14 Dec 2014

Violin bows are fragile objects, and the area of short grain where the head is at its narrowest is the most vulnerable point …

First of all, try not to drop your violin bow!

We all have a few good luck stories – I once dropped a violin bow down an entire flight of stairs in a Croatian winehouse and a friend who used to work in a leading London violin shop once dropped a famous customer’s Tourte in full view of the customer. There’s also a YouTube video of Nicola Bennedetti losing control of her bow in spectacular fashion when in rehearsal with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

Fortunately these stories all have happy endings, but a month or so ago I had a classic “butterfingers” moment and let go of my bow. It landed on the floor and the head broke clean off. Since it was a favourite of mine (a Charles Nicholas Bazin stamped Blanchard), I was determined to get it repaired.

Knowing that as with broken china it’s crucial to keep the break clean and resist the temptation to fiddle, I wrapped the two surfaces in tissue paper as soon as I’d photographed the damage.

Broken Bazin violin bow head

violin bow head break repairviolin bow head break repair

Approaches to violin bow head breaks have changed a lot over the years, and with new materials and strong glues, it’s theoretically possible to do invisible repairs. However, these don’t offer as much security as a visible repair, and they can also serve to conceal the fact that the bow has been broken. As a violin dealer, I think that repairs should be obvious to future owners of a bow.

In this recent maestronet thread Josh Henry makes a persuasive case against concealed pins and the use of carbon fibre rods. He also posted some hilarious photos of what not to do when repairing violin bows.
bad violin bow repairbad violin bow repair

Should a bow repair be visible?

Visible bow repairs have come a long way from the Hill’s favoured brass screws through the top of the head, and my favourite repair is an ebony spline. It’s an elegant repair, and if it’s beautifully done it almost enhances the look of the head of the bow. I’ve also seen splines using holly (which has the appearance of ivory) which are modern and impressive.

Is it worth repairing a violin bow?

Of course the economics have to be taken into consideration. The generally accepted devaluation factor for a violin bow with a head repair is between 70 and 90%, so if the bow is worth £5,000 in good condition, it will be worth between £500 and £1,500 once repaired. Since the repair might cost between £400 and £1,000 (depending on who does the work), it’s generally not economic to carry out this repair on cheaper bows.

However, some violin and viola bows are too good to throw away, some have a sentimental value beyond their financial value, and some are just so much part of a player’s sound that they have to be kept working. In which case, economics be damned …

I gave my Bazin to Pierre Guillaume of Maison Bernard in Brussels, and I was pretty stunned by the results. It plays exactly as it did, the balance is unchanged, and even with a magnifying glass I just can’t see the break.

Violin bow head break repair

violin bow head break repairviolin bow head break repairviolin bow head break repairviolin bow head break repair

So if the worst happens and you break a valuable violin bow at the head, don’t despair. Be very careful with the faces of the break – whatever you, do don’t press them together to see how well they will go back. Find a great restorer and have faith – you will get your bow back, and it will feel and play the way it always did!