Any sense in pairing bow to violin by age and origin?

April 13, 2020, 10:29 AM · Hello fellow musicians, I've been lurking here for quite some time but this is my first thread - I hope that I've made no mistakes creating it, if I did, please feel free to point them out!

So, with none of this being anonymous and me being a tad paranoid, I wouldn't want to go into too much detail in a public thread, but the gist of things is this:
I am (hopefully) about to finish my violin bachelor this semester (given we return to some kind of normality in these difficult times), and switched violins half a year ago. It was long overdue and I am absolutely in love with my new instrument, but of course, there's always something one would like to experiment with. After having played many different string sets on it - currently on Passiones and about to go back to green Evahs, with both of them sounding very nice - I started pondering a potential future bow change. I'm reasonably content with my current bow, a nice Richard Grünke bow I picked up a couple of years ago (pairing it to the previous violin), but I'm well aware of how each violin asks for its own bow and know the general 20-33% of the violin's price rule, which doesn't apply anymore, either. All of that is how I started looking around out of pure interest, through many threads on violinist, among other things. My specific question comes up because the violin I have now is a very nice French violin from the middle of the 19th century made by Buthod (it is indeed not a factory instrument) and not only are there bows made by Buthod himself, but also many bows made in the workshops all around him. So my question at this point is whether there's any point in trying to find a bow that might've been made to go with the violins that were built by the students of, say, Vuillaume, or is this relatively pointless and I'm not any more likely to find a good fit among these bows than I am among any random batch of decent bows from any time period and place? Or, finally, would it maybe even be more advisable to order a contemporary bow to fit the violin? As I've said, there's absolutely no rush to this, I just like to keep my eyes open. Since I'm still a student, I don't have the means to experiment buying all kinds of bows, nor to buy a nice bow for ten grand or something like that, so I'd be looking at mid-tier prices, anyway. And if you have any specific recommendations on where to go when looking for a large selection of nice bows in and around Germany, those would be much appreciated, too!

Thanks to all of you in advance and stay safe!

Replies (16)

April 13, 2020, 10:48 AM · If you're a serious musician (as opposed to a wealthy amateur), try to forget about such superficialities as pairing this with that just because of nationality or some other meaningless criteria. Many people take pride in pairing this French bow with that Italian violin--none of it matters in real life. These are tools. Make sure your tools work.
April 13, 2020, 11:38 AM · I think it is more important to find a bow and violin combination that works really well together. But perhaps you will get lucky and find a combination in a bow that was "made" to go with your violin. There is no harm in trying.

If you have the capacity / finances to try a range of bows, then take advantage of this, play as many as possible if you have to. I am not sure what your budget is, but there are generally bows at lots of budget ranges, so hopefully you will find something that works for your violin and for your finances.

The only experience of violin shops in Germany I have had is Corilon violins in Munich. I found a fantastic bow there, completely unintentionally. My husband and I were in Munich (for his work), and left to my own devices in the city... anyway, they had / have a really good selection of bows at the time (just over a year ago). I expect you might need to wait for various lockdown and social distancing measures to end first, although I am not sure what the situation is in Germany presently. No harm in getting in touch with them online though!

Edited: April 13, 2020, 12:06 PM · No telling where lightning will strike. Find one that works for you and the instrument. Look in every price range, so you know what is possible.

If travel to London ever becomes possible, Bishop Strings has a lot of nice options.

April 13, 2020, 12:12 PM · A second for Bishop Strings.
April 13, 2020, 12:20 PM · Interesting idea. I wonder if Vuillaume's violins were ever initially sold together with his workshop's bows?
April 13, 2020, 12:20 PM · The period when Buthod worked was also a "golden age" of bow making, but the "golden" bows sell for much, much more than Buthod'a violins. Even the bows he made typically sell (on average) for half as much as his violins (on average), some even more.

I think Stephen nailed it, 100%!

I have done a couple of bow trials when I visited a shop and tried many dozens of bows with the instrument I wanted them for. It is lots of fun. also be sure to take you own bow(s) as well as your instrument. It may be best to make an appointment.

April 13, 2020, 12:45 PM · Agree with Scott, 100%.
April 13, 2020, 1:24 PM · No.
April 13, 2020, 1:36 PM · It’s sometimes an interesting challenge to find a bow that has a similar age and origin to that of a violin, but that’s more of a challenge for collectors.

For playing, find a bow that you like. Set a budget if you want to buy something and play some bows in that range. If you still like the bow you’re using, don’t feel bad about it! Good German bows are underrated.

April 13, 2020, 2:33 PM · When I was bow-shopping, Fred Oster suggested to me that since Vuillaume's violins were often sold with a shop bow thrown into the deal (much like a modern outfit), that I might consider looking at bows by the Vuillaume shop makers from roughly the same era, on the theory they might prove to be better tonal matches.

That actually proved to be a fruitful avenue of search, even though I did not eventually buy such a bow.

April 13, 2020, 7:09 PM · Thanks for all the feedback, I didn't expect there to be so many answers so quickly!

@Scott: Neither wealthy, nor an amateur, and I wasn't trying to be superficial. It's definitely not a question of pride for me. I feel like my question was a reasonable one, so long as I accept the answers that are given ;)

@M Zilpah: Well, my current bow was within the 1-2000€ range and seems good value, so I don't expect any significant change before 4-6000€ save for a lucky find. Of course, I'd be more than happy to be mistaken, though.
Regarding Corilon, I've had an experience with them, too, while looking for my violin. They had a very nice selection of violins, indeed, and many different ones, too. Two of them were, in fact, the only ones that came close to the Buthod I chose in the end. Sadly, I didn't take the chance to check out their bows, but maybe I should pay them another visit sometime. The lockdown is relatively serious all over Germany but especially so in Bavaria, so I don't expect this to be an option in the near future, but, as I've said, there's no rush, anyway.

@Stephen: Just to be clear: are you recommending consciously looking outside one's price range, too? With violins, I usually find that rather depressing, in case I find something amazing and will not be able to afford it by any means. Or did you just mean to extend the price range above and below my own expectations to see where the big changes are?

@Andrew: Sure, there's no doubt that looking for an authentic Buthod bow would be a needle in a haystack scenario. I've looked around on Brompton's and Tarisio and there don't even seem to be too many records of definitely identified bows by Buthod being sold. Then again, there seem to have been many fine bows being made under his guidance with all kinds of stamps, if I'm not mistaken, and those might still have been made with his ideal sound in mind? Then again, that might be so broad an idea one could just as well look up French bows in general and get the same results...

@Rich: They most definitely are! Especially in the lower ("student") price range we mostly have German bows to choose from and most of them are very decent and have some variety to them, too. It's certainly not boring choosing from them :)

@Lydia: That's very interesting, thanks for providing a different point of view! Did you find them to have a general tendency to be a nice fit to your violin, or was it more of a couple them indeed sounding nice? Just being curious.

On another note, I'd like to reiterate one of my questions from the original post: having received 10 answers total, there hasn't been a single mention of ordering a new bow. Am I right to assume that none of you would recommend that? I remember reading that there are some very fine bow makers on this website a couple of times, but this thread does not seem to be the place to share this view for some reason.

Edited: April 13, 2020, 8:37 PM · I think that playing any great bow will make you a smarter shopper. If you can’t afford the miracle stick, then at least you know what is possible. Some things will be incrementally better, others will be completely outside the box.

You can certainly commission a bow, but there are a lot of risks. The most productive use of your time is to find a shop with a lot of choice, OR to go to a maker who has more than one available to try. All but one of my bows I tried before committing, and there were some by the same makers that just weren’t doing it for me.

The exception is now so expensive that you shouldn’t bother, but it involved (a) a genius bowmaker willing to interview me and watch me play my good bows and several of his, (b) a false start, where he delivered one I didn’t like at all, and (c) a successful second try that he wound up recambering anyway, as it was starting to warp a bit. It is now one of my best, but if it was a dicey project with him, I would think hard before trying with someone else. Maybe wait until you are settled with your best default choice.

BTW, I don’t think it is crazy to find a bow by the guy who made your violin. Especially if he was really good, and picky, there might be some coherent school of tone production that you are tapping into. You might, of course, find that he made bows just so he’d have something to put in the case when he had a sale pending. Be open minded and knowledgeable. You don’t necessarily want shirts and suit to come from the same tailor.

April 13, 2020, 9:20 PM · There were some nice tonal matches. But most of the Vuillaume shop makers from that era were very good bowmakers anyway, and I generally like the feel of those makers' work.
April 13, 2020, 9:44 PM · Lydia, indeed the Vuillaume shop bow makers were "very good."
This article will give some idea of who was making those bows:

April 14, 2020, 2:56 AM · Most of bows made in or for the JB Vuillaume shop are identified by experts, and are some of the most coveted bows commanding historical antique prices. Its good to try bows from these makers if you can (Peccatte, Henry, Simon, Martin, Voirin, etc) ranging from high 4 figures if condition/unoriginal parts are there to mostly mid to high 5 figure and some 6 figure prices (like with some nice Dominique Peccatte examples). Oh, to live in those days when your instrument would have a bow included by one of these makers!

I think discovering what works for your playing and your instrument is more important over price and age. You might respond to a contemporary new bow or an antique workshop bow, or single maker antique bow. You can look up shops that carry a variety, a place to start is to check out all of the shop sponsors, they may be in your area, have inventory to fit your needs, or offer shipped approvals.

By the way, Buthod was a violin maker, although unlike Vuillaume he had a lot of French factory workshops supply his shop stamped with his name. A lot of late 19th and early 20th century shops did this to varying degrees either with specific makers or workshops. So the prices of Buthod bows are relatively inexpensive.

April 14, 2020, 4:24 AM · One thing that I don't see mentioned is that when you go bow shopping you should bring someone with you who knows good violin tone and understands what you're trying to accomplish. We all know that the way an instrument (and thus bow, too) sound under our ears is not necessarily what the audience hears, so have an audience member with you to help you make the best choice.

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