Baroque bow, modern instrument

Edited: April 14, 2019, 7:11 AM · 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.)

Replies (58)

Edited: April 14, 2019, 7:50 AM · 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
April 14, 2019, 7:54 AM · I have not tried out one of these, but here's a link to retailers of Lu-Mi baroque bows:
http://www.lumi-strings.fi/index.php?id=6
April 14, 2019, 8:38 AM · Try a google search on "baroque bows in UK". A dozen or so results.
April 14, 2019, 8:41 AM · 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...
April 14, 2019, 8:42 AM · Guglielmus & Trevor - thanks, I'll have a look at that! (Don't want to find myself in an e*ay trap...)
April 14, 2019, 11:37 AM · 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.
Edited: April 14, 2019, 11:52 AM · 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.

This pretty much can't be done with a modern bow, except for the rare instances where someone has placed the bow stick beneath the violin, with the hair on top.

Example:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDFJFhaG_p0

Unfortunately, so much is about visual appearance, marketing forces, and personal underlying prejudices, that a person who is is looking for pure or objective information will have little to go on.

Edited: April 14, 2019, 2:35 PM · 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.

Baroque bows are lighter and balance lighter towards the head, which gives them tendencies that make some things feel more natural. Players often mention this with regard to playing chords, the differentiation of down and up bows, and voice-like inflection within notes. The bows make the baroque idiom easier, with no cost in the loss of the features the Tourte bow does more naturally, many if not all of which only became valued in the later styles of playing.

There are also differences arising from the lack of a ferrule/wedge arrangement at the frog, and the different graduation concept of most baroque bows, which in combination with the rest gives a different response curve and natural articulation at the frog.

It is delicate work generalizing about some of these things because what one could arguably call 'transitional' (toward the Tourte design) features were already beginning to appear at the end of the baroque period. In other words taken as a whole the path from the short baroque bow to the Tourte design was fairly continuous, if you don't focus too much on a given region or decade.

April 14, 2019, 3:16 PM · 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.
April 14, 2019, 4:12 PM · 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.
April 14, 2019, 4:19 PM · 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.
April 14, 2019, 5:32 PM · 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.
Having no living 17th century architect at hand does not necessarily implicate that we are unable to learn about 17th century architecture, in you allow the analogy.
April 14, 2019, 5:37 PM · 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...?
Edited: April 14, 2019, 7:05 PM · Hi,

Nuuska, can you PM me? I can put you in touch with a contact that could help you and what you are looking for.

As for a baroque bow vs modern bow even on a modern instrument, on my own instrument, it is totally a different thing. I am not quite sure about baroque violins, but for bowing approaches, there is much to learn from in Leopold Mozart's extremely detailed treatise (including a great explanation of what 'carrots' vs dots means in the Mozarts' music), and even the bow itself reveals a lot. I had the privilege of once using a Tourte transitional and it was quite a revealing experience. I know that for me, one of the things that happened was that many of the edits for bowings/phrasings that are kind of almost necessary with a modern bow can be omitted in favour of the original markings when using period bows. Vibrato too requires a different consideration, even just from the bow. One thing to keep in mind is that bows and some characteristics of bowing and phrasing in the baroque/classical period was regional. In this sense, certain things in modern HIP interpretations don't seem to take that into consideration.

Cheers!

April 14, 2019, 7:17 PM · How about this one:

https://www.thomann.de/de/roth_junius_rjbb03s_baroque_violin_bow.htm

Edited: April 15, 2019, 12:46 AM · I see no evidence that that bow has outward camber???? And the Snakewood appears to be painted on.
April 14, 2019, 9:11 PM · 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.
April 14, 2019, 9:33 PM · Baroque bows all had level or outward camber, its not till the classical era that you see inward camber under tension.
April 14, 2019, 9:35 PM · 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.
April 14, 2019, 10:47 PM · 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.
Edited: April 15, 2019, 12:52 AM · For the baroque equivalent of a $50 modern bow, you might try these;

https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_trksid=m570.l1313&_nkw=baroque+bow+outward+camber&_sacat=0

My experience with ones that actually look like snakewood, not painted on grain, is that they are weak sticks, not genuine snakewood but a weaker wood with similar appearance.

April 15, 2019, 1:26 AM · 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.

Jose, thank you for the link. I shall try it if I won't find anything else.

Mark, I think the main point about camber (for playing anything from Corelli till Mozart) is to have a bow that will bend outwards if under tension. I don't think it matters that much if it's straight or slightly chambered to any direction if loose, and that this will rather be a result of the kind and stiffness of the wood that is used.

Christian, the PM is on the way! Thanks a lot.

Edited: April 15, 2019, 1:56 AM · 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
Edited: April 15, 2019, 4:01 AM · "And many bows from different periods survived in perfect shape and can be studied."

Nuuska, even if an old violin or bow looks perfect, two things which can easily change over time are the camber of a bow, and the neck projection on a violin.
In addition, we don't know which string thicknesses were used, or even what frequencies the strings were tuned to, since this varied regionally. Not that there aren't some people who do claim to know these things, but I consider their claims to be of questionable credibility.

April 15, 2019, 4:05 AM · We know from paintings of the baroque era that bows bowed straight or outward under tension when being played.
April 15, 2019, 4:57 AM · 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.
Edited: April 15, 2019, 5:01 AM · 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.
Edited: April 15, 2019, 5:25 AM · Hi,

Just to follow on David Burgess' excellent point regarding string and tuning frequency being regional, so were bows and to some extent bowing technique. In Germany and England for example it was customary to play on the string with very little to no lifting between notes (that actually persisted in Germany until Beethoven). The idea of lifting seems to have been more akin to Italian baroque playing. We know from Leopold Mozart's treatise that he held the bow right at the frog like today, while from Geminiani that he (and other Italians) held the bow away from the frog. There is a tendency in HIP these days to play everything in a very lifted way that is generalized, but in a way, that may not necessarily be historically accurate.

Morning ideas...

Cheers!

Edited: April 15, 2019, 5:31 AM · 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.
Edited: April 15, 2019, 5:41 AM · 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.
Edited: April 15, 2019, 12:01 PM · 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.

Edit: let me clarify I mean don’t throw away history I’m a huge fan of historical preformance but this is a disputed topic camber or not whatever you prefer you should get not think I need to get this because someone on a discussion board told me it’s right even though the sound and feel are less pleasant.

April 15, 2019, 6:37 AM · history be damned, full speed ahead, not exactly a HIP attitude!!
Edited: April 15, 2019, 10:20 AM · 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!
April 15, 2019, 10:10 AM · this covers the history of the bows pretty well, absolutely no talk of bows bowing in under tension though;

early bows

transitional bows

April 15, 2019, 10:17 AM · heres the Shar bow, it does appear to bow outward properly under (how much) tension.

https://www.sharmusic.com/Content_OLD/DEFAULT/HOMEPAGE/PRODUCT_SLIDER_1/Baroque-Violin-Bow---Snakewood---4-4-Size.axd

April 15, 2019, 10:23 AM · As for Rachel Barton Pines endorsement, imagine if Joshua Bell recommended everyone get a $150 modern bow that he recommends made in China from fake Pernambuco, of course no one would believe it, same should be true for this Shar bow, its for people that want a gimmick bow not a finely crafted hand made masterpiece bow, like you would expect Joshua Bell to recommend.
April 15, 2019, 10:52 AM · This isn’t the bow she uses is a finely made masterpiece it certainly isn’t one of these. But it’s something fine to get to TRY something. If we expected everyone who wanted to start violin to begin with a handmade few months of income investment no one would start the violin just to discover they don’t like it and quit 2 months later. A person can try a baroque bow and then later get something better and if they didn’t like it, it would only be 150$ lost not 2,000.
April 15, 2019, 11:01 AM · 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 $150.
April 15, 2019, 12:07 PM · This is not my opinion either. Something useable which the shar is a decent bow they get much better. With your reference to the skate board I think you may believe the 1000$ 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.
April 15, 2019, 12:28 PM · 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! :)
April 15, 2019, 12:44 PM · 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.
April 15, 2019, 1:05 PM · 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.
Edited: April 15, 2019, 1:23 PM · 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.

What I've learned with modern bows is that price isn't necessarily a hard indicator for quality of sound or playability. Although my left hand prevents my progress into really advanced repertoire, my bowing technique is pretty solid for an eternal beginner, including sautille string crossings and fast upbow staccato. My "main" viola bow is a bespoken bow from a customized German bow for €2,7k, my main violin bow was bought for €350, while the living but meanwhiles retired (and not well-known, at least in Europe) American maker claims a retail value of $3,8k - the truth will be somewhere in the middle. For this bow I decided against a big number of more prestigious (especially french) bows and have not regretted it yet, although I also do have the widespread tendency to allow names interfere with my judgment. Another violin bow I regularly use was bought for €200, retail value somewhat like €500-600 (sometimes you see one >1k, but there is enough betrayal in this business...), and since it is rather on the light side I use it for "faking baroque" although it is good enough for any advanced technique. And a third bow which has earned a permanent seat in my case is literally a piece of junk, most probably late 19th century, Saxony or Bohemia, bought at a garage sale with a frog neither belonging to it nor properly fitting, and a bit unstable at the tip, but purring like a kitten.
My son's backup bow (besides his nice 1950ies french model) is a really fine new €470 bow of unclear origin, probably Brazilian, maybe Chinese... Who knows...
Besides that I have a few other old bows, from garages and attics, which taught me a few skills in bow restauration, but aren't very desirable. Still I like to play around a bit with them - all have their problems, but I'm sure playing with widely different bows teaches you a lot. From this point of view it may even be helpful owning a bit of trash... ;-)

April 15, 2019, 1:31 PM · 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.
April 15, 2019, 1:39 PM · 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...!
April 15, 2019, 1:57 PM · Tell him baroque ensembles are led by the harpsichordist!!
April 15, 2019, 2:14 PM · Ha! Great point. I'll keep this in the backhand.
April 15, 2019, 2:16 PM · LOL!
April 16, 2019, 7:43 PM · 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:
http://www.baroque-violin.info/icon.html
April 16, 2019, 8:08 PM · 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).

Camber--we're in a funny situation there. In English the word tends to mean an upward bend. In French it comes from a word meaning 'bent', but in the violin world it has solely referred to a concavity created through heating, so that I wish for clarity's sake we wouldn't use the same word for the outward bend of baroque bows. Not because it isn't in some sense justified, but because it blurs two things which are really rather different.

April 16, 2019, 9:57 PM · Thanks, Guglielmus
Edited: April 17, 2019, 1:28 PM · 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?
April 17, 2019, 1:48 PM · At the risk of lumping a century and a half of different varieties of Baroque bows, I would say:

Baroque bows were designed for a rhetorical way of speaking and articulating notes.

As we get into the gallant and Classical we find bows getting longer and better suited for sustaining longer phrases.

That's why it's much harder to play Marini sonatas with a Tourte bow, and likewise play Tchaikovsky concerto with a short bow the length of the violin.

April 17, 2019, 4:31 PM · 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.
April 17, 2019, 4:48 PM · @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.

@Dorian, pertinent observations, every one!

Edited: April 18, 2019, 11:32 AM · 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.

So let’s say lightness is likely to be a factor, unless of course the bows one tries out are all the same weight as Trevor’s best one. :-)

The high hold often used on baroque long bows is another factor affecting maneuvering.

April 18, 2019, 8:16 AM · 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.
April 18, 2019, 8:16 PM · 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:

http://www.themonteverdiviolins.org/index.html

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