Baroque bow?!

Edited: March 13, 2018, 2:13 PM · Inspired by Rachel Barton Pine's yesterday's video ("RBP on JSB") on YouTube and driven by my own love for Bach's music which I happen to experience very similar to her... Well, what should I say... I'd like to try a baroque bow, and be it just out of curiosity.
It seems that a baroque bow is some completely different kind of an animal than a modern bow. I've got no experience with that at all. Anybody with an opinion on what to look when deciding for one? (Budget may be 0-500 bucks, nothing from the very high end but a decent playable thing to start with...)

Replies (40)

March 13, 2018, 2:37 PM · I recently purchased a Baroque bow from David van Edwards ( I can't really say how it compares to other Baroque bows, but I can attest that it is finely crafted. It plays the triple and quadruple stops of solo Bach smoothly, with less effort than with my modern bow. On the other hand, I find the tone it produces a little softer, kind of wispy, and off-the-string strokes like saultille are more difficult to accomplish. I feel that playing with it teaches me something about how to approach Baroque music, particularly solo Bach, even if I ultimately use my modern bow more often.
March 13, 2018, 2:38 PM · With much regret, I suggest e-bay. I've gotten quite a few for customers and they have had little complaint. The bow rehairer, on the other hand, cusses them and charges extra to re-cut the mortices on the first rehair.
March 13, 2018, 8:15 PM · If you're going to buy a cheap ebay bow, make sure you get one with outward camber, all the rest are fake baroque that bow in like a modern bow, a baroque bow bows slightly outward or straight under tension, not inward like a modern bow.
March 13, 2018, 8:25 PM · While you're at it you can get a cheap Chinese violin on eBay and saw a couple of inches off the fingerboard. Voila! Baroque violin.
March 14, 2018, 4:01 AM · Broadly speaking there's two kinds of Baroque bows: long bow for high Baroque (Bach, Handel), and short bow (early 17th century Italian music, French dances, etc).

Just like a modern bow I would seek something that offers great tone, balance, and ease of playing. The whole point of a Baroque bow is that it's naturally much stronger at the frog than upper half, which will teach you the strong and weak hierarchy of beats in a measure and how bowing relates.

I would really try to play on some Baroque bows from a friend/someone before buying one if possible!

Edited: March 14, 2018, 9:31 AM · Paul, an advantage of the shorter fingerboard is no more rosin dust deposits on same, and it's easier to clean rosin off the strings. Other advantages are that the instrument is lighter, and an argument could be made that it projects better.

If anyone wants to have a go at shortening their fingerboard my primary advice is to take the violin to a luthier. A question he'll doubtless ask will be "where do you want the cut?". I'd say a convenient place would be at the start of the 3rd octave (E) - anything higher than that and we're talking about a region where you wouldn't actually be touching the fingerboard while playing. The luthier will then probably invite you to mark the spot on the fingerboard with a pencil, thereby absolving himself of the responsibility for getting it wrong.

If anyone still persists in wanting to do the job themselves I'd recommend going on a good carpentry course before proceeding any further.

March 14, 2018, 9:34 AM ·
I recommend Ralph Ashmead. I like his bows. Beautiful, focused sound. I think he might have cheaper, student baroque and transitional bows as well.

March 14, 2018, 11:19 AM · Glenn Braun built me a lira da braccio and I love the Renaissance-style bow he included. He also sells the bows separately, probably better for continuo playing than virtuoso violin, but I love the clip-in frog (no threads) and the big concave shape!

Edited: March 14, 2018, 2:04 PM · What the intent of my question originally was... Is there anybody out there who regularly uses a baroque bow, is used to its behavior and has experience with decent and poor ones, like most of us have experience with decent and poor modern bows. I'd like to get some hints on what to check it, be it material, form of stick and tip, advantage and disadvantage of different frog types, length, weight and weight distribution, etc. etc. What should a good baroque bow feel like when played, how could it sound, what would be the difference to a modern bow?

What I believe that I do know until now is: snake wood or iron wood, no pernambuco or brasil; convex, not concave; more weight to the frog than the tip; almost as long as a modern stick; lighter (but how light? 46g or rather 56?) and more agile; not as much power than a modern, but maybe warmer sound (?); rather a modern type of frog and not a plug frog, out if comfort, but not sure if there are advantages of a plug frog? Maybe a swan's neck type of a tip simply because it looks beautiful, or does it have any drawbacks?
And all that kind of stuff...

Edited: March 14, 2018, 2:12 PM · I went through easily 15 or more bows/bow makers at an exhibition till I tried a Roger Rose. It was far superior and the least expensive (£600). I use with both my 415 and 440 violins and for most music up to Beethoven. Can't put into words its qualities, you just need to compare with as many others as possible. I've got 2 cheap (£30 and £90) Chinese ones but I'd never buy without trying again - I really no longer enjoy them.
March 14, 2018, 3:14 PM · Bud, and what is it you like in it, and dislike in the others?
March 14, 2018, 3:24 PM · Baroque bows weren't standardized, varied in regions and a same 18th century orchestra people used different bows just like you see old Beetles and brand new Teslas on the road. Clip on frog vs a bow with screw mechanism is another choice you have to make.

I would recommend you go with a high Baroque bow by a maker like Ralph Ashmead, who's an excellent craftsman and used by many early music performers, and you can be confident you can sell one of his bows in the future if you choose to.

Edited: March 14, 2018, 3:29 PM · Compared to the other baroque bows it has a superior tone. It's lighter than my modern bow so more fun to use. Re-takes seem to come quite natural as does playing nearer the heel.
March 14, 2018, 3:53 PM · Trevor, I'd just hold it down and run the radial arm across it.
March 14, 2018, 6:03 PM · Speaking of bows, I am new to this site and I would like to ask a totally unrelated question. I have a J.R. Carlisle violin I would like to get appraised . I know there has to be a dark side in violin world and I haven't a clue who's on it. Any help would be much appreciated.
March 14, 2018, 11:08 PM · Appraised for insurance or for sale?
Edited: March 15, 2018, 5:01 AM · Hi Tim Sims, welcome. Under the rules of 'netiquette' it is considered rude and counterproductive to bring in a matter that does not pertain to the original post (OP). I encourage you to begin a new thread.
March 15, 2018, 9:56 AM · Welcome aboard Tim Sims.One of our members bought a Carlisle a year or two ago and after having some repairs made said he was quite happy with it. There is an old black and white YouTube video of Carlisle and his shop wh8ch might be of interest to you. I think you are very fortunate to have such a great instrument to play on.
Edited: March 16, 2018, 1:41 PM · Ebay! -- I may have been lucky, but I've bought snakewood bows, inward and outward camber, for under $100 and they're really not bad. They can serve as learning tools. I do shop carefully, read the descriptions and try to make a judgment about which of the Ebay sellers understand musical instruments.

Unless you have unlimited funds, the only way you can really experiment is to do it with inexpensive Chinese sticks. Maybe some bowmaker will let you rent a bow for 6 months, who knows.

Obviously if you want to play professional jobs you would invest in something more handmade -- baroque bows should cost less than comparable modern bows because the wood is cheaper and the stick is a lot simpler.

The inward camber versions (which are arguably not really baroque) give you the feel of a short, very light, kind of whippy, but rigid stick. Outward camber gives you the softness and bounce that Rachel Barton Pine is talking about.

Both types are really interesting for learning Bach. A short, super-light bow really does make string crossings and fast passages a lot easier to play (the Allegro Assai in the C major sonata).

And the outward camber bow makes it much easier to play three strings simultaneously without crunching or rolling. The Siciliana of the G minor sonata is a great example of a piece that needs playing on multiple strings with as light a touch as possible).

March 16, 2018, 3:15 PM · It is really not at all difficult to recamber one of these bows, if you get one with an inward camber. Alcohol lamp + some Youtube instruction and you are good to go.
March 16, 2018, 3:36 PM · Thank you, Thomas. It's things like these I need to know. Now I know WHY I should try an outward camber bow, and not onoy out of tradition.
Gugliemus - why buy some work, including the risk of messing it up, if for the same money could be bought something working already? Otherwise, why not get some snakewood and a plane...? There are really good youtube films where you can observe step by step how to make a bow!
March 16, 2018, 3:52 PM · Nuuska, in my case I ordered a bow off of Ebay that was pictured with an outward camber, but I received one with an inward camber. I kept it because it was a well-made bow; I suspect that the bow maker knew what they were doing, but it was passed off for cambering to someone who did not. So I recambered it, and am happy with the result.
March 18, 2018, 6:04 AM · But you could also have it sent back and insist on the delivery of the correct item...
March 18, 2018, 6:49 AM · Then I would not have learned a new skill.
Edited: March 18, 2018, 11:07 AM · I've got 2 bows that might be classified as "Baroque." I bought the newer one within the past couple of years from Amazon for about $100 after Laurie Niles wrote a blog about Baroque bows. It weights 59 grams is 2 inches shorter than a conventional violin bow and made of all snakewood including the frog. It is cambered but loses the camber and arches slightly the other way when properly tightened. It is quite a beautiful looking bow with its graceful "swan" tip and plays Baroque chords nice and gently. It looks like Amazon still sells it.

My other "Baroque" style bows are actually "Incredibows," with composite sticks and nylon "hair" ( ) that I acquired at least 15 years ago. (The Incredibow company was so late delivering the cello incredibow I ordered that they included a violin Incredibow free.) My cello Incredibow weights 47 grams while the violin Incredibow weighs 61 grams. Both sticks are arched like true archery bows with the nylon hair always in playing tension since there is no way to tighten the hair (probably no clear way to replace it either). Personally I prefer the lighter cello bow and it also plays Bach nicely. I carry it standardly in my double violin/viola case, wrapped around the centrally located humidistat (there is no way it would fit the standard bow-holders) - as a backup bow for playing when my right-hand essential tremor (not from stage fright) gets too much for holding a conventional bow. I think these bows are usually sold for playing musical saws - which may well have existed even in Baroque times during early settlement of the American colonies. The Incredibow was discussed on the internet on CelloChat back at the time I bought mine. The nylon strands do not hold rosin the same way as horse hair - they seem to work just fine with the rosins I now use.

March 20, 2018, 2:54 PM · Shar has just started selling outward-camber baroque bows with Rachel Barton Pine's endorsement. They're only $150, and Shar has a good return policy so it would be a low-cost, low-risk way to try one out.

Incredibows are also really cool and not expensive (under $150). They're outward cambered and extremely light (carbon sticks). If you're trying to learn baroque technique I think they're a great tool.

Finally, on this topic I think it's worth mentioning Arcus bows (though of course they're much more expensive). The Arcus S series bows are under 50 grams (for violin) so they have some of the lightness of a baroque stick, and you can play them with a very low hair tension and the stick (because it's molded carbon) still has plenty of strength. So it gives you some of the same quality of an outward cambered bow and will support some of the baroque strokes. But with a couple twists of the button you have a powerful, super-expressive modern bow.

March 20, 2018, 3:28 PM · Thank you, Thomas, good suggestion, although the description (outward chambered) wouldn't fit the pictures (inward chambered), but in doubt I'd rather believe in the description. For this amount of money I would definitely give it a try, but since Shar only delivers to the United States and Canada, I'm a little bit lost for that in Europe... Guess I'll have to suck the lemon, visit a dedicated bow maker and pay what will be necessary. Hope I'll find one who's got a few if them for trial, since for at least €700...
March 20, 2018, 3:59 PM · The typical baroque bow bows inward under no tension, then bow straight or slightly outward under tension.
March 20, 2018, 11:45 PM · I thought this would rather be a transitional bow? And a baroque one being at least straight if not on tension?
March 21, 2018, 3:03 AM · no, that would be more of a renaissance bow that is straight under no tension, a baroque bow would usually bow inward under no tension, though not as much inward as a modern bow, or as the fake inward bowing "baroque" bows you see on ebay.
Edited: March 23, 2018, 9:33 AM · heres one from China that shows before and after tension pics, not sure its real snakewood though

snakewood baroque bow outward camber

Scroll to the bottom of the ad and see the bow before screw up and after!!

March 21, 2018, 8:48 AM · I have a baroque bow from the same Ebay dealer. A different model with a bone frog, but also with the outward camber. I am using it in our baroque ensemble and find it much easier to get the "bouncy" feeling on the notes than with a modern bow. Actually we are considering to order similar bows for the whole group.
A few years ago I purchased a "baroque" bow with inwards camber (when I was getting a violin for my son shipped anyway) and it is a very different beast. The tip is larger and heavier. I am not sure how to judge if the wood in any of these bows is real snakewood. It does have darker spots, but looking at the pictures at Shars theirs have greater contrast between light and dark parts. Still the bow cost me only about 50-60 USD including shipping.
Edited: March 21, 2018, 11:04 AM · Greater contrast between light and dark areas means fake stained grain, I got a real snakewood bow or some Chinese equivalent and the contrast was less, more like brown to tan. I'm pretty suspicious the snakewood grain in the link I posted is stained, not natural.
March 21, 2018, 11:00 AM · Snakewood is one of the densest of timbers (density 1.2), so perhaps the weight of a "snakewood" baroque bow could be a first pointer to whether it is the real thing. Note that websites selling the less expensive bows do not necessarily mention the weight.

Some numbers from my own experience:

My snakewood baroque bow, which I bought from a very reputable violin shop in England, weighs 60gm.

My non-snakewood baroque bow, bought at another good store, considerably less expensive than the snakewood, but is still a delight to use, weighs 51gm.

My best pernambuco standard bow (100-year old German, an heirloom) weighs 56gm.

Edited: March 21, 2018, 2:58 PM · Pernambuco wood can vary in density higher and lower than the density of water.

This morning my 19th C R.Weichold bow (faux whalebone/leather wrap) weighs in at 63 grams, my Siefried at 61.7 (silver wire/leather wrap) is still in new condition. The Weichold has a noticibly thinner stick than the Siefried. $100 "snakewood" Baroque bow, which is 2 inches shorter and very thin and delicate in appearance and has no wrap of any kind still weighs 59 grams. This would tend to agree with Trevor's assertion that snakewood is heavy. I don't ever recall reading of pernamubco with a SG of 1.2. I'll have to look that up!

EDIT: Grütter ( ) writes of pernambuco CG between 1.0 and 1.2, heavier being better for bows. Along these lines a professional violin/viola player I know bought a snakewood cello bow from a retired San Francisco Symphony cellist to use on her viola.

My previous experience is that the wire wrap can easily account for 2 - 3 grams. The Weichold was noticeably unbalanced when it had wire wrap - and even heavier.

Professional bow makers' challenge is to shape the bow to conform to certain needs of players in spite of differences in density, strength, and elasticity they encounter in the pieces of wood they are using. Violin makers face the same problems and if they don't solve them - well, we've all encountered some of those fiddles. You just can't make these things to absolutely fixed shapes and dimensions.

Edited: March 21, 2018, 12:15 PM · And I thought a baroque bow would be lighter than a modern anyway...
Lyndon, the bow on the eBay link you pousted was meant as a positive example and not as incorrect, or did I get that wrong again?
Edited: March 21, 2018, 1:32 PM · I can't speak for that bow or that seller, all I can say is there appears to be evidence that it is designed to function like a proper baroque bow, and at that price it might be worth experimenting with.

And Bo has experience with and recommends this particular seller, so that amounts to something good.

March 21, 2018, 2:18 PM · Disclaimer: I have purchased only one bow from that seller. And I have no experience playing with a "real" baroque bow. So I can not promise that it is authentic. But after playing Bach with that bow the modern bow feels like it is working against you when playing baroque. It has to much "sustain" - you have to much more actively lift the bow towards the end of notes. The baroque bow does that by itself.
March 23, 2018, 1:04 PM ·
There are baroque bows sold here, all under 500. And the Vivaldi one is real snakewood (the traditional wood for baroque bows - it's gorgeous, by the way).
March 23, 2018, 3:07 PM · Looks like another fake snakewood Chinese bow to me, worth about $60. And judging from the picture quite possibly has the wrong inward camber.

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