DAVID VAN EDWARDS
BOW CATALOGUE 2015
Most of the standard bows are in stock and can be sent straightaway, special orders or bows out of stock can usually be made within two or three weeks.
To see a short list showing the range of players using our bows, click here
The Smokehouse, 6 Whitwell Road, Norwich NR1 4HB, England
Telephone: + 44 1603 629899
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VIOLA DA GAMBA BOWS
These I make in two forms:
1. Renaissance. A rather pointed, shallow headed bow which suits rapid renaissance divisions, gives a very quick, rather sharp articulation and little sense of floating or sustain; the bow obeys the hand exactly and adds nothing.
2. Baroque. A deeper headed form which gives a sense of float and grace, most players find it very satisfactory for the normal run of consort music.
Both of these can be made straight, in which case they will take up the convex curve seen in almost all the pictures of the 17th century, or they can be given a reverse [concave] curve like a modern violin bow, which will give a much tighter feel to the hair and will seem to "grip" the string better. Obviously players of modern instruments will feel more at home with this form and it does enable the solo repertoire to be played with considerable brio but it is probably anachronistic for the earlier part of the 17th century. The same bow given a reverse curve will feel completely different and can be made lighter for the same degree of hair tension, reaching the limit of this possibility in the modern violin bow. [Many players do not realise that even modern violin bows are made straight and then given their curve by bending with heat.]
The normal sizes are:
Some people prefer a longer bow for the treble and some find the tenor bow a more familiar size for their treble viols. I can make a treble bow any length you prefer, but this is what I recommend.
This is a group of our bass viol bows in unfigured snakewood.
THE MARAIS BOW
There was a special development of the bass viol bow in France in the 17th century for playing the expressive solo repertoire for the 7 string bass viol. It seems to have been somewhat longer with a long button and an elongated head. This has come to be known in modern times as the Marais bow because there are two well-known portraits of this famous player which clearly show him playing the same bow at different times of his life.
And here is a close-up of the bow from the first picture.
Many makers have made their own versions of this bow and here is ours in figured snakewood with boxwood fittings. The stick length is 762mm and the weight is 83 grams.
EARLY VIELLE AND FIDDLE BOWS
I have recently developed a medieval bow [c.1550] with no head and the hair fastened to the tip in the same way as an archery bow of the period. This is based on the bow shown in the da Costa painting in the National Gallery, amongst others, and has been found to work surprisingly well. The frog is completely fixed and the bow is strung and unstrung after playing, just like an archery bow.
BAROQUE VIOLIN, VIOLA AND CELLO BOWS
These have the same variations of head and curve as the gamba bows but the pointed, shallow head form seems to have persisted until later for violin and viola, though by the time of Leopold Mozart's treatise on violin playing (1756) the baroque form seems to predominate. Early cello, bass violin and double bass bows seem to have had the deeper head form from about 1600 on. If you are using all gut bass strings for these larger instruments you may find that they speak more quickly with black hair, which is coarser and seems to grip the string more securely.
Normally I make baroque violin bows with a stick length of 68cm, viola bows at 67cm and baroque cello bows at 73cm; but players' requirements are so various that I am very happy to make bows of any length.
The same comments about reverse curves apply as for gamba bows. In fact the differences between gamba and early violin family bows are very hard to determine and it is often very difficult to tell for which instrument any given historical bow was intended.
This is a typical group of our violin bows. From the top:
EARLY CLASSICAL VIOLIN, VIOLA AND CELLO BOWS
For the transitional period between the early baroque and the modern Tourte violin bow I have developed a graded series with gradually increasing reverse curves and head depths and gradually decreasing stick thickness. So, if you tell me roughly which period of music you intend mostly to play, or where on the spectrum of transition you would like your bow to be, I will do my best to make something suitable.
One of our transitional bows is based on the form of the so-called Stradivari bow which is featured in the Hill brothers' book. This has a nice gentle reverse curve and a fine delicate head clearly somewhere between the baroque and modern forms.
TRANSITIONAL VIOLIN, VIOLA AND CELLO BOWS
Transitional bows are also often known as Cramer bows after Wilhelm Cramer (1745-1799) a virtuoso violinist who made a big impact when he arrived in London in 1772, even though it is not known for certain what sort of bow he used!
Thus it is that these transitional bows are worthy of study in their own right and not just as poor attempts at a modern bow. For the music of the period, roughly 1750-1820, you may find they offer a delicacy and agility which suits the repertoire while still having more power than the earlier classical bow. They also blend in more tonally with other instruments of the period such as the fortepiano.
We have therefore chosen three or four historical bows to base our transitional bows on. These bows by Duke, Forster, Dodd and that great maker Anon, seem to represent the range of styles shown being used at the time. They are all subtly different in terms of balance and spring but all represent a new sound world from either the modern bow or the earlier Italian sonata bow. We hope you will enjoy trying them.
This is closely based on an anonymous late 18th centrury bow (E358) in Paris which is thought to be English.
This one is closely based on another anonymous bow in the Hill Collection (No.25) in the Ashmolean museum, Oxford.
See also the major article on transitional bows The Violin bow in the 18th Century by David Boyden, Early Music, Vol. 8, No. 2, Keyboard Issue 2, (Apr., 1980), pp. 199-212
Based on the contemporary engraving of Paganini shown above which shows the head of his bow clearly and on an anonymous bow in the Hill Collection in Oxford [No. 24] this bow is suitable for the 18th century virtuoso repertoire such as Tartini. It has a curved double-ended head, obviously transitional between the baroque and the modern form of head, quite elegant and very light. I show here a cello version in highly figured snakewood.
CONSTRUCTION & WOODS
The bows are octagonal or fluted or round stick. The basic bows are octagonal, but to make them lighter or to feel more delicate, without much altering the the stiffness, they can be fluted from the tip to approximately the point of balance. This is an approximate cross-section of fluting
Alternatively they can be made round, leaving just a short length of octagonal section on which the frog runs. The differences are very slight but it seems that fluting puts a slight edge on to the sound while round sticks sound slightly sweeter.
This is very attractive but doesn't affect the playing characteristics of the bow, some people do find it has the effect of giving more texture for the fingers to grip. (All of these designs were originally borrowed from classical Greek architecture of columns)
Normally I make the fittings, frogs and knobs, from African blackwood (Dalbergia Melanoxylon) because it takes a higher polish than ebony and has a closer grain. However I also often use snakewood or fumed boxwood (Buxus Sempervirens) for the fittings. The choice is mostly aesthetic but boxwood is marginally lighter in weight as well as colour. Early bows very commonly had fittings made of ivory, which looks and feels wonderful but is now illegal to trade across borders. I can offer, amazingly, mammoth ivory from 10,000 year old fossilised Siberian mammoth tusks. This is really just like old ivory and offers a way round the rules, but it is increasing in price dramatically, so now I need to charge an extra £150 per bow.
These pictures were taken with flash by a rather primitive camera; a more accurate, albeit much darker, impression of the frogs can be seen in this photo taken without flash.
I use stainless steel for the spindles which otherwise often rust. Screw adjustment of the frog is probably anachronistic for the earlier bows but it is a great convenience in allowing adjustment for changes in the weather, however I do also offer clip-in frog renaissance bows with an extra long portion of stick behind the frog for those who like the feel of these. I have developed a new system of tensioning for clip-in frog bows with a small built in ratchet which allows for a small amount of variation to accommodate for changes in humidity. This is not such a large adjustment as the standard screw mechanism but it does do away with one of the major objections to clip-in frog bows without adding appreciably to the weight.
CHARACTERS OF DIFFERENT WOODS
Pernambuco (Caesalpinia Echinata) This is an orange brown wood, heavy and very stiff and is the standard wood used for the modern violin bow. It was originally imported mostly as a dye wood and legend has it that Tourte was the first to notice its suitability as a bow wood. This is demonstrably untrue as there are many pernambuco bows from before Tourte's time, but it is true that after Tourte it became almost the only wood used for good bows. It produces a very bright, brilliant sound from the instrument. In my opinion it became popular in the age of the virtuoso violinists because is emphasises the upper harmonics of the notes and thus sounds more brilliant, but equally its harder to control. So like the repertoire of the time it is a high-wire act!
Snakewood (Piratinera Guianensis) is the other main wood used for bows, particularly earlier period bows. It is difficult to obtain and is ferociously expensive but it does make a wonderful bow. It produces a rich powerful sound and is much used by professional players of period instruments because of the volume it can produce. It is one of the heaviest, stiffest woods known, smooth and dark brown for the most part. However some snakewood has a decorative figure of irregular black patches which look a bit like the markings on a snake, hence the name. This figure varies from log to log, and also within each log, some parts are highly figured, some have a mild figure and other parts have virtually no figure at all. This is a representative selection of what we call in the stocklist description of each bow highly figured, figured and unfigured. These three pieces came from adjacent parts of the same log. It is very strange and beautiful but it adds nothing to the playing character of the bows, only to the cost!
Partridgewood (Caesalpinia Grenadillo) is closely related to pernambuco but quite different in appearance, being much darker brown with markings like the feathers in partridge wings and heavier. It seems a good substitute for those who like a heavier bow without excessive thickness but, because it is somewhat weaker I would only recommend it in the reverse curve form.
Ebony (Diospyros spp.) is surprisingly good as a bow wood. It tends to produce a very smooth sound, somewhat lacking in top edge, so it would be best used for instruments (or players!) which normally have a rather strident or harsh tone. Its jet black appearance is very striking.
The effect of ebony is to take away the upper harmonics of the notes so that a smoother more mellow sound is created, but at the expense of some of the expressive potential. In the long run an ebony bow sounds dull, uninteresting compared to snakewood and pernambuco. Pernambuco is the opposite, it lends the most brilliance to the playing, but has the problems associated with this potential; in sonic terms, it's a bit of a high wire act! No surprise that it became so popular in the 19th century heyday of the virtuoso. Snakewood is in many ways the ideal compromise for the baroque repetoire.
Greenheart (Ocotea Rodiaei) is actually rather more khaki than green, but it is a very good wood for the lighter bows. It used to be used for hand-made fishing rods because of its springiness and resilience, as well as for lock-gates and sea defences because of its toughness!
SOME REMARKS ABOUT BOWS AND HAIR
In general a bow has to resonate sympathetically with the instrument and this is affected by almost everything you care to name: weight and tension of strings, hair, bow, bow arm, soundboard, etc etc. So the best bow is the one that works best for you, and may not be the same as the best for the next player or instrument.
Beginning students may have bad habits, of playing position etc. or be insufficiently clear about what they're listening for, in which case the teacher's opinion on the bow, [preferably played on the student's instrument though] may be the most accurate and useful.
The ability of a bow to carry hair to a given optimum tension is determined by its stiffness. So a stiffer bow can carry more hair to the same tension than a weaker stick. Thus modern violin bows, with their very stiff geometry of reverse bend, can commonly carry 180 hairs whereas a bass viol bow is likely to have about 130 hairs. Therefore the number of hairs will vary from bow to bow, from wood type and curvature. If there are too many hairs for the bow they will feel slack. The weight of the hairs in any given hair band will act as a kind of 'inertia' to drive the string, and so in general the more hairs the louder, subject to the provisos above.
For large instruments with all gut stringing such as baroque cellos, large bass viols or bass violins, black hair is often better for getting the thick bass strings moving at the start of a note. This is because the individual hairs of black hair are thicker and thus have a greater area in contact with the string. The microscopic scales on the surface of the hair which hold the rosin and provide the 'stick-slip' grip on the string are also coarser and further apart in the case of black hair, and so, though often louder and quicker to speak, they may produce a rather coarse sound. If your large gut strings are slow to speak and rather feeble, it may be worth experimenting with black hair in your bow.
Try the bow on your instrument, preferably with a friend listening at a distance to compare notes on volume and clarity. Ignore the price ticket and concentrate on getting the best sound and then look at the price!
MY TERMS OF TRADE!
Players, their instruments and their teachers are so variable that a bow which suits one will not do for another, and both may be right! Consequently I send out my bows on approval for a week's trial and welcome them back with comments.
Bows are sent by registered or insured post in specially made screw-top tubes. Any bows returned should also be sent by registered or insured post in the original tube. And carefully wrapped to prevent the bow moving up and down in the tube!
Price, for standard bows:
£230 in pernambuco and ebony.
Fluting and reeding are both £65 extra for any bow.
Different payment methods
If, after trying a bow, you do not like it for any reason at all, please return it at your expense by insured or registered post in the original posting tube and I will immediately either refund your original payment or send a replacement bow at my expense. It would be a help if you could telephone or email me to tell me what you are doing.
I hope this of some help and I look forward to hearing from you. If you would like more information or would like to order a bow please me
My postal address is: The Smokehouse, 6 Whitwell Road, Norwich NR1 4HB, England
Telephone from abroad is: + 44 1603 629899
David Van Edwards
Copyright 2000-15 by David Van Edwards
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