Does old bow wood change over time?

Edited: August 31, 2017, 7:46 AM · Does the pernambuco change and improve over time in the same way that violin wood does? Does this happen irrespective of playing, or does playing itself change the pernambuco?

Are great old bows so good just because they where made that way or have they got better over time?

Personally I prefer the colours that old bows draw but I do have some modern bows from the 20th century in my collection that are also fine.

Cheers Carlo

Posted under my own full name in accordance with Vcom's rules.

Replies (20)

Edited: August 31, 2017, 8:06 AM · No. That's why good classic bows in very good condition due to being used very little will cost a mint.

There is nothing like playing in with bows. On the contrary, bows may deteriorate under use - and misuse - the player's thumb can dig a hole in the stick, the constant contact of the hand can damage the frog, it can lose its curvature (that can be corrected by a bow maker), etc.

Bows will devaluate in a drastic way in the case of repairs, such as a broken head, that is not the case with violins in general.

August 31, 2017, 9:09 AM · I believe that they do change. Not necessarily with playing but because the wood becomes less green over time.

Yes, good makers use aged wood. But I think it still changes. 150 year old wood is not the same as 50 year old wood. I can't prove this and doubtless many will disagree. All I can say is that I've played many, many bows, both new and old. New bows just seem to sound "green" to me, lacking in color and resonance. Like new violins.

"That's why good classic bows in very good condition due to being used very little will cost a mint..."

They will still cost a mint, often regardless of playability or sound. It doesn't really address the issue of whether or not the wood itself changes over time.

August 31, 2017, 12:20 PM · Yes they do age, not necessarily to the better, but there is no such thing as playing in for bows.
August 31, 2017, 12:40 PM · What Luis wrote is similar to what I have heard from pros. I've been told that great old bows get "soft" over time with more playing and eventually become unplayable. I believe that is also why people who use such bows in performance will not practice or teach with them. Well they don't teach with their priceless Italian antique violins usually, either, but i believe with bows it goes beyond not wanting to risk breakage or loss.

An excellent pro chamber violinist told me that he only takes his best French bow to the very last rehearsal when he needs to make the most subtle bowing decisions (exactly how much to come off the string, etc.).

August 31, 2017, 2:27 PM · Paul,
I've never heard that great old bows get soft and unplayable. If that were true, then no one would use them anymore. They'd all be "played out." That's certainly not the case. I've tried many very strong, stiff old French bows. Ever played a Morizot? Not the finest of French bows, but very stiff (which probably explains their relatively low price...). And I don't think everyone (apart from the most neurotic types like maybe a certain famously neurotic member of the Emerson Quartet) only uses their fine old instrument and bows just for performances. And yes, they do teach with them. When I was a student my teachers used their fine instruments.

If I had an important performance, I'd certainly practice on whatever I planned to use in the performance. It would be crazy not to.

Now teaching children is a different manner. I wouldn't use a priceless French bow in that case...

August 31, 2017, 3:40 PM · I would think that it depends on the wood...
September 1, 2017, 5:21 AM · Like violin wood I would assume pernambuco must lose its moisture over time.It would be nice to hear from a bow maker on this topic.
September 1, 2017, 8:25 AM · I have asked that question to several great bow makers in the past and their answer was NO, apart from the color change in the stick produced by oxidation, which makes them darker.
In my opinion some old bows produce a wonderful sound but not all of them, as happens with new ones. I have modern bows that pull a better tone from my violin (and other violins) than my old ones.
Edited: September 1, 2017, 8:30 AM · The modern bow makers would be likely to tell you there is no advantage to older bows, wouldn't they???

Much the same thing with the modern violin makers that claim they're better than Stradivari.

September 1, 2017, 9:12 AM · Upon this topic, my luthier (who is also a bow maker: i own 5 bows made by him) says that, apart moisture, a piece of wood that gets bent over many years (like it happens in bows) makes the wood harder, the same way how it happens with metals, that are bent back and forth many many times to make the material harder.

It seems logical.........

September 1, 2017, 9:17 AM · Thats exactly what I always thought to be true!
September 1, 2017, 3:50 PM · Marc. That is my experience also.

Cheers Carlo

September 1, 2017, 5:57 PM · Actually I think it's just the opposite from violin makers. They don't say it will sound better with the years, they say that the sound a new bow produces will not change, that what you hear is what you will have in the future. And apparently was enough to convince players like Zukerman, Mutter or Rachlin -to name just a few- who perform only with modern bows.
September 1, 2017, 6:28 PM · So 5% of top performers prefer modern, so that proves modern is better, yeah right!!
September 1, 2017, 9:47 PM · Out of curiosity I did some online research about wooden archery bows, and looked for user experiences and opinions about whether they fatigue with time and use. I found a lot of anecdotal evidence suggesting that as long as they're not over stressed and are given appropriate care they can last for decades of use, and maybe more, without a diminution of their "pull weight." And archery bows are STRESSED SO MUCH MORE than violin bows. I'm doubtful that violin bows fatigue with anything like normal use.
September 2, 2017, 12:39 AM · I am not saying modern bows are better neither I am trying to make any statictics about how many players use them. My point is that if they are good enough for those soloist that may mean they can be comparable to the good old ones. And that is what in my humble experience over the years I have tested myself. The OP asked if wood in bows change with time and that is why old bows sound better. Well, the answer from some of the best bow makers -not me- was NO, they don't change, and many players -including me- think that not always an old bow pulls better sound from every violin than a modern one. Of course I am talking about the very top makers who also have the best pernambuco storaged.
Now, can that be proved with one single bow? Probably no, it is impossible to make and repeat the exact test say 80 or 100 years later, as it would be statistically impossible to state that all old bows allways sound better than modern ones. All we can do is try and compare bows here and now, and I think that if we do it with an open mind and ears we can be surprised.
September 3, 2017, 11:29 AM · I think this thread has drifted a little. This is not a new vs old debate. What I was interested in is whether top bow bows, Pecatte etc, were always superb, or have they got even better or stayed the same over time. I suspect the former.

Cheers Carlo

September 3, 2017, 2:50 PM · @Mark Bouquet:

I'm also an archer, and i confirm what you wrote. I know several old archers who still use wooden limbs that are 40 years old, with no problem.
And in archery, a small loss or change in something, means really a lot in terms of results.

September 3, 2017, 7:18 PM · I seem to remember reading somewhere, that older bows have stiffened with time in a good way. If I can find the source in time, I'll cite it.

Meanwhile, strictly speaking, off-topic - but bow-related - I reminded myself of this fine thread that bow lovers might like:

Lydia Leong
Choosing a bow by feel

July 31, 2016 at 08:04 PM ยท

September 3, 2017, 11:46 PM · I Broke a bow out of boredom once. It was baaad . Plz don't ban me.

If the object stops responding i lose my sanity. I changed violins because i couldn't draw a sound that sounded like me anymore. People change. Bows change

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