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Bow Science

Discussion in 'Bows and Rosin [DB]' started by Southcreake, Aug 6, 2017.


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  1. Southcreake

    Southcreake

    Jan 30, 2017
    I'm fairly new at double bass and bowing in particular. Everything I've read seems to say that wood bows sound better than carbon fibre. My partner's dog found my wooden bow too interesting to resist and I have had to get it repaired. In the meantime I decided to try one of the cheaper carbon fibre bows and I think I agree with what I've read about the sound. However, can anyone tell me why there should be this difference in sound? I can understand about the way a bow is balanced making a difference to ease of playing, and the quality of the hair affecting the tone, but the bow itself? What is the science behind this? Does anyone know what research has been done in this field?
     
    Ron Mason, DC Bass and Michael Karn like this.
  2. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    There are a lot of contributors here who can give you accurate technical information, but I think the short answer is that wood is alive and organic, so that the vibrations from the strings pass through something is (on some level) also vibrating. The best carbon fiber bows try and "weave" the cf so that the vibrations do a similar passing. The cheap one are just sticks with hair that pull volume.

    Fellows, correct me if I am wrong. See below



    Fiddle Physics

    "Bow Science & Exercises for Violin & Viola" by M Schottenbauer
     
    DC Bass and Southcreake like this.
  3. A wood bow dampens high frequencies in a way that a synthetic bow does not.
     
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  4. Selim

    Selim Supporting Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    New York City
    I bought a $350 Carbon fiber bow recently. It actually has better balance than any bow I've played and it made certain bow techniques a lot easier. That surprised me. A lot of bow for the money.

    But it's the sound that makes me reach for my wood bow. Every time.
     
    gnypp45 and Southcreake like this.
  5. Southcreake

    Southcreake

    Jan 30, 2017
    Yes you're right, but I'm still mystified as to the reason. It just doesn't seem to make sense!
    Yes, but is it the high frequencies in the string that are dampened before being amplified by the bass body, and if so, isn't it the hair of the bow that is creating the high frequencies in the vibrating string rather than the stick itself? Where does the better sound come from? Is it the bow itself that is vibrating? Also, when selecting wood for a bow - and the body of an instrument for that matter - surely we look for close grained wood of uniform density, the denser the better in fact. Carbon fibre is, I would have thought of much more uniform density than wood. I'm perfectly happy to accept that wood bows give a better sound. It's just the "why" that I'd like to find out about.
     
  6. Southcreake

    Southcreake

    Jan 30, 2017
    Thank you very much for the book recommendation. I have ordered it. I find the subject fascinating.
     
  7. Southcreake

    Southcreake

    Jan 30, 2017
    That Physics site looks just what I need to find out more too. Thanks again. Lots of reading to do!
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2017
  8. Selim

    Selim Supporting Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    New York City
    A non scientific analogy: carbon fiber bows are like listening to a CD and wood bows are like listening to a (vinyl analog) LP.

    I could listen to records all day; CDs? Not so much.
     
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  9. I'll buy that.
     
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  10. Southcreake

    Southcreake

    Jan 30, 2017
    I agree as long as they're played on a really good deck with constant speed and it's a first quality pressing. The good thing about CD's is their consistency. I don't miss the pops and crackles though! When I had my studio I'd often record at 96k which got a bit closer to analogue. I'd like to see - hear! - that as the sampling rate for cds. It's a shame so many people have no idea of the care that's gone into a good recording - they miss so much by downloading mp3s. FLAC is a lot better as a download format but few people have heard of it.
     
    Peter Brendler and Dave Reichle like this.
  11. Selim

    Selim Supporting Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    New York City
    You're extending my digital/analog analogy very nicely!

    CDs = consistency because of the nature of the design and the manufacturing technique. Carbon fibre bows offer consistency in manufacture and performance for the same reasons (I think).
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2017
    Southcreake likes this.
  12. Selim

    Selim Supporting Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    New York City
    Likewise, a 96K carbon fibre bow conceivably could sound indistinguishable from a great pernambuco stick!

    EDIT: referring to a "96 K sampling rate" carbon fibre bow, not a $96,000 bow!
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2017
    Southcreake likes this.
  13. Jon Stefaniak

    Jon Stefaniak Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2000
    Tokyo, Japan
    The materials all contribute to the sound, resonating and filtering the tone differently. If they could replicate the same inconsistency of density and structure of the fibers etc. that a good piece of wood has, they could probably make a carbon bow that sounds and plays a lot more like wood, but probably not exactly like wood. It is the consistency of the quality of the carbon bows that is their selling point. Not so amazing, but not many duds either.

    But it is the inconsistencies of the wood that can make for some really exceptional bows. Sometimes sticks with a lot of knots sound great - vibrations travel a more twisted, convoluted path.
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2017
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  14. Southcreake

    Southcreake

    Jan 30, 2017
    Hi Jon, yes I get that. Still don't quite understand where the sound is coming from though! I'm sure at some future time the inconsistencies of the wood will be able to be replicated in carbon fibre or some similar material yet to be discovered. As an acoustic guitarist for the past 50 years I have learned that different guitars of the same model play and sound slightly different from each other. I've never had the opportunity to try a carbon fibre guitar like the Rainsong so have no idea what they sound like compared to a wooden instrument. It's always struck me as strange that the adjective "wooden" can be applied to a lifeless performance. Perhaps we should invent a similar adjective from carbon fibre! Anyway, thanks to all the comments and suggestions that you and the others learned a great deal more than I knew and will be following up the links and reading that has been suggested and hopefully learn even more.
     
  15. Ron Mason

    Ron Mason

    Jul 20, 2017
     
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  16. Ron Mason

    Ron Mason

    Jul 20, 2017
    Double Bass Bows.
    This really is an area where you should buy the best you can afford. Bows made from Pernambuco wood are without a doubt the best with prices ranging from about $50 to $50,000 depending on maker and fittings used. You can often get the best deal if you opt for secondhand and pay to get it rehaired. Certified bows are a good bet for those who don't know the difference between Pernambuco or Brazilwood,
    Carbon fibre and fibreglass are really best suited to electric upright basses
     
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  17. mje

    mje

    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    "I think the short answer is that wood is alive and organic"

    Wood bows are dead and organic, and so are carbon fiber bows. I suspect most of the difference is in the skill of the maker, and in part the aesthetics of the bow and instrument. New violins often beat Strads in blind tests, but players still prefer the old ones.

    I'm just an amateur, but I've played a range of bows, thanks to a luthier friend. Really good wooden bows are works of art that inspire the player in the way that great instruments do.
     
    Southcreake likes this.
  18. I have yet to find a carbon fibre bow that can hold a candle to my pernambuco sticks. Then again, I am spoiled rotten thanks to a Francois Lotte, a Giuseppe Vitale, and a Hannings and Rubino. I have, however had great luck in the carbon fibre vs. Brazil Wood category. I am certain that actual grain flow as well as density has much to do with this. For yet another analogy let's talk about the difference in feel between Cast Golf Clubs, and Forged. Cast clubs by their very nature feel somewhat dull as compared to forged. The casting makes for a more uniform setting, but there's a reason why a pured shot with a forged Mizuno iron feels so much better from finger tips to shoulder blades. Similar to a master bowmaker who takes many steps to carefully carve the Pernambuco stick according to the grain flow of the wood, Mizuno uses a 7 step forging process which they call, Grain Flow Forging." Weave carbon all you want, similar to the cast irons it is simply poured into a mold. Great for consistency, but it is the uniquely inconsistent grain flows of the Pernambuco sticks which makes them so wonderfully resonant.
     
  19. Dusting off my Mechanical Engineering degree to at least give you some different ways to think about it. As that "fiddle physics" link says, when you drag the hairs across the string, what's actually happening at the microscopic level is the hairs (and rosin) are catching the string to pull it sideways, then releasing it to slide back across the bow hairs, hundreds to thousands of times a second. How *fast* the string repeatedly catches and slips, once you reach a steady note, is mostly governed by how long the string is (i.e. what note you fingered with your other hand). But exactly *how* that catching and slipping happens depends a lot on the physical characteristics of your strings, your bow hairs, and the rosin that's on your bow -- the "how" of the catching and slipping changes the shape of the wave that propagates through your string to the bridge... this is what our ear ends up interpreting as "tone" or "warmth" of "feel" of the note. And without even totally understanding the physics, we've got centuries of experimentation that went into what kinds of string, bow hair, rosin, bridge, and body materials end up feeling nice to play and also give a pleasing tone to the ear.

    One thing the physics link doesn't discuss is the force applied to the string in the "down" direction (that is, into the body, as opposed to across the strings). When you bow, you're not just dragging the hairs across the string, you're pressing the hairs down into the string with some force. This downforce is what causes it to "catch" in the catch and slip cycle... no catch would mean no vibration caused. But how does that force get from your hand to the hairs contacting the string? Well, the bow is kind of a giant lever which takes the force from your wrist and hand, and applies it (via the wood, or the carbon) to two points on each bow hair--the one near your hand and the other one out on the tip of the bow. So when you turn your wrist or press your hand down heavier, for more volume, the force with which your hairs are contacting the string depends on how flexible and how heavy and how uniform the bow *material* is, because that material is what transmits half your force application to the tip, where the other ends of the hairs are attached! Now, at a very fast time scale, thinking of the catch and slip of the string, the force from the "catch" part now depends in part on the material used in your bow, and the slide happening in the "slip" part also depends on that.

    So if that makes sense, the last thing to consider is that everything resonates with each other, it's not just a one-way street where you make the string vibrate. The string vibrations *do* transmit back through the bow hairs, the bow hairs vibrate both the tip and the frog of the bow, and both of those vibrations are transmitted back to your hand via the bow material. You can feel that in your hand. So thinking through it like this, it makes perfect sense that different bow materials will 1) transmit force differently to your strings and 2) transmit sympathetic vibrations back your hand differently... all of this we just fuzzily call "feel" and try to practice enough until it sounds good. :)

    Disclaimers: 1) Engineers tend to overthink these things. 2) I am very mediocre at bowing. 3) I only own one wooden bow and one electric upright, I haven't tried a lot of different setups. 4) Tossing physics aside, just remember what Duke Ellington said: "If it sounds good, it IS good!"
     
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  20. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    I'm glad the engineers among us have spoken up. It is true that a great handcrafted bow is an inspiration and, IMO, even the best cf bows are functional, so that is a factor. Carbon fiber bows can be among the best balanced in the world (some are) and still sound monochromatic, if not boring.

    As far as new instruments sounding better than Strads, I think the conclusion was more that the test audience found the new violins had more volume and projected better, which may be desired qualities by today's soloists and audiences (who might think anything louder s better!). There is also the issue that one or two of the makers involved might have had a professional interest in getting that result.

    Loud & Clear: Researchers Find Contemporary Violins Project Better than Strads
     
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  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.

     
    Apr 13, 2021

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