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Snakewood Vs. Pernambouco

Discussion in 'Bows and Rosin [DB]' started by jonroxursox, Dec 21, 2004.

  1. jonroxursox


    Dec 21, 2004
    I was wondering if anyone could provide any information as to the advantages/differences between a snakewood bow and a pernambouco bow. I've noticed snakewood bows tend to be more expensive, yet is there any advantage other then the natural beauty of the wood I.E does it bounce better, different feel etc.

    Thanks a bunch,

  2. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    I have never tried one myself but I have heard that they are loud and that the tone is dark. I am very interested in trying one myself.
  3. Ashley Long

    Ashley Long

    Jan 3, 2004
    My Viola da Gamba bow is made of Snakewood and that has a nice dark sound, as for double bass though I have no idea.
  4. Pete G

    Pete G

    Dec 31, 2001
    Northern Virginia
    I think I recall Sue Lipkins saying that snakewood is a better choice for German bows than for French bows. I'm not sure why, though.
  5. anonymous12251111

    anonymous12251111 Banned

    Apr 6, 2007
    Snakewood is VERY dense, they are actually very bright sounding and are incredibly stiff. My main bow is a Snakewood Walke Bow (Fr). Keep in mind that Snakewood amplifies your sound to the 9th degree, it ALSO amplifies your mistakes much more so than Pernambuco. Some people find them a bit too heavy so it definitely also is a big change, I've found myself really having to relax and let the bow do the work. Overdoing it can crush the sound.

    Also, they're not very flexible so Spicatto requires your arm to be much much more relaxed and less motion is required. (Which most people find difficult)
  6. jmears


    Jan 26, 2007
    I had a collection of bows on trial a while ago, including a number of pernambuco, one snakewood and a carbon fibre bow.

    I found the snakewood bow heavier than the pernambuco ones, and it tended to kill the tone resulting in a slightly muffled sound.

    But that is only one bow.

  7. robobass


    Aug 1, 2005
    Cologne, Germany
    Private Inventor - Bass Capos
    I would agree with most of this. I had a snakewood french bow made to my specs by Yitamusic in China. It turns out not to be any heavier than the pern. bow it was patterned after (~149g), but the response is VERY different. I find it is brighter and louder on stiffer basses, i.e. a modern 5-string Poellmann, but on my soft 4-string Pfretzchner it actually draws less sound, and the tone is rather thin.

    As for spiccato (spelling?), I think I actually use less arm but a looser grip. I find that overall I use less hair length when playing faster passages, as Calvin said.

    The biggest difference I find is that when I'm playing fast loud stuff on a stiffer bass I can really hammer on the string right at the frog - and I mean RIGHT at the frog! For me this means that I can send the energy more from the wrist and forearm, and less from the shoulder. I'm not a big guy and have a tough time reaching around a 4/4 bass, so for my orchestra work this bow has been a big help.

    In the end, I'm very happy to have the bow, but it isn't good for everything. Do I recommend snakewood? There are just to many variables to say yes or no. Try one. No, try several!
  8. I believe snakewood was the norm before the discovery of Pernambuco's superiority. I think the only reason people are going back to snakewood is because of Pernambuco's relative scarcity.
  9. robobass


    Aug 1, 2005
    Cologne, Germany
    Private Inventor - Bass Capos
    Well, that might be a factor, but I think it's not so simple. Snakewood and pernambuco respond very differently. Is pernambuco superior? I find in some cases yes and in others no. There are many more choices in strings than there were 30 or 50 years ago, for example, so naturally we should be experimenting with more than one bow material. And, just because pernambuco dominated in the 20th century, does that mean it was the best choice? there are lots of examples of longstanding trends in the world that eventually fell from grace once people started looking at them more critically. Let's not get into economics or religion or anything!
  10. Basschair

    Basschair .............. Supporting Member

    Feb 5, 2004
    Stockton, Ca
    Great discussion!

    IIRC, one factor in the prevalence of the use of pernambuco was the fact that it was imported heavily into European countries as material for dye. The wood became commonplace for a time, easy to get, and was found by bowmakers to be a great wood to use for bows. It's not as if bows didn't exist before then: there were other woods being used. Pau d'Arco (wood of the bow?), Snakewood, Bloodwood, Wamara, Massaranduba, and probably others I've forgotten.

    I think that the trend of Snakewood being more commonly used is related to the fact that it's become easier to purchase bows from foreign countries that have easier access to it, it's something of a novelty to have that amazing design on a well-figured bow, and because of its historical significance...not to mention that it can have a great sound for some. Then again, I could just be speculating (out of my behind).
  11. CaseyVancouver


    Nov 4, 2012
    Thread resurrection!
    Anyone have more to add?

    I find myself flirting with snakewood for it's beauty. I have a high end pernambuco Schicker German that I'm happy with, not looking to replace it. Just curious and have seen beautiful snakewoods for only a couple hundred $.

    Are the inexpensive ones ok?
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2017
  12. Casey,

    I bought a Yita snakewood bow a couple of years ago on eBay. Like yourself, I was also drawn to it by the beauty of the wood and curiosity about the playing qualities. As others have noted, snakewood is very dense, heavy and stiff. This particular bow (a German stick) was 153g. The hair as-delivered was pretty mediocre; I had it rehaired (which essentially added $100 to the purchase price), and it was like a whole new bow. It was a particularly good match with the 5-string bass I play in the orchestra. Ultimately, however, I found it a bit more challenging to control the articulation and "feel" the bass through the stick. I ended up falling back on my old pernambuco stick. Part of the issue may have also been that it had a snakewood frog cut in the Viennese shape, which I think doesn't exactly agree with my hand.

    That's my personal experience. As always, your mileage may vary. (Whatever you do, though, hang onto that Schicker! Had one in college that I now regret selling.) ;)

    CaseyVancouver likes this.
  13. Hi Casey! Definitely talk to Gerard if you haven't already. I seem to recall him saying that most of the inexpensive bows coming out of China are a serious pain to rehair, due to poorly cut mortises and other quality issues. I think players tend to like the Yita snake woodbows though. They do tend to be heavier, which can be a good thing if that's your thing...
    robobass and CaseyVancouver like this.