Old Bow - checkmate!

Edited: September 19, 2022, 1:53 PM · So I spent a day at a showcase of Canadian violin and bow makers - I'm most interested in finding a bow with a faster action than my old German workhorse (EL Herrmann). I've tried this for a while but always grind to a halt because, well because of the discussion below (I have my bow and also my violin with me).

Me: Hi, I'm looking for a replacement for this bow. The problem is that I can never find one that delivers as good and rich tone - and its not just with this violin (late 20C American) but also with my previous two - a French and a modern Italian.
Vender: I'm sure we have something. Try this ...
Me: OK. I'll play my violin with mine and then yours so that we can compare.

With that I play a scale with my bow, put that down and then try his
Vender: [raises his eyebrow.]. "OK, try this one."
I repeat the test.
This raised both eyebrows. "How about this?"
Now both eyebrows and the corner of his mouth shows a little scowl.
Bow #4: Same outcome, just more face contracture.
Bow #5: Yes, you guessed it. A grunt is added to the facials.
Bow #6: The vendor throws up his hands. "OK," he said, "so how much do you want for that bow?"

Game, set and match.

I have let a few others try it on their instruments and the result has always been the same: the sound is richer and rounder. So what makes this bow so sonorous?

[Postscript 1: I tried a bow by Eric Gagne, a Montreal based luthier. It was so nimble and easy to articulate (and I have tried one before that my friend bought) that I decided to bite the bullet and commission one from him. I'll live with the tone compromise, if there is one, as I have to have a faster action bow for orchestra playing. We had an extensive discussion about my bow and he took a lot of measurements with the idea of incorporating some of its qualities. Only downside is that he has a wait time of a year.
Postscript 2: The funds for this bow are from a small inheritance from my mother - who encouraged me to start the violin at age ~6. Eric has agreed to add a panel to the underside of the frog on which he can inscribe her name :) I hope it will be an heirloom... ]

Replies (7)

September 19, 2022, 3:29 PM · The combination of hair and rosin may have something to do with why the lighter bows don't deliver the sonority your German workhorse does. Christos (1st vowel in Greek is not iota but eta, and the name means "useful") of Melos sells several grades of rosin; and I'm not sure that the hair used by two of my recent luthiers/bowrehairers is as good as Arthur Grove (whom we have lost) used to use.
Edited: September 19, 2022, 7:31 PM · How interesting! Bows are quirky and react differently to different violins and probably to the user. Yours seems to be quite versatile and not as idiosyncratic in that sense. I wish you good luck in getting a bow made that has the qualities you are missing yet retains the qualities of your favorite bow. I have never had a bow quite like what you are describing, so I find it hard to imagine in the abstract.
September 19, 2022, 3:47 PM · Elise, I love the story of your inheritance and creating an heirloom by inscribing your mother's name in the bow. I'm not sure about violin bows, but often a special inscription and a dated letter describing the "story" behind an object will increase its value tremendously to collectors; I have seen this phenomenon time and again on "Antiques Road Show."

I also had a small inheritance from my grandmother that she specified was to be used for music. She was an excellent pianist. The funds came from the German government. My portion was a few thousand dollars (Holocaust reparations having been largely symbolic) and we used it to buy my wife's flute.

September 19, 2022, 4:09 PM · Another option, albeit a little harder to execute well, would be a mini-photo hidden in a lens in the frog. Vuillaume used to do those, and Matt Wehling will make one for you if you have a picture you want to preserve.
September 19, 2022, 4:53 PM · Stephen, some Otto Hoyer bows had such a lens on the frog - Paganini photo, if I recall correctly - it was a very good bow - tone & "bounce." It was never mine :-(
Edited: September 19, 2022, 5:38 PM · I tried a Wehling bow and loved it. It was so nearly alike my primary bow (a Victor Fetique) that it could have been a copy. It was not as good tonally, but in weight, balance, feel and response, you could have swapped the two bows and I don't think I'd have been able to tell them apart. (Given the price of the Fetique, I'd almost have traded and taken the cash. I thought about commissioning one, though!)
September 19, 2022, 6:35 PM · A very enjoyable account of your bows and bow-hunting -- thank you Elise. It resonated with me because I have two older bows, a Bolander (American) and a Wanka (German), which both of which delivered a warm rich tone. I wanted something nimbler, however, and with a small inheritance from my aunt, an excellent pianist, I eventually settled on a lighter bow made by Emile B├ęgin of Montreal. It articulates brilliantly, draws a somewhat brighter sound and is very easy to handle. I enjoy the different qualities of all three. Love your plan to memorialize your mother.


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