Models of baroque bows

February 2, 2020, 1:51 PM · I'm planning on making my own baroque bow, out of either maple, heavy spruce, or light-ish ebony (just what I happen to have lying around). I'm lost as to which model to make, though.

To give context, I plan to use this bow mainly for Bach, since I've been hearing that historical bows make many Bach passages considerably easier to play convincingly. Particularly passages with many chords and rapid scales.

Just from my snooping-around online, I've found that baroque bows generally fall into three categories: the early short bows which are curved along their entire length, the longer "sonata" bows which are straight and then drop off near the tip, and the transitional bows which look like modern bows without any cambering.
I have no experience with baroque bows, so I'd love any input on the different performance of all these designs. Links to good reference photos would also be appreciated.

Replies (15)

February 2, 2020, 3:12 PM · Transitional bows are like bad versions of modern bows. Early short bows are for a specific type of early music, the "sonata" bow will be more reasonable for what you are looking to play. Use your ebony, spruce is a very bad idea. Making a good baroque bow takes quite a bit of skill, you can buy an inexpensive one for less then it takes to tool up and make a proper bow. Good luck on your journey.
Edited: February 2, 2020, 6:30 PM · Cotton, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, a highly respected European pro orchestra specializing in the music of the 18th century, uses transitional bows.

May I suggest viewing a wide range of videos of Baroque bows in performance by ensembles and soloists. For starters YouTube has these:

Freiburger Barockorchester performing all 6 Brandenburgs;

Il Giardino Armonico - an abundance of Vivaldi and Bach;

Amandine Beyer performing Bach's Partita Nr 2 and pieces by Nicola Matteis;

Alice Julien-Laferrière performing Dario Castello Sonata Seconda a Soprano Solo (judging by her style I suspect she may be a pupil of Amandine Beyer)

I second Anthony's advice to purchase a Baroque bow instead of making one, for the reasons he gave.

February 2, 2020, 3:44 PM · Most amateurs' Bach will sound more convincing if they had better intonation. However, since nothing is likely to convince you not to try making a baroque bow, my suggestion is to buy a cheap sonata bow (according to Anthony's comment) so that you can see how it plays and examine close-up how it's made. Something you can get for $50 will be better than your first DIY attempt.
Edited: February 2, 2020, 4:17 PM · Thanks for the responses. I'll definitely have a look at those videos.

Interestingly, there is a luthier named Mick de Hoog who makes baroque bows out of spruce (and larch) that players purportedly love, but I agree that it's probably not the best choice. Too light and too soft.

I am fully aware that I can, of course, buy a baroque bow outright, but where's the fun in that? If I already have the tools, materials, time, and the (at the very least, the minimum required) necessary skills, I don't see why not. Naturally, my first will probably not be very usable, as is always the case. Hence why we do these things multiple times to refine our designs...

Edited: February 2, 2020, 4:54 PM · I do agree that you don't want one of the shorter baroque bows for your intended repetoire: Bach sometimes requires you to get quite a number of notes under one bow stroke!
February 2, 2020, 5:21 PM · The point of buying a cheap baroque bow is not to concede defeat. The point is to be able to examine it closely and try to determine which of its many design features are responsible for how well it performs.
February 2, 2020, 5:37 PM · Ok, maybe I only saw the part of your comment that looked discouraging. That said, I think cheap bows are cheap for a reason, and the best thing to use for a physical reference would be a professional's actual bow. Unfortunately it's a long drive for me to get to a shop where I know they will have quality baroque bows.
February 2, 2020, 6:07 PM · What do you think the makers of the cheap bows use as their model? It's got to be better to have a cheap one in your hands than "reference" photos (whatever that means) of good ones.
February 2, 2020, 8:58 PM · Come on—that's like if one of those master copyists bought a Stradivarius on Amazon and used that as the inspiration for his copy rather than a poster of the real deal. I'm sure you could extrapolate the features of a good bow from a cheap example, but why bother?
Edited: February 3, 2020, 6:11 AM · You're right -- having a genuine Strad (or master-crafted bow) in your hands would be better. Do that.

Oh! Wait a minute! You said that wasn't possible because the shop is too far. Oh well.

Edited: February 4, 2020, 12:46 AM · Cotton, I was on that getting-a-baroque-bow last year. Since I usually cannot resist any temptation, at least as long as it comes about bows, I happen to use two of them by now.

The first one is a short, almost straight stick of 59 cm (69 cm including the screw), made be a well known English bowmaker in the late 1980ies, and it's fun to use. If one is able to embrace longer slurs as a chance to improve bow control, then it is surprisingly well usable for a wide range of repertoire. For performance I'd rather use my longer model, but this one is extremely handy for air traveling - and I have to travel a lot. Abroad you will see me using it even for practicing Shostakovich. Guess I'll never be afraid of playing near the frog again!

The other model is what you will expect in a "sonata" bow, made in 2019 by a German luthier specialized in baroque instruments. It measures 69cm (72 cm including the screw) and is of that kind what most HIP folks seem to use nowadays.
And it's gorgeous.

Both are made from snakewood and use a screw mechanic for convenience, but for starting you eventually will prefer a plugged frog.
Back then lots of different (endemic European) woods were used. In museums you'll find not only found exotic materials like ironwood or snakewood, but also larch, fir, hazel, yew and whatnot. Not being an expert, but I wouldn't try ebony - I'd expect it to be too stiff. Otherwise, if you already own a maple blank or some really dense spruce, I see no reason not to use it. Lots of photos online for inspiration. And if you wish more tedailed photos of mine, feel free to pm me.

Good luck and have fun!

Edited: February 4, 2020, 11:24 AM · I agree with Nuuska. Baroque bows are eminently usable in a wide range of music. I have two Baroque bows that I have been using for the last 3-4 years in about 90% of my playing. I purchased them from reliable local violin dealers in England. One bow is relatively inexpensive at about $120 (US money), and the other, snakewood, cost about $400. The less expensive bow is 71cm (tip to end of screw), and the snakewood is 69cm. No problems with long phrases on either bow, possibly because my cello teacher in my youth, and my violin teacher in later years worked me on “1-minute” bows – in reality what I reached, and can still do, was 45”, which is well in excess of what is required in real-life playing.

The $120 bow is fine for almost all my orchestral playing, and the stiffer snakewood bow comes into its own when I need a more brilliant tone.

My third bow is a family inherited 1920 German bow that handles and plays very well with excellent tone on gut. I mainly use this bow for concerts that include late romantic music – Bruckner symphonies for example.

Edited: February 5, 2020, 12:07 AM · My bows sit in a collection of several German bows, plus one French and one American and a bunch of funny (and not so perfect) old bows of uncertain provenance. I still feel most comfortable with the two best of my Germans, especially if there are weeks when my time schedule doesn't allow for any practice time at all and I'm feeling out of tune. It's true that the baroque models make some things easier, especially articulation and rapid string crossings, but it's a different kind of animal and I certainly do need some time to adapt.
February 5, 2020, 10:02 AM · Good luck on your project! I have two American baroque bows; when I got them for trial, I was unable to choose one as they were so different, I had to have both. Maybe you will end up with a baroque bow collection! (Can a baroque bow be too light??)
February 5, 2020, 11:49 AM · Two data items I forgot to add in respect of my baroque bows: the 71cm one weighs 55gm, and the 69cm snakewood weighs 62gm, which is what one expect given that snakewood is one of the heaviest woods around. A weight of 62gm is also a useful initial starting check if you're wondering whether the cheap'n'cheerful "snakewood" baroque bow that you've just bought online is the real thing. The typical snakewood pattern has been known to be applied to lighter woods, so ... caveat emptor!


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