How do bow makers determine the quality of a bow?

January 8, 2019, 4:48 PM · I have recently convinced two people to continue using their current bows, instead of spending a few hundred dollars in upgrading.

One friend has a $600 Knoll (made in Germany) cello bow, and he wanted to "upgrade" to an $1100 bow.

The other player was a student who simply thought a new bow would help him play better, but the proposed upgrade was to an equally cheap bow. I lent him a bow for a month, and he is now using his own bow again.

I am fascinated by the range of bows that retail between $600, say, and $2,000: I have been unable to work out how the bows are graded, and so priced.

The considerable number of bows I have tried all bounce, respond nicely, and all draw a big sound. Sure, there are differnces between these bows, but the main factor between them appears to be the weight, which is a matter of just a few grams. Balance points are different, too, but the variation is not great. Some bows are tip-heavy, but some players like this.

Very few bows (if any at all) in this price range are made of genuine pernambuco, for the wood blanks cost the luthier as much as the retail prices I am discussing.

How are these bows graded? Do the bow makers play with them, or do they have some engineering test the bow must pass?

Replies (3)

January 8, 2019, 6:09 PM · They pick numbers from a hat. Depending on the price at the last auction of one of their bows, the numbers in the hat are higher or lower on average.
Edited: January 8, 2019, 7:00 PM · Possibly 30 year ago bow maker Donald Cohen (http://www.cohenbows.com/Biography.htm) appeared on the Sunday Morning CBS show. For me it was a fascinating interview He described how he came to bow making and that after making a bow that he didn't like, he destroyed it rather than selling it at some lower price.

Like violin makers, bow makers can "listen to the wood" and also make very precise physical measurements. The results of these will determine if the material even has the potential to make a fine bow. Based on the data obtained, a maker will know how to fashion the bow, how to camber it, how to dress the "ends," weight the frog, hairing, etc.

Giovanni Lucchi invented and sells a Lucchi Meter for measuring acoustic properties of wood for musical instruments and bows (I think it mainly measures the velocity of sound in the material) but I think some makers use it. There are other means to make these measurements. I think Berndt Musing of ARCUS has found the velocity of sound in their CF bow materials to be very important to the performance of their bows.

The final proof is in the playing - for sound and physical behavior - best done by a player up to the bow's potential.

When I was in the market for a new Brazil-made cello bow about 20 years ago (in particular a silver Marco Raposo), I was in contact with other people with the same interest. Since these items were "priced" independently of their playing qualities I was advised to learn when the new bows would be delivered to the shops and get there as soon as possible because the best ones were bought first. I did buy one, but I don't think I got there quite early enough.

January 9, 2019, 7:40 AM · Regarding the price range you mentioned...When I worked for a shop I hand selected bows from the distributors. What would happen is that out of 50 violin bows, I would only like 3, but they were fantastic!

The pricing of bows from $500 - $2500 have a lot to do with the quality of the wood and then the mounts. Most of the bows coming from Brazil are genuine pernambuco, what they sell the blanks for to luthiers are so they can make profit, a good quality blank doesn't cost them much, as some of these companies are also the distributors of the wood.

Like anything produced in large quantities by multiple makers, quality can vary. Eventually, I could pick out some of the individuals makers work and would only narrow down to those right away. When I was selecting bows many of the factors included curve, weight, balance, deflection, quality of materials, and quality of craftsmanship. As long as those aspects are within normal parameters, its actually good to have bows with varying degrees to accommodate players individual preferences. Somebody will like the way the bow sounds and feels.

Prices aren't just made up, they take into consideration things like cost of materials, cost of labor, profit, and distribution. Keep in mind, if some of these makers lived in the US or Europe and handmade the frogs, they could ask a lot more money for the bows.

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