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A Good Cello Bow

QUESTION

Hi Tim, Thanks for all the information you have provided via ICS, it's great to see answers to the various questions folks have.

I recently visited a veteran cellist in my area (76 years young). It was very sad to see that a shoulder injury had taken away his ability to use a bow. Unfortunately he is financially unable to arrange needed treatment.

He has several different bows which he invited me to try out on my instrument. I was shocked at the difference in sound between them. I have been wondering why this is true. Obviously weight and perhaps hair type are variables. My bow tends to have a rather course or grainy sound relative to his. Do you have some insite about how I can improve this? It was re-haired last fall. I typically use Kolstein dark rosin.

ANSWER:

As you have discovered, your bow plays a large role in how you play. "A good bow will make your instrument sound more rich and smooth and may improve its projection." I recall my own skepticism when a fellow musician tried to explain that his new bow made a big difference. I now know he was right.

Quoted passages below are from a good article in the July/August 1995 issue of Strings Magazine, called "How to Choose a Bow," by Laurinel Owen.

There are four characteristics that determine the "personality" of each bow: weight, balance, strength, and flexibility. Heavier bows require more effort to change direction and to do string crossings (ie. more inertia). Lighter bows are more maneuverable, but require more effort to produce a sustained forte. So you might use a heavier bow when playing concertos, and a lighter bow for more intimate works with lots of intricate bowings such as in the Bach Cello Suites. Watch out, a heavier bow will be more tiring.

Balance is another factor. "The appropriate balance will vary according to a player's size and style. If the balance point is farther toward the tip, the bow will feel heavy. If it is closer to the frog, it will seem lighter. Too much weight at the tip, you may tire more quickly (or even end up with wrist problems). Too much weight at the frog, and it will feel like you can't 'dig in.' "

Flexibility and strength are important too. "A very stiff bow will make the hair so tight that it seems to pick up only surface sound and does not get into the string." [Perhaps this is like your bow, Jeff.] "A softer, more flexible bow may produce a more lush tone because more hair touches the string, [feeling like it is wrapping around the string], but it may be more difficult to handle because of a slower response."

As you see, there are a lot of factors and each player will have his or her own preference. As you try more bows, you may find that you need a new bow, which unfortunately requires $. :)

Tim Janof

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Tim Janof, ICS Director
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