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WHAT’S IN A BOW?

Freelance cellists Victoria Beattieand Katy Whittlejoined The Strads editor Charlotte Smithand contributing editor Pauline Hardingto try out a range of carbon fibre bows - discovering great differences in weight, balance and playability
Pauline Hardiing (left)and Charlotte Smith (right)test bows at Londons Royal College of Music
ALL BOW TESTING PHOTOS PAULINE HARDING

In an age of dwindling pemambuco, carbon fibre bows are on the rise. There was a time when the string playing community looked on such items with a certain degree of snobbery - and sometimes with good reason. But in recent years a number of enterprising makers, determined to take up the challenge of creating top-quality alternatives to wooden bows, have brought increasingly sophisticated models to the market. These handmade items, aimed at professional players, are light years away from the early experiments, yet a surprising number of players are still unaware of their capabilities.

We decided to put the bows of five leading makers to the test. To account for the very personal relationship between string player and bow, our experiment featured four musicians, each with quite different instruments and playing styles. Our contributing editor Pauline Harding and I tested the violin bows, while professional freelance musicians Victoria Beattie and Katy Whittle tested the cello bows. My own violin is a 1770 French model by Chappuy, Paulines is a Jurgen Manthey from 2004, Victorias cello is a handmade Chinese instrument from 1993 and Katy’s is a Kai-Thomas Roth from 2002.

Victoria Beattie and Katy Whittle make notes

The main testing day took place in the Inner Parry Room of our alma mater, London’s Royal College of Music, with its wooden floors and fabulous acoustic. We also took the bows away with us to continue testing in various performing circumstances, from orchestral work to chamber music.

It’s worth noting that prior to this experiment no member of the group was particularly familiar with carbon fibre models - our previous experience was limited to the odd testing session at trade fairs and the less-than-positive experience of our students making ill-advised purchases of factory-made items. It is unsurprising, then, that at the end of the experiment all agreed that on balance they preferred their own wooden bows - chosen as they were with great care over much more time than we could give to the carbon fibre models. However, in some cases the carbon fibre came a very close second and was even superior for certain playing techniques and situations. Certainly there was a great deal of variation between different makes and models, as the following reviews make clear.

CHARLOTTE SMITH

ARCUS

Violin S6

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About The Strad

We conclude our investigation of Stradivari’s moulds and examine some radical teaching methods. Vadim Gluzman, Philip Dukes and Matthew Barley are interviewed and there’s our annual Accessories supplement, featuring carbon fibre bows, wolf eliminators, mutes and lots more.