By David Hawthorne | From the May-June 2020 issue of Strings magazine

What is your favorite part in the process of making a bow?

The most fascinating thing for me is the end process of adjusting the camber (or curve) of an almost-finished bow. Sometimes it takes me a few days to adjust—sometimes a week or more. 

After the work on the stick and frog are done, with varnish, and the hair is on, and the bow is playable, there is a lot that can still change about how the bow functions and sounds. And all of this can be addressed in the nuances of how the camber is adjusted. 


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Of course, as I am making the stick and finishing it, I am keeping the camber close to how I want it to end up. This means the final adjustment is not dramatic in terms of re-shaping the curve, but the functional change can certainly be dramatic. 

I play violin myself, so I can largely bring the function of a bow very close to where it should be. Players can be surprised by the profound differences camber adjustment makes, but I am depending on it to make my bows exceptional! Of course the bow has to be straight, and then all the slight deviations from a perfectly even curve have to be resolved, except for certain little places. It will be these exceptions that make the bow special. 

I tighten the bow to look for such places, make myriad corrections, and play it in between each adjustment. This is why the process is time consuming: assess, heat, adjust, cool, play, repeat. I have my theories, of course, about what will make a bow sound best, and often I am right, but what I am really waiting for, as I work on the bow, is that “ah-ha” moment, when the sound blooms and layers. Some players call that “spin” in the sound. Then I know I should stop. The sound and playability of the bow will always lead me.

I often have the help of my shop-mate, Mariia Gorkun, an excellent conservatory-trained violinist (I am conservatory-trained as well, but not in violin). Since she can play much better than I do, I will always find out things from her suggestions. When I’m lucky, a top violinist will come in and help me push a bow up to a higher level than I can do on my own, or even with Mariia’s help. I will almost always try to work with my client as well, if I’m making the bow to order.

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