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Getting to Know the Wood

 
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whatwasithinking
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Joined: 26 Jan 2013
Posts: 227
Location: Washington State

PostPosted: Fri Apr 24, 2015 7:34 pm    Post subject: Getting to Know the Wood Reply with quote

Since this place is dead quiet, I'll throw out a question...

Nearly all makers say the most difficult thing to learn is understanding the wood. John Bolander, and others, have said that good sticks spring back quickly when tensioned. Poor ones don't. Sounds simple enough, but I have difficulty discerning the difference. If you can tell, how do you do it? I've seen experienced makers do this in a heartbeat, but I don't think I could do it reliably in an hour. Any suggestions regarding how to improve my skills?

Thanks,

Bob
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Nick Walker
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Joined: 17 Sep 2014
Posts: 48

PostPosted: Sun Apr 26, 2015 1:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've been thinking about this a lot. This best thing is probably to just feel every bow that comes through your hands. When I'm making a stick I'm constantly comparing it to others bows I've got lying around. I'm hoping this will help me feel how much material to take off and develop the ability to know good wood from not so good.

That being said, it is early in my learning process and pernambuco is difficult to come by. If it is pernambuco, I'm going to try to make a bow from it.
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whatwasithinking
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Joined: 26 Jan 2013
Posts: 227
Location: Washington State

PostPosted: Sun Apr 26, 2015 4:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nick,

Agreed. I've been told to look carefully at as many fine bows as possible. I guess eventually you just begin to notice the subtleties. I think I can spot the clear winners and losers, but the ones in between seem elusive. I expect that I'll still try to do something with the iffy pieces of wood, just for the practice.

Bob
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Will L
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Joined: 06 Mar 2011
Posts: 22

PostPosted: Sun May 10, 2015 10:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Consider this offering to be some ramblings which might mean something.

As a violinist I played thousands of bows over a lifetime. In that time I only found two bows which were what I would consider perfect. One a Tourte, and the other a Eury. How would I define "perfect?" The feel of the bow on the string and the ability to do all the bow strokes—off string and on string—perfectly as if the impulse goes directly from the brain to the violin without the right arm, hand, and fingers needing to fight or adjust. The bow and the arm-hand-fingers are one. The physical playing just flows without effort. Not a smidgen of slow response. A most remarkable sensation, and not entirely possible to explain. And of course a certain musical quality to the sound, which is more subjective. Of course, all this is only words. And they will be read differently by every person.

I studied bow making with Lynn Hannings and made a few sticks. I have an idea how to make a decent bow, but making a fine one or a "perfect" one is far beyond my knowledge.

Lynn pointed out that the old boys used all sorts of wood, I suppose not only meaning different types but also different densities, run out of grain, beauty, etc. Having perfect wood by some standard for every bow didn't seem to be as important to them as it seems to be for some current makers. Whether the wood on the two bows I mentioned was "perfect" wood, and that was the reason for their superiority, I can't say; I had no interest in those things when I played the bows, nor did I know what I or a bow maker would look for.

From my primitive perspective, I believe the trick is to get the stick to a point where it doesn't seem too stiff or too weak, all the while keeping balance and weight close to the standard ideals. Coupled with that is a careful cambering and tapering. With these factors alone, a good bow can be made and some will be better than others, and occasionally one or two might be great.

My experience with Tourtes tells me I'm about right in what I just wrote, because of the 20-25 or so I played over the years, they were all good bows, but only a few were great, and, again, only the one was perfect. So, IMO, it isn't like Tourte had a perfect consistency. Personally, I think the famous old makers simply worked like mules, and worked each stick as best they could by feel to make it work as well as possible. The fact that in general their bows are fine is a proof they knew and did something with an awareness and concept.

—just an opinion


Last edited by Will L on Sun May 10, 2015 10:41 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Will L
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Joined: 06 Mar 2011
Posts: 22

PostPosted: Sun May 10, 2015 10:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sorry. All I did was try to edit a word, and I end up posting again. I guess i should do it more often til I get it right. Confused
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whatwasithinking
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Joined: 26 Jan 2013
Posts: 227
Location: Washington State

PostPosted: Mon May 11, 2015 8:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Will,

Thanks very much for the thoughtful and detailed response.

It's so very interesting to hear how experienced players understand a bow to be good, or not as good. I was just reading an essay by Thomas Gerbeth about how a maker can interpret the stiffness of a stick completely differently than a violinist does, and how much he needs that feedback to inform his making.

Many stiff sticks seem to have been produced by makers in Markneukirchen, which is rather isolated from virtuoso players. However, you often see soft sticks from Paris, where there were many expert players. Perhaps this is not a coincidence.

The other thing I find fascinating is how a very highly skilled maker can create a wonderful bow from a very light piece of wood--a floater--or a piece of wood having a very low Lucchi number. And they can. And I think it must be because of their profound understanding of the wood, and how to exploit every last bit of its potential, as some of the old French makers must have done.

I went wine tasting with my wife and adult son yesterday, and I was struck by how we only very broadly agreed about the quality of different wines. We each had our own distinctive tastes, leading each of us to prefer different wines, and to insist that a particular sample was the best of the day. Isn't that how it is with bows, too? It makes me worry a bit less about how a particular piece of wood will turn out, but I still realize that I must do my best to extract the qualities of that particular billet.

And I've been told that there are good Tourtes and bad ones, from players' perspectives. So I guess I can be like Tourte, at least in one respect--I'm quite capable of making a bad bow at this point. It's a level of making within easy reach!

Time to go try to finish a stick. And it's a light piece of wood. I wonder how it will perform?

Bob
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