With a little shopping and research, savvy bow shoppers can find great bargains from contemporary makers
Looking for a great bow? Thinking about buying a vintage bow by one of the great French makers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries? Well, these days, their work is in such demand that prices have gone through the roof. With fewer musicians able to afford bows by great makers of the past—like Peccatte, Simon, Henry, Kittel, and others—what’s a musician with limited financial resources to do?

You could purchase a contemporary bow. The bows from today’s master makers are at a level not seen for decades and with impressive workmanship are becoming extremely attractive to players. But with many of these masterful makers charging between $5,000 and $10,000 for an exceptionally high-quality silver-mounted bow (gold-mounted bows using the maker’s best pernambuco can add at least $1,000), what’s available for players with a more modest budget?

These days, having $2,000 or $4,000 to spend on a great bow doesn’t mean that you have to settle for poor quality. With high standards among players and makers and many archetiers looking to make a name for themselves, players have several options.

Emerging Talent

When makers are establishing their careers, they need to work almost as hard at gaining a reputation as in improving their work. With each bow, they gain a bit more skill and experience, but they need to enter (and, of course, win) major competitions gain exposure among musicians and dealers. It can take years to get their name known and, in the meantime, they just can’t charge the prices of their more famous peers. Few makers can count on customers coming to their doors looking for bows, and many don’t want players coming directly to them.

Usually the bow maker must find a dealer who will carry his or her work, and without name recognition, that work is usually less expensive than that of more famous makers. Many years ago, a young bow maker visited Ifshin Violins, where I work, and showed us some of his bows. At the time, he was still working with Paul Siefried in Port Townsend, Washington, and mastering his craft. His work was excellent and his price was reasonable, so I bought one for myself.

I wish I still had it! Today, many consider that maker, Ole Kanestrom, to be one of the top bow makers in the country and his work is now priced in the upper echelon. Finding one of these up-and-coming makers can be a great way to go, but be prepared to do some searching, talking to dealers, and most importantly, trying many bows. In other words, do some research. Try calling dealers not just in your area, but around the country. Find out if they can send bows to you on trial, but when you talk to them, be clear about what you are looking for. Some makers may have a small local following and may feel like they can charge a top price, but consider if the resale market can support those prices. Also, keep in mind that the top master makers of today were once emerging artisans, so their earliest bows can be had for less than their current work.

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Ole Kanestrom

Opportunities from Abroad

Master makers in the United States mostly work in their own workshops, and the bows can be considered their own work. In Europe, bows are often made in small workshops, under the master maker, by apprentices or bow makers who haven’t passed their master exam yet.

There are several of these shops in Germany, like those of makers Sebastian Dirr in Erlangen and Klaus Grünke, who makes bows in his workshop under his father’s name, Richard Grünke. Other brands to look for are Bernd Dölling, Joseph Gabriel, Herbert Wanka, and Gotthard Schuster.

In Southern France, Monique Poullot makes affordable bows of excellent quality. In Brussels, master bow maker Pierre Guillaume has a workshop that produces a range of fine bows starting at about $1,000.

And, most violin dealers will have bows from one of five workshops in Brazil. Since that South American country is the only source of pernambuco, the workshops there can have an especially good selection of wood. Such workshops as Arcos Brasil, Horst John, and others sell bows starting at a few hundred dollars, with their top bows selling for around $2,000.

Higher-end carbon-fiber bows are another possibility at the lower end of this price range.

You might start with a well-known brand like CodaBow, one of the first producers of carbon fiber bows, where top bows cost less than $1,000. German bow maker Arcus bows has a broad price range from under $1,000 to several thousand dollars.

New to You

So far, I’ve discussed new bows, but there are also a number of beautifully made vintage bows available at a reasonable price.

You may not find very many older French bows, but there are plenty of excellent German bows to choose from.

There were a number of excellent workshops in Saxony, centered in Markneukirchen, from the end of the 19th- through the mid-20th centuries. Among my favorites are those from the Albert Nürnberger, H.R. Pfretzschner, Otto Hoyer, and Richard Weichold workshops.

Although they are becoming more expensive, they are still an excellent value, considering the high quality. (If these bows had French rather than German origin, they would probably sell for three times the price.)

There is one caveat: Old bows with controlled ivory tips and frogs should be considered carefully. With new restrictions about bringing ivory into this country, you may not want to purchase a bow with an ivory frog if you plan to travel internationally, but at the time of this writing, the status of the regulation is a bit unclear.

Finding the right bow at a price you can afford will require time and patience. Decide what qualities you are looking for in a thoughtful and analytical way. Ask yourself what your current bow is not doing for you. Then contact dealers and makers to see what they have to offer.

I’d like to leave with one last piece of advice: do not limit yourself to the makers listed here.

There are many contemporary makers worth exploring, so be open to whatever you find and enjoy your search.

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