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Heavy bows?

Discussion in 'Bows and Rosin [DB]' started by Silversorcerer, Jul 19, 2007.

  1. Does anyone use a bow that weighs more than 200 grams? Who likes heavy bows?
  2. Jeff Moote

    Jeff Moote Supporting Member

    Oct 11, 2001
    Beamsville, ON, Canada
    200g! The most I've heard of anyone using is 175-180g. Most symphony players use something in the 145-160g range, though there are some firmly in the "light bow" camp with 120-135g bows and some who like a heavy one (165+).

    I'd be interested to find out that a 200g bow even exists. Possibly with silver fittings all around (tip, wrap, screw, lining).
  3. Look at this link that I found on the 5th tunings thread. I think a fellow named Jeff Moote posted the link to Silvio's page. I was checking out that link and the name August Muller who was a virtuoso that felt that bass bows were far too light for the purpose .......

    My favorite cheap bow is in the mid 140's I think. But sometimes I am digging in wondering if it would be less work with a heavier bow. Just wondered if anyone has tried a much heavier bow.
  4. Jeff Moote

    Jeff Moote Supporting Member

    Oct 11, 2001
    Beamsville, ON, Canada
    Who is that Jeff guy anyway? Fascinating stuff at that link (I'd never read that article before).

    Still I think that is not "typical" and most people, pros included are using sub 200g bows.
  5. Typical? You want typical? How's about I tunes this 5 stringer in fifths and plays it with a 250 gram bow?:D

    I've played it with 2 german bows stacked up and that gets a note right away. I did truly enjoy that link but now I want to try this heavy bow. I'm already on to the black horse hair. Definitely a step in the same direction.

    a bit off topic, but do you also tune your EBG's in 5ths?
  6. Jeff Moote

    Jeff Moote Supporting Member

    Oct 11, 2001
    Beamsville, ON, Canada
    I go back and forth on black vs. white hair. Black for me right now, we'll see if I choose the same when I get my next rehair.

    For now I don't tune any bass in 5ths. The DB is a decision I'm right on the edge of making... my new teacher says he doesn't mind if I want to try it :meh: :)

    I've tuned an electric in 5ths before out of curiosity. I'd been working through the Bach suites, and found playing them as written (an octave down) on a bass tuned CGDA made a lot of sense. Now whenever I start to work on them properly on DB I'll play them at pitch.

    It's interesting though - most of what I'm looking for by tuning the DB in 5ths is redundant on electric. The biggest thing about the bass in 5ths is intonation, especially with other string instruments. On a fretted electric this is meaningless since intonation already sucks on fretted instruments. When I play fretless EBG, I'm still just playing jazz or popular styles, so it's not a big deal. I play 5 strings, so I have the low range. On DB, I'd be gaining the low range, better intonation with the other strings... all I have to do is learn to play it! :p :D

    Wow - way off topic! Sorry :bag:
  7. If you are on a 5 string EBG your life will be a whole lot simpler if you bite the bullet and get a 5 string DB. Trust me, it's no big deal really. And obviously we both need the heavier bow, too. I mean how is 150 grams suppose to cut that BB string??? I have to use a lot of power on the low strings, black hair, 140+ gram bow, soft rosin and all. It's a huge sound when it finally starts, but I am hearing what Muller was saying in that article. A heavier bow might be less work.

    Seriously, I researched the Brandenburgs and it seems one was played on a "violone grosso" which was tuned in fourths up from C. For violones, tuning in 4ths was preferred in Germany. But the basses came from instruments that were more related to the guitar in tuning and a 3rd tuning was usually thrown in the mix in other countries.

    The fifths tuning is an interesting concept though. I can see your point on the harmonic relations. 4ths has a lot going for it that way too. The reason fifths and 4ths work is that both of these are perfect harmonies. It is a totality mathemathically because the 1st is the 5th of the 4th. So either system, 4ths or 5ths, has some really strong harmonic relations between strings. 3rds are the ones that don't work. It's a fairly isolated harmony that becomes problematic. Either one, minor or major are very great harmonies, but they just don't relate strongly to as many other notes in the scale as the tonic, 4th and 5th. The partials across all the strings are strongly related with a pure 4th or 5th tuning scheme. That makes the instrument resonate better on the "in tune" note. 4th tuning is not worse in that way, just different.

    So anyway how much does you bow weigh?
  8. bassist14


    Oct 17, 2005
    hi silversorcerer,

    did you try to ballast your bow with little plumb-weights? i think it can be an easy way to check out a heavy-bow-feeling.
  9. Jeff Moote

    Jeff Moote Supporting Member

    Oct 11, 2001
    Beamsville, ON, Canada
    Well, I know it's not terribly difficult but the bow presents a challenge not present on EBG. A significant arch would be required to allow for clean string crossing, making the BB string harder yet to access. I'm not opposed to 5 string DBs at all, but I also like the idea of not getting a new bass. Fifths tuned 4 strings do have a lot of appeal to me aside from the range though :)

    I'd disagree there - 4ths have a problem that 5ths do not that has more to do with relating to other instruments than the harmonic relationships themselves. So I agree that if you make all your 4ths perfect (that is, not equally tempered, but true 4ths) and then play alone your strings will have a nice resonant relationship. The problem is the first octave or so of your range and certainly the entire E string will be horribly flat in an ensemble. This is why we tune our E string sharp all the time... In 5ths, if you make them perfect, your strings are the same interval apart as all the other string instruments. You still have a different sense of intonation to a wind instrument which is tied to the harmonic series, but you certainly stand a better chance of being in tune with the cellists, etc.

    Mine is 144g. My favourite bow so far has been a Reid Husdon that my teacher has which I believe is around 150g.
  10. Some very good points there about how 5ths relate to the rest of the stringed instruments. You have a fairly advanced understanding of just harmony. But I'm wondering about some of the details. Tuning E strings sharp? Who tunes the E string sharp? Why on earth would they not just tune it to the A string using the 5th of the A (E) at the 1/3 harmonic position and the double octave at the quarter division of the E string?

    Why do you think tuning in pure 4ths would make the low octave flat compared to instruments tuned in perfect 5ths? I don't follow that if neither is using equal temperament. We start with A 440 and go either direction depending on our octave. The harmonic series for 4ths and 5ths is bound to be identical, except for octave voicing. The only difference is whether the fundamental pitches start high or low, they end up being the same notes just different octaves. here's what I mean and I think Ken Smith touched on this just a bit. You can have a bass tuned C G D A or A D G C. 5ths or 4ths, it doesn't matter. The resultant pitches have the same mathematical relation. 3/4 is half the reciprocal of 2/3. Or if you take the pitch of the 5th as a ratio 2/3, and the 4th as a ratio 3/4. Then you multiply one by the other. That gives you one half, or the octave. Or as I stated earlier, the 1st is the 5th of the 4th. In just harmony, any tuning with 4ths or 5ths or even combinations of 4ths and 5ths is going to give perfect resonances across the partials.

    It is plausible that one voicing might complement another instrument better, but I think it would be a subtle difference at most. Now where what you say makes sense is when you start with some other note like for instance BB. As long as you get there going down from A=440 (in our case A=55) it's going to be fine. Just move down to E using the harmonics to tune and get to the BB, the same way. That string is always hard to tune, by the way. It is so flexible that the pitch wobbles all over and you really have to use the harmonics. It's so low that it behaves strangely. This is the one place where you have a very good point;- that starting with a low C and being exactly an octave below the cello in tuning would be a stronger low resonance harmonic series. The BB functions quite well at reinforcing the F#s and C#s, which can sometimes be a little dead on a 4 string bass. So I tend to find the 5 string design plays more evenly than 4. It would be interesting to try 4 tuned in 5ths and see if that is better. I don't have a lot of experience in string ensembles so I have no observations there.

    I do know what you mean about bow access on the fiver string thing. I think it is possible to work it out so that it is not so difficult. It just takes tweaking the set-up for 5 strings. Historically these instruments had 6 strings and were built with less arch and less overstand and lower bridges. It they were playable then, we can do it now, too. And it makes sense to explore the 5ths tunings to me as well. It's like learning to play mandolin or something. I'm totally lost on those instruments but I know some blue grassers who jump from instruments tuned in 4ths to ones in 5ths and then oddities like banjos with no problems, so obviously it's not that big a deal to check that out.

    Interesting that you like the heavier bow also. 144 is probably close to my favorite bow's weight. I'm having a custom bow made and depending on how that one comes out I may have the fellow make another heavier one. We are shooting for around 140 grams or so for the first one. At the time I ordered it I was thinking balance was more important than overall weight, but weight is probably of equal importance. I haven't tried loading the bow with weights, but using two at once is sort of the same idea. Seriously, if you have two German bows, you can stack one on top of the other in your hand and play the instrument with two bows at one time and the sense of power in the stroke with the extra weight is clearly noticeable. I was amazed that this would give a good note. Obviously the two bands of hair makes it sound scratchy and squeaky a bit, but the notes start almost effortlessly.
  11. Jeff Moote

    Jeff Moote Supporting Member

    Oct 11, 2001
    Beamsville, ON, Canada
    Anyone who has played in an orchestra will tell you that to some extent you need to be sharper than tuning with those harmonics will get you. It's the only way for those notes (say, low E through B at the heel) will be in tune with the other strings. I don't mean a lot either - say you're tuning up using the harmonic from the A string, you'd tune until the beats disappear and then just a tiny bit higher (before any real beats become apparent on the sharp side). If you don't make such compensations, you run into many of the intonation issues we face on our fretted EBGs, except it's 1000x more obvious when trying to play DB with other strings.

    What you've said is entirely true for open strings. The relationships do work the same, but as soon as you start stopping notes different things happen. Lower strings respond differently. I haven't really sat down and figured this all out (I should, after all being that I'm an engineering student and the math/physics is very easy to me) but my experience tells me that fourths don't work as well as we'd like, and those who tune in fifths say that it works. I guess I won't know for sure unless I try it.

    My experience playing with other strings indicates that there are many more intonation issues with bass matching the other strings (generally we're most concerned with the cello, since it's nearest in range) than the other strings have with each other (say, cellos with upper strings). I don't know first hand that fifths tuning corrects this, but all the advocates of this tuning emphasize this as one of the main benefits (along with a more resonant sound due to sympathetic vibrations, and the ability to reach contra C without an extension or 5th string - these are the 3 main points).

    You mention that historically people played instruments with 5 and 6 strings - "if it worked then, it can work now" - but the difference is that their level of playing was very primitive compared to ours. We're now expected to do a lot more with our instrument and that kind of dexterity makes 5+ more of a challenge. Obviously it's possible as many pros, especially in Germany, play 5 strings in the orchestra all the time. For me, I don't see the "mental" aspect (reading, finding notes) of fifths being a big deal. I'm just good at wrapping my head around that kind of thing I guess. Very much like I find I don't have to think about key sigs as much as most people - everyone's complaining when we're playing in B major (5 sharps) and I have no problem.

    I don't play german at all, so in that way I think our approach is very different, but yes I do like a heavier bow. Most people I've known tend to go either really light (in the 120s) or fairly heavy (145+) with fewer preferring something intermediate like a 135g bow. I think that's because they are approaching the bow from a different physical perspective so it goes beyond preference to becoming an issue of matching the tool to the technique.

    At least one paragraph in my post pertains to the original topic of this thread! (I think both discussions are interesting though :))
  12. One place where I could see these intonation issue you speak of might occur in the key of C major, which is a common orchestral key. If you have a cello playing C and it's notes in that scale on the harmonics that could be somewhat problematic with a bass tuned in 4ths E, A, D, G. The lowest C in that tuning is a minor third of A, which might not match the pitch of the C the cello is tuned to. It might be tuned to the pitch of the 3/4 division of the G string. And the minor 3rd of A isn't the same note as the 4th of G in just harmony.

    But it really depends on how the cello is tuned. And to an extent it depends on how the bass is made too. My bass has either a cavity or body resonance at C, which makes the C's all really strong notes no matter which one is played. There are so many variables that it would be hard to say that one tuning strategy is going to always be the best.

    And I still don't understand why anyone would want to be the least bit sharp. As soon as you pluck or bow a note it goes toward the sharp side. My experience is that the more carefully the instrument is tuned to itself the better it sounds in any context where the other instruments are tuned to the same standard. I also don't understand the compensation concept or why it would introduce problems associated with frets to not compensate the tuning. I don't get the connection. Isn't it better to be right on pitch instead of sharp or flat?

    One thing to keep in mind about the historical instruments is that they were playing a lot of the same pieces we play today. That the expectations are higher today might be true, but I think it would be without foundation to assume that we necessarily have a higher level of playing today. There are no recordings to substantiate that and certainly we know the quality level of the old instruments is still difficult to surpass. We probably do have strings that stay in tune better, but I doubt our hands or ears are any finer tuned than 200 or even 300 years ago. I remember one discussion that postulated that orchestras were usually out of tune in the days before steel strings. Well, recording technology was way ahead of steel orchestra strings and recordings from the 50's and 60's of the great symphonies indicate that orchestras could perform very well with gut strings.

    I think it would be interesting for you to try to explain some of the phenomena you observe in terms of mathematics. Particularly the intonation thing that you sense is exclusive to the bass. As long as one tunes with harmonics (of course how carefully one tunes with harmonics might be a clue here) the same pitches will be arrived at coming from 4ths or 5ths of a standard note. There are no other notes in the scale that have the same kind of relationship as the the 4th and 5th, and those are really interchangeable because of the mathematical relationship of 3/4 and 2/3 as far as establishing relative intervals between strings.

    I'm guessing the big issue is not so much tuning in 5ths, but what notes end up being open strings, particularly if the trouble is with stopped notes. If you start with C, well it makes sense in some instances that this will be better, but what if you started with B? So maybe it's not the 4ths. Maybe it is the pitches of the open strings. If these were in the same series as the cello? So a bass tuned in 4ths starting with low C (like the old violone grosso) might be just as good as one tuned in 5ths from the same low note. So I could take my 5-string and tune it up a half step and maybe get the same advantages from an intonation stand point? What do you think?

    I can explain why the heavier bow might work better pretty easily. It requires less additional pressure from the player. Only it might not be a big advantage to someone who plays standing. I'm going to give it whirl. It's tougher to know on the 5th tuning scheme but I'm glad someone is curious enough to try it out.
  13. Ashley Long

    Ashley Long

    Jan 3, 2004
    I have to disagree here, The Brandenurg Concerti (at least the first four) would have been Violone in D (low to high D-G-C-E-A-D). In baroque performance practice, I would never tune to a C and I've never met anyone who has. Most of the time, the bass has no separate part (except in Brandenburg 3), and tuning to a low C would result in such a flabby sound that any authentic bow articulation would be virtually impossible. Any C below the stave is generally up the octave, D is the lowest open string pitch (I tune my baroque bass D-A-D-G unless I'm playing something requiring Vienesse tuning).
    Historically, the three-stringed basses began to replace the Violone around the late baroque/early classical. Virtually all old basses (Im thinking here of Amati and Da Salo as examples) would have been six-stringed instruments. However, most of these instruments were converted to keep up with modern playing standards (Dragonetti's da Salo bass was originally 6-strings but converted at some point to three). The only bass I know of with its original neck is the ex-Tarisio da Salo (c.1560) bass which is now four strings but was definitely made as a 6-stringer as can be seen from the peg-box holes.
    The use of the low C, came in much later when 5-strings were becoming standardized. Tuning with harmonics can be disastrous in baroque music as the music is based on un-equal temprement. If you are playing in mean tone tuning (which has a very flat 6th) then tuning in perfect fourths means that due to the increased resonance of baroque instruments, the 7th partial overtones will be drastically out of key.

    Coming back to the thread, I have a snakewood bow which weighs 156gm and measures 678mm. I found that the bow is very stiff at this weight and will therefore bounce much more. I found that initially, very fast playing was more difficult due to the increased weight but this is a problem solved by practice and endurance and eventually I found I adjusted to the weight and now have the speed and accuracy that I have with much lighter bows. The power a heavier bow gives you means that you work much less on louder passages but, quiet spiccato is more difficult and I found I have to play such material much closer to the frog otherwise the bow bounces too much. I think 250gms of bow would rip off my arm however.........
  14. bassplayer57


    Aug 15, 2006
    Toledo, Ohio
    My bow is only 126g, and I believe that relates to how I have to really focus on keeping the weight down. I think that the lighter bows are very good for the high harmonics in 5th position, but the bows that are lighter require MUCH more pressure to play Pesante.

    I just couldn't believe that the bow was only 126g! It is pernambuco, with ebony frog, and silver wrap, so I just don't know how it is so light! How do they make them so light, but with the same materials of bows that are 150+g??

    I think I need a Heavier bow!
  15. Here is the reference I was talking about concerning the Brandenburgs. It it not first hand knowledge in any case. The book referenced is by Malcolm Boyd, who could be wrong......

    Also these scores list the original instrumentation that Boyd refers to. Am I misreading the octave somehow?
  16. Ashley Long

    Ashley Long

    Jan 3, 2004
    No not at all, the word Violone is a misnomer anyway. However, it was during Bach's time that the 6-stringed fretted basses began to phase-out. I just meant that speaking from experience, it is doubtful that a low C would have been used as it takes too long to sound and articulate which would render it useless due to the 'snappiness', for want of a better term, of baroque music. The examples you gave are quite correct in their sources, but it is doubtful that it would be used then, and I certainly have never heard of it being used now. However, Jerry Fuller may have some more info on this. From experience however, I would never go below a 16' D as it muddies everything out thus loosing the clearer textures.
  17. Ashley Long

    Ashley Long

    Jan 3, 2004
    Thats not completely true, they were just as 'advanced' as us in terms of technical execution (just look at Bach and Corelli sonata's and fantasia's for violin virtuosity. The major difference is that string playing today is left hand orientated in terms of the expressive qualities where as in Baroque (particularly as a continuo player) there is little left hand vibrato and the right hand and the bow deals with expression. Yes playing standards have got higher but playing those pieces well is just as hard now as it was then, ultimately, baroque music requires a performer to listen much more to the ensemble and be much more intuitive with dynamics etc as the harmonic direction of a piece is often obvious and the dynamics and bow articulations should reflect that.
  18. Jeff Moote

    Jeff Moote Supporting Member

    Oct 11, 2001
    Beamsville, ON, Canada
    Maybe I wasn't clear on how I was approaching the subject - in no way do I feel the music is less demanding on the whole. The difference is not in the virtuoso compositions, but in the virtuoso themselves. Standards for playing are way higher now whether you believe it or not. Technology has permitted us to play faster, louder and more expressively and the expectations of performers have kept up. The professional music business reflects this where section players in most major orchestras are impressive soloists in their own right and only the best even have jobs. This was not the case 50 years ago, never mind a few hundred...
  19. Ashley Long

    Ashley Long

    Jan 3, 2004
    No I quite agree. I meant that a different kind of virtuosity is required, in many ways period performance is divorced from todays playing styles. Sorry, its my fault, my point wasn't so clear on reflection.
  20. Jeff Moote

    Jeff Moote Supporting Member

    Oct 11, 2001
    Beamsville, ON, Canada
    I'm glad we cleared that up :)

    Period performance has many of its own challenges - these are what make it authentic and enjoyable to listen to. I just wouldn't put technical virtuosity on that list of challenges, meaning that simply because the notes were playable then does not mean we can play them easily now in the way they're expected to be heard on our instruments set up for contemporary performance (I'm not talking about period performance either, but more like the renditions of the Brandenburgs we're used to hearing now).

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