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super expensive viola bows worth the extra money?


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#1 xdmitrix420

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Posted 05 July 2008 - 11:28 PM

Earlier today I had the opportunity to try various viola bows ranging in price from $2000 all the way to $16,000. I was playing in a busy violin shop and I didn't have much time with each bow. There was a bow by Ouchard for 16,000 and another by Vigneron for 14,000. Then there was other bows in the 4000 to 6000 range.

Funny thing was I didn't notice much of a huge difference between the 4000-6000 bows and the two super expensive bows. The sound I got out of the 14,000 bow was so interesting though. I got a huge amount of volume, and a richness on the C string I've never gotten out of my instrument before. I'm not sure it was a difference worth paying 10,000 extra for though.

To make things more confusing, my teacher gave me a bow to try a month ago. It's a german workshop bow worth about $600, but it plays better than my french $3500 that I've played on most of my life.

I'm rambling, I guess at this point I'm pretty confused about the price vs. quality scheme for bows. It seems a little more linear with instruments (ie the more you pay the better instrument you get). When you do find a bow with that extra special quality to it, how much extra are you willing to pay for it?

#2 Omobono

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Posted 06 July 2008 - 02:17 AM

You managed to find to big name bows it seems
and it was probably worth the experience of playingh and comparing them.
I wonder if you discovered the big sound difference before you knew the price?
Now that you know what a difference a bow can make
it might be worth looking for the same sound
without the big price tag?

Omobono: 12th Century citizen of Cremona
and patron saint of its craftsmen.

#3 Fellow

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Posted 06 July 2008 - 06:35 AM

Funny thing was I didn't notice much of a huge difference between the 4000-6000 bows and the two super expensive bows. The sound I got out of the 14,000 bow was so interesting though. I got a huge amount of volume, and a richness on the C string I've never gotten out of my instrument before. I'm not sure it was a difference worth paying 10,000 extra for though.

To make things more confusing, my teacher gave me a bow to try a month ago. It's a german workshop bow worth about $600, but it plays better than my french $3500 that I've played on most of my life.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

A violin shop can only give you choices. The decision is yours to make.
A super expensive bow if you don't need one, you don't need one.

Everyone had their own feel about an instrument. When I tried out violins in a shop
I had same experience. The most expensive one was there for the show then I found
myself how smart I was, to get something I like, and not the most expensive
as if I had discovered something no one knew. I was happy and the shop owner was happy.

#4 Rokovak

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Posted 06 July 2008 - 06:49 AM

This is where much of the mystery lies in high-end luxury goods; 99.999% of the time, the price reflects more than just the product itself. It takes into account the reputation and heritage behind the brand. As for whether it's worth it, well, ever heard the old saying "it's worth only what someone is willing to pay for it"? Those bows wouldn't run into the tens of thousands if no one were willing to pay such a price for them. In the end, it's ultimately a personal decision as to what's worth what.

Although I personally would never fork out that much cash for a wad of horsehair on a stick, far be it from me to ridicule anyone else for having different tastes.

#5 fiddlecollector

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Posted 06 July 2008 - 09:36 AM

This is where much of the mystery lies in high-end luxury goods; 99.999% of the time, the price reflects more than just the product itself. It takes into account the reputation and heritage behind the brand. As for whether it's worth it, well, ever heard the old saying "it's worth only what someone is willing to pay for it"? Those bows wouldn't run into the tens of thousands if no one were willing to pay such a price for them. In the end, it's ultimately a personal decision as to what's worth what.

Although I personally would never fork out that much cash for a wad of horsehair on a stick, far be it from me to ridicule anyone else for having different tastes.

Ive always found the higher the price range the smaller and more subtle the improvements become,its what your paying for.If you can get it with a cheaper bow then i dont see any sense in paying a fortune .

#6 Rokovak

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Posted 06 July 2008 - 01:12 PM

Ive always found the higher the price range the smaller and more subtle the improvements become,its what your paying for.If you can get it with a cheaper bow then i dont see any sense in paying a fortune .

And that's because as the price scale goes upward there's less and less to improve upon what hasn't already been improved, and more emphasis is placed on associations made by the consumer. Eventually there comes a point where there's nothing left to change, and any justifications in price will anchor on the intangibles such as perceived quality and brand image.

This is marketing at it's finest.

#7 priya

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Posted 06 July 2008 - 03:17 PM

I used a very cheap bow for years. Maybe it was worth $30 when it was new. I went thru The Juilliard School
on a West German Juzek bass and the aforementioned bow. I really wasn't interested in the hardware. At least not until I answered an ad in the local pennysaver, bought a dozen bass bows, had them re-haired and sold them to my classmates at a huge profit. It was then I noticed that having a good bow makes many things easier, not just tuition. I could draw a bigger cleaner sound out of the old Juzek and some bowing techniques fell right into place. I remember being surprised at the difference. After all, it was just a bow.

My brother is a cellist who carefully purchased a couple of bows until he found something he was comfortable with.
However, I recently acquired a dozen fine cello bows at auction from the estate of a professional cellist. They went for very little. Nice sticks, gold or silver mounted, french, German and Italian. He now has the opportunity to sit play and compare a multitude of good sticks and the characteristics of each bow. Not at a dealers shop but at the comfort of home, without time limits without salesman. He is finding it very interesting. Fine bows all of them but all of them different.

#8 Fellow

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Posted 06 July 2008 - 03:50 PM

I used a very cheap bow for years. Maybe it was worth $30 when it was new. I went thru The Juilliard School
on a West German Juzek bass and the aforementioned bow. I really wasn't interested in the hardware. At least not until I answered an ad in the local pennysaver, bought a dozen bass bows, had them re-haired and sold them to my classmates at a huge profit. It was then I noticed that having a good bow makes many things easier, not just tuition. I could draw a bigger cleaner sound out of the old Juzek and some bowing techniques fell right into place. I remember being surprised at the difference. After all, it was just a bow.

My brother is a cellist who carefully purchased a couple of bows until he found something he was comfortable with.
However, I recently acquired a dozen fine cello bows at auction from the estate of a professional cellist. They went for very little. Nice sticks, gold or silver mounted, french, German and Italian. He now has the opportunity to sit play and compare a multitude of good sticks and the characteristics of each bow. Not at a dealers shop but at the comfort of home, without time limits without salesman. He is finding it very interesting. Fine bows all of them but all of them different.


++++++++++++++++++++

Some German violin bows were quite good and reasonable in 60's. Then they knew how to make bows cheap and good.
Important thing to do now is to look around, they may show up in some places unexpectedly as cheap used bows.
A $400 bow today is not as good as my German bow I got it then for $50 .

#9 Shirl

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Posted 06 July 2008 - 06:09 PM

XD - You mentioned that you did not get much time to play with each bow. The differences may become more obvious if you were to play with several for a few days or a week. The last bow I bought was not my first choice at the onset of my testing, but quickly became so with further playing. Would the violin store in question allow you to try the bows at home?

My teacher has a couple really high-end bows which she bought back in the day when they were affordable (in one case extremely affordable!), and they are indeed lovely. I agree that the better a player you are, and the better your bowing technique, the more equipped you are to appreciate the subtle differences.

Good luck! Shirley

#10 DR. S

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Posted 07 July 2008 - 10:39 AM

Though you can easily find cases where a price is driven more by fad than subsance, in general price goes up asymptotically as 'perfection' is more closely achieved. So as the product gets better and better, the price increase more for smaller increments of improvement.

The best frugal solution is to search long and hard for the next undiscovered great bow maker. Perhaps, if you develop a feel for what you are looking for in weight, stick stiffness, and balance, you can have one made for you by one of these good yet "undiscovered" makers. Perhaps I was just lucky, but I did that and have a real treasure in my viola bow andi t was a real bargain.
Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent. - Victor Hugo

#11 Shirl

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Posted 07 July 2008 - 12:19 PM

So, Dr. S - I must ask...who made your viola bow? Thanks. Shirley

#12 RWOlson

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Posted 07 July 2008 - 07:01 PM

As my teacher once put it: At a certain point in the market you will have to pay 100% more for a 10% increase in quality. Is a $1 million violin 100 times better than a $10,000 violin? Almost certainly not; however, for that extra quality you will have to pay a lot of extra money. The question you must ask is whether you need the extra quality enough to justify the much higher price. Perlman needs that extra edge and is willing to pay through the nose for it- for most of the rest of us, that extra is not necessary, and so we stick with the much lower priced equipment that is almost as good. Also, you are buying a name. The worst Ouchard will undoubtably go for more than the best German factory bow, even though some Germans will play better than some Ouchards.
As the dealer says:

"YA WANT MORE? WELL, IT'S GONNA COST YA"

#13 xdmitrix420

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Posted 07 July 2008 - 10:58 PM

i'm starting to wish the dealer hadn't put the prices on little stickers on each bow. then i probably wouldn't have noticed the expensive bows. i've actually been quite impressed with some german workshop bows. I picked up a german violin bow from a yard sale by the name of albert kramling. the viola bow i have is by wilhelm raum, and each seem to play as much more expensive bows.

#14 DR. S

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Posted 08 July 2008 - 02:31 PM

So, Dr. S - I must ask...who made your viola bow? Thanks. Shirley



Frank V. Henderson. It was one of his last bows before he died. Although he apparently never became hugely famous as a bow maker (I have not found another one listed to figure out how much it is worth now), he should be known to most bow makers as he wrote what I have been told is a 'must have' treatise on bow making. Bow makers get a kick out of seeing his work when I bring it in. I have been told that it is a really good piece of wood and though his workmanship shows his age, the basics are all good, the result plays extremely well, and it really enhances the sound of my instrument. I paid somewhere around $600 in 1981.
Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent. - Victor Hugo

#15 Stephen T. Fine

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Posted 08 July 2008 - 11:53 PM

Xdmitrix420,
I'm interested that you say you see a logical price increase in instruments but not bows.

In general, in my experience, more expensive bows are better. I've played quite a few bows and I've never found that elusive super cheap stick that plays just as well as one by a great maker. Sometimes, just as with violins, you pay for the name or the history. For example, I tried out a William Tubbs bow that was very pricey, but only so-so compared to some of the cheaper sticks I tried at the same time. But, those "cheaper" sticks were still all in the $3,000-$10,000 range, and I would have instantly snapped up any $500-$1,000 bow that played as well as that Tubbs. I don't expect I'll ever find one.

Btw, in case you're wondering, when I try out bows I line them up and try them two at a time without knowing the cost or the maker. Tournament-style, the winning bow out of the two goes on up against the next bow. When trying bows, this is a good way to test preference. I think it is a mistake to ever compare more than two bows at once.

#16 xdmitrix420

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Posted 09 July 2008 - 08:13 AM

lymond: thanks your tip on trying out bows. At the shop, the salesperson laid about 15-20 bows on the table, and I was pretty overwhelmed with how to narrow down the choices.

#17 Marie Brown

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Posted 09 July 2008 - 09:11 AM

With a row of bows to try out, I usually try not to look at the labeling. I just pick up each bow as if to play, then separate them into two groups. I could go wrong, possibly, by not having a feel for a bow that would go well with the particular violin I'm looking to match. It's easy enough to go back and play briefly on that violin with each bow. A fairly clear idea would emerge from the four resultant smaller piles. Take the best quadrant home for further investigation.

PS: Before leaving the shop, check all the labels. The inevitable pricier bow might surprise you, or not.

#18 Shirl

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Posted 09 July 2008 - 12:04 PM

Dr. S ~ How interesting! Thank you! Shirley

#19 crazy jane

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Posted 09 July 2008 - 01:04 PM

Lymond, what are you doing these days on the viola? I have a daughter entering the Shepherd School this fall on violin and have wondered about your impressions.

As for the main issue of this thread, a great bow is worth every penny, I think--if you've got the pennies. While I love my Michael Vann bow, and it does everything I want it to do, I was awestruck by a Voirin viola bow I played in a Seattle shop where I was just trying out some violas for fun. The owner invited me to use his wife's bow, and it made EVERY viola sound great, including the cheap-o Chinese one. Beyond the remarkable sound produced, it was effortless to wield.

As for bow trials, I think it is important not only to try the bows blindly, but also to listen to them blindly. In other words, bring along another player because the sound the bow produces is an important aspect, too.

J.

#20 Stephen T. Fine

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Posted 09 July 2008 - 02:03 PM

J.,
Who is your daughter studying with? If she's headed there you are probably already aware that the school has the best orchestra program in the country and unsurprisingly there's a good deal of pressure to perform well in the orchestra (so make sure she knows to practice her excerpts when they come). Larry (the conductor) forms opinions quickly and holds grudges. He's got baton and rehearsal technique like I've never seen anywhere else--playing in the orchestra is an unbelievable pleasure that I missed during my last two years at the San Francisco Conservatory whose orchestra program is, well... weak.

On the other hand, word on the street is that Shepherd's chamber music isn't quite as good as it used to be, but if your daughter gets a chance to coach with Mr. Fischer, Mr. Dunham, or Mr. Ellison, I highly recommend taking the opportunity. Avoid Mr. Harrell as he is seldom around.

Shepherd is a difficult program but Rice is an outstanding academic environment. I can't remember your daughter's age; if she's entering as an undergraduate, I've got a good bit of advice about classes to take. The campus is an exciting place to be these days with all the construction. In general, my view is that Shepherd/Rice is awesome and that anyone there is really lucky. Almost all of my friends who didn't stay on and went elsewhere (Juilliard, Peabody, Eastman, Michigan, Indiana, SFCM, New World, etc. . .) miss it now.

And what am I up to? I finished my MM in Viola at SFCM and I'll be starting my DMA at SUNY Stony Brook with Katherine Murdock in September. Supposedly, Stony Brook premieres more new works than any institution in the country so I'm excited to get into that whole scene (my new music cred is sorely lacking). It's a little bit daunting--I haven't met anyone yet to finish the degree in fewer than six years and I'd like to be finished in closer to three, so, we'll see.




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