Friday April 28, 2017
Silvio Dalla Torre
Chameleon Double Bass Double Bass as Solo Instrument? Tunings Playing Techniques I - Standing or Sitting? - Two, Three or Four Fingers? - Bow Hold - Bow Properties Playing Techniques II New Dutch School

Bow Properties

It will come as no surprise, in view of the chameleon character of the double bass already described, that its bow displays no less variation in form, material, length, and most of all its weight.

Of the extremely varied forms that were used up until the beginning of the
19th century, the two basic forms, the so-called “French” and “German” models, have crystallised out for the overhand and underhand holds.

A certain consistency has emerged in this respect, too. After every imaginable
kind of wood had been employed for constructing double bass bows up until the 19th century, snakewood and more recently the ironwood favoured in the Baroque have become established in addition to pernambuco. For the frog, ebony, snake-
wood and ivory/mammoth are used. However, new tendencies are emerging in the hi-tech area, with carbon fibre models being developed. White hair is normally used, but a minority of double bass players swear by the rather more powerful black hair.

A specific length has become established as a standard, but here, too, there is much controversy even today. A longer bow is often required for solo playing than for orchestral performance (e.g. by Bottesini). Gustav Laska (1847-1928) wrote on this subject: "Now, a few words about the bow. The double bass bow previously had a very short form, unsuitable for long slurs and sustained notes. Many years ago, I conceived the idea of having a double bass bow as long as a violin bow made for me. This idea of mine has since found such resonance that the numerous imitations form a sufficient recommendation of its advantages."

Neither has any consensus so far been reached in the question of the weight of the bow, so contradictory were and are the points of view. F.C. Franke wrote c. 1820: "If the head is filled with lead, the resulting weight provides considerable advan-
tage." August Müller (1808-1867) was absolutely insistent on the use of a heavy bow, and was amazed "that anyone can have any doubt about the matter". C. Montanari around 1850 estimated a bow weight of 156 g as being ideal. Both a greater and a lesser weight were in his opinion "detrimental to the production of a good tone". Giovanni Bottesini said in his "Metodo" in 1869 that a bow should be used which is "in proportion to the thickness of the strings", and thus a heavy bow "which eases the friction of the hairs". Ludwig Hegner wrote in 1896: "Many double bass players consider it necessary to use a heavy bow in order to obtain a large tone. This is a mistake, as the correct use of a light bow allows all the tonal possibilities of the instrument to be achieved." In 1938, Theodor Albin Findeisen recommended a weight of 125-135 g, which has since become more or less a standard in Germany. The Russian double bass virtuoso Rodion Azarkhin began experiments in the 1960´s searching for the ideal bow weight, and loaded his bow with four lead weights to bring it to a total of up to 300 g. Under the heading The Bow in Practice you can read Azarkhin´s reports of his trials.