Col Legno: bow destroyer?

February 14, 2017 at 08:19 PM · Hi,

I'm facing a Chinese style score that has a lot of notes with col legno technique, which means you use the bow to literally hit the string. I've seen a lot of rosin lines appear at the hitting area of the bow. I have a "cheap" carbon fiber bow, so I don't care that much about it, but if I had an expensive wooden bow I'd think it twice before practicing this bow technique.

Can it really damage a bow?

What do you do when you face a score with that technique?

Replies (38)

February 14, 2017 at 08:23 PM · I get out my carbon fiber bow.

February 14, 2017 at 08:25 PM · If you have a John Paul Avanti bow you'll be fine ;)

Thing can cure blindness.

February 14, 2017 at 08:32 PM · Pull out CF. Though even as a percussion instrument, tone is lacking ;)

February 14, 2017 at 08:46 PM · I keep a chopstick in my case...

February 14, 2017 at 08:47 PM · Try hitting the string over the fingerboard? Maybe that still causes problems?

February 14, 2017 at 09:27 PM · As the joke goes, "col legno" is Italian for "use your carbon-fiber bow".

A good wooden pencil is a great substitute in circumstances where that's viable.

I own a CF bow primarily to play "Mars" from Holst's Planets, and for unpleasantly confined orchestra pits.

Note that you can damage the finish on even a CF bow with col legno, so you don't want to smack it around with abandon even though you won't break it.

February 14, 2017 at 09:33 PM · "...even though you won't break it."

I have a friend who, as a prank, threw his Yamaha, or might've been a Coda, across the room, whereupon it smashed against the wall in a million splinters. He complained that it broke when he threw it against the wall, and customer service didn't ask, "why did you throw your bow against the wall?" but simply sent him a brand new bow!

February 14, 2017 at 09:47 PM · Hahaha, good one Ms. Leong!

Why do you use a CF bow for Mars? What it has that requires a CF bow?

Kim, hahaha, can't believe you...

February 14, 2017 at 10:33 PM · Some composers evidently don't have any idea about the possibility of damage to a bow - or perhaps just don't care, which is worse.

When I've been required to do col legno in orchestra I go through the motions but have the bow in its normal playing configuration so that the hairs, and not the stick, hit the string. No-one has ever raised the matter afterwards.

February 14, 2017 at 10:35 PM · CF is okay but you're not going to get good col legno tone without using an exquisite French pernambuco bow.

February 14, 2017 at 10:48 PM · But perfide Britten wrote "col legno", not "col carbonio fibra"!

February 14, 2017 at 11:02 PM · Mars has these huge col legno sections that are usually played with a ricochet bowing. Add to that the fact that it has to be loud, and some conductors want to really hear the effect, and you get something that's very unlike many incidental orchestra col legno sections where you have a bar or two that you can basically lightly tap or psuedo-fake like Trevor mentions.

February 14, 2017 at 11:47 PM · In my "pseudo-fake" col legno I use the end of the bow very close to the point, so there is a percussive effect without doing damage to the bow. I'll further mention that I've used col legno on a number of occasions during the many years when I was an orchestral cellist, and CF bows weren't around then. I haven't been required (yet!) to use it in my orchestral violin playing, but I would use the technique I've described.

February 15, 2017 at 01:07 AM · Could one bring along a piece of dowel in the right diameter, and use that where it calls for col legno? I wouldn't want to submit a half-decent CF bow to that kind of wear-and-tear.

February 15, 2017 at 01:19 AM · Yeah, that's what I wanted to point out, I FORGOT!

What about inventing some kind of gadget/wood thing that gets attached to the bow area where you col legno?

February 15, 2017 at 01:27 AM · Especially the CF bows that are "pernambuco clad" do not have indestructible surfaces. I like Parker's idea the best.

February 15, 2017 at 01:36 AM · The problem with using a dowel or pencil is that some passages of col legno either come straight out of arco or go straight back into it, or both. So there's no time to swap equipment.

The problem with Tim's gadget idea is that it would totally wreck the bow's balance.

Best to master the art of *looking* as if one is furiously col legno-ing while one is actually barely contacting the strings.

February 15, 2017 at 01:53 AM · Hahahaha, how can you look like you're furiously hitting a string with power and strength while in reality you're carefully moving a wood stick without much effort?

February 15, 2017 at 02:28 AM · I didn't say moving the wood stick without much effort. I said barely contacting the strings. It's possible to do both--you just aim for a point above the strings.

February 15, 2017 at 02:32 AM · Do any of the experienced orchestra players here have a suggestion for what technical approach will get a nice col legno battuto effect, but be less likely to scratch the finish?

(This would be particularly helpful for Mars, where the ricochet drop requires some additional finesse to control.)

February 15, 2017 at 02:34 AM · Get out your CF bow and turn the Col Legno up to 11 (for Mars)!

February 15, 2017 at 02:38 AM · You can try tilting the bow so the stick tilts in and the hair faces out, a reverse tilt, and just col legno with the inside edge of the hair, so that the stick hits the string through the hair. It's not exactly a legno sound, but good enough for orchestra.

February 15, 2017 at 02:41 AM · Lydia said: "Do any of the experienced orchestra players here have a suggestion for what technical approach will get a nice col legno battuto effect, but be less likely to scratch the finish?"

Not really. Perhaps we should put our heads together and make an accessory that you can place on the bow to protect it from Col Legno.

February 15, 2017 at 02:43 AM · Jeewon -- I did that once when I forgot to take my inexpensive CF bow on stage and instead had one of my nicer wood bows. You're right -- doesn't get the proper sound, but it saved my stick!

February 15, 2017 at 02:46 AM · Use a cheap fiber glass bow, heh.

February 15, 2017 at 02:54 AM · Good idea Jason! For 44 bucks you can't go wrong. Cheaper than a rehair!

Douglas, that's how I always did col legno before plastic, when I wasn't air bowing it :)

February 15, 2017 at 03:23 AM · Yes, you could throw it away after the performance. There used to be metal (aluminum) bows around, too, before the days of fibreglass. Maybe they'd do the trick better than anything, being less susceptible to damage than carbon fibre, and probably longer lasting. Dubious playability, I imagine, which is probably why they're so scarce. A quick check on Maestronet though tells me that there are some still in use.

February 15, 2017 at 07:34 AM · Wonder if someone has a product that you clip onto the bow to absorb the impact of col legno? :P

February 15, 2017 at 02:10 PM · Jeewon, "tilting the bow so the stick tilts in" - that's similar to the technique I've used, and described in my previous post, with very much the same effect. But note that I do my faux "col legno" right up by the point where everything is more rigid, so giving that percussive effect.

February 15, 2017 at 06:23 PM · Some ingenious suggestions here, but I've always wondered..... what do top professional quartet players do when faced with Bartok 3 or 4 or similar. I can't imagine they would want to tackle formidable pieces like these with 'cheap' or second-rate equipment, but at the same time do they risk damaging top quality and probably very expensive bows? I've never had the opportunity to ask - does anyone know?

February 15, 2017 at 07:30 PM · I was going to suggest cladding the strings with something soft, but on reflection, I won't.

February 15, 2017 at 08:37 PM · Amazon has subscribe and save for glasser bows, apparently understanding their disposable nature. LOL!

February 15, 2017 at 08:49 PM · Seriously, though, if you really want a cheap bow you don't have to worry about this is probably more playable than the glasser, and only slightly more money:

February 15, 2017 at 10:21 PM · Jason, you do work for Amazon, right?


February 15, 2017 at 11:25 PM · Hmmm, they should pay me commissions. I'll call Jeff and open the negotiations.

February 16, 2017 at 01:16 AM · Further to my previous posts it's worth remembering that almost all good bows are expensive, and if by rare chance you happen to have a relatively inexpensive good one you can be fairly certain that its replacement is unlikely to be so. That is why I, and others, use a faux "col legno".

February 16, 2017 at 01:32 AM · How about RH finger clogs?

February 16, 2017 at 02:07 AM · Thats what I do also do Trevor.Faux col legno but make it look like you are really whapping it.I stay a few mm's above the string.I have a $100.00 bow but why should I ruin that?I need it for outdoor gigs.

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