The Concept

The History of the Bows

ARCUS (en) > Concept > History

From Baroque to Modern

Intuitively most students who for the first time play Mozart seriously fell that something must be wrong. While the music demands a light touch, rapid bouncing and a quick hand, the bow appears to be sluggish, heavy and slow and sits heavy on the string. If we look back in history the mystery is easily unravelled: Mozart used a dramatically lighter and shorter bow with a clip in frog. What we call as a baroque bow today was actually used throughout the entire classic period and was the standard bow at the time.

During Beethoven’s time larger concert halls were built, accessible not only for the nobles, but for larger audiences of common people. To fill these halls with sound, you had to apply more pressure to the strings, which triggered the development of stronger bows. The higher weight of such bows could not be avoided, but the new music asked for a more robust and broader playing anyway. More of these bows were fitted with screws now, as they became more affordable due to the progress in technology that came with the industrial revolution.

About the year 1800 a new bow emerged in Paris. It was originally developed by Francoise Xavier Tourte, who discovered that pernambuco has a superior strength to weight ratio, but who also made the first ferrules to hold the hair in a firm ribbon. He achieved his knowledge of civil engineering and for working with metals as a clock maker, applying his ideas in the bowmaking workshop of his father and his elder brother. As he could not become a member of the guild of bowmakers he started his own workshop in a special quarter in Paris.

During the same period the setup of the instruments changed significantly: Neck, bridge, bass bar and tailpiece were completely redesigned to give the instruments a bigger and more powerful sound. Step by step more and more metal was used in the strings. Initially some silver strands were braided with the gut for the lower strings, later they became completely wound. By the end of this century metallurgy had evolved so far that it became possible to make E-strings from plain steel. Early in the 20th century complete sets of strings were made with steel core. These strings were much cheaper and much more robust than gut strings and so dramatically increased the popularity of the violin in folk music. But evolution did not stop there. Chinrests and shoulderrests provided all musicians with a safe hold of their instrument. In the second half of the 20th century new strings with a plastic core combined the robustness and power of steel strings with the beautiful sound of gut strings.

Only the evolution of the bow did not follow suit. No metal nor any early plastic could provide an improvement to pernambuco in resiliency and weight. The bows Vuillaume designed with tubular nickel shafts sounded really fine, but they were just too heavy and rather fragile. Fibre glass bows were robust, but too soft. Even the first generation of carbon fibre bows were no improvement in resiliency of weight over pernambuco bows and the sound was still lacking in overtones. And so the bow is still the weakest element in the hole system.

Now this is exactly the point, where we started with the development of our bows. Being an advanced amateur violinist, Bernd Müsing was well aware of the „Mozart-problem“. As a successful designer of high quality bicycles he was also well acquainted with modern materials and the principles of user oriented innovation. From his own experience with the shortcomings of the standard bows he was looking for a way to make a lighter and stronger bow. In the new concept of the Arcus bow he was able to make these idea come true. What came as a surprise initially was the discovery how much these bows could actually improve the sound too, and finally that the strain on the bow arm after long sessions was reduced to almost nothing.

Today the Arcus bows are the result of a unique research and development project and reflect a vast treasure of experience too. The „Mozart-problem“ is solved and the bow is no longer the weakest, but the strongest element in the system. Countless musicians in orchestras around the world already play and Arcus bow and would not go back to their wooden bows for any longer period. As making the bows is rather difficult and laborious it will still take many years until finally all musicians have one. But, who knows, maybe in thirty or hundred years from now someone else will invent a new type of bow, made from some revolutionary materials that will go even beyond this concept.

Continur with the Design of our new bows.