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Advice on buying a first 'serious' bow?

Discussion in 'Bows and Rosin [DB]' started by oliebrice, Mar 17, 2021.


  1. oliebrice

    oliebrice

    Apr 7, 2003
    Hastings, UK
    Thoughts welcomed...

    I reckon the time has come for me to buy a good bow. I play jazz and improvised music rather than classical but arco has become a bigger and bigger part of my voice and my practice in recent years. I currently use a Brazilian 'D Muniz' bow which I got as a ridiculous bargain on ebay.

    In my experience playing a good, carved bass makes a huge difference to your development - some progress is really hard to make on a mediocre bass however hard you work - and I'm sure the same thing must be true with bows. it's quite daunting knowing how to start choosing one though. While I had played dozens of good basses before buying mine - touring, teacher's basses, trying friend's instruments etc - I don't play in an orchestra and don't have an obvious context for trying out lots of bows and learning what I do and don't want.

    A lot of people who talk about good bows on here seem to commission them directly from the maker. If you have done that, is that because you've tried other bows from the same maker that you've loved? Or on strength of good recommendations and prices?

    Once the covid situation allows I'll visit the two dealers I know of in England who should have a decent selection and try out a variety, but in the meantime would be interested to hear any thoughts/advice/experience people can share

    edit for clarification - there's lots of threads on here already about buying a first 'decent' bow with people looking at carbon fibre/brazilwood options etc, I'm asking more about making a step up from that sort of bow to a serious professional level bow - eg I've been wondering about Jordan Scapinello's bows for example...
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2021
  2. I share the very little I know. I've been talking with Czech bow maker lately, trying to ask about the enigma of bows. I learned something like:
    - every bow is different, even from the same manufacturer, the difference originates from the wood
    - it's actually a bow - bass relationship: good bow for one bass might not be a good bow for other bass
    - it's actually a bow - bass - player relationship: good bow for one bass might not be good bow for the same bass played by another player
    - for a bass player (who's not a soloist), the most desired attributes of a bow would be functionality and good state of the bow.

    I've been choosing my (cheap enough) bow from three bows at my teacher's. I confirm the bows sound and feel very differently. I would not even think about buying a bow without trying it first. And when I buy the bow, I'd go to a bow maker to have it rehaired.

    I repeat I know very little, perhaps someone more knowledgeable will chime in.
     
  3. PaulCannon

    PaulCannon

    Jan 24, 2002
    Frankfurt, Germany
    NS Design Endorsing Artist
    That is definitely true. In fact, I think it's possible to go very far on a cheap bass with a good set-up, but aside from a decent re-hair there's not much you can do to improve a cheap bow. There are certain strokes and sounds you simply can't learn on a cheap bow.

    The return on investment is also much better. Upgrading from a $4k bass to a $7k bass isn't necessarily game changing, but going from a $300 stick to a $3000 bow is enormous.

    I have commissioned a few bows, but I tried many other bows from that maker beforehand. I was also confident about a relatively painless return or resale situation if the bow wasn't to my liking. Until you've tried a few hundred bows, you might avoid that option for now.

    My advice: take your time and try as many bows as you can get your hands on. Also, try stuff well outside your price range -- that can give you some reference for the kinds of attributes you're looking for. Try to notice if you have a tendency toward certain types: light or heavy, tip-heavy or more balanced, round vs. octagonal stick, long vs. short, etc. The shape of the frog might be important to you (less so for French bow; I tend to prefer "larger" French frogs, but those are somewhat uncommon). Do you prefer something super bouncy or something that really sticks into the string?

    Try to take a teacher or a professional player with you -- having some perspective from another player is very helpful.

    It's very tempting to buy the first nice bow you find, but you can afford to be extra picky. There's a lot of bows out there.

    You'll eventually need to identify your ideal price point. It's been a few years since I've taken a serious look at buying, but my most recent understanding of (French) bow prices would be summarized like this:

    <$300 almost exclusively trash

    $300-800 beginner and "student"-level bows, with the odd one-in-a-million no-name gem

    $800-2000 Quality Roulette. Very wide assortment of factory output, sturdy carbon-fiber options, decent Chinese and Brazilian imports, underpriced handmade bows like Prochownik

    $2000-4000 Now we're starting to get serious. A lot of younger/newer bow makers sell in this range, and vintage factory bows (mediocre build quality with often excellent wood). You can find some fantastic bows here if you really search

    $4000-7000 Modern masters. Most established living bow makers sell in this range, as well as many lesser-known vintage makers. Unless you're a collector, a player can find whatever they need here.

    $7000+ Vintage and rare items. Lots of gorgeous and historically significant stuff, but 99% of us aren't in this market.


    Finally, there's a kind of side-market for broken/repaired bows. Assuming the repair is strong and stable, you can find some incredible bows by famous makers for a fraction of their usual price. There are a lot of caveats:
    - Depending on the maker, the condition and quality of repair, the price can be all over the place. Who decides what's fair? I have no idea.
    - Its more common to find these at auction than in a shop, so trying it beforehand can be complicated or impossible.
    - Reselling damaged bows is a pain in the butt. Most buyers just aren't interested.
    - Insuring a broken bow can be problematic.
    - The repairs are rarely guaranteed / warrantied. Buyer beware.
    - The damage and repair may have seriously altered the bow's response, balance, and/or tone.
     
    DrMole, Selim, nbsipics and 4 others like this.
  4. oliebrice

    oliebrice

    Apr 7, 2003
    Hastings, UK
    Thanks Paul, that's really helpful

    that was exactly my plan for last year, until covid got in the way, hopefully more doable this year....
     
  5. CaseyVancouver

    CaseyVancouver

    Nov 4, 2012
    Great ideas from Paul.

    It is possible to get a perfectly playable bow under $300 imho. I know because I have snakewood, carbon and Asian pernambuco bows that are rather good, once rehaired, all under $300. They compare well to my Hudson and Schicker bows.

    In the beginning of Edgar Myer’s career he still played a $10 bow, which was broken in two places, and he loved it. That’s directly his words from an interview. So keep an open mind and try lots of bows. Bow shopping is super fun.

    A Jordan Scapinello bow will be a fine thing. Worth tracking down some top end modern bows and try them for yourself. All part of the process. A serious bow will usually cost serious money.

    This is Lynn Hannings list of what to look for in bows. She also participated in a bow buying article: A Guide to Selecting Your Next Bow

    01B40A44-771D-4753-AC66-2DC39A7F0471.jpeg
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2021
    DrMole, nbsipics and oliebrice like this.
  6. oliebrice

    oliebrice

    Apr 7, 2003
    Hastings, UK
    Definitely - I got my current bow for under £30! And it's seen me through years of touring and making albums... (it is of course worth a fair bit more than £30...)

    But yeah, time to move upwards I think, and that chart and article are really useful, thank you
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2021
    DrMole and CaseyVancouver like this.
  7. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    I agree with all of the above, but since you are in England why not start there:

    Andrew McGill is an excellent bow maker: Andrew McGill Bowmaker

    The "Claude Marchand" bows that Tom Martin sells are first-rate (under US$2000)

    The Contrabass Shoppe has a wide range of bows (and the Chinese bows he has are really first rate for the price): The Contrabass Shoppe – Bows

    It's a start.
     
    oliebrice likes this.
  8. PaulCannon

    PaulCannon

    Jan 24, 2002
    Frankfurt, Germany
    NS Design Endorsing Artist
    Possible? Of course. But it takes a lot of digging, and in my experience none of them would compare to anything I'd normally want to use. To each his own -- I know I have expensive tastes.

    I'm also concerned if a shop produces a bow that cheap; minus cost of materials and shipping, that means the maker(s) was not paid a fair market price for their work.

    That's very true, and I think he still uses it. But keep in mind he has a particular way of playing, which includes never using any off-the-string strokes like spiccato. If you don't care about those kinds of techniques, and also enjoy a more "rustic" tone quality, then a cheaper bow with little or no camber actually makes perfect sense.
     
    Neil Pye and oliebrice like this.
  9. Phil Rowan

    Phil Rowan Supporting Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    +100 to all Paul wrote in his first post. I upgraded bow before bass and wow, what a game changer (and then some). Granted, the bow I upgraded from was a Claude Marchand bow, but still. When I was shopping I had a number of different shops (a440 in Chicago, Bass Cellar in Cinci, and I forget where else) and makers ship me bows before deciding to go with one of the bows Les Korus sent me. It was a huge learning experience playing so many differently weighed, balanced and shaped French bows. Best of luck and have fun trying out as many as you can (make sure you have a bassist friend that is well adept at playing arco to have a second set of eyes and hands on the bows as well as to let you hear them from out front).
     
    Lee Moses and oliebrice like this.
  10. Neil Pye

    Neil Pye

    Apr 13, 2016
    Horsham, UK
    You're not a million miles from me, when the situation allows you're welcome to come and try my Andrew McGill bow. It was made for me, and I rate it above everything I've ever tried. Let me know if you're interested
     
    Phil Rowan, oliebrice and Lee Moses like this.
  11. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    Neil

    Does Andrew make German bow?
    Louis
     
  12. oliebrice

    oliebrice

    Apr 7, 2003
    Hastings, UK
    That's a very generous offer, thank you! I'll get in touch when lockdown lifts, would love to try it out
     
  13. Phil Rowan

    Phil Rowan Supporting Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    I've played a Scapinello bow (checked it out when taking a lesson from Brendan Kane of the MET orchestra) and I agree, they are most certainly fine things. @oliebrice Might be worth reaching out to Jordan to see if he has any bows he could send you on trial.
     
    oliebrice likes this.
  14. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
  15. I should preference my comments by saying that I am an amateur player and not a very good one at that. So my experience could be unique.
    About four years ago, I went through a similar search for a new "good bow" . I tried my teacher's bow on my bass and it sounded better, so I was motivated by that.
    To my amazement, I discovered that bows and basses must to matched. Some bows work well with one bass but don't sound as good with another bass. This makes finding the right bow a tedious process. I tried numerous bows and none delivered that amazing sound I had heard with my teachers bow.
    Finally, after about year of bow trying, I contacted George and Tom Martin, who made my bass, asking if they could recommend bow maker that worked well will Martin basses. They had a neighbor bow maker, Andrew McGill, who was willing to work with me to get the right bow.
    The process included a couple of "trial fittings", where I played with a couple of partially completed bow on my Martin model at their shop. Based on the sound and feel, Andrew modified the bow. This included carving the frog to fit my hand and moving the balance point further up the bow.
    It was a remarkable experience which I recommend to anyone who has the resources and access to their bass maker. The maker probably can guide you to a bow that will work with your bass.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2021
  16. oliebrice

    oliebrice

    Apr 7, 2003
    Hastings, UK
    If the person who made my bass was still alive 100 years ago then they'd have been doing well!

    But Andrew McGill getting a lot of good reccomendations on this thread...
     
  17. Neil Pye

    Neil Pye

    Apr 13, 2016
    Horsham, UK
    I couldn't say for sure, but I don't think so. You can get in touch with him on Facebook or Instagram
     
  18. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    I didn't think so either. He has such a feel for the French bow it almost makes me wish I was on the other side!
     
  19. Neil Pye

    Neil Pye

    Apr 13, 2016
    Horsham, UK
    Never too late to change!!
     
  20. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    If only... that... and fifths tuning.... I'm getting as good now (72) as I was at 19!
     
    AGCurry likes this.
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

     
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