Dear Violinist.com peeps,
I'm about to start a search for a viola bow. A little background: I'm a doctoral student (in viola performance) and I want to find a bow that will serve me for many years in my professional life. I like to play without tightening my bow too much, so I need a resilient, responsive stick, neither a noodle nor a club.
Currently I play on an Arcos Brasil bow which cost me about $400 years ago. My technique is good enough that I can do anything I want with this bow, but I feel I could benefit from a "Ferrari" type bow, if you get my drift. I must say though, considering what I paid for this Brazilian bow, it has been a wonderful tool for me. I would prefer to try bows that already exist, as I am not confident enough in my preferences to commission a new bow.
This exact discussion has been done to death before, but that was quite a few years ago and everyone's prices have gone up (as they should). So, with around $4,000 to spend, who are the makers that should be on my radar? At this moment, the ones I am considering, based on prices and reputation, are Joshua Henry, Ken Altman, and Roger Treat (although I am not really sure about Mr. Treat's current pricing). Your recommendations and insights will be greatly appreciated.
There are so many good makers in that price range. I got my Douglas Raguse viola bow for around that price and love everything about it. The frog isn't as tall as a viola frog usually is, so the hair sits closer to the stick for better control.
Sounds like you might really benefit from going to some good violin shops and trying lots of bows.
I had some bows shipped for trial from Givens Violins in Minneapolis and their service and selection were extraordinary.
Andrew, thanks a lot for suggesting Givens Violins, as I was not aware of this shop. I definitely would love go go to some shops like that, where I can try a number of quality bows by different makers. Givens is about 5 hours away from me, so that's not an impossible drive for me to make.
There are a handful of shops that are taking increasing interest in good modern makers. Carriage House Violins near Boston has in the past, which I hope survives the recent corporate shake-up. In New York, Julie Reed Yeboah is very supportive of that whole scene. Julie and Carriage House have both offered shows dedicated to new makers. There was also a nice array of modern bows last time I wandered through Ifshin in Berkeley, CA.
I suppose if you took a vacation to Port Townsend, WA, you might find some things to try. Closer to home is Matt Wehling, in Northfield MN. Other options might be the VSA competition, which will next be in Indianopolis, or perhaps the makers' conference in Oberlin. Not that they'll be bringing a ton of their own stuff to sell-- it's really a workshop. But you never know. One potentially interesting thing about Oberlin is that the makers team up to make a group bow that they sell for beer money. You get something stamped by some very elite makers that sells for a lot less than their usual price. Of course, you have to want what they're making that year, and hope that nobody has put a deposit on it. And, of course, you have to trust to luck that it's come out of the committee behaving well.
The problem with all of this is that it's hard to predict who will leave the $4,000 club and start charging $5k or more. And even if I were to find the "best" maker in the slightly-below-full-price bracket, it might not be the one that you like most for viola bows.
I have recently been branching out at IUStrings, from strings to now working with some bow makers. I will have a viola bow from Emmanuel Begin, as well as, (hopefully) an Atelier David Samuels viola bow.
Both of these makers are very well respected and would be a worthwhile look in my opinion. Please
give me a call, text, or email if interested in trying either. I sent my contact info my message.
If you can bump up your budget just a tad, then you should try some old German bows. For high end, professional level bows, the old Germans are hard to beat for the price.
Even if they are out of your budget, you should try a few just to get a sense of what they have to offer. Makers that come to mind are Bausch, Pfretzschner, Nurnberger. They tend to run about $5K.
Some can be even a bit less. Josh Henry (a fine maker in his own right) deals in German bows, and may be of help there.
There is a reason that the average German bow costs a lot less than the average French bow, but the outliers are worth looking for if you're on a budget.
I happily second the recommendation for Emmanuel Bégin, from personal use and experience!
Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful comments!
I'd second the recommendation for Douglas Raguse, as well. I own one of his bows, and used it as my primary bow for many years. (It's not a particularly good sonic match for my current instrument, unfortunately.)
Eric Lane makes some really great bows in that price range. It is one of our go to bows at the shop!
I saw his bows for the first time last year and was also very impressed. Don't know what his prices are now. He works in Boston, and was represented by at least one dealer here.
The bows of Morgan Andersen ( http://www.ifshinviolins.com/Articles/tabid/145/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/22/Bowmaker-Morgan-Andersen.aspx )
and Paul Martin Siefried should both still be in this price range.
Both have been gold medal winners at various shows/competitions.
Eric Gagne, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Current exchange rate $US/CA works in your favour.
Hi! Some of what you're looking for in a viola bow is a lot like some of what I'm looking for in a violin bow!
For about a grand more, I think you might be able to get a silver-mounted bow from Matt Wehling. I hope to eventually commission a gold-mounted bow from him.
Paul Siefried would have been an obvious recommendation, but like most makers of his distinction he has moved past the $4k starting price.
In general, though, if you can move just past $5K, the world is your oyster in modern makers.
Stephane Müller of Toulouse.
Excellent bows. Use Sartory, Vigneron and Müller
Interesting, and quite timely - I'm going to be in Toulouse in August. Is there anything else violinistic I should check out?
Don't know actually. But contact Stephane. He make the most beautiful and wonderful playing bows.
Well, I'm assuming you want a contemporary maker and not something like an old Hill bow. Anderson is another great contemporary but I think his bows might be around 5K the last I remember (and that was awhile ago). Some of these makers might be willing to send you a few bows for trial. There are plenty of nice German bows (19th century) that are also in that range and quite playable. Something to consider. There are so many options and so many great contemporary makers as well. Just don't settle.
Klaus Gronke makes excellent bows, his silver-mounted models are well within your budget.
François Malo in Montreal, Quebec.
I like my Thomas Dignan bow purchased about two years ago. I feel it was a great decision, works well with my violin to bring out the best tones.
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May 16, 2014 at 01:03 AM · Personally I have benefited from a Berg deluxe violin bow. It is carbon fibre composite so it hasn't worn out or warped in 10+ years of playing. Perhaps a bit higher than your range.
With the attention on Bill Salchow with his sad passing, perhaps one from the Salchow family may meet your needs.