Selection of Pernambuco
for Exceptional Bows
Pernambuco is renown for its use in the making of violin bows. But after being first discovered in 1500 by Portugese explorers, the trees and its wood become highly coveted and traded throughout Europe for the red dye it produced. Considered a valuable commodity, it was the preferred red dye of luxury textile manufacturers. Its heartwood varies from a muted yellow-orange to orange to red or reddish-brown, and it slowly darkens with age. Grains are generally straight, though sometimes interlocked. Despite its great density, it has excellent working properties and, with its fine texture, finishes nicely, boasting an impressive natural luster.
Quality of the Wood
Pernambuco Wood quality depends on age and drying process. The wood itself needs to be a minimum of 50 years old, and then dried another 10 years after cut down. This presents some obvious problems in the industry. Due to the length of time involved, makers in the business will buy select woods, and store them for their future grandkids to work on.
For the purpose of playing your stringed instrument, the density of the pernambuco is super important, since it impacts the ability to transfer vibrations and also the strength of the bow. You don’t want the stick to have too much give, but the preference comes down to the player.
A top-tier bowmaker will know whether or not the wood will produce a high-quality sound. She will throw out a finished bow if it doesn’t turn out the way she wanted, or if it doesn’t produce a good tone. You want to work with a maker who embodies these standards of practice.
The prices go higher with select Pernambuco woods due to the rarity of it. It only grows in Brazil. As of recently, Pernambuco woods have been used for making furniture and other home goods, causing a drastic decrease in supply. For other products, the wood doesn’t have the same waiting time, so they cut the trees down before they have the chance to grow old enough to become violin bow-worthy. Acid rains have also ruined many pernambuco trees, leaving us with an even more scarce inventory.
The ideal weight lies around 60 grams. There are bows that are 55-65 grams; they are also suitable for playing, but preference depends on the player. The strength of the stick is important. A good 55-gram bow will feel like a 60-gram or more stick if it’s strong. With that strength, it operates like a thicker stick. A powerful stick will resist the pressure, and you’ll be able to achieve a fine tone. It is extremely rare to find strong bows that are this light and can hold up. This is why most cheap wood bows are heavier, since they require thickness to not break and keep its camber.
The way the Pernambuco Violin bow was cut and graduated, and how the weight was distributed, makes a huge difference. Experienced makers will recognize if the bottom of the stick was lighter in density, and make up for that by making it thicker at that part. The maker needs to know how to handle the different characteristics of the wood in order to maximize its potential. No two pieces of wood will ever be exactly the same, so the can not be treated the same way. This is why we generally stay away from terms like “unit”, as every single bow is a piece of art!
Camber (bow curvature)
This also has everything to do with the maker. The camber needs to match the characteristics of the wood stick, but also match the player. This is why many people test multiple bows before finding one that they love. It doesn’t mean that the other bows weren’t any good, but that it didn’t match the player as well.
Quality of Horse Hair
For our violin bows, we use the highest quality Mongolian or Siberian horse hair. There have been many studies/tests done around this, and there are two breeds found to produce the best hair for violin bows. But the source of the hair is even more important. We have ordered the “best” hair from the most reputable distributors in America and found that it doesn’t nearly compare to the horse hair we order directly from the suppliers in Mongolia and Siberia.