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Bow Sizing

Discussion in 'Bows and Rosin [DB]' started by Steve Freides, Oct 11, 2013.


  1. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    Should bow sizes be considered as reliable as instrument sizes? Instruments sizes are certainly close enough for me but I don't know about bow sizes.

    Basses (feel free to disagree/correct)

    3/4 size bass = ~41" scale length

    7/8 = ~42" scale length

    4/4 = ~43" scale length

    Could we do the same for bows?

    I'm curious to know, e.g., if someone says their bow is 4/4, would I find it too long for me at 5' 7" and my 3/4 size bass?

    -S-
     
  2. MikeCanada

    MikeCanada

    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    I would agree with your rough estimates on string lengths for bass sizes, but I don't really think there are "standard" measurements, especially when it comes to body size/shape. Typically speaking, French basses have smaller dimensions with narrow shoulders, Italian basses are larger with more of a violin outline, English basses can be huge... There are so many other stereotypes and tons of exceptions that bass sizing becomes a complete guessing game. I would say it has a purpose with small instruments (5/8ths and smaller) because usually they are marketed towards young growing students. A 7 year old likely shouldn't be playing a 3/4 "size" bass.

    Likewise with bows I would say that small bows for these fractional instruments should have a number associated with them, but otherwise you are running into interpretation.

    Most modern makers have one or two models (of French and German bows) that they typical employ. A few have more than that, and a lot of makers will make copies of well known bows as part of their own development as bow makers and/or on request. There is a lot of history, and a number of well known makers who's work is usually copied or heavily influences modern makers. They will typically pick a head shape, frog shape, length, and desired weight/balance point based on a particularly nice bow they have seen early in their career, or one they have access to good photographs of etc. There can be some variations, but if you stray too far from the norm you have a hard time selling bows. German bows don't have as much well known pedigree as French bows, but there are still some old masters. The same idea of "find something you like and make a copy/slight variation" applies. You will see "Pfretzschner" or "Vienna" associated with a higher or lower frog height respectively, and occasionally a small variation in length as well.

    Weight can vary considerably as well. Some French bows are around 120g on the light side of things, and 155g on the heavy side of things with makers pushing both ends of that spectrum. German bows can be as light at 115g, and the "New Dutch School" can see bows up around 250g. Typically, something more around 130g is pretty standard.

    As for different "sizes" unless it is intentionally a fractional size bow, there isn't really a 3/4-5/4 range the same way there is with basses. Some are definitely longer and/or heavier than others, but typically length varies by millimetres from the norm, or if you have someone really pushing the extremes, maybe an inch. Bows need to fit in bow cases after all, and these usually come in one size.

    Just as I am always skeptical and take the size of a bass with a grain of salt, I do the same with bows. You can find something that really deviates from the norm, but these tend to be rare exceptions. I think the 4/4 you are seeing (in an ad, on a website, etc.) would be indicating that it is a "full size" bow. The confusion here comes from "full size" instruments often being 3/4 "size" instruments, so some people call normal bows 3/4 "size".

    It could of course be a mile long and a couple of pounds, but it's likely a pretty standard bow. You shouldn't have a problem playing it if it fits in the typical length, weight and balance point ranges, but whether or not you like it is an entirely different can of worms.
     
  3. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    So, Mike, would be fair to conclude that a bow that says it's 4/4 is probably the same size as a bow that says it's 3/4?

    I think weight isn't the issue here - better bows will likely weigh less and have a better balance to their weight distribution. I happen to own two 3/4 basses and one 1/4 bass - the bow that I got with the 1/4 is definitely shorter, and it's an appropriate size for the bass. I was just wondering if a 4/4 bow might be longer, e.g., if the scale length of a 4/4 bass is ~2 inches longer, then maybe the bow is 1/2 inch longer or something like that.

    Yes, I do see your point - 1/2 inch longer a bow really isn't an important difference, while even a 1" scale length difference is quite apparently in the playing.

    -S-
     
  4. MikeCanada

    MikeCanada

    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    It is probably a "standard" bow. 3/4 or 4/4 or whichever size one attributes to that is kind of a tomato tomato thing. (Doesn't really work in text, but you likely get my point.)

    For weight, I wouldn't say that lighter always equals better. A well balanced bow will usually seem lighter than one that has a balance point farther out the stick. changing the balance point 1/4 of an inch can make a huge difference. Some players prefer a lighter or a heavier bow. Either extreme of the spectrum can be bad and even lead to injuries if you aren't careful. With that said, a lot of players develop very specific preferences, down to a balance point within an 1/8th of an inch and a weight range of a few grams. For example, violin bows are typically 60g and if you make a bow 65g, you will have a very difficult time selling it. You are halfway to a typical viola bow at 70g at that point. If you have something that can measure grams, take a second to see just how small that difference of a few grams is.

    I am pretty sure if you had a bow that was half an inch longer or shorter, you would notice a difference. It really doesn't seem like much but just like string length, a small change can make a big difference. My "longer" bow is about 6mm longer than my shorter bow, and I notice. I know players who haven't had a rehair in a while notice the difference between stretched hair where their frog is almost as far back as it can go, and new hair that's pretty far forward. If you take your frog off the bow, that mortise is usually about 20-25mm long.

    When I am talking about differences in head height, frog height, hair length, stick length etc. think about really small measurements. Sartory's heads are slightly lower at the end of his career than they were at the beginning of his career. This is by probably 1-2mm or less on bass bows. That was a dramatic change that a lot of players noticed. When we are making bows, our measurements are in tenths of millimetres. Sometimes less. I have detailed drawings of Sartory bows that are in hundredths of millimetres. The differences are noticeable. If you have something that is capable of measuring that, take a look at how small I am talking about. If not, find something that has millimetres, and imagine what dividing that by 10, or 100 would look like.

    I am not trying to be condescending when I suggest finding a way to visualize those measurements. I honestly had no idea how small they really were until I started working on bows. I cannot think of another part of my day to day life where I would even think about half a millimetre, but that is a fairly large measurement in bow making.

    There is a chance that the bow in question is a "large" or "long" bow. If it is a modern bow (made around Sartory or later) I really doubt that it would be significantly longer or shorter. If it is a "period" bow of some variety, throw the rule book out the window.
     

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