Chapter 1.3

The Tone

A bow by itself, of course, makes no sound. But when tried out on various instruments, it becomes clear that the bow produces a certain tone from each instrument. It might be that the bow produces a better tone from one instrument than another. It can therefore be said that the bow has a certain tone quality.

The tone is primarily a product of response and damping. If response is understood as thesis, and damping capacity as antithesis, the tone is the synthesis. The synthesis is new, but is subsumed in the thesis and antithesis. But is not quite correct to say that the tonal character of a bow is only determined by its response and damping capacity. Tone is identical with the vibration referred to above, and depends in turn on the player and how the instrument responds. Any reference to a bow's tone is therefore a theoretical abstraction. The natural frequency of a violin's top or back can be measured. How these relate to one another is highly important to the tone quality of a violin. The natural frequency of an untightened bow says very little, because a bow needs to be tightened in order to be played. Depending on the tension and pressure put on it, the natural frequency of the bow changes significantly. The most that can be said is that one bow has a higher natural frequency than another. The loudspeakers of a stereo system are an analogous case. Each speaker has a particular range of frequencies and a particular character. Every part of the system is important, even the electrical cable. The same applies to the bow. A good tone is produced when all parts or qualities of a bow combine harmoniously.

Perhaps the most important influences on the quality of the tone are the quality of wood, the parameters of its thickness, and the relationship of both to the camber of the bow. When the proportions are right, the tone is good. On the other hand, the speed of response, springiness and and strength of the bow have little to do with the sound it produces. On the contrary, it happens only rarely that these qualities combine with a nice tone in a single bow. The maker looks for a middle way that does justice to all the different demands a bow has to satisfy.

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