© 2018 by Ken Altman

The bow a player chooses to use can have a significant effect on the quality of the music produced. Every bow will draw a distinct tonal range from a given instrument, and will respond differently to various bow strokes. The right bow can bring out the best qualities of an instrument, and enhance a player's abilities. How do you go about finding the "right" bow for you? The best way is simply to try them in the circumstances in which you normally play. You will know when a bow works for you. The weight and balance, the feel of the bow in your hand, the way it plays both on and off the string strokes, the tone that it draws from your instrument: these are all elements that should be considered, and they can be satisfied with a fine handmade bow.  

Since 1993 I have made bows one at a time, incorporating time honored methods and materials. Each stick is carefully chosen for its characteristics of grain, density and flexibility. I pay close attention to every detail that goes into making a fine bow, from the silver or gold fittings, to the weight and balance, to the final finish.  These factors all contribute to a bow that responds to a player's utmost demands.


You may be aware that there are issues with the use of ivory on bows. I have never used elephant ivory for my bows, instead choosing mastodon ivory for tip plates, and occasionally for frogs. Until recently mastodon ivory was legal to use. Now in some jurisdictions it is illegal to trade even in mastodon ivory. This situation has prompted bow makers to search for other suitable materials for bow tip plates. I've found that titanium is an excellent alternative, and it's what I use now on all of my bows. It's very lightweight. A titanium tip plate weighs only a few tenths of a gram more than one of ivory. It's also extremely durable. In my work rehairing bows I often see cracked ivory or bone tip plates, caused by poorly fitting plugs that were forced into the tip mortise to hold the hair in place. That's a non-issue with a metal tip plate. I can't honestly comment about the effect on tone of a titanium versus an ivory tip, since there are so many variables involved when comparing bows. I can say that I've had favorable responses from my customers. The one downside with using titanium, from my point of view as a maker, is that it's very difficult to work. It takes much longer to shape a titanium clad tip than it does one of other, softer materials. To my mind, this is a worthwhile tradeoff given the advantages of this material.