Virtues and shortcomings in a modern bow.

January 26, 2015 at 03:33 PM · Hello to all,

I have read some discussions about modern bow makers in but yet I have got some questions for those who have experienced great modern bows and compared them to the very best classical bows.

I have heard and read that some of the best modern bows are equal or even overpass in terms of playability the very best examples of Dominique Peccatte , Pierre Simon, Nicolas Maire, Etienne Pajeot, Joseph Henry, N.Kittel, F.N. Voirin and Eugene Sartory to name some.

I believe that some modern bow makers had opportunity to study in meticulous details the work of those classical makers mentioned above, which allows them to get comprehension of style and construction methods and to build their own conception of how to make a bow even better.

But I wonder how is the balance in terms of sound?

Is the quality of pernambuco wood the most important factor about the sound character which a particular bow will possess or that could be adjusted by thicknesses and camber?

Do the modern bow makers use pernambuco wood of a quality which corresponds of what was used in the past?

Does the sound of a bow "mature" with the time like it does the sound of a new instrument?

By unspoken rule the bow makers use their most attractive wood for golden mounted examples. Does the most attractive wood actually possess better acoustic and elastic qualities?

And at last, which modern European bow makers do worth a try?

I am looking forward to hear your insights!




January 26, 2015 at 05:33 PM · Try Master Bow-Maker John Stagg in Bristol, England:

January 26, 2015 at 06:21 PM · I went to the Salon du violin in Paris at the end of November where there were quite a few French bow makers displaying their work ( It seems that contemporary bow making in France is in a very healthy state at the moment.

January 26, 2015 at 06:46 PM · Thank you Trevor, I will consider John Stagg.

Nigel, do you know if Joséphine Thomachot has a family ties with Stephane Thomachot? Thanks for the link!


January 26, 2015 at 09:05 PM · Yes Evzen, same family, the younger generation. Some makers don't seem to make gold bows. Silver is lighter, so they may simply prefer to work with that.

January 26, 2015 at 11:02 PM · It's very difficult to make comparisons with the best classical French bows because....

very few of us have played the finest examples. I've been able to play many fine bows, such as Sartory, Pajeot, Voirin, etc. But the question is, were these good examples, or poor ones that were on the market for a good reason? I looked at some big-name bows that really sucked, actually; too weak, or some other defect. And how many people here have played a Tourte or Pecatte?

By the way, I have not found a correlation between mounting material and playing qualities. One bow I owned, a Hill bow, was beautiful, with a perfect tortoise frog and fleur-de-lis gold on the frog. It was a joke as a bow, though (which is why I dumped it)

January 27, 2015 at 05:58 PM · To Scott Cole

I can't agree more with you - very few have tried "the finest examples" of the great french makers form 19th and beginning of 20th century.

I have to admit that maybe my original post was slightly idealized.

To jose m g. belmonte

Thanks for the list!

January 27, 2015 at 10:24 PM · Greetings,

I agree with Scott. These days I suspect the truly great bows, like the truly great violins, don't really enter circulation so much. The people who use, own them know exactly what they have and hang on to them like grim death. I've tried a huge number of brand name French over the years thanks to a friendly dealer. Some of them are have been great. Others I wouldn't touch with a ten foot barge pole. I doubt if any of them measure up to one of the truly great Pecatte or Tourte bows. The best I ever owned by as long way was a guiiluame which was as near perfect a bow as I have ever used.

But very often a fine modern bow is just as good as some of the bows mentioned above.

I am not so sure about the un stamped reference above. Most decent bows are stamped in some way or another.



January 27, 2015 at 10:57 PM · Joe,

I agree that there are many gems among no-name or little-known makers (I think that's what you're saying). However, finding a really great one just takes longer--it's a needle-in-a-haystack-type deal.

And again, when someone discovers that non-name gem, they tend to hang onto it...further compounding the difficulty of finding one.

January 28, 2015 at 03:16 AM · Joe,

I recommend being a pessimist. It's a much more pleasant life style--one tends to either be right, or pleasantly surprised.

January 28, 2015 at 07:54 AM · Stephen,

I agree with you that owners hold on to good bows until the inevidable, but eventually they come on to the market.

In my case I was fortunate enough to have bought a very fine Sartory in the early 90's from a dealer in London, which belonged to a player. I have yet to find another Sartory or a modern bow that plays as well as this Sartory. I'm also friends with a dealer here in Cyprus who makes a point to show me whatever he has at the time.

Last year he bought a certified C.N.Bazin violin bow in perfect condition from the auctions which when I tried I fell in love with it. I bought it on the spot and have not regretted it since. I paid a large premium on it as in Guillaume's words (Guillaume is not the dealer I bought it from),it's one of the best Bazins he has ever seen. Perfect in every way.

I'll hold on to it like dear life itself, but eventually it will come up for sale after I'm gone.

Truly great bows do come up for sale at the auctions sometimes.

As far as modern bows are concerned, I had a few in my time, some of them excellent, but none of them in my opinion played as well as my old French, thus the reason I got rid of them.

An other instance that has to be mentioned is the case with Viorin. He made excellent bows but light. Some dealers put heavy silver wire lappings on them to bring them to the magic 60gr. ruining the balance of the bow. I have a Viorin that I bought from a friend a couple of years ago. It tipped the scales at 61.4 gr. but with heavy silver wire. The balance point was way out at 10.5 inches from the end of the stick. It still played well but when I brought the balance point to 9.5 inches, it transformed completely and the good thing is that it does not feel that much lighter in the hand.

The moral of this story is that there might be some great sticks out there that have been re-mounted to make them heavier to sell more easily, but we, as players should not dismiss a great bow on account of its weight alone.

January 28, 2015 at 11:30 AM · The most important part of the bow, so often overlooked, is the "nut" at the frog end ;)

January 28, 2015 at 11:31 AM · "And how many people here have played a Tourte or Pecatte?"

Well, in the very early 70s I did get to try a BEAUTIFUL Tortoiseshell-mounted Dominique Peccatte. It belonged to the Concertmaster of the Hallé Orchestra (I was a member then). It had a mind of its own - any nervousness and it would be all over the place.

Thing is, I owned a Bultitude bow then. Said Concertmaster bought that from me and sold the Peccatte !

On the other hand, I knew a distinguished Principal Violist who was inclined to think the whole bow business was fiddlesticks until he tried Peter Schidlof's Tourte.

As Dr. Cole wrote, there have been some "clunkers" amongst post WW2 "Hill" bows. This tendency must have been the result of advice from freaky soloists who would call at the Bond Street shop. Indeed, I called on the famed bowmaker Bill Watson intending to order a bow. He brought in a pile of unmounted sticks from the workshop, and seemed very surprised I didn't pick out the stiffest. (Still got that 1972 bow !). Hill bowmaker Retford remarked to the effect that there are self-appointed "experts" who think that what works for them applies to everyone else - it pays to know them !

So, Scott, matter of interest, whose "maker's number" was under the hair at the tip of that "Hill" bow you disliked ??

6 is Bultitude .......7, Watson....etc.

January 28, 2015 at 11:40 AM · Hi,

I have tried many bows both old and new and thought I would give this a stab and share some thoughts. To the OP's questions:

But I wonder how is the balance in terms of sound?

The concept of bows, especially weight, has changed from the old days to now, like mentioned above. Many of the old bow were lighter and designed with a tinsel lapping later changed to metals. Modern bows may have one or the other, but are designed in a more modern way for playing. So many things have changed in terms of playing, especially strings, that our concepts and needs for bows are vastly different than in the past. There are great sounding/playing classic bows as there are modern ones. It depends on the bow, and also if it matches a violin or not.

Is the quality of pernambuco wood the most important factor about the sound character which a particular bow will possess or that could be adjusted by thicknesses and camber?

Many factor go into it, from wood to other materials, to balance, so it's an all-around thing. Some of the old bows used other woods than pernambuco. I have been told that the supply of great wood for bows is harder to get than before, so for that part, there may be some truth.

Do the modern bow makers use pernambuco wood of a quality which corresponds of what was used in the past?

Couldn't answer that one. Many makers use very fine wood.

Does the sound of a bow "mature" with the time like it does the sound of a new instrument?

I don't know about that, but our relationship may change. Some bows have weaknesses that can show up as they age, but that is the case with many bows.

By unspoken rule the bow makers use their most attractive wood for golden mounted examples. Does the most attractive wood actually possess better acoustic and elastic qualities?

Don't know about that.

And at last, which modern European bow makers do worth a try?

One European maker that has not been mentioned above but is making great bows is Yannick Le Canu. Gorgeous work! There are also many other very fine makers outside Europe that are definitely worth consideration as well.

As for players and bows, etc. It depends on instruments, choice, etc. Kreisler used Hill bows which were not so highly valued in his time. Oistrakh used a Nurnberger and a modern French bow gifted to him by his son (forget the name of the maker). So, it seems to be a highly personal choice.

Hope this helps.


January 28, 2015 at 12:25 PM · C.V., Andre Richaume made that bow to which you referred, the one that Oistrakh senior used, gifted to him by his son.

January 28, 2015 at 01:13 PM · Hi David,

Thanks for that information!


January 28, 2015 at 02:26 PM · I would like to add to the list Noel Burke. I had the chance to try two exceptional examples of his work.

The sound was what differentiated them from other contemporary and old bows which were around at that moment.

I also would like to second other maker mentioned above - Keath Sleeman. Sean Bishop has several bows of his and one especially fine ( in my opinion ) with a weight of only 56g!

With a very interesting comment in a blog from other website, Keath Sleeman gives answers to some of the OP's questions:

January 28, 2015 at 06:43 PM · Hi Jose,

Thanks for the correction.


January 28, 2015 at 07:51 PM · Thanks to all for your comments!

I totally agree with jose m g. belmonte, and would love to see the results of a blind test with bows!

January 29, 2015 at 01:34 PM · Jose,

Do you know what bow Papavrami plays with?

January 29, 2015 at 09:47 PM · Yes Vladimir, I know some of the bows he uses are three by Edwin Clément,a Persoit and a Maire, not very sure about this last one, and I remember him saying he likes using his Clément bows for virtuoso repertoire. His cd recording of the Bartok solo sonata is done with one of them.


January 30, 2015 at 07:35 AM · Dr. Cole wrote :-

"One bow I owned, a Hill bow, was beautiful, with a perfect tortoise frog and fleur-de-lis gold on the frog. It was a joke as a bow, though (which is why I dumped it)".

One has to pity those poor bowmakers, so often the humble employees of influential dealerships. The shops separated the makers, stuck in remote workshops, from the public. If it's the policy of the bosses to put fancy gold mountings only on the heaviest and stiffest sticks, the makers have to obey - until the happy time comes that they leave to pursue independant careers.

The converse of that dealer policy of old was that some of the same employers would expect all their silver mounted bows to be feeble.

Those makers who left "Hills" to work on their own were then enabled to be in direct contact with buyers. For example, A.R. Bultitude became very successful in selling to orchestral players up to the rank of Concertmaster and to other eminent players. I heard of someone who owned a Strad and 6 Bultitudes !

A similar situation arose with J.B. Vuillaume, who, it has been written, was so parsimonious that the makers he trained would soon leave to work on their own, Henry, Peccatte, Simon, Voirin etc.

It's dangerous to label all bows that are the products of Hill and ex-Hill makers as "clunkers" IMHO.

I have some Watsons - fine bows.

There are a many excellent makers in the UK - too many to list here.

If on the lookout for a good new bow a personal interaction with a maker should prove beneficial.

January 31, 2015 at 03:49 AM · Greetings,

there is an interesting little segment in the Zuckerman masterclass at the RCM. Someone asks him what his bow is:

`it`s a modern by by Guthrie. I don`t have any old bows. they cost way too much. If I had 50 000 pounds I`d buy a house.`

Clearly the man is not up to date on English house prices....



January 31, 2015 at 08:20 AM · Yes. In 1998 Zuckerman was soloist with the BBC Philharmonic (I was a member then). He was using a Lee Guthrie bow.

He tried 2 Watson bows af mine, said they were "very nice bows".

But he was still playing on an ancient Guarneri violin, an ex-Isaac Stern one, I think.

That fiddle/bow combination might lead one to suspect that time and use do not raise the practical and cash value of a bow as much as those same factors do for a fiddle.

The Brazilian authorities have severely restricted the export of Pernambuco wood. Maybe bows made in that country are worth investigating - since makers elsewhere are finding it tricky getting hold of really nice timber. That's something I've not gotten around to doing as I have adequate supplies of bows to see me 'til the end of my days !

I have a very faint suspicion that a freshness in new bows is very slightly discernible in the sound-production. Is there a slight softening occurring over time & use ? Maybe, but it could be that the impression I have of performance-enhancement in the only bow I have owned from new for 40 years could be an illusion, the result of arthritis, plus age-related hearing loss & cognitive impairment, not to mention several changes of violin.

February 2, 2015 at 10:30 AM · Giuseppe Verdi,

"The fiddle to which you refer came to light courtesy Sotheby's, 6 Oct. 2009, London.

Lot 6: Amati Mangenot (b Mirecourt, 1901; d ?Bordeaux, 1966) -...."

Er, what ? I don't gettit ! Was I really referring to THAT ???

Admittedly, if folk told me that for the RMCM concert in 1998 Zuckerman was playing an ex-Stern del Gesù (presumably the Ysaÿe) that would be hearsay, not good enough for Judge Judy.

Even if he was really playing the Sotheby's lot 6 (estimated £3k-£4k, unsold) my assertion still holds - the violin was OLDER than the bow.

That the famed Vieuxtemps Guarneri is a fake is news to me. Thanks for that.

February 2, 2015 at 12:08 PM · Joe Green,

which of the two Vieuxtemps Del-Gesu is a fake, or are they both?

February 2, 2015 at 02:20 PM · By private treaty, Sotheby's sold the 1741 "ex-Vieuxtemps".

I know of another 1739 "ex-Vieuxtemps", with one-piece back, played by Ruggiero Ricci on an ancient LP (later a Strad magazine CD) called "The Glory of Cremona".

Are there any more ?

Now, what about new bows in Europe.

Did anyone mention any present-day German makers ?

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