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Aspects of Bows, Selected a new one

Discussion in 'Bows and Rosin [DB]' started by bucephylus, Jan 30, 2005.


  1. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    I recently auditioned 4 nice medium quality pernambucco bows from a local music shop and selected one. But, in the process, I had a chance to get some experience with some of the points that have been discussed in recent threads.

    The 4 sticks I brought home for a week were a 138 g Pfretschner (sp?), a 131 g unlabeled (U1), a 126 g unlabeled (U2), and a 110 g LaMay. They are all German, because that's what I play.

    For reference, my bow is a Schuster weighing in at 134 g, which I just had rehaired.

    The bass I have is a nice Kramer-built Kolstein that my wife got me as a present. She's a keeper (so is the bass).

    There has been some discussion about balance and weight, and it certainly seemed that balance is at least a factor in perceived weight, because by playing, I would not have rated the bow weights in the order that they actually measured at. The 110 g LaMay was quite an amazing little stick and felt like air in the grip; the 20% difference in weight making a big difference in the playing perception. However, I did find that the LaMay took more work to get the full tone out of the instrument in the lower register. The LaMay was great for quick articulate work, such as baroque, but not even when playing heavier figures, such as the concluding descending figure in the second part of the Eccles Sonata. However, the light stick did have more of a breathing, singing quality; and I may yet go back for that some time in the future.

    Another interesting aspect was grab or getting notes started. I have gotten a lot more picky about that lately. It just seems that if the bow doesn't grab properly, it's like driving a car with an automatic transmission that is slipping at the shifts. I couldn't really correlate the grab with anything about the bows - hair, camber, weight. My Schuster isn't as grabby as I'd like, which is a big reason for getting a new bow. Some bows grab, other don't - black or white hair, pedigree, price, wood, yadda, yadda. This is still one aspect that is real black magic to me. New hair helps, but it seems the stick itself is a big factor.

    These observations are ultimately why I will continue to check out multiple bows when buying, and why I would be cautious before ordering a custom bow on a 3 year back order. I talked to Sue Lipkins, and while she really sounds like she knows what she is doing, I would need to play about 5 of various sticks she had made to make a selection, and that is never going to happen.

    Anyway, I finally purchased U1, which just had the best combination of grab, overall tone, and feel. Curiously, it was the least expensive, whatever that has to do with anything. U2 was a close second. The Pfretshner was a real dog for playing in all aspects, although it was a beautiful stick. Also, U1 has that grip and wire winding that seems out of place on a German bow. I asked the owner about removing that stuff. He said that removing it would not change the value of the bow, but might affect the balance. The bow feels a tad tip heavy to me, so I may take it off. He quoted a price of $100 to replace that stuff, if I removed it and then decided it was needed for balance. I think there was some earlier discussion in a thread about taking this stuff off, and while $100 isn't peanuts, it also wouldn't generally destroy the value of a bow.

    Another point was that when I took the bows back to the shop, I asked the owner how he could tell the difference between Pernambucco and Brazilwood, partly just to confirm that the bows were Pernambucco. He mumbled some stuff about the stiffness and grain pattern at the tip, which didn't impress me much at all. Part of my reason for asking is that I have a beater Erich Steiner bow in Brazilwood which plays really well and has grain at the tip like Pernambucco, but I know it is Brazilwood. This still mystifies me. However, the Steiner is a shorter bow, but weighs in at 147 g; so, perhaps there is a strength to weight ratio difference between the two woods.

    Anyway, regarding some of the recent threads, it seemed to me that bow weight does make a difference, but it depends on what you are doing with the bow. Lighter sticks made well seem more suited to solo and baroque work while 130 g +/1 5 g seems adequate for most orchestral use. Balance is highly variable from stick to stick, and perception will depend on an individual player's preferences; although I guess it may take years of experimenting before a player would come to understand why they would prefer one over another. So, we should be careful before proclaiming that any one weight or balance is necessarily better than anything else. It will all depend on the player, the bass, the musical style etc. etc. Bottom line with bows is to get a bunch of decent ones to audition when you decide to make a purchase.

    Sorry for the long thread; I hope some of this is helpful.

    - pt
     
  2. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    After the preceding post, I got motivated to remove the "grip," and carefully did so. This reduced the weight from 131 g to 125 g, which I found somewhat surprising - that the grip materials weighed that much. The balance is actually improved, the articulation is improved, and none of the grab or tonal depth was affected. Plus, the bow even looks better. In this case, it seems removing the "grip" was the right thing to do.
     
  3. Pete G

    Pete G

    Dec 31, 2001
    Northern Virginia
    Like you, I spent a lot of time trying out many, many bows at various bass shops around the world. I really didn't find anything I loved that way -- maybe because the few really terrific sticks aren't put up for sale through shops.

    Anyway, I commissioned Sue Lipkins to make a bow for me sight unseen, based on recommendations of people I know and conversations with Sue, who assured me that if I didn't like the bow she made, I could return it with no obligation.

    Return it? You couldn't pry that bow out of my hands! People don't get reputations like Sue's for making bad bows, or even mediocre bows. And she doesn't offer that no-obligations-guaranty because she's expecting a lot of returns. It hardly ever happens.

    I'm not going to tell anyone else what to do, but for me, ordering Sue's bow was one of the best decisions I've ever made in music. Before and since getting my Lipkins bow, I've played many more expensive bows that weren't nearly as good.
     
  4. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    Thanks, Pete. I certainly did not mean to imply anything negative about Sue's work, AT ALL. Every piece of feedback on her bows has been nothing short of superlative. As I stated, I'm just cautious about paying that much for a bow site unseen, when there are so many factors that I, myself, don't have command over or even understand. But, that's just me. If it ever gets to the point that I know what to describe to her, I would certainly consider commissioning something.

    - pt
     
  5. godoze

    godoze

    Oct 21, 2002
    Also one of the most expensive... I am on her waiting list...I should see something in 2 years...
     
  6. Pete G

    Pete G

    Dec 31, 2001
    Northern Virginia
    A two-year waiting list suggests to me that the bows are still a bargain.

    Sue's bows aren't inexpensive (and they've gone up to closer to their true value recently -- meaning that they're sound investments). But I would hazard the guess that there is little else in the same price range that compares.

    Even at Sue's current prices, her bows are still a lot less expensive than vintage bows by esteemed French makers, and I think that's where you'd have to go to find a comparable stick.
     
  7. godoze

    godoze

    Oct 21, 2002
    Oh I agree. Mine will be just shy of 5K when it is ready. Too bad i didn't know of her work a few years ago. Someone else on this board has a German bow of hers that he got for less than 2k new...

    I am friends with Sue's best friend (also a bowmaker) and she tells me that Part of the success of Sue's bows is that she uses violin grade pernambuco for her bass bows whereas many other bass bow makers use less than the best wood.