Choosing a bow by feel

July 31, 2016 at 08:04 PM · I'm currently bow-shopping. (I posted recently about having recambered my bow. It still needs a little tweaking, which I intend to get done, but my teacher thinks this is simply the wrong bow for my current violin, which I got about a year ago.)

I'm pretty consistent in what I like. When I last bought a bow, almost 15 years ago, I gravitated towards Claude Thomassin's work -- out of dozens of bows tried without knowing the maker, I'd consistently pull every one of them out of the pile, and eventually I bought the best of the ones I'd tried. I'd also liked every Nicolas Maline, but my then-teacher talked me out of spending that much money on a bow. (And I loved a Dominique Peccatte that wasn't for sale, and would also have been out of my price range.)

This time around, I've consistently liked four makers -- Sartory, Morizot (both pere and fils), and Tourte (I'd never tried a Tourte previously, and they are magical but of course unaffordable) -- always selecting the same makers out of the generalized pile of anonymous bows. (Unexpectedly, I also liked an Arcus S9, after not having previously liked the lower end of the line.)

Now I'm trying to figure out: What is it about the feel of a particular maker that I'm picking up on? Why am I choosing very different makers now than previously? (My playing technique has changed in the interim, which I'm sure is related, but I have never previously liked any of the many Sartory bows I've tried, for instance.)

Also, given what I've liked, who are other makers that I should be on the lookout for? Especially contemporary makers with a similar feel?

Replies (103)

August 1, 2016 at 06:50 AM ·

August 1, 2016 at 08:16 AM · You may also like the bows of E A Ouchard as you like the way Sartorys feel.

Cheers Carlo

August 1, 2016 at 01:10 PM · Fuchs strikes me as being a sort of modern Sartory-- not necessarily for feel, especially because Sartory evolved through a few different styles. More for dependability-- when he aims for a result, he gets it. Carriage House carries his stuff, and is convinced that they've been able to persuade him to send his more "European" sticks, which are a tad more flexible and sexy than what he'd been selling here previously. (Think early Sartory vs middle).

Not sure about Morizot. I did have a good example of one of them; while it was good enough for handling and sound, I never really loved it and therefore couldn't say what their secret sauce might have been.

I can't compare to Tourte, but one stick I have seen with a little of the Pecatte magic came from Siefried.

Another option might be to see if Benoit Rolland might have time in his schedule for you. He has an uncanny knack for building to taste-- not so much what you ask for directly, but what he knows will work for you when he sees you play and hears your comments on various bows.

What I have seen of David Samuels is also worth following up on. I was able to get one of his at a discount at auction; sadly, it is a brighter stick than I prefer now, but after looking at a number of others I have seen at conventions, I know it is different from a lot of his work in its sound. All of his bows handle very well and are superbly made (e.g., just looking at how it feels to tighten the hair).

August 1, 2016 at 01:28 PM · What's the likelihood of finding a good tonal match on a commission?

August 1, 2016 at 01:45 PM · There may be general tendencies in the work of this or that bow maker, old or new - but each one will be different, as with violins. I've tried a Tourte that didn't impress me. This was at the Library of Congress, where I also tried a Hill that belonged to Kreisler, which I liked more. I tried a Peccatte that was not good. I tried a Lamy which I loved. At a later time I tried another Lamy which was just OK. I have a fine EA Ouchard which is nothing like any Sartory I've tried. I think that Sartorys are overrated anyway. I've tried at least 3, maybe 4 Sartorys. One, I liked very much; the others had an odd balance.

My other good bows include a FR Simon, a Louis Bazin, 2 twin bows, custom-made for me by one of China's top makers, Hang Wang - and a Hill bow by Frank Napier that, with mixed feelings, I'd sell. (I only have 2 hands - and one holds the violin!)

August 1, 2016 at 02:08 PM · Sorry if this is off topic, but I'm still somewhat mystified by bows. At this level of bows, is one going primarily for feel/playability rather than sound? Is there a kind of "theoretical maximum" sound that can be drawn out of any given violin, regardless of the bow used?

August 1, 2016 at 02:31 PM ·

August 1, 2016 at 03:01 PM · I find quite a big difference in sound between bows. It's difficult to find a bow that has a clean, clear resonance. And sound intersects at articulation: I've tried many bows that handle well, but they don't articulate at the tip (which makes you worke harder). I want a bow where the sound starts immediately with little effort. You can find this in heavy, clunky bows, but not so much in light, easily-handled bows. The thing about the great older French bows is that they are both light and articulate.

Lydia, I'm surprised that Morizot fits in with the other bows. I've owned one and tried many others. They do tend to draw a very clean sound, but I've generally found them to be way too stiff, and often just heavy and clunky. I think that's reflected in their price relative to other French bows of the same era.

August 1, 2016 at 03:04 PM · Interestingly, I'd tried quite a few Sartory bows in the past but never liked any of them, including ones that were considered to be bows that played well (as always, whatever is sitting around in a shop is sometimes unloved for good reason). Thus I'm very surprised to have liked most of the ones I've tried in this past week.

Peter is definitely not correct with regard to sound, though. There are HUGE tonal differences from bow to bow, on my excellent violin. Any audience-member with a totally untrained ear would be able to hear them. There's not just a difference in the timbre itself, or even in resonance, but also in clarity -- how clearly the notes are articulated in legato fast passages, for instance.

I'm looking both for great sound (right timbre, resonance, and clarity of articulation) as well as a great-feeling bow that plays well. (I care about resale value, but only to the extent that I pay a fair price and can eventually resell for a fair price; i.e., I'm happy to buy a "player's bow" that has a replaced frog or whatnot as long as the stick is undamaged.)

I tried a Tourte as well as a Tourte workshop bow. The actual Tourte brought out things in my violin that I've never heard before and made me feel like I was playing a Strad, more or less literally. Really remarkable.

August 1, 2016 at 03:13 PM · Scott, I think you make a good point; my teacher has suggested that I find a bow that naturally grips well at the tip -- short arms make it harder to keep the bow really into the string there, and once I started becoming aware of it, I could really feel it in the bows I was trying.

The Morizots have been interesting; I've generally liked the draw and they've all been tonally good on my violin. The one that I have on trial, I'm liking less and less as I play with it, though; it feels heavy in the hand after a while even though objectively it's only a 60g bow. Perceived weight is more a question of balance than actual weight, I believe. (The first good bow I ever tried was a viola bow, borrowed by accident from my orchestra teacher in high school, when he'd meant to loan me his much cheaper violin bow. It felt fantastic and not heavy.) The Morizot I have on trial has a very articulate sound, though.

Trying bows at home vs. in the shop has also been interesting. Every trial room I've ever seen in a good violin shop has a lovely resonant acoustic in which everything pretty much sounds great. (One room I was in, I could hear the other instruments in the room ringing sympathetically!) My practice-room takes up most of my basement; it's huge, with a 9-foot ceiling, but carpeted, so the acoustic is pretty neutral, and I think hearing things there gives a more accurate picture of the real sound, where of course everything sounds less great.

August 1, 2016 at 04:15 PM · So, is it fair to say that on an excellent violin, a bow can make a large difference in sound, enough to make it compare favorably to the best instruments?

How much of a difference in sound can a bow make to a decent, but un-spectacular workshop violin? I've read advice here that investing in a better bow can provide more bang for the buck than a minor instrument upgrade. How much of that value is likely to be in improving an instrument's sound, and how much in playability? Or is the sound improvement likely to be a result of the improved playability?

Would a great bow make a real difference on a workshop violin? Can it help to provide the subtleties that great instruments have, but workshop instruments lack?

August 1, 2016 at 05:28 PM · "At this level of bows, is one going primarily for feel/playability rather than sound?"

It has to be both. Just like we want a violin that speaks easily and is comfortable, but also has a good tone and projection. The bow is no different--rarely does a bow combine both handling and sound.

That's why they are so expensive. The good ones are rare, and unfortunately we tend to encounter the leftovers in shops, even big names: the good ones are being played by someone who won't part with it...

August 1, 2016 at 06:13 PM · I will make a few observations about violin bows.

1. The performance of the bow seems even more mysterious than that of the violin, and by large measure. Dealers profit from mystery and from emotional decision-making on the part of the customer.

2. Anecdotal assurances from respected professionals and highly skill amateurs notwithstanding, I have never heard a convincing physical explanation as to why two bows should make a violin produce different *sound* except insofar as their superior distribution of mass may enable the player to execute particular bow strokes with more efficient and controlled conveyance of force and clarity of articulation. In other words, it all seems to boil down to playability. There have been experiments in which piezoelectric sensors were attached to the bow so that vibrations in the stick could be analyzed. The studies that I've read do not tend to support the conclusion that the bow stick contributes anything to the timbre of the violin. I'm not saying it's not possible, but I am saying that I'm skeptical.

3. In every such discussion, phrases like "any audience member could hear the difference" or "as soon as I played this bow, I knew I had to have it" come up. We have seen many blind tests comparing "old vs. new" violins. These are controversial enough. Has there been any similar such test of $1000 vs $100,000 bows?

4. Emily's question about how much difference a better bow would make on a student-grade or even higher-level workshop instrument is an interesting one, but it's only half the question. The other half is whether someone who is skilled at, say, the Haydn G Major level or the Mozart 5 level will realize the difference in *sound* among bows to anywhere near the same degree as someone much more skilled.

August 1, 2016 at 06:31 PM · I think the rehair work affects the sound more than the stick (we are talking about top sticks here). My bow recently got a rehair and it has never sounded better. The rehair work was impeccable and the hair was beautiful. I never thought the bow could play this well.

So in order to compare apples with apples, the bows should be rehaired by the same person using the same kind of hair.

August 1, 2016 at 06:36 PM · -- Re "What's the likelihood of finding a good tonal match on a commission?"

I would be very careful about that. You might not be able to articulate exactly what you want in a way the maker would understand. And you might be wrong. I tried one violin that seemed way too bright and tense with a couple different bows. After all that, I was reluctant to use what I thought was the brightest and most lively available bow, but the cost of another go-round was small. As it happened, that one got the best results, which were very good.

A long time ago, I had left a violin with Jacques Francais for a repair. There was no bow in the case, so when I went back to retrieve it, Rene Morel needed to find one for the adjustment. He asked me what sort of bow I used on that instrument. I had only recently traded up from a real piece of junk to a sub-Bazin French bow, which was less mushy. So I said it was on the firm side. He said "Aha!" and came back with one. After he adjusted the violin to sound like a million bucks, I asked what the bow was. "Dominique Peccatte. $6,000." (This was a while ago.) The violin never again sounded that good. Needless to say, my own bow wasn't at all Peccatte-like.

Anyway, practice will vary. For Siefried, I said I was interested in a trial and was sent two bows. One I didn't like; the other I bought. No idea if I was lucky with his timetable, or what. I had tried the same thing some years before with Espey, and I still haven't heard back.

For Rolland, I went through the mutual audition, made some comments on the sticks he had and showed him what I liked about bows of mine. I then went on a waiting list. After a bit, I got a call that he had something to try. When that one didn't work so well after a week, he took it back, heard (and witnessed) what I was talking about, and then came up with something that was very nice indeed. I would never have known how to ask for that one as opposed to any of the others.

August 1, 2016 at 06:46 PM · -- Re: "3. In every such discussion, phrases like "any audience member could hear the difference" or "as soon as I played this bow, I knew I had to have it" come up. We have seen many blind tests comparing "old vs. new" violins. These are controversial enough. Has there been any similar such test of $1000 vs $100,000 bows?

4. Emily's question about how much difference a better bow would make on a student-grade or even higher-level workshop instrument is an interesting one, but it's only half the question. The other half is whether someone who is skilled at, say, the Haydn G Major level or the Mozart 5 level will realize the difference in *sound* among bows to anywhere near the same degree as someone much more skilled."

I've done informal tests when trying bows. I would put three on the table, play a passage that doesn't require a lot of noise or technical flash (say, the conclusion of the Beethoven 1st movement), and ask my wife and daughter two rooms over which sounded best. #1 vs. #2 and #3. One listener went to conservatory, one definitely didn't. They both had strong opinions that were fairly consistent and didn't change when I mixed up the order.

It is also true, however, that students don't always know what to listen for (or feel) in a good vs. OK bow, especially if they aren't playing a good instrument. You have to have experienced certain things to recognize them. Also, when you're busy playing, it takes a certain level of skill to listen actively.

August 1, 2016 at 08:06 PM · @Raphael. I haven't tried your bow, but the Ouchards and the Sartorys I have tried have been somewhat strong and inflexible for me. I prefer older French bows generally, although currently my favourite bows are by J. Fetique and C Thomassain, both 20th century. At one point I had forty bows, mostly French with a smattering of English and the odd German, but I am downsizing too.

I would rather have a great bow and a good violin rather than the other way around. A great bow is like a telepathic extension of the body. It will do all strokes and colours effortlessly whilst being unnoticeable in the hand.

Cheers Carlo

August 1, 2016 at 08:57 PM · Stephen, I appreciate your comments about informal bow tests. However you are aware, when you are playing, which bow is which. Therefore there is a possible element of bias that would need to be removed in a well designed test. Not really sure how to do that, I'll admit.

August 1, 2016 at 09:40 PM · You can hear major changes in timbre going from bow to bow. The resonant properties of the material somehow influence the sound. The easiest way to hear this is to play a wood bow and a carbon-fiber bow (especially an early-generation carbon-fiber bow, as the CF vs. wood difference has reduced bit by bit over the years). I imagine a materials engineer who does CF bows could tell you what is happening that influences the sound, since the CF-based manufacturers are clearly altering their material over time to sound more wood-like. CF bows of the same model will all sound different on a violin, though, so it is clear that even small differences in the composite matrix will result in tonal differences.

Whenever I try bows, I do it blind wherever possible, without knowing maker or price. (In my most recent try-out, Brobst put a Tourte-workshop bow in a batch of what were clearly the bows of lesser makers. Made me sad when I heard the identification and price -- I figure it might have been a great lower-cost find!)

Great-playing bows, in any price range, are actually pretty rare -- or more precisely, they are in the hands of players already and not for sale. Conversely, a lot of CF bows these days are pretty good. My JonPaul Avanti is a perfectly nice stick that handles better than any number of bows many times its price. It just doesn't have the kind of beauty of sound and nuance of possible color that a great-sounding bow can have on my violin.

Bow price and bow sound are moderately unrelated. I've tried bows that play very well but don't draw a great sound out of a particular violin; there has to be the right match to the instrument. So it's not just the way that the bow handles, and what is a nice bow on one violin may not sound great on another.

To sound better in general, a player on a student-level instrument can still benefit from a decent bow, and trading up to a better bow tends to result in more of an overall improvement than if that money had been spent on upgrading the violin.

Hair makes a difference in playability, but only impacts tone to the extent that it affects grippiness; I've never noticed it affecting timbre.

August 1, 2016 at 09:46 PM · The closest I came to a 'blind' was in an orchestral concert. I was determined to see if my Morizot really wasn't as good as my favorite, so I threw it in my case with the aim of using it in the first half. It was really nice-- and got more marvelous as things went along. Nice balance, forgiving in response, seemed to get a properly focused and relaxed sound. I could remember better, but this was doing everything I wanted and delivering great pleasure from frog to tip. The very definition of a fine bow. At one point I looked down to be sure what I was using (there had been 3 in the case)--- and it was indeed the Lamy. No audience feedback or direct comparisons, of course. :(

August 1, 2016 at 09:46 PM · Paul - it's OK to be skeptical. But I would suggest in matters like these, that if there is yet to be convincing scientific evidence to support what has been so evident to professionals since time immemorial, that scientific equipment and testing methods haven't yet caught up to practical, subtle, complex, empirical reality. And to say that until they do, I'll just sit on the fence because 'what do pros who have devoted their lives to such matters know?' doesn't help. Maybe one day the methods and equipment will yield meaningful results. I'm actually a big fan of science. Wishing alone does put rockets into space or make the computer I'm typing on. What I'm not a big fan of is scientism - and I'm not saying that you're necessarily representing that. By "scientism" I mean a kind of secular orthodoxy that says that if science can't explain something on its own terms then it's meaningless and maybe even doesn't exist. If any people believe otherwise, they are superstitious fools. But if science finally supports earlier unfounded claims, then people may now have permission to accept the ideas in question. Until recently, science denied that animals have emotions. I'm talking about creatures like elephants and apes, not bugs. More recently they have changed their opinion. So finally, anyone who has ever owned a dog or belonged to a cat and has known this all along, is no longer an idiot. Of course, subjective psychology can come into play in an area like this. But if you find yourself articulating the same way about the sound of a violin or bow, using very similar words again and again, chances are you're on to something. And I've done this often. (I can give examples if anyone is interested.)

Emily - EVERYTHING makes a difference and contributes to tonal results, which is why we periodically obsess here about strings and rosin. But a balance and mutual chemistry of instrument, player and bow is very important. Many people will not look for a serious bow if they are also looking for a violin and will often want to settle on a violin first. Putting a very fine bow to a very mediocre violin is not the best balance. You're not going to 'turn a silk purse out of sow's ear' as the old saying goes. Also, some people, consciously or not, especially some aspiring students or amateurs, are hoping to find the violin and bow to end all violins and bows, to make them the player to end all players. The violin and bow do not play themselves.

August 1, 2016 at 10:30 PM · Though arguably better equipment can up-level your playing. I've felt that every upgrade I've ever done has added a layer of responsiveness that has, in turn, forced me to play better, as well as opened up new possibilities.

August 1, 2016 at 11:05 PM · In response to whom states that physically bows have no different sound "inside", a quick test can be made:

just hold vertically a raw blank stick (before construction), be it pernanbuco or another wood, 5 cm from the floor, and drop it.

Hear the tinning sound it makes.

Then try this with another blank stick...... And then another one.... :)

August 1, 2016 at 11:14 PM · Saying that the hair is the only effect on the sound and the wood of the bow has no effect is like saying that only the strings make the sound on a violin and the violin's wood and dimensions have no effect.

August 1, 2016 at 11:44 PM · Raphael, I agree with you. I'm scheming to conduct a decent blind test, and I've discussed that with some people who might be able to help. I'd rather not say more until I've done with it.

I won't make any more comments on this point because I don't want to hijack Lydia's thread.

August 2, 2016 at 01:54 AM · I'm happy to host a blind test. Or attend one. ;-)

Don't worry about the thread topic digression; it's an interesting one.

August 2, 2016 at 04:52 PM · Okay then.

Marco proposed a "test" in which wooden sticks are subjected to the sharp blow of being dropped on the floor. The amount of energy transferred to the wood, and the short time interval in which it is transferred, these are completely different from sound vibrations that might be transferred from the bow hair to the tip or frog during normal bowing. When considering frequency-dependent mechanical response of objects or materials, these kinds of details are critical. Marco's test may demonstrate that two different types of wood have different mechanical response, but one cannot readily "connect the dots" from that test to the much different mechanical scenario of the normal functioning of a violin bow.

Lyndon said that saying the wood of the bow has no effect is like saying the wood of the violin has no effect. A clear mechanism for the conveyance of vibration between the strings and the body of the violin can be envisioned, even if it is not perfectly understood. The magnitude of the vibrations within the body of the violin are measurable and significant. They are clearly audible, and the variation of violin bodies is easily proved and objectively measurable comparing a standard acoustic violin with a solid-bodied electric model. Thus I do not accept Lyndon's analogy as meaningful, although I submit it is possible that the distinction may be one of the magnitude of the effect.

One of the things that keeps me skeptical is when these kinds of so-called "scientific tests" are proposed, but they have not been designed in the manner of controlled experimentation and are so easily invalidated. Ill-considered defensiveness does breed skepticism.

Something that I have not overlooked is the possibility that human hearing (auditory perception) has been designed, over the course of the evolution of our species, to amplify very small differences in the quality and patterns of sound. We are able to recognize individual voices, for example, whereas voice-recognition software cannot yet do that as far as I am aware. You won't distinguish my voice from my brother's voice using just an oscilloscope, that's for sure. Therefore something very small -- even too small to measure by standard means -- may be happening in the bow, and our incredible powers of auditory perception can not only detect those small changes but amplify them. I respect the likelihood that Raphael and Lydia may have perception that is much more finely developed than mine.

The other thing that I find very interesting is that you can listen to a recording of violin music and you might have a hard time deciding whether the player is using a modern bow or a baroque bow (if not for the other musical aspects of the playing that are often simultaneously varied, the pear-shaped notes and the lack of vibrato, for example.) So we are faced with an interesting conundrum that two modern-style bows differing extremely slightly in their construction are claimed to give a violin significantly different tone, whereas you can change the entire design of the bow wholesale, and it still sounds fine. To go back to Lyndon's analogy, it's a bit like expecting to build a violin in a completely different shape (with front and back plates that are concave, for example), and expect that to still sound okay. Well maybe it would, maybe the difference would only be discernible because of the miracle of human auditory perception.

Also if there are important vibrations in the bow stick then you would expect a player's bow hold to affect his or her sound, but this does not seem to be the case.

I do indeed understand and sympathize with Raphael's point about "scientism" and the danger of failing to accept empirical evidence just because one cannot envision a clear explanation. But I also hear about *other* things that supposedly affect the sound of the violin such as the length of the extra strings the are coming out of the peg box and so on. It is still reasonable to be curious about how things work and to seek that explanation that can be supported under the bright glare of rigorously controlled experimentation. That's the difference between scientism and science.

August 2, 2016 at 05:10 PM · If you don't believe the stick is influencing the sound, just attach a contact microphone to the stick and listen to the output while you are playing

August 2, 2016 at 06:53 PM · Yes Lyndon, I certainly agree there are vibrations in the bow stick! "Influencing the sound," however, is the part I don't understand.

You say I should listen to the output of a contact mic or piezoelectric device placed on the bow stick. By how many dB would I need to amplify that, in order for it to be audible?

That's the issue, at least partly. The experiment you have described has been done carefully and the results modeled using finite element analysis (which I do not understand very well, I confess), but the vibrations within the bow stick were found to be extremely weak compared to those in the body of the violin. So again we might be talking about a situation where a *very small effect* is being detected and magnified by our analog processing circuitry ("gray matter") and thereby made more significant than these types of measurements might suggest. I'm willing to concede that's possible.

CE Gough, J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 2012, 131, 4152.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1121/1.3699172

August 2, 2016 at 07:04 PM · Or you could just pay attention to the 99% of accomplished violinists that say the bow effects the tone!!

August 2, 2016 at 07:40 PM · Thought I'd just note that I went and tried some bows at Don Cohen's shop today. I liked a Tubbs, an unknown-provenance bow that Don thinks is a Voirin, and the two bows of his own that he had available. I thought Don's bows played very well but unfortunately weren't a good tonal match for the instrument. Playing quality and sonic match are unfortunately easily decoupled.

Paul, can you hear the difference between a wood bow and a carbon-fiber bow, yourself? I would be very surprised if not.

August 2, 2016 at 08:00 PM · Lydia, unfortunately the one such test that I did, I could not hear much difference, and it was my CF bow ($500) against two wood bows considered to be "truly special". Partly it could be that I just don't know what I should be listening for. But the test was not set up very well -- and it was kind of rushed -- and I would like to do it again, more carefully. I do plan to do this. I might pick your brain about that by means of private messages.

Lyndon, the popularity of the claim among accomplished violinists is not lost on me, and of course I have heard this argument before, many many times. I acknowledge that am outnumbered and outclassed every time I express my skepticism. I wish that the voices of so many respected violinists could be enough for me, but I'm sorry to say, it just isn't. I'm not like the "climate change denier" who turns around and insists it's all a hoax. I'm NOT saying the bow CANNOT influence the tone of the violin -- I'm just saying (a) so far, I haven't heard the difference myself, and (b) I can't envision a physical mechanism for why there should be a difference, and (c) I'm trying not to get emotional about it.

August 2, 2016 at 08:02 PM ·

August 2, 2016 at 08:09 PM · Paul, can you easily hear tonal differences between violins? The difference between CF and wood is usually pretty stark. It's not something that you would normally "listen for"; you would just be totally aware of it, the way that you're aware of two voices not being the same, or two violins not being the same.

August 2, 2016 at 08:48 PM · I recently conducted a test like this with my husband as the blind tester. The test was my very inexpensive CF bow (Presto Audition from SHAR) vs. a Brazilian-made pernambuco bow (~$600) that I had on trial. I was trying to answer this very question - what is the difference in sound between CF and wood? I didn't trust my own perceptions, since I obviously knew what I was playing, but my husband, who is not musically trained, could tell the difference. The sound was rounder and fuller with the wood.

This is not to say that the CF bow sounds bad, or that it was so lacking in quality that I couldn't live without the wooden bow. In fact, I ended up deciding not to get the bow, because I feel I'll benefit a lot more from putting that $600 towards lessons.

I also wonder if this improvement would continue linearly with finer and finer bows - kind of what I was asking earlier. At a certain point, I think that my violin - not to mention my skill - would prove to be a limiting factor.

August 2, 2016 at 08:58 PM · Lydia, yes I went through the process of buying a violin a few years ago. I didn't try any priceless antiques though. The most expensive violin I tested had an asking price of $18,000, it was an American-made violin from ca. 1930. I was kind of hoping to pay no more than $12,000. Of the 8-10 violins that I considered seriously, there were about 3 that I ruled out at home because there was something bad about their tone that didn't reveal itself to me in the shop (hollow-sounding, or significantly uneven, for example), and the other 5-7 were different in ways that were more subtle -- balance among the four strings, sunniness of the treble voice, richness of the lower voice, not running out of gas above the midpoint of the fingerboard on the G string, less vs. more "complexity" in the sound, overall quantity of sound, etc. The two violins that I liked were also the same two violins that my teacher liked, and we arrived at that independently, which I think is a good sign. I bought them both -- my daughter plays the 1895 Jaas ($3500, from a dealer) and I play the 2006 Topa ($8500, from an individual). My violin has better balance, projection, and complexity. Hers has what her teacher describes as a "magic E string" sound, brilliant, singing, and clear.

I have played two other Topa violins and noticed that they both had a tone that seemed very similar to my violin, which would normally one would consider a vote of confidence for my ability to heard these things, but the skeptic in me remembers that I knew who the maker was before trying them, so I can't rule out that bias.

I'm curious about *your* bow-shopping experience. How do you rule out bow-hair (age, quality, etc.) and rosin (quantity, type) as factors when you test bows? I mean, before you spend $85,000 on a Peccatte, is it too much to ask the dealer to freshly rehair it to make sure it will not turn to rubbish when you do the same?

I remember shopping for bows before I bought my CF bow. I brought some bows home from a shop in Richmond. They were in the $2000 to $3000 range. There was one bow that I liked, I felt I was getting a powerful sound from it. I asked a very fine pro violinist to test it, and what he said was along these lines: "This bow is terrible. Don't buy it. I can't even play sautille with it." He suggested I weigh the bows. I noticed that the bow that was giving me a powerful sound was 2-3 grams heavier than a typical bow. In hindsight I wonder if it was a viola bow!!

Now that I have been studying the violin a while and I'm learning more about tone generation, I'm listening more to variations in my own tone as I play, and there's a chance I might use that ear training to help me be more discerning among bows. I'm also aware that my hearing is not 100%. It's maybe about 80% of the hearing of other folks my age (50).

August 2, 2016 at 09:32 PM · Paul - I think you are expressing yourself in a very reasonable way even where I have disagreed with you. But as Hamlet said to Horatio "there are many things in Heaven and Earth not dreamt of in your philosophy." Just a few points for now:

1. As far as Marco's test, there is another test for a bow's speed of vibrations that has been used for a long time by some bow makers, called the Lucci meter. It's a lot safer than dropping a bow or even a plank to the floor! I believe that this relates to a bow's response more than its timbre which is more a matter of the bow's material.

2. As far as whether we could tell from a recording whether a violinist were using a broken - excuse me - a baroque bow or a modern bow, a lot of that has to do how the violinist is playing and what effects he wants. If he were trying to get modern effects from a baroque bow, he'd have to do some compensating, as he would even from one modern bow to another as best he could. I have had such experience many times. Also, if for demonstration purposes, he'd go back and forth between bows, many would hear differences.

3. 'A player's bow hold does not seem to affect sound'??? Huh??? Of course it does! It can spell the difference between deeper and shallower, rounder and edgier, etc. Aaron Rosand has commented on how he holds his bow in a more Russian way for some music and more Franco-Belgian for other music.

4. Milstein was once trying violins at a dealer. After bringing out a Strad and a fine bow, the dealer went to another room to do some work and leave Milstein alone. After a few minutes and a few seconds of break, the dealer suddenly heard such a change in the sound that he had to go back and ask Milstein what happened. "Did you go back to your own violin just now?" "No", said M., "I continued to play on your violin - but I switched back to my own bow." Note that the dealer did not see what happened and was not pre-conditioned.

5. Perhaps a less dramatic point because I did see, I once brought a bow that I was considering and later bought (my EA Ouchard) to a former teacher who is extremely knowledgeable. I had my favorite violin with me as well. He played on both for a few minutes and I said "Hearing you play on this violin with this bow makes me think of a delicious and gooey ice cream sundae!" He said "Hmmm" and took out a favorite bow of his and played again on my violin. "How about now?" he asked. I said "Well...it's still an ice cream sundae - only a DIET ice cream sundae!" After a few more minutes of trying the Ouchard he said "Let me know if you pass on this bow because I'd be interested." Yet, I eventually acquired another bow that I like even more with that violin (my 2010 Villa) - a Louis Bazin. As far as strength and technical bowings, they are too close to call. But over and over again as far as sound, I describe the difference the same way: with the Bazin, there is a more colorful and more open sound. Testing the same two bows on my other Villa of 2011, there are similar differences - but not as marked. And again, I've felt this over and over. With my 2 Maday 'keepers' (I'm selling one) I like my FR Simon. It's partly sound and partly feel - how the rubber meets the road. For the Maday I'd sell, I like my Hill.

6.Match-ups of bows to fiddles as well as to players are quite important and James Ehness has commented on this in detail in the great video, "Homage".

7. I have never had a problem with anyone doing things in a recording to get to an ideal that might not be possible in a live performance. Just the fact of placing a number of mics and mixing the results is one example. Of course, correcting errors is another. I've heard that Hilary Hahn, whose live playing is 99.9% perfect and doesn't have to worry about such things as a mortal like me does, has sometimes taken advantage of the recording process to use one bow for just half a phrase and another bow for the other half. That's how sensitive she is to subtle variations of sound. And why not?

Food for thought...

August 2, 2016 at 09:47 PM · I'm looking for: sound (the quality of the timbre, which is also somewhat subjective in terms of what I like), articulation (both the ability to automatically bite and to smooth out that bite when you don't want it), clarity (if you play a bunch of fast notes, do the notes pop out individually or do they blur together?), the smoothness of the draw from frog to tip and back (and the sense of the bow feeling controlled and balanced in a "zoom" from end to end), how light and smoothly controlled the bow feels when doing fast circular retakes at the frog (all about balance and not about actual weight), and then how easy it is to do a variety of off-the-string strokes.

If the hair is old, you'll be able to feel a certain lack of grip. I tried a Sartory that I liked a fair amount recently, for instance, but the hair was so worn out that I couldn't tell how it articulated at the tip; it was probably okay but I had to use a ton of rosin just to get a basic grip, but it felt controlled enough (and the rest of the bow was very good) that I suspected that it was just the hair, and the shop agreed that they'd have it rehaired and available for me to try later. [ Edited later to note: I did eventually try it after a rehair. Tha solved the grippiness problem but the articulation at the tip remained awful. ]

A fresh rehair should only make a bow better, not worse, though players will have some preferences in a rehair (for instance, more tension on the fingerboard side, accommodating players who prefer a little tilt to the bow).

Rosin makes a difference in grip but not a big enough difference to impact the general sense of the bow. I normally wipe the rosin off my strings every time I play, and if a bow is producing too much powder thanks to its rosin, I will keep wiping off the strings as I try it. I haven't been enthused about all of the ways that trial bows have been rosined, but it's not a big deal.

There's an organic feel to a bow that's hard to describe. Some bows will really make an impression on you. I tried the ex-Ricci Dominique Peccatte, and more than a decade later, I can still remember how it felt in my hand.

August 2, 2016 at 11:44 PM · Paul Deck - interesting article - I have just read the summary and will attempt to read it in the future. However I think one of the problems with such analyses is if the analyst fails to model other possible modes of interaction, they will not appear in the result.

I puzzled over bow behavior a lot in the first 21 months of this century, made lots of measurements and wrote some equations and had even fashioned a portable "jig" that I planned to take to Ifshin's to test some of his bows (he had approved) - but as I tried to continued my study on 9/12/2001, I decided instead to spend the rest of my life (as much as I could) playing music.

Anyhow - I occurred to me those long years ago that the coupling between the bowstick vibrations and the hair cause the vibrating hair to interact non-smoothly with the strings. Consider that if you are playing a 440 Hz A, the there will be 440 stick/slip interactions of the bow hair with the string every second. If the bow hair is vibrating at an interfering frequency (which could probably be almost any frequency) the driving of the string vibration will be affected. I have certainly observed problems with some bows on some instruments that could be explained by this - I just could never figure out a good way to model it before I quit trying.

I Think there is an acoustic impedance of the hair/stick connection that is probably best if the hair does not transmit the stick vibrations - but ???

August 3, 2016 at 02:07 AM · Andrew -- you have great insight that I always admire. If you look to the very end of that research article, you will see that something similar about the influence of the bow vibrations on the slip-stick phenomenon is also presented by the author, albeit very much in the manner of unsubstantiated speculation. But I agree that's a very tantalizing possibility.

Raphael -- I always find your comments compellingly rich in history and context. The skeptic in me tends to be wary of "legendary stories" of the likes of Milstein. Could it be that Milstein suddenly produced better sound because he was accustomed to how his own bow felt in his hand? About whether the bow-hold influences the sound, I think that if a great player chooses a different grip for certain types of music, that could be to obtain different bow strokes, no? To some extent Lydia's comments touched on playability as well (and very useful comments they were). I'm not expecting playability and the "tonal" effects of the bow stick to be orthogonal, but I would be curious about a listening test of various bows that only involved whole-bow whole notes.

August 3, 2016 at 03:01 AM · "Could it be that Milstein suddenly produced better sound because he was accustomed to how his own bow felt in his hand?"

I've witnessed this phenomenon in reverse in a student trying out a new bow (coming from a Grand Adam, trying out a Eury.) She was skeptical about our opinion the Eury was a better match with her Rocca (?) She played for over 30 minutes before she was able to draw out colours we'd never heard from her fiddle before with her old bow. She went back and forth, able to adapt more and more quickly to the characteristics of each bow, but only the Eury drew out extra colours. So yes, you have to learn how to handle each stick according to its peculiarities, but call me a believer.

A crude analogue can be demonstrated by playing pizzicato with the pad of the finger, then with the tip, or the nail or a guitar pick. Now imagine the timbre each plucking implement would produce at 440 plucks/second.

Whole bows is a good place to start, but you basically have to test every type of bow stroke, and also various examples of each stroke in context. Bows which handle well can switch strokes on a dime. A bow which sounds great on a whole note might not 'spit' out faster notes in detache. One bow may resonate each spiccato stroke better than another. (My carbon fiber creates way more noise on short repeated strokes, on and off string.) You also have to play long notes with vibrato and all over the fiddle. You have to test for real world conditions.

August 3, 2016 at 04:03 AM · "Could it be that Milstein suddenly produced better sound because he was accustomed to how his own bow felt in his hand?"

I thought of that, too, actually. But I doubt that such a factor could account for such a major and sudden impact. And if there's nothing inherent in the bow, I doubt that this much effect could have happened, be Milstein used to it or not.

It's always an interaction of both: the violin has inherent qualities. It will sound different in different hands but if it has a strong personality, something of its basic timbre will remain. Once, Glenn Dicterow was kind enough after a master class that I attended, to try a violin I showed him (the 3rd Maday I mentioned above). He tore into the opening allegro of the Bruch G minor with a power, presence and intensity that blew me away - almost literally. Standing just a few feet away from him, I could FEEL - not just hear - the impact like a shock wave! The next morning I felt like apologizing to my violin: "Sorry, but you're probably never going to be played quite that well again!" YET, even with Glenn's very powerful playing and strong personality, while he played it and even being so affected by his playing, I still recognized the basic timbre of my violin - brought out to the hilt.

The bow, too, has inherent qualities. And while each player will modify it, something of its quintessence will remain. Then, when you get to the 3 way interaction of violin, bow and player it gets more complex and more (though not necessarily entirely) unpredictable.

Speaking of different holds for different strokes, there's a staccato stroke at a certain tempo that I hold my bow differently to produce. But Rosand was talking about basic sound as such:

"My great teacher Efrem Zimbalist, who was a pupil of Auer, introduced me to the Russian School. He was an exponent of the long bow and drawing a thick sound on the flatter hair. When playing a work such as the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto I use the Russian GRIP because I want a thicker SOUND [my capitals]. It was Leon Sametini, a pupil of Ysaÿe, who taught me the Franco-Belgian grip that I use for playing works by composers such as Mozart and Bach, and pyrotechnical works. I employ both grips depending on the composer, and the textures and nuances you can achieve will be subtly affected by the grip you use."

Now apart from my Milstein example, am I delusional in my own assessments, even though I've come to the same very specific conclusions over and over (re my Ouchard vs Bazin on my Villas)? Is Hilary Hahn? Is James Ehnnes? What does science have to say about Occam's Razor? (i.e. in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, go with the simplest explanation. IOW, pros know something!)

August 3, 2016 at 08:44 PM · Raphael, I never said anyone was delusional, nor will I. I remember claiming skepticism and curiosity for myself and ascribing experience and insight to you. I also never said "pros don't know anything," nor have I demonized professional violinists in any way.

Occam's Razor is a very divisive principle. Rarely do two people agree on what is "simplest." I could well argue that the *simplest* explanation, while distasteful in the extreme, is actually mass delusion. There have been so many examples of it before (the preponderance of experts agreeing that the earth is flat, or that the sun orbits the earth, or that bleedings are good for what ails you) that it is actually hard to rule it out. Your knowledge and experience definitely helps, though. But to make an obvious comparison, the "clear and well known" superiority of antique Italian violins relative to recently made violins has been challenged too of late, and while perhaps it is too soon to draw cast-iron conclusions on that question, I do think eyes and ears have been opened to new possibilities.

What bothers me, I think, is that in the few meager tests that I personally have done, *I* have not heard anything different. And I would like to! I would like to learn what I am supposed to hear (Lydia gave me some helpful pointers on that), but more than anything I want to be able to hear it myself. I am working on a much more thorough test with the help of two professionals who play very well and who have good instruments and bows. I will surely keep you posted on those results, and should the opportunity arise to conduct a blind listening test involving professional violinists, I will invite you to participate as a subject! If the differences in sound upon changing the bow is indeed clear, then it should be audible in high quality recordings. That is how I intend to make my tests.

August 3, 2016 at 09:15 PM · Paul - no, you didn't say anyone was delusional. Sometimes I get carried away with my own scintillating (or is that SIN-tillating?) rhetoric!

But I will still maintain that the 'razor's edge' falls to the fact that pros can hear certain things that amateurs can't. And every individual hears differently to some extent. But let's say someone like Rosand, who had tried about 60 Strads and 20 gel Gesus before finding his own del Gesu, or Ehnnes who got so thoroughly acquainted with the great Fulton collection and playing each one to the hilt claimed to hear colors and nuances that I did not, would it make equal Occam sense, tasteless or not for me to claim that the simplest explanation is that they are just hearing things? NO! I'd have no problem acknowledging their superior ears. I'm quite OK; they are more OK. It's similar on a visual level, too: at the del Gesu exhibit at the Met Museum in the mid-90's, at one point a violin maker whom I knew said to me re a particular violin "do you see the degree of green in this varnish?" I said "no". He said "look carefully..see?" I still didn't. But I think he really could see what I could not and had no trouble acknowledging that. Also, it would be hard to argue MASS delusion with this sort of thing when so many very local and precise details are involved, e.g. this bow with that violin always makes me say certain very particular things.

I hate to say this but it's possible that you may never hear what you would like to hear. I may never play as well as I would like to play. But let's both keep trying!

But what if you COULD hear the sort of things that many of us have claimed - would it still bother you if you could not come up with a scientific theory to account for it?

I'd be happy to participate in a listening test but even a high quality recording isn't the same as a live, under-the-ear test. I made one such test yet again in my own collection today and the results were quite obvious to me.

BTW, "when it comes to the "clear and well known" superiority of antique Italian violins relative to recently made violins has been challenged too of late" I tend to be on the challenger side more often than not.

Wait a minute...the earth isn't flat?

August 3, 2016 at 09:55 PM · One problem with designing tests to measure the existence of such differences-- you get the same problem with hi-fi equipment-- is that double-blind ID tests (is track #3 16-bit or 20-bit?) often suggest that correct identifications are consistent with guesses, because they tend to be randomly distributed.

What that doesn't do is address the possibility that ability and experience are also randomly distributed. You could test this pretty easily, I would think, by running the whole exercise again on those who scored well the first time. If they keep scoring well, then you might have something.

Here, the equivalent would be to play on two different bows for Rosand--or Lydia-- and ask them (a) which works better with you and your instrument and (b) which of the two you're using the third time.

August 3, 2016 at 10:04 PM · Raphael, the earth is not flat. It is gently arched on the front and back and there are two holes that look like the letter "f" on one side.

If I could hear what is claimed, I would still like to know how it works, but not knowing that would be less irritating.

And I agree with you that in view of the various accounts that have the character of blind tests, even though they may have not been done "scientifically," mass delusion seems untenable.

I'll still do my test. I do have to spend some time designing it carefully.

August 3, 2016 at 10:13 PM · All you need to hear the differences between violins is a copy of the Miracle Makers book (which comes with CDs of Elmar Oliveira playing a lot of great instruments), and high-fidelity equipment, including a superb set of speakers. (Alternatively, high-end reference headphones will do.) The equipment is vital, by the way; if you listen on low-quality equipment, you won't hear the whole frequency range. It's something of a pity that I don't think there's a similar CD for bows.

Was it ever in doubt that a few of the greatest contemporary violins are as good as some Strads and del Gesus? The popular press seems to have had the tendency to misrepresent those trials as "it's all just illusion, contemporary violins are as good as the antiques", as if players are suffering from mass delusion.

Who the player is makes a huge difference, by the way. My quartet has four people who play violin. Of the four of us, our violist draws, by a significant margin, the best tone out of my violin with a particular bow I like -- a huge and resonant sound that even my violin-teacher doesn't pull out of it.

August 3, 2016 at 11:43 PM · I suspect my hearing is an issue. I can't tell the difference between most audio equipment unless it's pretty bad. It's not my fault, but for the last 20 years my ears have basically been ringing constantly.

I think I can still recognize good violin playing when I hear it though. But I will definitely check out that Oliveira CD (now there's a great violin player with a distinguished track record) and let's see!

The fact that you need super-high-quality audio gear to hear the difference between violins on recordings is good news, because most music these days is consumed by the public as MP3 files, and if that's true then nobody needs a Strad violin or a Kittel bow except for concertizing.

August 4, 2016 at 01:16 AM · I have used that collection to audition stereo equipment. For those who don't know it, Oliveira plays the first page of the Sibelius alone on each violin, and then does a series of pieces with piano twice, with one take on a Strad and one on a Guarneri or some alternative. Adequate speakers will let you know which is the Strad and which is the Guarneri. Much better speakers will make differences among the various Strads fairly clear. Great electronics will make it obvious which flavor (Strad or del Gesu) Oliveira prefers. He does adjust very well to each of the violins, which is no small trick. But you'll hear his comfort level as he comes to terms with the very different playing characteristics of each.

August 4, 2016 at 02:52 AM · I have the Oliveira "Miracle Makers" along with the book with beautiful photos and do highly recommend it. But I recommend even more highly, the Ehnnes "Homage". The DVD shows wonderful close ups of each instrument, slowly turning around for a 360 view as Ehness describes its unique characteristics and what it feels like for him to play on each one. He also gives some general discussion on various matters and also talks about matching particular bows with particular instruments. A must have!

Paul - your description of earth is definitely my planet!

August 4, 2016 at 02:56 AM · Ricci did one of these many years ago (vinyl LP) and for my money (HA! HA!) the Bergonzi was the best sounding vioiin.

August 4, 2016 at 03:05 AM · Just found this excellent article in which bow makers comment about bows and sound:

www.aitchisoncellos.com/.../cello-and-bow...bow.../exploring-bow-soun.

August 4, 2016 at 06:51 AM ·

August 4, 2016 at 12:38 PM · Hmmm...Does this help?

Exploring bow sound | Aitchison & Mnatzaganian Cello Specialists

www.aitchisoncellos.com/.../cello-and-bow...bow.../exploring-bow-soun...

All the bow makers we spoke to believe that the choice of the pernambuco wood used to make the bow is absolutely crucial for its sound. Morgan Anderson ...

August 4, 2016 at 12:50 PM · BTW, I woke up with a theory just now to address an earlier question by Paul. Well, by scientific standards, maybe it's just more of a notion. But since it's my B-Day today (presents optional!) I expect folks to go easy on me until midnight!

I think the question was 'how does the bow affect the sound when it's only the hair that touches the string?' One thing in that article above that I hope to successfully link is that a number of the makers interviewed said that the bow as such doesn't have a sound but but this or that bow does have a predisposition to elicit certain kinds of overtones from an instrument subject to how a player plays, etc. Well, the bow vibrates in a certain way. It's attached to the hair and therefore causes the hair to vibrate a certain way, thus eliciting different overtones than the same hank of hair would do if attached to another bow.

Well, it's a more sophisticated theory than the Monty Python theory of dinosaurs: they are thin at one end, BIG at the middle and thin at the other end.

August 4, 2016 at 03:08 PM · Doesn't seem like rocket science: the bow, when contacting the string, is part of a vibrating system.

August 4, 2016 at 04:17 PM · The simplistic view is DOA because two parts of a "vibrating system" only influence one another (couple) if they experience vibrations of comparable frequency and magnitude. I'm not making that up.

Whatever is happening, it's *not* simple.

August 4, 2016 at 05:53 PM · But if two bows do that at different times, in response to different pitches and overtones, they will sound different from each other.

August 5, 2016 at 02:40 AM · Take a look at this:

Violin bow Vibrations - Knut's Acoustics

www.knutsacoustics.com/files/Gough-Violin-bow-vibrations.pdf

August 5, 2016 at 11:59 AM · If you can believe the timbre of a drum, guitar, or piano is affected by the initial transient of the mallet, pick, or hammer, rather than by any coupling the striking/plucking implement contributes to the vibration of the system, then it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to imagine how a bow affects timbre by analogy. What is a bow (+ bow hand) but a pick, plucking away continuously by virtue of the stick-slip action of the hair against the string? Maybe the vibration of a given bow, due to its elasticity, affects how quickly and firmly the bow sticks after it slips, determining the quality of each initial transient. Could it simply be the additive transients (a steady state of transients!) which we hear as a continuous tone, and identify as the timbre of a bow?

August 5, 2016 at 03:50 PM · This discussion is like arguing with someone who believes that a bumblebee can't fly (and has academic literature to prove it).

We can all theorize, but the bee happily flies on

August 5, 2016 at 08:28 PM · In ancient Greece there was a philosopher named Zeno who tried to prove that motion was an illusion. Obvious to everyone at that time and since then was the fact that clearly there IS motion. But his "proofs" to the contrary were not formally refuted on more or less their own terms until the invention of calculus. Perhaps a calculus of the bow is on the horizon. Meanwhile, clearly bows move and different bows yield different sounds.

If we're willing to leave it at that for now I can bring up another controversy on the subject of bows.

PS Nobody wished me a Happy Birthday??? Make-a me so sad... :-(

August 5, 2016 at 08:44 PM · Nobody is saying a bumblebee can't fly. But I'm willing to admit that I don't understand how it works, and I don't expect trivial physical analogies to suffice. Do you know how they pivot, hover, and accelerate? Wouldn't that be interesting to know?

If you read what I wrote, I have repeatedly stated that I do not *exclude* the possibility that the bow stick influences the tone of the violin. Yet, these words are constantly put into my mouth by others. I have not heard the effect myself. Maybe I need to conduct a better test with better equipment. Maybe the effect is subtle. Maybe I just don't have adequate auditory perception. I also can't envision a clear mechanism by which this phenomenon would manifest itself based on my admittedly small knowledge of physics (I took quite a few physics courses in college, but I did not major in it.) That's a lot of maybes. I don't understand why I should be so furiously shamed and ridiculed and demonized for being curious or even skeptical.

Raphael -- many many more! Someday I'll come to New York and have a lesson from you.

August 6, 2016 at 12:15 PM · Aw shucks - thanks! Paul or anybody else - did you read the 2nd article article I cited a little bit above? It seems to address the question at hand, among other things. I say "seems" because I didn't read every word, the way the columns are presented make for some awkwardness - and it presented many equations that made my eyes glaze over. But give it a try...

August 8, 2016 at 11:21 AM · belated wishes for a happy birthday Raphael, and thanks for your great contributions! Paul is a professor---he should be able to deal with the equations :-)

August 8, 2016 at 12:37 PM · Yes but I'm not a professor of finite element analysis or mechanical engineering. For better or for worse, we do live in a very specialized world. That's partly why I'm still curious to learn more about this phenomenon of which I might be somewhat skeptical: I recognize the voice of authority in another field, and I understand that division of labor is the basis of civilization. Where disciplines touch in new ways, the problems are that much more interesting -- and often quite difficult.

August 8, 2016 at 01:49 PM · If you haven't trained your ears to hear differences in sound by now, there probably isn't much hope!!

August 8, 2016 at 02:15 PM · Raphael,

Zeno's paradox appeared paradoxical because people did not understand the infinity. The paradox was properly explained only in the late 19th century, which is much later than the invention of calculus.

The meaning of infinity became clear when Georg Cantor studied the properties of infinite sets and found that some infinite sets are "larger" than others.

August 8, 2016 at 06:36 PM · Lyndon, I hope you are not that patronizing and discouraging toward your clients. If you are, I guarantee it's having a negative effect on your business.

One does not need advanced math to refute Zeno's Paradox. The paradox says that one can never reach a fixed destination because one must first go half the distance, then half the remaining distance, and so on. However if one travels at a constant speed, then each next "half the remaining distance" requires only half as much time as the last. So if one is traveling one mile in an hour, then one first travels half a mile in half an hour, then a quarter of a mile in a quarter of an hour, and so on. Calculus just takes care of adding up all those small pieces more cleanly. But the total distance is still one mile and the total time is still one hour.

August 8, 2016 at 06:38 PM ·

August 8, 2016 at 07:48 PM · Thanks, Jean. And thanks to others for added insight re Zeno!

August 8, 2016 at 08:03 PM · I certainly am a player, somewhat accomplished for an amateur, you can hear my playing on you tube in the links provided on my website, just click on my name, and then click on website.

August 8, 2016 at 08:26 PM ·

August 8, 2016 at 08:41 PM · Actually wrong again, the clavichord, the instrument I spent 15 years building is the only keyboard that allows the pitch to be controlled and varied (vibrato) by key pressure.

And did I add I spent several years designing, building and selling audiophile loudspeakers.

August 8, 2016 at 11:37 PM ·

August 8, 2016 at 11:44 PM · Speaking of drones!!!

August 9, 2016 at 12:35 AM · Peter, that's an interesting way of thinking and hope you won't be offended that I was inspired by one word in the middle of it all -- vibrato. I wonder if vibrato is the key to unlocking the mystery of how the violin bow influences tone. Not that vibrato is necessary to that effect, but that it might point the way to an experiment. I need to think about that more.

Pianists often speak of different tonal colors that are achieved by pressing down the keys in different ways. Is that real, or is it just the velocity of the key strike? I believe many digital keyboards only model the velocity, but I know there are many other reasons (and bigger reasons) why they don't sound like true pianos.

August 9, 2016 at 01:57 AM · I think I've now tried over a hundred bows this go-around, and while I like a lot of different bows with a very broad range of characteristics, the ones that I like most have a certain elegance in the hand. In particular, I like bows that track the string very well, yet are balanced such that it's not necessary to exert much pinky-pressure as a counterweight.

I've found great-playing bows that are terrible tonally on my violin, though, which is turning out to be extraordinarily finicky about what bows it sounds good with.

August 9, 2016 at 02:28 AM · Paul, pianist Josef Hoffman made it very clear in his book that the part of the finger that presses the key affects the sound/tone. It really does - even a piano duffer (non player) like me can do it on a really good piano. It is the amount of flesh between the bone and the key that causes the effect - and of course the speed of the finger.

August 9, 2016 at 04:08 AM · On the clavichord the finger is connected directly to the string through the lever of the key, pushing the key deeper moves the string to a higher pitch, and hitting the note weakly leads to a dead sound, you have to strike the keys firmly for a good tone.

August 9, 2016 at 07:28 AM ·

August 9, 2016 at 07:53 AM · You've been warned about personal attacks before, Peter, but you don't seem to learn anything.

August 9, 2016 at 08:11 AM · My position in this thread, for which I am being so rudely criticized by Mr Peter, is that bows can have a profound effect on tone or sound just as Lydia reports, part of this is how the playability of the bow interacts with the performer to produce the tone, and part of it is the vibrational effects of the wood or substance?? that the bow is made of, just like the way the wood a violin is made of has a profound effect on the tone, as does the abilities of the performer.

Is this so controversial that posters have to descend into mudslinging to fight against the idea that bows can effect the sound, you don't have to be a player to hear that different bows sound different when played the same way by the same person, in fact in many ways a listener is in a better position to judge tone than the player, because after all, the violin is made to be listened to, not picked apart by critics.

August 9, 2016 at 09:19 AM · I think it must be possible for bows to improve the sound of a violin. The difference between tension in the wood - the hair - the weight - why wouldn't it make a difference to the sound? Not that my hearing is good enough to judge - I have tinnitus in one ear & some age-related hearing loss.

Of course, as I am not a person who can afford a good bow, I am rather drawn to the idea that they make little difference! And it is certainly hard to think of an experiment which is truly scientific, given that the player makes such a difference and the player may know what bow they are using.

Two anecdotes from my own experience - not scientific at all.

About violins - once, in a lesson, my teacher was explaining that the sound of a violin came 'from the heart' of a player. At a rehearsal the previous evening of the baroque ensemble that he directs, a principal violinist had broken a string suddenly. This violinist always had a very particular expressive tone when he was playing which my teacher attributed to his very special characterful instrument. But someone handed him a cheaper violin to continue the piece and the same characterful tone was produced...

About bows: when I had been a returner to the violin for only a few months I replaced my starter-pack fiddle with something a bit pricier which sounded much better. A few months later I thought that I'd do the same for the bow - not that my 'a bit pricier' was very much in violin or bow terms. But I got my luthier to order me a 'better bow' which, when it came, he and his colleagues assured me was a very good bow.

But I always found it too weighty to be wieldy and I felt that the stick was a bit stiff and the sound produced was matt and dull. After reasoning that baroque bows were shorter & lighter, I bought myself a cheap student three quarter bow which I liked at once and have used ever since. A couple of years later my teacher persuaded me to buy an inexpensive replica baroque bow, but I never found its playability to be as good as my three-quarter student bow and I thought the sound was thinner too.

August 9, 2016 at 11:37 AM · Lydia, is the vibration felt in the bow hand a factor?

August 9, 2016 at 12:29 PM · Paul - how about a test between a violin bow vs a curved metal rod, both with the same (new) hair.

From my limited experience of testing bows, what I found was that the inherent qualities (weight distribution, vibration and smoothness through the wood when bowing etc) enabled me to produce a better sound, in the same way as a car with better suspension and wheels and breaks might enable a racer to get around a track faster.

Somewhat related is the wood used in table tennis bats, which can make a significant difference in the speed of the returning ball. So (back to bows), since the string is vibrating and is in contact with the hair which is attached to the wood, does it not stand to reason that the vibration of the string would be influenced or determined by the wood, ie how much is absorbed or transfered etc.

In my previous cheap bow, I feel a lot of vibration into my fingers, in the new one I don't. Presumably vibrational energy being lost through my fingers is not ideal, and would affect the output of energy onto the string. Is my reasoning fallacious?

August 9, 2016 at 01:51 PM · Paul,

I do not wish to detract the thread so I'll be brief. The satisfactory solution to Zeno's paradox requires modern mathematics. The calculus at the time of Newton and Leibniz was not mature enough to properly handle infinity and infinitesimal numbers. If you are curious, ask a colleague at the Math Department.

August 9, 2016 at 04:42 PM · Peter I hold you in the highest regard, notwithstanding the "British humor" that sometimes leaks out. :) If (other) people are nasty toward me on this forum, there is no way to ban them the way you can with a forum that uses the Facebook plugin, so I just stop reading their posts altogether.

August 9, 2016 at 04:45 PM · KD you have a good idea. Maybe if I deliberately construct an absolutely awful violin bow, then I can hear the difference in sound in the extreme and work inward from there.

August 9, 2016 at 06:46 PM · I second KD's idea.

To my own ears, the biggest sound differences - in instruments, bows, and even string choice - happen in the range from awful to acceptable. Once these are all in an acceptable range, I find that further improvements are much more incremental, and in the realm of nuance, rather than massive improvement.

If we assume that improvement is roughly correlated with price, and we were to graph sound improvement vs price, the graph would be very steep in, say, the first $2,000 range (of instruments and bows), and would probably plateau thereafter. To my ears. I'm sure the plateau point of that graph would be at different price points for different people.

August 9, 2016 at 07:37 PM · Not a bad thought, although it's a bit more erratic than that. You can try three or four bows from the same maker and get very different sounds, even if the market value isn't too different. Also, at the high end, you can go through a lot of very good but not too different masterworks (from the playing point of view), and suddenly find the magic Simon, or Peccatte, or Maline, or whatever that makes magic with you and your violin.

August 9, 2016 at 10:05 PM · Stephen is right about that. There's an interaction with a particular violin that is more or less independent of price range, and there will be significant tonal variation within a single maker's output.

I played a really nice Christopher Dixon copy of a Simon recently. Felt great. Sounded a bit harsh on my violin -- almost like I was playing with a carbon-fiber bow.

August 9, 2016 at 10:27 PM · Yes, the 3-way chemistry is unpredictable.

I'm kind of busy the next few days - a recording project. I wanted to introduce another subject: the hair as such and (how) does it wear out. Maybe on another thread.

I probably shouldn't even try but @ Lyndon: It's not always a question of what side of the argument we're on but how we express ourselves. Sometimes a debate can positively spiral up to border on a Platonic Symposium and sometimes it can be unnecessarily off-putting.

That's it for me till at least the weekend. Meanwhile - bowing but not scraping, y'all! ;-)

August 9, 2016 at 10:59 PM · I've been following this thread with interest as it has cycled far afield from Lydia's original request. I am not entirely sure what Lydia meant by "choosing a bow by feel" since there are so many aspects of "feel" with a bow

I did a 66 bow search for a cello bow for a particular cello of mine some 12 or more years ago and only found 2 bows that solved a specific problem of that particular instrument - both bows made by Paul Martin Siefried. Other bows I tried may have had superior off-string behaviors (for my hands) but if the sound doesn't meet your hopes you will not be satisfied. This cello had an F# wolf and some irritating character on other G string notes (no matter what kind of strings I used). Recent installation of a Krentz Wolf Eliminator has not only completely cured the wolf, but also the tonal imperfections of the G string for all my other bows as well - as well as improving it for the Siefried bow. I followed that success with some other Krentz installations on 2 other cellos, one viola and 2 violins, none of which had wolves (that I have detected) but were all helped tonally in some way by experimenting with the appropriate size Krentz devices. My 2 other (better?) violins are actually spoiled by using the Krentz.

I'm suggesting that $75 spent on a violin Krentz device might help pinpoint the problems relating the bow selection process to this particular violin. Of course, I might be completely off base on this too.

(I knew Lydia some years ago on the West coast and was familiar with her impressive violinistic abilities and her former Italian instrument at that time.)

August 10, 2016 at 01:21 AM · The wolf-eliminator is a really interesting idea, though probably not relevant in this particular case. My current violin is just very particular -- tiny movements of soundpost and bridge make a huge difference in the sound, and different bows achieve very different results. I don't think it's a negative so much as the sensitivity is requiring a bow-hunt that requires a precise convergence of the right playing qualities with the right tonal qualities.

August 10, 2016 at 04:00 AM · Great thread and some fantastic insights! After reading about the interaction between Stephen Symchych and B.Rolland I would be thrilled to know (I don't think that we will ever find out..) how a top soloist of the rank of let's say Kavakos, Rachlin, orders a bow from great contemporary bowmaker? Do those guys give very detailed specifications of what they want in terms of sound and handling or simply they put their trust into the abilities and "feeling" of the maker? What would be the difference between a bow made for Lydia and one made for player X (top soloist) by the same contemporary maker? Of course what works for Kavakos may not work for someone else but a great bow could turn into a great teacher and maybe worth learning how to use something DIFFERENT. And a great player is very likely to "choose by feeling" a great playing stick.

Cheers

August 10, 2016 at 12:34 PM · OK, just one more thing and then I really have to run and save my fingers for playing, not typing: To come full circle, “FEEL” is certainly crucial. It’s subtle yet precise at the same time. Feel comes before sound, because from years of experience, if I’m trying a lot of bows, say at an auction showing, I get a lot of information just by picking it up. If it doesn’t feel promising, it won’t make it to the fiddle.

Years ago I decided to sell my FR Simon. I consigned it to a bowmaker/dealer. He insisted that he would have to re-camber it first and I agreed. It came close a few times but didn’t sell. After almost a year I took it back. I obviously hadn’t touched it in all that time and hadn’t played on it much for some time before that. It always had a lovely quality but lacked a certain ”oomph”. Well, when I came to take it back, the moment I held it, the bow – since re-cambered - felt different from what I remembered – and better. When I got home and played it, it also ‘sounded’ better. The “oomph” I had wanted was now there and I was so glad it didn’t sell!

August 10, 2016 at 03:10 PM · Contemporary bow-makers who take commissions work in very different ways, as far as I know. I believe Benoit Rolland has a process by which he watches players, examines bows they like, and measures the sonics of their instrument, for instance, and then produces a bow tailored to fit their playing style and violin.

Players have different physical approaches to violin and bow, coupled with different physiques, that affect what feels good to them.

August 11, 2016 at 02:17 AM · We're basically out of room on this thread, so:

Continued here.

August 12, 2016 at 08:26 PM · OK, back from part I of my new recording project!

In case anyone is interested, on my website I have a bow comparison test which might prove helpful. Go to http://rkviolin.com click on "writings" and you'll find it.

October 4, 2016 at 07:06 PM · I've been reading these posts for awhile now and finally decided to join the site.Nice site with many informed people here. Glad to be here!

If you read a hint of frustration in this post please don't take it personally.

I response to this fine thread from Lydia and the many knowledgeable contributors, I'll admit I'm feeling more than slightly overwhelmed concerning proper bow selection and I can feel the pain of a few who have struggled with this.

As someone who plays lots of different things that make music I decided to venture into the violin domain about a year ago thinking that this prior foundation might make the trip better. In hindsight I believe it helped but not nearly enough.

I'm on my third violin and my fifth bow. NEVER have I seen a decision with so many variables. The variables change depending on the situation.

I hear stories repeatedly from players 15 years plus who finally found THE combination...Well.... it's about time you did after that long. They say things like, " If I had only known that then I could have played so much better". Really? " I played a cardboard violin for 10 years before I knew what a good violin was supposed to sound like".I'm embellishing slightly.

According to some opinions...at my stage of playing I'm not qualified to listen properly to make a decent determination. I understand I'm inexperienced so I'll ask my teacher. She says that it's a personal choice and what she likes might not be the same thing I might like.The circular momentum here has been amazing.

The last few bows I bought were apparently nice bows. My standards are probably low at this point. They all sounded better in the violin shop. I had no idea I could take them home to try for a few weeks. The shop owner never offered me this opportunity.

If every bow decision is an independent personal choice based on what sounds and feels best for me, what's the point in sharing our experiences? Since your experiences won't mirror my experiences? The best we could hope for is that the success transfers to my situation.

I played with my teachers bow. It did make a positive difference. I didn't ask what it was and she didn't offer to tell me. I think it could work wonders on my string crossings and articulations.

According to what I read in some threads, I might need to approach my wife and tell her we need to re mortgage the house so I can by a decent bow. Really? What about those of us who aren't in the large orchestras who would still like to play well?

Really folks, I don't see how it could be this complicated, but maybe it is. The intricacies of horsehair and wood know no end. Is that true? Modern manufacturing techniques and technologies haven't caught up with 1700's masters bow making wonders?

At some point haven't they found a sweet spot ?...even a wide sweet spot to make good bows that don't require going into debt? The answer seems to be yes. Choosing the right one seems more of a challenge.

Raphael, thanks for posting the comparison chart.

The proper number of hairs. Good quality, with all horsehair running the right directions at the same tension. The right density of wood with the proper resonant qualities. A good curve on the bow. The bow won't be prone to bouncing or need excessive force to be heard or played with the correct bow force. Responds well to fast articulations.

What else? Weight has been determined ideally to be between 60-70 grams.Good transference of bow energy. The combination in basic form has been around for hundreds of years. Slight variations on the combinations seem to make subtle differences.

Don't mistake me for an expert, I'm not an expert. Just a player with about a years experience and more questions than answers.

Two identical combinations.Same materials used.They look the same externally. Priced 1000's of dollars apart. The other factor is name recognition. I'm not interested in name recognition. The people in my circles are lucky to know what a bow is. In fact there are people who would look at me like a fool If I told them I just spent 10,000 on a finely made stick with horse hair on it. We have people starving to death on the other side of the world and we're asking ourselves, " Should I buy the $10'000 or the $50,000 dollar bow? Wow. Is this what it really takes?

I've been told 300.00 will buy a nice bow. To me this whole thing is starting to get ridiculous. Please understand I'm not calling anyone this, I'm commenting on the selection, quality control. marketing tryout process.

October 4, 2016 at 07:29 PM · Timothy,

First off, welcome to v.com. The advice here comes from a myriad of sources. We have excellent professionals, amateurs, enthusiasts, makers, young people, and adult starters like yourself. Because of this, some of what you read may be confusing or conflicting. A bow that would suffice for you and me might be a club to someone who is a more advanced player.

The important thing to take away is find the advice that applies to the point where you are in the process. As you mentioned that you have been playing for about a year, then you are likely looking in the beginning/early intermediate bow bracket. As such, your stated preference for a less expensive bow is perfectly appropriate. In the end, you must find what works for you. Your choice for price range, materials preference, and playability will change over time. It sounds like you have been searching a while and found maybe a few duds. Welcome to the club.

The point of sharing our experiences is that other people can learn from them, as you did when you discovered that you could take a bow home for a trial before purchase. Use the advice you can, and reject or file away the rest. I wish you luck.

October 4, 2016 at 10:31 PM · We're out of room on this thread -- I'm surprised it is still taking replies. There's already a continuation thread, so please go there. I'm copying Timothy's post into the follow-on thread: LINK.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Violinist.com Business Directory
Violinist.com Business Directory

Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning
Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Violin-Strings.com

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin

Warchal

Barenreiter

Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine

Subscribe