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Carbon or Pernambuco for abuse

Discussion in 'Bows and Rosin [DB]' started by sas, Aug 30, 2005.

  1. sas


    Nov 8, 2002
    Vienna, Austria
    I'm welcoming your input on the following dilemma:

    I play german bow, and have suspended my quest for a fine pernambuco last year when I got hold of a Grunberger Carbow, which is a fine tool for what I'm doing (I play mostly jazz with occasional forays into classical/Contemp., travel a lot with the bow, so the carbon solution has additional appeal), although I'm still on the lookout for "the" wooden stick.

    In the meantime, I have been to Argentina several times and explored the specifics of what some of the tango bassists do to their strings/bows - most typically, a percussive fill that consists of hitting the string col legno with the full stick and muting/choking it with the left hand, to yield powerful yet rhythmically very precise fills/breaks.

    The technique is not exactly gentle on the stick. Since all the bassists I hooked up with there insist french bow is the only way for quick arc/pizz change and authentic arco articulation (and I have found this to be true from experience, for that style of music), I'll be buying a french bow now, something I've contemplating for a long time anyway.

    Regarding the abovementioned techniques, I wonder if picking another good carbon bow (french this time) is a wise choice.
    Pros as I see them: 1. carbon better suited to take this kind of abuse (is it?) 2. with carb, you pretty much know what you get (I'll probably have to be mail-ordering) 3. better suited for the climate changes it'll be going through (I'm in Austria, and travelling to Arg. in winter is quite a jump)

    Possible cons: haven't tried a carb bow for this specific technique yet, and none of the tango players uses one (maybe for availability reasons), although most of them use cheaper backup bows for the collegno hitting stuff.

    So I'm wondering if carbon, as tough a material as it seems to be, wouldn't be suffering hidden structural problems as opposed to wood, which may start looking battered but will yield an honest assessment of its condition.

    So basically, I'm looking for an affordable french bow that will take that sort of abuse as best is possible, and also be sweet to a french novice in "normal mode".

    There are workshop Duerschmitts to be had for under 500 Euros, in this neck of the woods, so that would seem like a low-risk prospect as well.

    As I said, I am quite pleased with my Carbow german, but I welcome your thoughts on which stick material would be more suitable to the specific abuse at hand, especially if any of you have played the abovementioned music/technique.

  2. olivier


    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    Man, this is interesting stuff! It would be nice if you could post some mp3 files of these tango bow strokes. Re: sturdyness of carbon bows, it seams pretty well established that carbon bows are stronger vs wood, and for that reason I use mine in free improv gigs. But I've never asked the carbon bowmakers about it. I'll try to get in touch with Jean Grunberger and Alain Le Gouic to see what think about that. Now, wooden bows usually break cleanly and can be fixed with super glue. I am sure this is not the case with carbon bows. One thing that is wrong in your post is the idea that you know what you get with carbon and can mail order. In fact within a lot of the same model you can find notable differences and it is a good idea to wait for the opportunity of music fairs and the like to choose your bow from a large selection.
    And I like your idea that col legno is not exactly col carbono.
  3. sas


    Nov 8, 2002
    Vienna, Austria
    Your thoughts are greatly appreciated, Olivier.

    If you have access to either Grunberger or Le Gouic in solliciting opinions, that would be great. Of course, they would have to have an idea of the nature of the technique (abuse) to comment, but they'll probably have heard of this anyway.

    I'll try to send you some sound bytes of what the effect sounds like, I'll need to either record it myself or copy an excerpt of a track, you will see there's quite some momentum on the stick involved.

    Also, I didn't mean to imply carbon bows were suitable for mail order - I myself travelled to Marseille last summer to select a bow from the Carbow range at a luthier workshop (Sakellarides) and ended up with the shorter, heavier Grunberger model rather than the standard. But I had an idea of what I was looking for, whereas in the french bow field, I have no reference - I will be learning the technique from scratch. Asking the same guy who sold me the german bow last year to send me what he considers a decent french (I know and trust him) seems like my best bet to get this going.
    If there were any choice of french bass bows available around here, I'd be trying them out, but there just isn't.

    In Argentina, the consensus was lighter bows were preferable for unexperienced players, especially in light of the bow-throwing/balancing involved in the very fast arco/pizz switches.

  4. For what it's worth, I have both the Carbow Grunberger french bow and the Gary Karr german bow, and to my ear, the french sounds much more natural and less "synthetic" to my ears. Point being, that if you like your german, I think you'd like the sound of the french even more.

  5. Sorry to modify the subject a little, but in this col legno techinique, does the hair play any important role? Do you hit with the side of the bow or bottom? Against the FB or below it? Are they generally using metal or gut strings? This interests me because I think an improv CD I have by Paul Rodgers sounds like this is what he is doing sometimes, but I haven't really tried it. I was worried about damaging the bow. Would I get a similar sound if I just wacked the string with a 1/4'' hardwood dowel?
  6. sas


    Nov 8, 2002
    Vienna, Austria
    The bowhair doesn't come into play, since you hit the string with the top side of the stick (holding the bow upside down).
    The concern about damage to the stick is very justified, hence my initial query about suitability of carbon.
    To restate the description of the technique itself, picture a tennis ball you drop on the floor, and continually shortening its bounce height by lowering a racquet over it until the racquet presses the ball tightly to the floor.
    Musically, the bounce rolls, as you could call them, are most often initiated on the 4-count, ending dead on the 1. At least from what I've heard on most of the tango stuff.
    Anyway, in the meantime I have gotten a very cheap french stick on ebay (yet to be rehaired) and will mess a little with that.
  7. sas


    Nov 8, 2002
    Vienna, Austria
    sorry, forgot to address 2 other questions of yours: the strings are hit towards the end of the fingerboard (there is an actual clash of the stick on the fb), and as far as strings go, I've only seen flexocors and corellis (don't recall which variety) on the instruments in BsAs I had my hands on, but I can't draw conclusions on any universal preferences there.
  8. Much thanks for the detailed desription of both the technique and the character of the sound. This is definitely what Paul Rogers is doing, however, not in a tango context, but I can imagine it's suitability in that context. I've been working with another musician who is really obcessed with latin music and tango in specific (he took a Vivaldi piece and made it into a tango!) I might try using a cheap bow to try it with.

    Some carbon fiber endpins have been reported to develop fractures (spider cracks partially through the crystalline structure) where the set screw tightens. I have never heard of this with the CF bows, but I would think striking them against the FB could potentially do the same thing. The wood will eventually splinter. It's hard to say which would last longer this way. I like your idea of just using a cheap bow (perhaps even fiberglass) Pernambucco might last longer, but is so hard to replace that I would use something less rare.
  9. Ben Rose

    Ben Rose

    Jan 12, 2004
    I saw Pablo Ziegler last weekend and the bassist was using a pernambuco bow (French) with the technique you described. My first thought was, "I oughtta get a CF bow to try that. No way would I do it with wood." But then again, he seems to be doing it regularly without much concern.