Baroque bow, modern instrument
Wanted to purchase a baroque bow, one for violin and, even more important, one for viola - nothing expensive, rather that Shar model everybody seems to be using in the US at the moment. Unfortunately Shar doesn't ship to destinations outside the US and Canada anymore. So, question Nr. 1, any ideas who produces them (or some of similar quality for an attractive price - for $149 these should be of Chinese factory origin I'd guess?) and where one could get such in Europe?
It's not that I'm absolutely into HIP or something, but I'm playing mostly (~70%) baroque music and would like to give it a quick try without spending a fortune for a custom made bow. I don't expect much difference in sound (except that maybe it might be even more difficult to draw a full and rich sound with a lighter bow as baroque models usually should be) but a difference in articulation. And I do not plan to own a "real" baroque instrument in the near future but play with "baroque" bows on my modern instruments. Any thoughts about that?
(Disclaimer to avoid empty miles and people being unhappy - baroque bow in this context means * tip light, * less weight overall, * outward camber when under tension.)
I am afraid there is no such thing as a good affordable baroque bow. I bought mine long time ago from Stephen Marvin: https://www.historicalbows.com
I have not tried out one of these, but here's a link to retailers of Lu-Mi baroque bows:
Try a google search on "baroque bows in UK". A dozen or so results.
Good baroque bow... "Good enough to get an idea" would already be highly appreciated. Baroque bows aren't widely spread amongst my peers, and I'm reluctant to ask the few professional period players I happen to know (but not very well) if I could try out theirs - they live and depend on their gear, and probably will not lend them out happily... In my region there is no shop that regularly carries baroque bows. There are several makers where I could order a bow - for €xxxx. Without knowing if this will be my piece of cake, and without having an idea about the desired model. That's why I first wanted to order the Shar model, since it obviously has already proven a quality good enough. And for someone like me maybe sufficient for a very long time...
Guglielmus & Trevor - thanks, I'll have a look at that! (Don't want to find myself in an e*ay trap...)
I have bought baroque bows from several different ebay sellers. Some were not very good - they have inward camber just like a modern bow. But some have outward camber and work well. After finding that seller we bought bows for the whole ensemble from them. Search for outward camber on eBay to find them.
I'm failing to see why a "baroque bow" can do anything better than a modern bow, unless the strategy is to release so much hair tension on a reverse-curved bow, that three or four strings can be played at the same time.
David, the difference is not about lower hair tension and the playing of 3-4 strings at once (contrary to the mistaken theories behind the "Bach bow"). I suspect that bow hair tension is all over the map among baroque players these days due to the variety of approaches to string tension.
Nuuska is in a similar situation I was before purchasing my 1st baroque bow. If one is trained on modern bow since day 1, it is impossible to tell a good baroque bow from poor one. Moreover, there is no such thing as a "standard" baroque bow, which complicates situation even more. Ideally, one should rent a baroque bow, approved by an experienced period player and then form some sort of a reference point. Reading about the "bite", natural sound decay, more nuances is all fine, but one has to un-learn the muscle memory of the equalized bow in order to pick a good one. Without the above, a natural inclination is to pick a bow that resembles a modern one. Last, but not the least, do not be fooled by different shape and settle for quiet sound. Baroque violins can and should be loud with big sound.
I bought mine from Adam Lamotte at lamotte violins at the recommendation of Robert mealy and I like mine a lot it was 440$. Another option is David Kerr in Portland who sells them for 325. They are obviously Chinese bows but are being checked and picked by qualified shops and makers. I would recommend Adam to anybody he’s very helpful and qualified.
The problem with trying to choose a genuine-sounding baroque instrument or bow is that nobody really knows what they sounded like, or the techniques used for playing them. It's all varying forms of conjecture and voodoo.
David, as for the bowing technique, a lot could be deduced from paedagogic works, like Leopold Mozart. And many bows from different periods survived in perfect shape and can be studied.
And the 3 modern bows I regularily use are quite different, although they follow a similar concept. Hundreds of modern bows I tried all had their own character , more or less. How different must a bow feel and behave that follows a different concept...?
How about this one:
I see no evidence that that bow has outward camber???? And the Snakewood appears to be painted on.
Outward camber was not necessarily there for later bows. For closer to renassaince and early baroque deffintley but a late German or French bow could have no camber or an inward one. It’s not a unanimous opinion in the community to camber or not because some feel the bows left just lost camber over time. I didn’t look at the link but the important thing is the lightness or feeling in the bow and the ease of string crossing and chordal passages.
Baroque bows all had level or outward camber, its not till the classical era that you see inward camber under tension.
If you're playing modern bows that cost a couple thousand, I hardly think you're going to find a satisfactory baroque alternative for $150.
David Burgess, I found the experience of trying an expensive Baroque bow (a contemporary copy) to be pretty interesting. The articulation really is different, with an automatic tapering of each stroke, and of course easier chords. But the mere experience of hearing that articulation and the feel of the stroke was really educational.
For the baroque equivalent of a $50 modern bow, you might try these;
Lyndon, I hear your doubts, and these are the very reasons why I didn't want to buy from an obscure ebay seller. But in case of the Shar bow, no matter if the wood is genuine or not, if it's "approved" by a reputable baroque performer and teacher, I thought it to be a different thing.
I would think a real quality baroque stick would start at about $1000, much like a modern bow. Although baroque has less metal parts so could be a bit cheaper. So a $150 baroque might be similar to a wood $250 modern, etc. Baroque doesn't need quite as strong a wood either
"And many bows from different periods survived in perfect shape and can be studied."
We know from paintings of the baroque era that bows bowed straight or outward under tension when being played.
I will once again quote Adam mealy (head of historical preformance at the Juliard school) “Yes, lots of mid-18c baroque bows do have either a slight inward camber, or are totally straight. Earlier bows tend to be shorter and have a more pronounced outward camber. What matters more is the lightness and quickness of articulation, compared to a modern bow.” The paintings you are likely describing are from the rennasaince of angels playing violin or even violin like objects. And the best baroque bow possible if you wanted the most prestigious modern maker you couldn’t spend more than 4000$. America’s most respected maker charges less than 3000. So you don’t need to spend 1000$. Rachel Barton pine uses the shar bows when she goes to professional symphonies and introduces historical preformance.
they had paintings in the baroque era too, bows cambered inward, but under no tension, under tension they bowed straight or outwards, it was not really till Tourte that we have the inward camber, that's what he was famous for. The modern Chinese "baroque" bow with inward camber under tension is an entirely modern invention and has no relation to historical bows.
you can never judge the camber of a historical bow by what it is today because the camber might have been changed, not so for paintings, you've yet to produce any baroque paintings with bows that bow inward. If I remember correctly the Shar bow bows inward under tension which is not historical for the design.
Anyway the fake baroque bows sold on ebay from Chinese makers do not bow very slightly inward but bow fully inward just like a modern bow. This is entirely non historical, and does not give one the experience of playing in the baroque style at all.
I’m sorry I don’t know a lick about baroque art so I can’t produce a painting. Yes exactly we can’t know wether there was camber or not so it’s up to personal preference. Many baroque players just enjoy a camber, we are not sure if camber started with tourte. If you find a baroque bow and like the articulation and sound then get that one if it has a camber if it doesn’t. This is a historical bow but that isn’t a good argument in and of itself over practicality. get whatever you like best history aside.
history be damned, full speed ahead, not exactly a HIP attitude!!
I certainly agree with Lyndon and others that an inexpensive baroque bow won't be close to a baroque bow that is well made and costing ~$1000 or more. I had enough disappointing experiences with cheap modern bows; when I got curious about baroque bows, I followed a string manufacturer's recommendation and contacted Rodney Mohr, not knowing whether I wanted a flexible or stiff baroque bow. Mr. Mohr sent me one of each to try. Both were wonderful! I find baroque music does sound better with my baroque bow and modern instrument. I encourage you to visit someone who has a good baroque bow in order to try it, and, if you like it, save up for a good one. The baroque bow will not put out the sound required for a 2000 seat auditorium, but the sound is warm and ample for any room or small hall. I now have two BBs and they are very special. Bows are, after all, important!
this covers the history of the bows pretty well, absolutely no talk of bows bowing in under tension though;
heres the Shar bow, it does appear to bow outward properly under (how much) tension.
As for Rachel Barton Pines endorsement, imagine if Joshua Bell recommended everyone get a $150 modern bow that he recommends made in China from fake Pernambuco, of course no one would believe it, same should be true for this Shar bow, its for people that want a gimmick bow not a finely crafted hand made masterpiece bow, like you would expect Joshua Bell to recommend.
This isn’t the bow she uses is a finely made masterpiece it certainly isn’t one of these. But it’s something fine to get to TRY something. If we expected everyone who wanted to start violin to begin with a handmade few months of income investment no one would start the violin just to discover they don’t like it and quit 2 months later. A person can try a baroque bow and then later get something better and if they didn’t like it, it would only be 150$ lost not 2,000.
Then I would recommend you go straight to the source and buy an outward camber bow from China for $50 on ebay. If you really want to be cheap, but the implication is you don't take baroque music seriously, at least not as seriously as you take classical era music, where i'm sure your bow costs much more than $150. Its kind of like recommending a skateboard when someone wants a car. You're not going to learn much about Baroque music playing on a $150 bow, and so you're probably not going to use it much, which means you wasted $150.
This is not my opinion either. Something useable which the shar is a decent bow they get much better. With your reference to the skate board I think you may believe the 1000$ baroque bow to be something of a ford maybe but this is really more like a Lower level Lexus. The shar is maybe a car that’s older not luxury but you can learn how to drive on it. I mean a 3000$ bow can be a Ferrari. And maybe the antique original is a vintage that they only have 6 left in the world.
I don't think Nuuska is just learning how to drive, and I don't think cars are comparable to bows. But then, I don't drive. The fact is, good baroque bows cost relatively less than good modern bows, so getting a good baroque bow can be less than half the cost of a hand made modern bow. But you guys duke it out on your own terms. I would love to hear from Nuuska after she tries both types-- a bowmaker's baroque bow, and a cheapo copy of a baroque bow--the decision is really only hers to make! :)
Lyndon, this is great advice indeed, and is what I'm planning to do. It's not a big waste of money, and if I shall wish to dig deeper, I can still invest in a finer piece of art.
While we're all duking this out, I'll sneak in a suggestion to see if maybe your country's Viola da Gamba society can rent you a treble viol bow. And do check with the period players you know. They tend to be kindly sorts and might have a spare to loan that's not being used.
Erin, I'm going to order two or three different bow models from a chinese maker (< €100 each) to play around with, and later when I think I know better what to expect and what to look for, try a bow by a regional maker specialized in period instruments and bows. He's a period player himself and has customers all over Europe, and although he's not one of the big names he seems to have earned some reputation in the scene. It will take me some months, or maybe even a year, but I will keep you updated. If I'm motivated, I will make it a blog maybe.
Andres, I doubt the existence of such a society in my country / region. And the two period players I know, I don't know well enough to ask. Only through my luthier, just a "hello how are you" now and then, and attending their concerts. Never played with them or having private contact. But good suggestions though.
And that guy who thinks he's leading my amateur baroque ensemble definitely isn't the type of guy you'd ask to borrow his equipment...!
Tell him baroque ensembles are led by the harpsichordist!!
Ha! Great point. I'll keep this in the backhand.
This is an interesting website showing a bunch of violin paintings from throughout the baroque and into the the 'transitional' period: all outward cambered when the bows are in action:
Yes. There's also a pretty big collection on Facebook somewhere. Same situation: lots of outward bend (lots of short bows and black hair too).
While we are on the subject of baroque bows, I wish to know why the baroque bow is so maneuverable (easier string crossing, faster playing) compared to a modern bow? Is it the lighter overall weight? the better balance without a heavy frog assembly? the thinner hair ribbon? My modern bows are really good bows, but my baroque bows are much livelier! Why?
At the risk of lumping a century and a half of different varieties of Baroque bows, I would say:
Erin I think it is the lighter overall weight, and the more or less lighter weight toward the tip. I think the hair ribbon and other differences impact other characteristics than the maneuverability.
@Erin, probably not the weight as such, because you can have Tourte-style bows weighing less than 60gm (my old Tourte-style German bow weighs 59gm), and in the Baroque era, when pernambuco wasn't around, the wood used would likely be a hard wood such as snakewood (my best Baroque bow is snakewood and is 62gm). I think the way a Baroque bow plays is due primarily to the different balance caused by the pointy far end (good technical term!), a design which implies that the stick when under playing tension has to be straight(ish) or cambered away from the hair.
Many early 18th c. baroque long violin bows weigh in the 40s, which fits with the few surviving original late 17th c. short violin bows usually being around 30 grams. The late baroque style violin bows attributed to Nicholas Pierre Tourte from the 1740s tend to be right around 50 grams. Of course there are all sorts of outliers and ambiguity going in all directions.
I just bought a snakewood baroque viola bow from eBay seller https://www.ebay.co.uk/usr/threemu_violin_1968cn. First impressions are it is very nice. I write as someone just dabbling in another bow, not any kind of expert.
I love my baroque bow from Shar, I paid $150 and it plays beautifully. Glad to see Guglielmus Carinius posted above a link to the iconography at baroque-violins.info. I studied those pics with delight when I first decided my violin journey would be centered in the baroque. Another very interesting website on baroque violins is here: