Baroque and Modern Stringed Instruments

Viola da Gamba Bows:  Louis Bégin, Chris English, Chinese Bows

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Violas da Gamba Bows



Chris English Baroque Bows

Lu-Mi Chinese Bows

OVI Chinese Bows Bow FAQs

Bows may be tried on approval.

I normally have a few dozen in stock at any one time.




Alsek Spit, Alsek River, Alaska, August, 2012

Chris English Baroque Bows

Chris English is a Port Townsend, WA highly skilled bowmaker.  His bows are finely crafted using the highest quality materials, personally chosen from such places as Brazil, Spain and France.  His acquisition and study of materials to learn their characteristics, his interaction with musicians, and his study of bows in collections and museums are all integral factors in his personalized and successful approach to bow making.  His bows are highly regarded in the viola da gamba community.

Bows may be tried on approval.

Pictures Model Decorative Options (at extra cost) Price
  Blackwood Mastodon Ivory, Ebony Frog $1500
  Ironwood Mastodon Ivory, Ebony Frog $1500
  Figured Snakewood Mastodon Ivory, Ebony Frog $1500
1, 2 Highly Figured Snakewood Mastodon Ivory, Ebony Frog $1500

Approximate Specifications (Examples)

Size Weight Range Weight (grams) / Bow Length (cm) / Free Hair Length (cm)
    Example #1 Example #2 Example #3
Treble 50-55 53 / 71 / 58    
Tenor 58-65 59.5 / 70.5 / 57.7 62 / 71.1 / 58.2  
Bass 73-83 82 / 75.5 / 61.2 79.5 / 76 / 61.5 82.5 / 76.3 / 62

All sizes are the same price.  Other decorative options are available




Chinese Bows

October, 2010

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Chinese Viola da Gamba Bows

Bass viol bow, figured snakewood, 75.5 gms, 72 cm long, $450

Other sizes and weights available


Chinese Viola da Gamba Bows


Snakewood sticks and frogs, $350


Viol Bow FAQs

from David Van Edwards

Baroque bows have a deeper-headed form than Renaissance bows.  This gives a sense of float and grace. Most players find it very satisfactory for the normal run of consort music.
Bows can be made straight, in which case they will take up the convex curve seen in almost all the pictures of the 17th century, or they can be given a reverse (concave) curve like a modern violin bow, which will give a much tighter feel to the hair and will seem to "grip" the string better. Obviously players of modern instruments will feel more at home with this form and it does enable the solo repertoire to be played with considerable brio but it is probably anachronistic for the earlier part of the 17th century. The same bow given a reverse curve will feel completely different and can be made lighter for the same degree of hair tension, reaching the limit of this possibility in the modern violin bow. (Many players do not realize that even modern violin bows are made straight and then given their curve by bending with heat.)


In general a bow has to resonate sympathetically with the instrument and this is affected by almost everything you care to name: weight and tension of strings, hair, bow, bow arm, soundboard, etc etc. So the best bow is the one that works best for you, and may not be the same as the best for the next player or instrument.

Beginning students may have bad habits, of playing position etc. or be insufficiently clear about what they're listening for, in which case the teacher's opinion on the bow, [preferably played on the student's instrument though] may be the most accurate and useful.

The ability of a bow to carry hair to a given optimum tension is determined by its stiffness. So a stiffer bow can carry more hair to the same tension than a weaker stick. Thus modern violin bows, with their very stiff geometry of reverse bend, can commonly carry 180 hairs whereas a bass viol bow is likely to have about 130 hairs. Therefore the number of hairs will vary from bow to bow, from wood type and curvature. If there are too many hairs for the bow they will feel slack. The weight of the hairs in any given hair band will act as a kind of 'inertia' to drive the string, and so in general the more hairs the louder, subject to the provisos above.

For large instruments with all gut stringing such as baroque cellos, large bass viols or bass violins, black hair is often better for getting the thick bass strings moving at the start of a note. This is because the individual hairs of black hair are thicker and thus have a greater area in contact with the string. The microscopic scales on the surface of the hair which hold the rosin and provide the 'stick-slip' grip on the string are also coarser and further apart in the case of black hair, and so, though often louder and quicker to speak, they may produce a rather coarse sound. If your large gut strings are slow to speak and rather feeble, it may be worth experimenting with black hair in your bow.

Try the bow on your instrument, preferably with a friend listening at a distance to compare notes on volume and clarity. Ignore the price ticket and concentrate on getting the best sound and then look at the price!

Pernambuco (Caesalpinia echinata) This is an orange brown wood, heavy and very stiff and is the standard wood used for the modern violin bow. It was originally imported mostly as a dye wood and legend has it that Tourte was the first to notice its suitability as a bow wood. This is demonstrably untrue as there are many pernambuco bows from before Tourte's time, but it is true that after Tourte it became almost the only wood used for good bows. It produces a very bright, brilliant sound from the instrument.

Snakewood (Piratinera guianensis) is the other main wood used for bows, particularly earlier period bows. It is difficult to obtain and is ferociously expensive but it does make a wonderful bow. It produces a rich powerful sound and is much used by professional players of period instruments because of the volume it can produce. It is one of the heaviest, stiffest woods known, smooth and dark brown for the most part. However some snakewood has a decorative figure of irregular black patches which look a bit like the markings on a snake, hence the name. This figure varies from log to log, and also within each log, some parts are highly figured, some have a mild figure and other parts have virtually no figure at all. This is a representative selection of what we call in the stocklist description of each bow “highly figured”, “figured” and “unfigured”. These three pieces came from adjacent parts of the same log. It is very strange and beautiful but it adds nothing to the playing character of the bows, only to the cost!


Ordering Information                                                                                                                                                Top of PageSubcontrabass recorder in Bb, by Adriana Breukink

Email, call or write me to order or discuss your needs.  You can't order from my web site--I like to discuss your order with you first.

Many people have told me how much they enjoy my bringing my ‘store’ of instruments to workshops so that they can try many different ones over the course of a few days.  This makes their decision-making process much easier. 

Obviously, when ordering by mail, I can’t send you my whole ‘store’ of instruments to try, but I do try to come as close as is reasonably possible.  All instruments can be ordered on approval.  I am happy to send out two or more instruments for you to compare.  For instance, I could send out two or three rosewood altos, or rosewood, pearwood, grenadilla and  boxwood altos for you to sample.  Then you can play them (please, no more than 15 minutes per day, just as if you were starting the breaking-in process), let your friends try or listen to them, and let a teacher try them.  This gives you some feedback on your choice, and gives you more confidence in your decision. 

I want you to be satisfied with your instrument, and feel under no obligation to buy it if you don’t like it.  A normal time for deciding is approximately one week.  I, of course, expect any returned instruments to be in like-new condition (see below).  Whether you decide to buy an instrument or not, all I ask is that you pay for shipping costs both ways.

Once you have decided on a purchase, I will bill you. 

Email, call or write me to order or discuss your needs.  You can't order from my web site--I like to discuss your order with you first.


I had an instrument returned that smelled of cigarette smoke.  The customer did not smoke, but a visitor did.  I haven't yet succeeded in removing the smell.  I can't sell a smoky instrument, so I do not want to send instruments on approval to households where people are allowed to smoke.  If a smoky-smelling (or mildew-smelling) instrument is returned to me, I will not accept it, and you will have bought it, since it is no longer in like-new condition.  In my experience, hardly any recorder players smoke, so this should be a rare occurrence.  So please, no smoke, mildew or lipstick, and brush your teeth before playing--all things you should do if the instrument were yours.  I hope you understand this policy.


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