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New bow for the old fiddle

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Willie-O 30 Oct 03 - 08:23 AM
Vixen 30 Oct 03 - 09:05 AM
GUEST,Big Jim from Jackson. 30 Oct 03 - 09:23 AM
smallpiper 30 Oct 03 - 09:29 AM
Willie-O 30 Oct 03 - 09:40 AM
Cruiser 30 Oct 03 - 09:54 AM
NicoleC 30 Oct 03 - 10:12 AM
Willie-O 30 Oct 03 - 10:27 AM
The Fooles Troupe 30 Oct 03 - 10:33 AM
NicoleC 30 Oct 03 - 12:36 PM
Peter K (Fionn) 30 Oct 03 - 03:32 PM
The Fooles Troupe 31 Oct 03 - 12:37 AM
Willie-O 31 Oct 03 - 03:06 AM
katlaughing 31 Oct 03 - 03:33 AM
greg stephens 31 Oct 03 - 04:01 AM
fiddler 31 Oct 03 - 08:44 AM
Willie-O 31 Oct 03 - 08:57 AM
The Fooles Troupe 31 Oct 03 - 09:11 AM
NicoleC 31 Oct 03 - 10:59 AM
Willie-O 27 Nov 03 - 09:12 AM
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Subject: New bow for the old fiddle
From: Willie-O
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 08:23 AM

I've been playing fiddle for about twenty-five years, and I've only ever owned two violins and two bows. The fiddle and bow which I've had all along (this seems to be very common) belonged to my grandfather. They are both well-made, but the bow has always been frustrating to use--I've just gotten used to it, plus of course it has sentimental value.

This bow is very very light, and has probably never been rehaired in 70 years. It's gotten to have no traction at all, the hair is so smooth that no amount of rosin can make a difference.

So last year I met this guy Greg, who is a bowmaker by trade. He is a fiddler, not a classical snob, I see him at sessions. Last week I gave him my bow and asked him to rehair it.

This week he called me up and said that once he had a look at my bow in the shop, (as opposed to a dimly lit pub), he realized it was a very good quality German stick c. 1930, and also that it needed more work than just a rehairing. (None of this was really surprising to me). He feels that it should get a full restoration and that just rehairing it would be "a hack job".

He was sort of hesitant in suggesting this--he didn't want me to think he was doing a shady-mechanic-hustle on him. If I didn't want to spend the money for the restoration (about $175), he has offered to trade me a nearly new handmade bow, one that he would sell for $600, for my old bow in as-is condition.

Whoa. When I picked myself and the phone up off the floor, I had some thinking to do. First of all, I am sure he is on the level about relative values and conditions. Mine is a good old stick which needs repair, it's not a master-grade piece. He says he can sell it for $800 after restoration.

I have to balance the old bow's sentimental value, with the practical value of having the best-playing bow I can get, with the little question of money. (Not so minor, as I am doing odd jobs for income while trying to get started in a new career)

What I think I'll do is cover my bets...tentatively accept the trade, get used to this other bow for a month or so, and ask for first right of refusal on trading back for my old bow and paying for the restoration work when he's finished with it.

The whole business has of course got me thinking about bows, which have got to be the weirdest way ever devised of getting noise out of an instrument. And usually the last thing we get around to doing something about, even though its so critical to the sound you make and the ease of playing.   

So, anyone out there had their bow restored and found it made all the difference? The past week, I have been using a friend's cheap crappy spare bow which needs hair too--and guess what, it's still five times better to use than my good old bow with no traction or balance. The extra 10 grams or so holds it on the strings, the old one I've always had to grip too tight and even press down, which is really a bad approach.   

Tonight I'm going to meet Greg at a session and get the one he wants to trade me, for a trial run.

So, who's got thoughts, or bow stories? Good or bad.


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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: Vixen
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 09:05 AM

Hi Willie-O!

For what it's worth...

Tim had 4 bows, none of which had any particular sentimental value, and all of which worked with varying degrees of effectiveness. He sent them all off to a guy who takes care of such things, who opined that two of the bows were basically worthless and weren't worth rehairing or repairing. The other two were nothing super-special, but they were definitely improved by having the work put into them. Tim says they play better/easier and even my ignorant ear can hear the improvement in the sound.

Keeping the bow that grandpa played with would have a significant value to me...I would negotiate (if possible) to have the repair work done, see if I like the repairs, and *then* decide about the trade for the new bow. Keep in mind that this is from someone who has very little more than photographs and memories of her grandparents.

My $0.02, your mileage may vary...

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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: GUEST,Big Jim from Jackson.
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 09:23 AM

Bows, even $800 ones, are a dime a dozen. Grandpa bows,if you are lucky enough to have one, are one per family. I know which one I'd want to keep. I'd find some way to work some kind of deal with the guy to rework the old bow. Sentiment is worth more than $. What about the next generation? Which bow do you think would mean the most to them?

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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: smallpiper
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 09:29 AM

I'm with Big Jim from jackson on this one. I've got a bow that was one of my dads had it rehaired and its ok, I bought a cheep one £75 which plays better than my dads old one but dads is worth more than money to me.

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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: Willie-O
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 09:40 AM

Well thanks for the input. I'm determined to be somewhat practical. I'm DEFINITELY keeping the fiddle, which is of similar quality to the bow, a good commercially-made instrument c 1930. That's the piece I'm sentimental about, no question there. And I am putting a higher priority on having the bow that suits me the best for playing--with either one, I'll have a good bow.

Regardless, I'm going to have him do the restoration, cause it's important to me to do that kind of thing. Then decide which bow is the one for me. I sure am curious about how much better my old one can be for playing fiddle tunes. I've always thought it was more of a classical stick, too light for fiddle...but I guess that's just a conception I invented, cause Greg has very specific notions about correct weight and balance whatever type of music you're playing.

Thanks again...choices choices...


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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: Cruiser
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 09:54 AM

Excellent Bow Discussion

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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: NicoleC
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 10:12 AM

"Light" is relative. I have a very light bow I really enjoy and is probably of a bit better quality than yours -- good but no master model, very well made but not a premium piece of wood. Not worth anything, though, as it is too light for most tastes and can't be identified.

Then there's flexibility, which might be more of what you are picking up on. A bow that is too flexible will be less responsive and not function well for fiddling. Classical players tend to like a very strong bow.

If I were you, I have the restoration done and see how you like it then. Have your friend weigh it and give you his flexibility rating. That gives you a point of reference. Then, if you don't like the bow, you can try out others with that in mind. Most sellers of bows will allow you to do a test run.

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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: Willie-O
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 10:27 AM

That's exactly my plan, Nicole. Test-drive starts tonight, then when the old one is ready for comparison, I'll go visit his shop so I can spend some time with each of them without the distractions of a session.

But "light" is not in this case a subjective measure. It weighs 52 grams. That is exceedingly light. Most are closer to 60. Greg is sure that it originally had silver wire wrapped on it which was removed at some time, because from what he knows about a good German bow from 1930, it simply would not have been sent out like it is now--for one thing, the balance is wrong. So he wants to put some on, which will add about 8 grams. It also needs a small crack filled, and "recambering" whatever that is. I trust his judgment, as a fellow fiddler and fulltime master craftsman. It was interesting to me that he could identify its origin and age with complete accuracy.

Stay tuned for my impressions of the loaner! (This thread is surprisingly active, we are a little world of fiddle geeks eh--the rest of the planet just doesn't understand us.)      


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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 10:33 AM

My father was a very good violinist, and tried to teach me a bit. My father's violin had an old bow, and my brother wanted to learn it, so he had acquired a couple of cheapie/nasty modern bows. He had also - at the suggestion of his apparently idiot violin teacher - fitted all steel strings instead of the gut & steel combination my dad had.

I got the thing repaired because the steel strings had bent the finger board. George (an Italian) did the violin work for cash and traded my two new bows for rehairing and fixing the slight warp that had happened to the old bow.

It was some sort of blackwood, could have been Pernambuco or Brazilwood - about half the diameter of the two modern bows, and about 1/4 the weight.

Now for ordinary folk/bluesgrass music, you may want a nice heavy bow that you can scrape away with to your heart's content, but for classical music, the best sort of bow is the lightest one you can get! :-)

If you want to play fast (any style of violin/fiddle music), the lighter the bow the better!

If you feel that you are having to press down on the strings,

1) either the bow must be in a state of incorrect rosin load - too much is as bad as too little - the quality of resin comes in several grades - talk to someone who really knows about that, like a specialist violin shop, who will carry a range of products.

2) or you are holding the bow incorrectly - I'm still struggling to learn, so don't ask me for help! :-) But I do know just enough to know that the bow (however light) should hold ITSELF on the strings by gravity, AND the action of the bow across the strings. It should "float", I'm told if you are doing it right. If you push down on the strings, you will easily get that lovely scraping sound generated by all beginners....

The only tip I can give is that the body (and arms) should be relaxed, not tense for best tone production. Easy to say - now try to do it.... :-)

Traditional Folk musicans may have other opinions - do what you feel like, I don't care - the difference in generated tone between an instrument played for classical music and the acceptable tone for folk/trad/irish/bluesgrass is a pointless discussion I do not wish to get involved in - there are no winners in that argument - it's all a matter of tradition, taste, and opinion!

Incidentally the exact correct spot for the bow to contact the string varies, both with the type of tone you are generating for the note - guitarists should easily understand this concept! and also for each pitch on the string - further away from the bridge for higher pitched notes.

The link above is excellent - I learned a lot myself! Things about where the balance point is and such...

Hope this helps,


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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: NicoleC
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 12:36 PM

That is light, Willie-O, but that weight appears to be a mistake that your guy is correcting. Mine is 56g if I remember correctly, and my composite bow is about 62g. The heavier bow is not as responsive -- in this case because of the composite materials, not the weight -- but MUCH easier to play with because it's stiffer and more stable.

I think Robin is mistaken however -- lighter bows are not easier to play faster with, unless you are a beginner. STIFFER bows are easier to play faster.

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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: Peter K (Fionn)
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 03:32 PM

Not my subject at all, but I've heard from two separate specialists within the last month or so that if a bow and fiddle are well matched quality-wise, the bow is going to be worth at least a third of whatever the fiddle's worth. I was surprised, but fiddlers seem not be.

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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 31 Oct 03 - 12:37 AM


may know more than me.


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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: Willie-O
Date: 31 Oct 03 - 03:06 AM

There is definitely such a thing as too light...I've had it for 25 years, so I know! It seems that there isn't a particular choice of weight or anything else that separates violinists and fiddlers--just different people have different tastes.

Just got back from the session where I met up with Greg, tried two different bows, and brought home the one I liked the best. And I like it A LOT.

I saw about eight million deer and one bear on my way home (it's an hour's drive.) The bear looked well fed. So did the two deer in our front garden when I pulled into the yard. Deer hunting opens Monday, I guess, and it'll be a bit of a relief. Man, I'm not kidding, they are everywhere. There's probably a couple up in the kitchen looking in the fridge right now. But I digress...

The bow is made in Brazil by Marco Raposo, who runs a fair-size bowmaking concern with about 20 employees. He is a friend of Greg's. It's Pernambuco, and his literature makes a big thing of how involved Marco is in ensuring that this valuable wood is harvested sustainably--he's planting them too. That's a plus for me. Here's his website--I haven't looked yet.

And geez, it plays great. Just sits on them strings and doesn't squeak. I can play those triplets and stuff...

One thing that Greg tells me about my old bow is that it needs recambering because there is an area two-thirds of the way to the tip that flexes too much when the hair is on the strings there. Then the bow bounces instead of sitting down--so that's why it wouldn't hold a long note steadily. Even more worthwhile discovery: this condition is fixable! By heat-treating and then "adjusting the curve"--an arcane art which is hard to explain.

And I hadn't heard the ratio Fionn mentions, but it's about right in my case, so to speak.

I'm already playing better. Just give me a few weeks with this thing--I'm poised for a quantum leap.



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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: katlaughing
Date: 31 Oct 03 - 03:33 AM

I grew up playing classical with the same fiddle and bow my dad and sister used to play fiddle tunes. I didn't know beans about fiddles and bows until much later; I just knew that's what I had to use and learned to work with it. The two bows and the fiddle are pretty good quality. When I was a kid the tips of each bow got cracked but the old master craftsman dad went to easily repaired them and rehaired them along the way. I had him rehair the main one I use just a few years ago and am happier with than I'd been in a number of years. The only thing he did that upset me was put a new bridge on and didn't have the old one when I went back to protest! He'd put one on that was way too high, so I had to whittle the notches down. I was suprised at how much of a difference that made in my bowing. I'd had the same bridge since I started playing at 8 yrs old.

I've seen programs about violin/fiddle bows which were worth more than the fiddle, in the thousands and more.

Interesting thread, Willie. I'd be too sentimental to get rid of a granddad's bow and would try to figure out a way to have both.:-)


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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: greg stephens
Date: 31 Oct 03 - 04:01 AM

Well, I'm not a fiddler, but I live with one. But I do have the odd song or two from my grandfather,and his piano, and I treasure them, and a lot of other stuff. Keep the bow!

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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: fiddler
Date: 31 Oct 03 - 08:44 AM

Can I join the throng, A good bow is worth having - a good bow which was grandfathers is worth its light or heavy wieght in gold.

Stick with it ands negotiate.

But I tend to be too sentimentaly and have a german fiddle which was my mothers brothers (Uncle OK!) sitting hardlyever played - say £1000 sitting there for sentmental reasons! So discard my advice immediately!

Good luck.


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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: Willie-O
Date: 31 Oct 03 - 08:57 AM

, Well, a bit of biographical indulgence here. It amazes me how much I've been referring to my grandfather lately.    He seemed like an ordinary person when he was alive, but I now know he had been through some extraordinary circumstances to remain a regular, self-taught intellectual, kindly fellow. Circumstances like the battle of Vimy Ridge and two years of other World War One horrors; losing a beloved daughter to scarlet fever; being a new immigrant arriving in Winnipeg during the 1919 General Strike; a very dysfunctional marriage that lasted fifty years and ended in the mid-60's with my grandmother's succumbing to throat cancer; and a lot of family intrigue that I never understood. He was a commercial artist, a photoengraver to be precise, by trade. As a musician, he wasn't a fiddle player or a trained classical player--he played classical by ear, playing along with the radio! I never heard him play, he put the fiddle away for some reason before I was born and never picked it up again.

One of my strongest recollections of him was being the Sadly Disappointed In Me Scottish Grandfather every time I would quit piano lessons, and the opposite number "That's the best news you could have given us!" when I would start them up again. (These two events happened a lot in my younger life)

When he died, I asked for and received his two fiddles, one of which was a cheap Czech number with a carved wolf or bear head peghead. I don't know what happened to that one, which was interesting but not in playable condition.

In the thread on 60's/70's movies which Little Hawk started, I mentioned the movie Missouri Breaks. In June 1976 I had just hitchhiked across the U.S. west to east and was visiting my college friend Karrie in (Greetings From) Asbury Park New Jersey. Karrie's a movie buff, and we went out to an early showing of Missouri Breaks. When we got back to her house, I phoned my parents to tell them that I was on the East Coast, and would be heading home to Ottawa in the next couple of days. When my mother answered the phone, she told me that Grandpa was near death in his Montreal home. He died that night, in his own bed, at the age of 88. I arrived in Montreal the next day, and we had the funeral a few days later. It was held at Mont Royal Cemetery on St-Jean Baptiste day, Quebec's national holiday. After the service I walked across the park to the enormous festival going on on the other side of the mountain. There was a band called La Reve Du Diable playing, (The Devil's Dream) and they had a pile of fiddles and 8-strings and stuff. That was my first exposure to Celtic music, Franco-Celtic in this case, and I was completely captivated. Changed my life, it did. And I figured I knew where I could get a fiddle for myself...      

Well, the deal is done with the old bow. I've got one now (on a one-week trial basis) that is awesome to play on, and I am a player who's trying to be a better player. That's what it's all about. Greg won't have the restoration done on the old one for a few months--he's got several building commissions that are more pressing--so since the one I'm holding now will be a used bow by then, if I do undertake to buy it back, it will be a totally new deal. Meanwhile, I have a really good player's bow, and my good old fiddle to play it on (and he sold me a set of new Dominant strings for it really cheap) and I'm looking forward to the next few months.

Among other things, it's a bird in the hand.   

Thanks for your comments everyone. Hope I didn't disappoint you. I think Grandpa would be OK with my choice.

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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 31 Oct 03 - 09:11 AM

Oh Yeah

the best trick to make an old fiddle sound like new - a new set of strings!

Ditto for most any other stringed instrument...


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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: NicoleC
Date: 31 Oct 03 - 10:59 AM

You sound happy, Willie-O, which was the goal, I hope! Good luck with your new bow, and you may be pleasantly surprised when you get it back. Mine was a restoration and it turned out really nice -- to think, I got it for FREE. The bowmaker also re-arched mine. Apparently that takes skill not to ruin the bow inthe process.

After you get over the sticker shock, you might consider having your fiddle checked out, too.

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Subject: RE: New bow for the old fiddle
From: Willie-O
Date: 27 Nov 03 - 09:12 AM

One month on, I'm very happy with the new Marco Raposo bow. I haven't changed my lifestyle enough to have a daily practice regime or anything, but I can sit with this thing for hours.

Having the bow so much more controllable also lets me concentrate more on my left hand technique. I'm working on tunes in those weird keys--F and Bflat. Like
  • Compliments to Sean MacGuire
  • Blue Bonnets Over the Border   
  • The Spey in Spate (in D but it feels like Bflat!)

    The difference in tone and action is most noticeable on the lower strings, I can get a warm steady note now, which makes these tunes much more enjoyable.

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