String Instruments & Accessories

The Pernambuco debate!

September 15, 2017

The Pernambuco debate!

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Pernambuco wood, from the Caesalpinia echinate tree indigenous to Brasil, has been the wood of choice for fine bows since the 18th century. No other wood or wood-substitute offers the same quality of strength, springiness and workability, although many experiments have been conducted using bamboo, the closely related brazilwood, snakewood, and many others. Many thousands of bows have been made using this beautiful wood – but of recent times the supply of good Pernambuco is rapidly diminishing, and the tree has become endangered.

To ensure a continuous supply of this unique wood several initiatives have been started to educate, research and set on conservation and re-planting initiatives. A few of our foremost bowmakers have actually moved to Brazil and have a programme of renewal whereby as a tree is felled, three saplings are then planted at the site. These are subsequently thinned to select the strongest.

Carbon Fibre as an alternative? This is a synthetic material which is both lightweight, springy and almost unbreakable. Various cores are used but essentially it is made of ultra-thin graphite fibers, which are molded into a permanent shape. Bows made of carbon fibre don’t warp, and don’t react very much to changes in temperature or humidity. This obviously makes it a good choice for players in a humid climate or for outdoor players, for example Morris dancers. Some or the more modern manufacturers actually have a carbon fibre core with a wooded veneer on the outside which does make them appear more traditional.

So which material is best for you? If you are looking for a new bow, the most important thing to do is to try out several bows on your own instrument. The preference between Pernambuco and carbon fiber is ultimately up to you! As a general rule and from feedback we receive from many players both amateur and professional, the following pattern is emerging;

  • For lively bows under £200 the preference is generally Carbon fibre! Cheap wooden bows are always a wood substitute and often weak.
  • From £200 to £800 the choice is yours. Many top players swear by their Carbon fibre bows, but equally the wood sticks are generally Pernambuco and thus very acceptable. The only route is to try a range of bows.
  • Moving up to professional bows, from £1000 and above, the proper Pernambuco sticks are considered still the best for expression, nuance and dynamics. That said some of the most recent Carbon Fibre are superb and used by top musicians. The only answer is to test and try

Some superb makes are Arcus, Codabow and Col legno. We list a fraction of the bows we have on our website as they are constantly changing but do have a browse or better still, give us a call to disucss you needs:

Violin Bows

Viola Bows

Cello Bows

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