist from a non-violinist?

Ask him what a french curve is...

September 23, 2012 at 09:43 PM · I thought that was a draftsman and a non-draftsman.

I still have a few french curves from my early days as a draftsperson (I don't think the modern job title works with the joke).

September 23, 2012 at 09:44 PM · Hendrik Hak

the Brits probably ran out of oak; whole forests were cut down for the Navy and the shipping industry

------------------------------------------------

Yup, I know in the 1700s (maybe even 1600s) large quantities of lumber was sent from the American colonies back to England for ship making.

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