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So you need a new Cello bow?

June 16, 2017

So you need a new Cello bow?

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So you need a new Cello bow?

From the start let me say that this article is intended for advancing players rather than professionals. We have musicians coming from all over the UK looking for the perfect bow – they spend hours testing, feeling, listening. These are bows from £1500 upwards!

So, you have upgraded your Cello, got your merit or distinction in grade 4/5 and your teacher has advised you to get a new bow! One that will take you through to grade 8 and beyond. And how important that is – the bow becomes almost an extension to your right hand and is the ‘heart’ of the richness of the sound that you dream of and want to achieve.

First off make an appointment with a reputable dealer to try out some bows and, if possible, with your teacher.  The choice is, however, an intensely personal one because the bow must suit your playing style and ‘feel’ right with balance and weight. Only you can gauge that, but by including your teacher or a more advanced friend it will give you more confidence and help you to come to a right decision.

Some characteristics of a Cello Bow

First off is the weight of the bow.  This can vary from about 65 grams to over 80 grams, and this can make a considerable difference – particularly if you are of a small or petite build! Heavier bows can be tiring to play for extended periods, but on the other hand can help to produce more sound with less effort. Lighter bows are more maneuverable, but could require additional effort to produce a sustained forte. The shop should be able to actually weigh the bows and sort them into weight order for you.

The next most important factor to look for is balance and at the same time to feel the ‘sweet spot’ of the bow.  Draw the bow across the strings from tip to frog and get a feel for the balance. A cello bow with a balance point closer to the tip will tend to feel heavy, whilst a balance point closer to the frog may feel lighter. Both may affect your ability to produce substantial tone or volume – what feels right for you is the critical quality.

Next check for strength and flexibility. Again, the result you want may be a compromise! An over rigid bow may have a very fast response, but could produce a thin superficial sound, whereas the softer flexible bows produce richer tones, but at the expense of the response. You will quickly find just the right feel for yourself that is suitable to your playing style

What is the bow made of?

At this point the input from your teacher or friend is helpful – although any reputable bow shop will have guaranteed these features beforehand.

Except for most ‘student’ quality bows, any cello bow costing over £250 should be made of genuine Pernambuco wood – the accepted material which has been used for many years. Of recent years Carbon fibre or synthetic bows have become popular – but that is another story! In fact, a good carbon fiber cello bow can possess many of the qualities of a good Pernambuco bow. The stick itself can be shaped as round or octagonal; which is more cosmetic than practical, – although some consider the octagonal stick to be stiffer.

The ‘frog’, which is the part you grip under your hand, is usually made of Ebony with various decorations such as inlaid mother-of-pearl. It also includes the adjusting screw to slacken or tighten the horse hair. It is unusual or even illegal to use tortoise shell or ivory these days. The grip is often made of silver wire, silk or “whalebone” – all of which you must consider what is the most comfortable for you. They don’t materially affect the sound.

The tip of a cello bow is usually made of plastic, unless you are considering an antique bow, because older material such as ivory are now banned.

Decision time

All things considered you have gone to a reputable dealer who offers a large choice, who guarantees his bows and even offers a free annual service – so the next most important thing is yourself. You have tested 20 bows, narrowed it down to 4, considered all the factors above and have got to the point of decision! At that point intuition is often the deciding factor – or take the four on approval and test them in your own environment and acoustics.

In the end the bow will choose you!

So you need a new Cello bow?

From the start let me say that this article is intended for advancing players rather than professionals. We have musicians coming from all over the UK looking for the perfect bow – they spend hours testing, feeling, listening. These are bows from £1500 upwards!

So, you have upgraded your Cello, got your merit or distinction in grade 4/5 and your teacher has advised you to get a new bow! One that will take you through to grade 8 and beyond. And how important that is – the bow becomes almost an extension to your right hand and is the ‘heart’ of the richness of the sound that you dream of and want to achieve.

First off make an appointment with a reputable dealer to try out some bows and, if possible, with your teacher.  The choice is, however, an intensely personal one because the bow must suit your playing style and ‘feel’ right with balance and weight. Only you can gauge that, but by including your teacher or a more advanced friend it will give you more confidence and help you to come to a right decision.

Some characteristics of a Cello Bow

First off is the weight of the bow.  This can vary from about 65 grams to over 80 grams, and this can make a considerable difference – particularly if you are of a small or petite build! Heavier bows can be tiring to play for extended periods, but on the other hand can help to produce more sound with less effort. Lighter bows are more maneuverable, but could require additional effort to produce a sustained forte. The shop should be able to actually weigh the bows and sort them into weight order for you.

The next most important factor to look for is balance and at the same time to feel the ‘sweet spot’ of the bow.  Draw the bow across the strings from tip to frog and get a feel for the balance. A cello bow with a balance point closer to the tip will tend to feel heavy, whilst a balance point closer to the frog may feel lighter. Both may affect your ability to produce substantial tone or volume – what feels right for you is the critical quality.

Next check for strength and flexibility. Again, the result you want may be a compromise! An over rigid bow may have a very fast response, but could produce a thin superficial sound, whereas the softer flexible bows produce richer tones, but at the expense of the response. You will quickly find just the right feel for yourself that is suitable to your playing style

What is the bow made of?

At this point the input from your teacher or friend is helpful – although any reputable bow shop will have guaranteed these features beforehand.

Except for most ‘student’ quality bows, any cello bow costing over £250 should be made of genuine Pernambuco wood – the accepted material which has been used for many years. Of recent years Carbon fibre or synthetic bows have become popular – but that is another story! In fact, a good carbon fiber cello bow can possess many of the qualities of a good Pernambuco bow. The stick itself can be shaped as round or octagonal; which is more cosmetic than practical, – although some consider the octagonal stick to be stiffer.

The ‘frog’, which is the part you grip under your hand, is usually made of Ebony with various decorations such as inlaid mother-of-pearl. It also includes the adjusting screw to slacken or tighten the horse hair. It is unusual or even illegal to use tortoise shell or ivory these days. The grip is often made of silver wire, silk or “whalebone” – all of which you must consider what is the most comfortable for you. They don’t materially affect the sound.

The tip of a cello bow is usually made of plastic, unless you are considering an antique bow, because older material such as ivory are now banned.

Decision time

All things considered you have gone to a reputable dealer who offers a large choice, who guarantees his bows and even offers a free annual service – so the next most important thing is yourself. You have tested 20 bows, narrowed it down to 4, considered all the factors above and have got to the point of decision! At that point intuition is often the deciding factor – or take the four on approval and test them in your own environment and acoustics.

In the end the bow will choose you!

By Lance

 

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