Dark wood bow color and its effect on sound
I've tried many violin and viola bows now, and what I've noticed is that the bows with really dark colored pernambuco (seems to be quite characteristic of Tubbs and Peccatte) tend to sound warmer, but also softer and not as powerful as lighter colored wood. Is there any credibility to this theory? Perhaps it's from a different part of the tree, or has a different density level?
The wood could just have darkened with age. Or had a darker varnish applied. I have no experience in working pernambuco, but I don't think there is any consistent prediction you can make of how a given blank will perform as a bow based on its colour.
I think a likelier explanation is that A. the older French makers have preferred a darker oil (bows are not "varnished" like violins, but rubbed with oil) and B. there was more high-quality pernambuco available in the past. It seems to be modern makers who now prefer the "agent orange" look.
Was it not shellac primarily being used on modern bows?
I have not found a correlation of bow sound to color. But some makers may prefer certain colors and some may correlate them to stick flexibility.
could it bbe that darker bows are made of Ipe for instance instead of pernambuco ?
Julien, Considering the stamped names and provenance of 5 of my darker bows I don't see how you can be correct.
I've not noticed a correlation between color and tone either. I have seen a handful of pristine old French bows described as "having never seen the light of day" that were quite orange.
"Density is one of the main factors that influence the sound quality of a bow. I once asked William Salchow, my teacher, what to do with lightweight wood. “Throw it away!”, was his distinctive answer. That may seem radical, but most bowmakers prefer dense wood."
Jeewon that suggests to me that a glass fiber composite might be superior to carbon fiber, or a CF composite made with a denser matrix material.
The GLASSER fiberglass bows I have played with were very inexpensive and did not handle well and did not produce outstanding sound. The "composite" bows that GLASSER produced subsequently (about 20 years ago) handled quite (to very) well but the sound they produced lacked the overtones one associates with good pernambuco or even carbon fiber bows.
Same here as others have stated - I've not seen a correlation with the color of the wood and the sound of the bow. Often, the very dark finishes seen on some bows were from staining with acid or ammonia before the shellac or oil finish. Dense wood is generally preferred - wood with Lucci ratings of 5400 - 5600 or even higher with very sought after by bowmakers, but density is only one (although important) factor. IMO the "sound" of a bow is a combination of the wood, the skill of the maker, and the results of that unique combination. Not every bow by Tubbs is great, but the best ones are really amazing, for instance.
Paul, the title of the blog post is, "Judging Pernambuco Wood."
Another cool article by Charles Espey on choosing a stick for a commission.
Well, red cars go faster than other cars, and that's a fact. :-)
Bernd Müsing, inventor of ARCUS bows put a lot of work into developing a series of bows of carbon fiber material with higher acoustic velocity than pernambuco wood. And I can attest that they do produce a uniquely balanced sound (with lots of the overtones that characterize projection - https://www.arcus-muesing.de/en/background.html ).
Over the years I've owned red violins, brown violins and yellow violins, and I'm stuck with the impression that the red ones tend to sound richer and warmer. I know it's an illusion because it disappears in "blind" tests and randomized recordings.
Thanks for the Arcus link Andrew. I've long wanted to try high end carbon fiber bows. You mention how your Berg handles. How do you like its sound? And how would you compare the Berg and Arcus to the finest pernambuco bows you've played with respect to their tonal qualities?
'Flexibility will promote warmth in the sound here so it will be more advantageous to make a bow that is almost too flexible than one that is more resistant than necessary'
Jeewon, I had my Berg Deluxe rehaired a couple of weeks ago and have been using it exclusively since then. I have also pulled out a different violin than I have been playing (in the past 40 years) and combining that with the Berg bow is tonally more satisfying FOR ME than any other violin/bow combination at this time. It is a little more mellow than the other "good" bows I have (F.N. Voirin, P.M. Siefried, R. Weichold). This Berg handles better than any other violin bow I own. (I have played with a couple of friends' bows that were very good, (Malcomb Taylor (Hill) and Otto Hoyer) that practically played themselves.
Thanks Andrew! So is it fair to say you don't miss anything about a good pernambuco stick while using Arcus and Berg bows (taking into consideration the type of rep you use them for)?
I would say that is fair to say.
Andrew, what would be "a great bow"? I'm sure it's not all about money and collectibility. (We know that Kittel never made a bow himself, but had some good makers like Knopf work for him in his workshop and branded the sticks. They're beautifully made, often opulent, and definitely were luxury objects back then and now.) The older folks amongst the contemporary makers often say that it's hard to find the quality of wood they used to work with 50 years ago. Nevertheless there undoubtedly are fabulous moderns, and it is even possible to make bench copies of historical bows - not even in the looks, but also in playing characteristics.
In a recent discussion on Maestronet a knowledgeable dealer offered his experience that, whereas good players tended to agree as to which out of a group of fine violins was the best, their preference when it came to bows was much more various. He (or was it another contributor?) also reported that bow makers themselves couldn't specify what features endow certain bows with certain qualities (in the opinion of certain players!). I believe (on the basis of little personal experience, and I wouldn't be so foolish as to bet on my own judgement) that in terms of their playing qualities bows aren't inherently "great"; with every decent bow it can take quite a while to discover all that you can do with it, and how.
I posted this at Maestronet on April 11, 2002:
I think the varied preferences simply comes down to playing style. Do you articulate more from the fingers, the hand, the forearm? Do you use slower, dense strokes, or faster? Do you like to change colour frequently, or are you more of a bow division kind of player, a master of monochromatic expression (e.g. Vengerov vs. HH)? Do you like high tension in the hair with more pressure, or low tension and less pressure? Do you like tip heavy, whippy, balanced? Do you like playing on a "Swiss Army bow" or prefer to use different tools for different rep? Etc. How do your proportions (longer forearms, big hand, etc.) fit with the design of the bow (low/high bounce point, grip at the extremes, cushion, etc.) How adaptable is your style of bowing, i.e. do like to explore the capabilities/design of the bow, or do you want it to conform to what you're used to.