Rafael Carrabba Violins is one of the country’s finest violin shops. Musicians from around the globe have brought their instruments to our expert luthiers for repairs, restorations, and valuations. We sell instruments and bows in all price ranges. We also sell cases, strings, and accessories.  

 

 

 

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Carrabba Violins

405 W Galer St
Seattle, WA 98119 
206-283-5566             email click here

BUSINESS HOURS

Tues-Fri 9-5
Sat 10-5

Bow repair and rehair by appointment 

 

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History

 

Rafael Carrabba Violins, Inc. was established in 1985 when Rafael bought the business of his former employer, David Saunders. From the age of twelve Rafael worked in the Saunders shop, sweeping floors, grinding bow rosin, polishing violins and, perhaps most importantly, absorbing all the information he could.

During summer breaks from high school, Rafael apprenticed in Chicago with Kenneth Warren & Son, one of the most renowned violin shops in the United States. Upon graduating he worked at Warren’s for an additional year and then moved on to William Moennig’s shop in Philadelphia.

Rafael spent the following four years in London where he worked for the world’s greatest violin expert, Charles Beare. He then returned to Chicago where he worked for Carl Becker. Rafael relocated to London once again to work for Charles Beare for an additional four years then, finally, settled back home in Seattle.

With over forty years in the business, Rafael has become an expert at identifying instruments. He is particularly skilled in appreciating subtleties of  the Italian, English, French and German schools of violin making.

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Little Seattle Shop Puts Zing Back In A Stradivarius

In the rarefied, even exotic, world of string-instrument repair, restoration and creation, you count such meccas as Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and London. That's about it - or was.

But now Seattle.

Good gawd - Seattle?

Well, why not? It is a city that produced the late Emmett Day, whose woodcrafting of custom furniture was the work of near-genius. There is Bill Gates, whizzeroo of the computer galaxy.

There have been celebrated aeronautical technocrats and scientists, Nobel winners, artists, medical pioneers, ad infinitum.

To read the full archived article CLICK HERE

Monday
Sep262011

Selecting a Bow

SELECTING A BOW: SOME PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS

By Mark R. Reindorf (Strings Magazine Premier Issue 1986)

 You’re not alone.  At some time, virtually every string player thinks about replacing a bow or acquiring a second, back-up bow.

Some specific desire may prompt you: Wanting a stronger bow, one that bounces better, gives a deeper or more resonant sound, or has a better sense of balance.  Or you feel a vague dissatisfaction with current tone production or ease of playing that might be traced to the bow.

Often the search for a bow immediately follows the choice of a new instrument.  This is not surprising, since the resonating characteristics of instruments differ (often markedly) with each and every bow.  Each instrument has a unique palette of sound, and the perfect bow is the one that allows those characteristics colors of sound to speak clearly. By the same token, a player who is not satisfied with the sound of his current instrument may be wise to first experiment with a change of bows.  This is apt to be far less traumatic – and usually less costly – than a change of instruments.

You may also be prompted by feeling that the time has come to acquire a rare French or English bow or a fine bow by a contemporary maker.  Such an acquisition often brings a psychological uplift along with its physical and musical benefits. No matter what leads you to look for a different or “better” bow, the task of seeking out and eventually acquiring one will prove much simpler – and ultimately more satisfying – if you identify concrete, realistic objectives before you start.  The first step requires using your current bow to examine and analyze two areas: Quality of sound and ease of playing.

Quality of Sound

Start by trying to identify the type of sound you need and desire – and the problems, if any, you currently encounter in achieving it.  This can depend on more than your instrument alone.  Do you most often play orchestral music? Chamber music?  Solo works?  Are the rooms or halls in which you most often find yourself small or large, bright or dull?  Being happy most of the time is better than trying to find a bow that will work everywhere, every time.

Help yourself with descriptive works about sound quality: Darker, bright, clearer, more focused, louder, fuller, less fuzzy, less surface noise, more lush, and soon.  Establishing a bench mark of current dissatisfactions can lead you to specific goals while making the selection process more bearable.

Ease of Playing

Here, an equally wide variety of factors come into question.  Group them in four basic bow characteristics: Strength, flexibility, weight, and balance.  Together, these elements make for comparative ease of playing.  They also influence performance requirements such as spiccato, sautillé, staccato, clean detaché, and chord production.

Continue by analyzing and noting the specific weaknesses of you r current bow.  You can then consult a check list when actually trying new bows.  A written one is better than a purely mental one, and the accompanying chart may prove helpful to you.

Strength is often inversely related to flexibility.  It can be identified from both the vertical and the horizontal/lateral aspects.  Isolated areas of weakness are often traceable to problems of camber – the inward curving of the bow which is achieved by bending under heat.  When cooled, the stick retains this inward flex which, along with the inherent strength of the wood, is responsible for the bow’s basic playing characteristics.

An experienced bow expert may be able to impart new life – or at least correct minor problems – by simply adjusting the camber.  Always leave this to an expert who will not distort the type of camber originally intended for the stick, which varies by historical period and maker.

The weights of bows – like all objects made of natural materials – vary distinctly.  Traditionally, violin bows have weighed about 60 grams, viola bow, 70, cello, 80, and double bass from 120 to 150.  Recently, players have been favoring slightly heavier bows.  Bows under these standards are considered light.

In fact, the weight of the bow may increase by as many as 5 grams depending on the wrapping used.  The wrapping, or winding, primarily serves to resist the pressure of the finger where the weight of the arm is transferred to the bow.  The wrapping counters the tendency of the fingers to slip, while protecting the bow from excessive wear at this critical pressure point.  Wrappings of tinsel or thread add virtually no weight to the bow, but they wear out quickly through rubbing and perspiration.  Whalebone is equally light, far more durable, elegant and expensive.  It is also now illegal in many countries.  Silver wire is the most widely used wrapping material.  Its weight is determined the length and gauge.  (On bows with gold mounted frogs, the preferred wrap is, of course, gold wire.)

Like strength and flexibility, the weight and balance of a bow are often related.  Balance is, after all, simply the distribution of weight along the bow.  In general, the balancing point is about seven inches from the front of the frog.  Bows which have a balance point significantly different from this norm will feel either tip- or frog-heavy.

Tip-heavy bows are the band of orchestral players.  Never underestimate the fatigue that comes of accompanying a soloist through long pianissimo passages while exerting counterbalancing pressure the little finger!

You can partially correct the imbalance of a bow which is too light at the tip.  One way is to add a silver plate at the head; another, to replace the standard wooden wedge with a lead plug.  But try these measures only if the bow already possesses generally favorable playing characteristics.

Budget Considerations

For most players, purely financial considerations enter into the choice of a bow.  Even those fortunate few who can afford anything will consider cost from another angle – investment potential and inherent value.  Whatever your situation, you are wise to consider this advice:

Don’t refrain from trying bows that cost less than what you are ready to spend.  If you find what you need and save money, you’ll be delighted.  If not, you’ll be consoled by knowing that you haven’t spent too much.  If you try bows that cost more than you will pay, you are certain to find one you love.  It will spoil you and make finding the right one all the more difficult and agonizing.

For the professional player or teacher, a bow is essential to business – one of the few depreciable capital assets which actually appreciates in value.  (If sold later, the profit realized over the depreciated basis is taxed as a capital gain, generally the more favorable rate.  And current tax laws permit the claiming of the investment tax credit, which allows one to subtract 10% of the bow’s cost from one’s overall tax bill.)

As pure investments, bows have performed spectacularly in recent decades along with other art works.  With the current decline in inflation, this rate of appreciation could slow down considerably.  But fine rare French and English bows will continue to appreciate for three reasons: Their playing characteristics are generally outstanding.  Demand for them – internationally, from museums, private collectors, and players, is increasing.  And, finally, the supply can only diminish.

The finest bows by François Xavier Tourte, for example, now range in price from $25,000 to $50,000, depending on the mountings and the individual history of each bow.  For bows by Dominique Peccatte and Nikolaus Kittel, the range is roughly half that.  (Kittle is a true anomaly: A German by birth, he worked in St. Petersburg.  Because of his outstanding craftsmanship, he is referred to as the Russian Tourte.)

Next in value though not necessarily inferior in quality are bows by many makers: Paul Simon, Joseph Henry, Nicolas Maire, Guillaume Maline, François Lupot, Joseph Fonclause, Louis Simon Pajeot II, Nicolas Eury, Joseph Rene Lafleur, Grand-Adam, François Nicolas Voirin, and others.  At the next level is an equally diverse list that should include James Tubbs, John Dodd, Joseph Arthur Vigneron, Louis and Claude Thomassin, Jules and Victor Fetique, and Emile A. Ouchard.  To these should be added the many but lesser makers of the Vuillaume shop.

Can we assign price limits when categorizing by maker?  It is difficult, since the quality, condition, and mountings of each bow differ.  One can safely say that bows by French and English makers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are generally not found for less that $2,000, while prices above $5,000 would be excessive.

The list above is far from exhaustive.  Along with other English and French makers of note are many Germans, among the H.R. Pfretzschner, Ludwig Bausch, Otto Hoyer, Heinrich Knopf, Albert Nürnberger, August Rau, and Richard Weichold.  They crafted many beautiful bows of the finest wood which are exceptional from the playing standpoint and far more reasonably priced than their French and English counterparts.

Why?  Tradition and pride of place.  The modern bow is essentially a French innovation.  Tainturie is credited which the discovery, around 1740, of Pernambuco as the ideal wood for bows.  Nicolas Duchene, Louis Tourte (traditionally called Tourte pére), and his son François Tourte contributed the basic stylistic and architectural changes and refinements.

This does not explain why French and English bows are more highly valued than the German.  To a great extent, prejudice, fetish, and snobbery are to blame.  As in all fields of art, inexplicable niceties of judgment help to dictate the value of bows. 

If you are concerned neither with a bow’s antiquity nor the celebrity of its maker, acquire one by a good contemporary maker instead.  Concentrate solely on the playing attributes of the bow until you have found the right one.  The price will very likely be reasonable.  Most likely, the bow will hold its value.  And if you are fortunate in finding a very good bow – or if the maker subsequently acquires a strong reputation – its value will rise.

Consider also the “shop bows” hand made by apprentices or less experienced members of a shop under the supervision of an established fine bowmaker.  While their craftsmanship and materials are generally inferior to those found in the work of the master, you may turn up something serviceable and relatively inexpensive among the shop bows.

Commercial-grade bows, on the other hand, are not intended to hold their value or even to last indefinitely.  They are intended for beginners, whose enthusiasm may flag, and for public school music programs where damage is frequent and inevitable.  The workmanship and materials are inferior, and many elements such as the frog are machine-made.  There is no reason not to play with a commercial-grade bow – but there is no good reason to continue with one longer than necessary.

Where to Look, How to Shop

If you’ve used a checklist to answer the question “what is my ideal bow,” it may be wise to follow a similar procedure in deciding where and how to look for it.  Consider…

Can I trade in my present bow for the new one?

Will the seller take by new bow in trade – or buy it back – if I decide to upgrade again?

Can I take the new bow home on trial?  For how long?

Are the price and/or terms of sale negotiable?

Will the seller guarantee the identity and provenance of my new bow?  Will he take it back if they later prove dubious?

At virtually any reputable retail violin shop – and they are to be found in most major metropolitan areas in the United States – the answers to all these questions will be “yes.”

These shops will usually maintain a representative selection of bows, both consigned items and the shop’s own inventory.  Because reputation is of paramount importance to any business that deals in one-of-a-kind items, the violin shops stand behind their sales.  They deal with problems quickly and appropriately, and depend heavily on the work-of-mouth “advertising” that comes of such performance.

What about the auction houses?  Bows often enter the market when estates are dispersed.  The heirs want to sell quickly and expediently, and may not know themselves how to evaluate each bow in a collection.  So they rely on others, often the major auction houses.  Dealers then acquire this supply in the sale rooms.  Isn’t sensible for you to join them these and avoid paying the dealer’s mark-up?  If you’re a gambler, perhaps.  But even then, several caveats are in order.

First, all the major auctions now take place in Europe; Christie’s is the only house still conducting sales in New York.  So the cost of your travel to London, Paris, or Cologne may wipe out any savings you might realize there.

Second, the sale is final.  If you subsequently decide you don’t like your new bow, your only real recourse is to sell it.  And the fact is, you won’t have had much time to try it out before buying – certainly not under calm playing conditions.

Finally, you’re apt to see a good many bows of dubious origin and condition.  Are you up to the task of sorting out the good, the bad, and the ugly?  If not, be extra careful.  Usually only an expert feels comfortable with the risks, pressures, and politics of the sale rooms.

All of this doesn’t mean you should not use the results of the auctions as a source of information about prices and trends, and to get a sense of the relative value of bows by different makers and from different schools and periods.  One of the greatest difficulties any buyer of a one-of-a-kind item faces is that he must rely so greatly on the word of the seller about the item’s value.  Knowing how comparable items sell at auction can be extremely helpful when you are shopping.

But if you won’t be doing your shopping in the sale rooms, how about through your teacher?  A private dealer?  The present owner of a bow?  Or the maker, if the bow is new?  All of these are appropriate sources – provided you’re aware of the pitfalls.

Some teachers involve themselves in bow sales, either directly by selling to a student, or by collecting a commission from a violin shop to which they have sent him.  The merits of the latter system are debatable, but it is a business custom so firmly entrenched and pervasive that it is unlikely to decline in the foreseeable future.  It is also preferable, frankly, to the practice of selling directly to a student.  What happens if you buy a bow from your teacher and then decide you don’t like it?  Or wonder if you’ve been overcharged?  It hardly seems worthwhile to endanger the complex, sensitive, teacher-student relationship.

What about orchestral colleagues?  They often sell old bows when acquiring new ones, or when retiring.  Several are selfstyled “dealers” who do a little business on the side.  Again, ask yourself not only whether you can live happily with the bow, but whether you can also live happily in the orchestra alongside its former owner.

In both cases – or when buying directly from the bow’s individual owner – you can settle any doubts by having a competent authority authenticate (or dispute) the bow’s identity and condition.  Usually, this authority will be a professional dealer.  Etiquette dictates that he give you an unbiased opinion.  At the same time, each dealer has his own supply of bows for sale.  Allow something for the proddings of natural self-interest when asking a dealer to evaluate someone else’s bow.  (One way to minimize its intrusion is to pay a fee for the appraisal.)

What about buying from the maker?  There are two advantages: You’ll probably have the opportunity to sample several bows by the same maker.  And you should save money by buying directly.  On the negative side, you probably won’t be able to trade in an old bow.  Nor do most contemporary makers buy their own bows back in the fashion of dealers.  With contemporary European makers, buying directly presents pitfalls similar to those of the auction houses – lack of time for trial and travel costs.  It makes more sense to buy through an American agent or dealer.

Selecting Your Bow

Visiting a major dealer can be overwhelming.  You are led to a back room…presented with a case of bows (groups by price or country of origin)…and then…

Wait a minute.  Prepare yourself before walking in.  First, don’t aim to find the ideal bow right away.  Simply look for the one or two bows which warrant further trial.

Make sure the dealer knows you are shopping, not buying.  At the same time, there’s no need to be suspicious, adversarial, or close-mouthed. On the contrary, dealers like nothing better than having the confidence of players.  Discuss your needs, but keep the initial discussion to musical and playing terms, not financial ones.

If you’ve developed your checklist, you know what’s right and wrong about your previous bow.  So now go into the back room and start trying out the candidates.  If you’ve been presented with 12, play through them quickly separating them roughly by “like” and “don’t like.”  You’ll probably discard half this way.  Now take up the remaining six and play the same passages or routine on each.  This is the period to consult your checklist carefully.  Be sure you’re challenging the bow’s range fully, even if briefly.  Play legato, spiccato, piano, forte, etc.  Don’t take too much time with any one bow – five minutes each – or you risk “overloading your circuits” with too many impressions.

If you’ve found one or two that survive this process, ask to take them out on trial.. Most likely you’ll be permitted to.  The dealer may ask for your references, and will want you to sign a release form.  Be sure to understand the terms, which will vary from shop to shop.  If the dealer’s insurance doesn’t cover the bow’s while in your care, find out if your own insurance will.  There’s nothing worse than paying for a bow you don’t want because an accident befalls it while in your possession.

Keep the bows on trial for a few days.  Don’t just practice with them.  Take them to actual playing situations, too.  Make notes about the bows, even if you don’t purchase them.  These notes may help you at a later stage of the search – particularly if you’ve discovered some specifics about weight maker, price, etc. that can lead you to (or away from) certain bows.

Some players can find a satisfactory bow in a few weeks.  Others take years, and never find exactly what they want.  It is common for a player to search for months, finally find the ideal bow, and haggle over the price.  Most dealers will not turn down a reasonable offer, but excessive bargaining will generally not work to your advantage.  Consider the relative importance of the purchase, and the length of time you expect to keep the bow.  Then see how far you want to go.  And you might ask yourself how much less you’d be willing to take in your own line of work!

How Condition Affects Value

Playing characteristics and the maker’s name are the principal factors that determine the price of a fine bow.  Its relative condition – physical appearance and the structural integrity of the bow and all of its principal parts – are of considerable importance, too.

As with any work of art, the extent to which the artistry and intentions of the bow’s maker have been preserved is revealed in the bow’s current condition.  Logically, were you to find two bows by the same maker with relatively equal playing characteristics (admittedly a hypothetical and rare occurrence) the bow in better condition warrants the higher price.  Given two bows by the same maker in equal condition, you would simply choose the better playing bow.

Every component of the bow has a value and its condition enters into an evaluation of the whole bow.  The tree essential components are the stick, the frog, and the screwbutton, which respectively represent on average 70%, 20%, and 10% of the bow’s value.

Typically, the frog is of silver and ebony, and the screwbutton also silver.  When master makers found a piece of exceptionally beautiful wood, they would make mountings from materials of greater value – combinations using gold, silver, ivory, and tortoiseshell.  In general, the value of a bow mounted in ivory and silver increases by 25%.  Bows mounted in gold and ivory, gold and ebony, and silver and tortoiseshell, by 50%.  Gold and tortoiseshell mountings, by 100%.  If you see a plain looking bow mounted in gold and tortoiseshell, you may be looking at a frog refitted from another stick.  You may also see contemporary bows with expensive mountings whose sticks do not justify their use – but do permit the charging of substantially higher prices.

What about defects?  A break in the stick, even if skillfully repaired, can reduce a bow’s resale value by up to 90%.  (The commercial value of such a bow remains higher, since its “salvage” value are in the frog and screwbutton, which together account for roughly 30% of the overall value.)  The frogs on such bows are often sought out by dealers and repairmen for fitting to bows by the same maker whose frogs are either damaged or not original.

Some frogs have suffered considerable wear, and have been refitted to the original stick with an inserted piece of ebony called a cheval.  When done skillfully, this repair has only a slight effect on overall value.

One should not, of course, confuse playing value with market value.  Repaired bows often play as well as ever.  If you are not concerned with resale value, you can sometimes find a damaged bow that plays very well at a very reasonable price.

Only the most skillful and experienced dealers and connoisseurs have the expertise to ascertain what repairs have been made to a bow – and what role they play in determining the bow’s current value.  As in everything about selecting a bow, you should consult an expert whenever any doubt arises about condition.

Protecting Your Acquisition

Insure your new bow for its replacement value, which is generally higher that the price you paid for it.  Make sure to secure an appraisal upon purchase, have it updated every two or three years, and be sure any increase in valuation is relayed to your insurer. (Be prepared to pay a modest fee for each reappraisal.)

It is wise to photograph any newly acquired bow, and essential with one by a noted maker.  Extremely rare and expensive bows should be certified by a recognized expert.  The certificate should not the provenance of the bow if it has ever been owned by an important musician.

And your bow should be looked after with a care equal to or even greater than that you lavish upon your instrument.  Despite its flexibility and strength, it is extremely fragile and cannot endure severe shocks.  How long will a good bow last?  With proper care, indefinitely – and certainly long enough for you to start itching for yet another new bow. 

A Checklist for Rating Bows

Suggested rating scale: Poor = 1, Fair = 2, Average = 3, Good = 4, Excellent = 5

ATTRIBUTE

YOUR BOW

IDEAL BOW

TRIAL BOW

1. Strength/Firmness

 

 

 

2. Flexibility

 

 

 

3. Weight

 

 

 

4. Balance

 

 

 

5. Stability (No shaking)

 

 

 

6. Firmness at tip

 

 

 

7. Firmness at middle

 

 

 

8. Firmness at frog

 

 

 

9. Legato

 

 

 

10. Staccato

 

 

 

11. Ricochet

 

 

 

12. Sautillé

 

 

 

13. Piano quality

 

 

 

14. Forte quality

 

 

 

15. Overall quality

 

 

 

16. Color of sound

 

 

 

17. Ease of playing

 

 

 

18. Appearance

 

 

 

19. Condition

 

 

 

20. Value

 

 

 

21. Other

 

 

 

TOTAL RATING (add points)

 

 

 

Thursday
Jun092011

The Physical characteristics of a bow:

THE PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF A BOW: How appearance, damage and repairs affect value - and how you can maintain the worth of your bow

by Mark R. Reindorf (Strings Magazine, November 1995)

When asked to assess the value of a bow, your first impulse is probably to see how it plays. Only afterward will you give it a closer examination. Perhaps you'll see a nick, a worn area on the stick, even a missing or damaged silver part on the frog. Can you say how such imperfections alter the value of the bow as a whole? What about more subtle or undetectable repairs? Dealers, appraisers, and collectors do this routinely. In fact, they measure a bow's value according to several criteria: the skill and reputation of the bow's maker, the bow's current physical condition, and its playing or handling characteristics.

The system is hardly perfect, since reputations fluctuate and even physical condition can be a matter of dispute. But there is widespread agreement on the relative importance of a bow's various physical attributes. If you would like to understand better why one bow is worth $5,000 and another by the same maker only $500, which kinds of damage can render a bow nearly worthless, what makes one bow a good investment, and how can you protect the value of the bow or bows you have now, you would do well to learn more about how the marketplace judges bows. Reading alone won't help make you an expert, but it may help you find your way through the thicket of terms and criteria the experts use and enable you to ask the right questions when looking at a bow from a strictly financial angle.

THE MAKER'S INTENTIONS

How do experts arrive at an actual valuation of a bow? As with any work of art or craft, they begin with the maker's original productions and the intent they embody, which are considered paramount. They look at the aesthetic integrity of the bow as a whole. Has any part been reformed or reshaped? They consider its component parts, such as the stick, frog, ferrule, ornaments, wrappings, and screw button. Have these elements been changed, repaired, or replaced? They look at the physical integrity of the bow. Has it been weakened through wear, cracks, breaks, or other damage?

The expert usually expresses the impact of each change as a percentage of the current value of an actual or hypothetical perfect specimen by the same maker. The value of all bows by a given maker will fluctuate over time, of course. The value of one particular bow, however, should be measured against the current value of that perfect specimen by the same hand - now a bow in comparable condition by a different maker.

Our next job, then, is to examine more closely the individual components common to all bows. We need to find out what can go wrong - and then try to measure the relative impact of these flaws on the bow's overall worth

THE STICK

Any change to the form of the bow shaft - the carving, tapering, placement of head/butt mortises, and cambering - diminishes the value of the bow. Similarly, the value declines when the component parts of the stick are disturbed, whether through damage, repair, or replacement. Some bow shafts do show inherent defects. While such problems as lack of strength, insufficient flexibility, incorrect weight, or improper distribution of mass are the result of poor wood selection not mistreatment, they still adversely affect the bow's value.

A good bow stick is a marvel of strength and flexibility, but it must be meticulously cared for. And even a lovingly protected bow will show some signs of wear if it is being used. The most prominent area of wear is the handle, which starts out with crisp and clear facets that are worn away through rubbing and perspiration. Severe wear of the handle can diminish the value of an otherwise well-preserved bow by upto 35%. Sometimes a worn handle/butt area is rebuilt through the application of clear or colored expy resin. While this gives the illusion of fresh facets and a crisp octagon, the underlying damage is merely camouflaged.

Wear can also be considerable in the thumb area, especially on cello bows. Again, it is not uncommon to find a filler such as colored epoxy resin masking this damage. Filling in merely disguises worn and damaged wood, however, and a bow with serious damage could lose as much as a third of its value. 

The screw button is another point of wear. Over time, it can damage the butt end of the stick to require a bushing (insertion of a small tubular piece of pernambuco to replace severely worn wood surrounding the screwbutton shaft). If skillfully installed, the bushing has no serious effect on the bow's overall value. But a bushing add to reinforce a longitudinal crack will subtract at least 10% from the bow's value - even though the original structural strength of the bow may have been restored.

Other cosmetic defects in the stick, such as scratches, nicks, bumps, burns, and knots at stress points, detract from the overall appearance, and likewise from top value. But any major repair to the stick - a graft, splice, or repaired head when it has been clearly broken - radically diminishes the bow's value. When the bow is the work of a major maker, the frog alone can sometimes be salvaged. By itself, it may be worth from 25 to 30% of the bow's total value. A well-preserved frog can be fitted to another bow by the same maker, provided a stick in good condition is available. Reputable dealers will generally specify that such an exchange and refitting has occurred, provided they are aware of it. Often, such tinkering is neither obvious nor easy to detect.

The head of the bow is quite delicate, especially the extreme tip. Even though protected by an ivory plate, this tip can become cracked or split and require repair. Such damage can diminish a bow's value by about 10%. Damage to the ridge, chamfer, and cheek contours, whether in the form of file marks, scratches or dents, are not structural weaknesses. But they can take up to 10% of a bow's value for aesthetic reasons. A crack in the mortise area - where the block for holding the hair is inserted - is more severe, especially if the cheeks are split. Damage here will decrease value by at least 25%.

It is not unusual to find a bow shaft that has become slightly twisted, so that the frog is no longer perfectly aligned with the head. With an extremely valuable bow, it is considered imprudent to apply heat and lateral force sufficient to remove the twist, since a fracture or split might occur. In such a case the frog is often readjusted on the stick to produce a better alignment with the head. If properly done, this repair has only minimal effect on the value.

One final note on the stick: It is not unusual to find an older bow that has been coated with a heavy glistening varnish. This varnish does not necessarily reflect the original finish, and it may in fact hide some cosmetic surgery.

FROG AND SCREW BUTTON

Here are myriad small elements that figure in the condition of the bow: the carved ebony block, the silver ferrule, the pearl eyes and silver rings, the pearl slide and backing, the silver heel plate, the silver back slide or plate, the bottom slide, the eyelet, the pins or screws that hold things in place, and the screw portion of the button mechanism. Finally,m there is the button itself, which includes the internal core portion of either ebony or ivory, the silver rings, if any, the end pearl dot., if any, and the pins that hold the rings in place.

Particular care should be paid to the internal, generally hidden areas of the bow. The head mortise of the stick is sometimes repaired or altered to accommodate a bigger tip wedge. Similarly, the butt end mortise may be enlarged to accommodate a larger eyelet. This can make the [remaining] wood extremely thin and therefore fragile. Likewise the internal portions of the frog, since the tools and forces applied during repeated rehairings can exact a heavy toll on the condition of several vital parts. The area of contact with the spreader wedge [the tongue ]is especially vulnerable, since the ebony is quite thin and delicate at that point.

Of the frog's various silver parts, the most abused is generally the ferrule. Over years - not only decades but sometimes centuries - this small yet critical part is often squeezed, bent, split, scratched, and otherwise mistreated. Because accumulated rosin, dirt, and perspiration can greatly hinder the removal of the ferrule for rehairing, some damage is virtually inevitable. Bows entrusted to competent and qualified repairers, of course, show minimal damage and wear to this and other delicate parts of the frog.

The silver rings of the screw button are another problem area. When the ebony core absorbs excessive moisture, it is apt to push out and split the rings. They must then be resoldered or, if badly damaged or thinned, replaced. The heel plate and back plate (some bows have only one silver plate in this area, bent at a right angle and usually affixed with one or more small metal pins) are not subject to the same forces as the ferrule and screw button but are often scratched or banged. Finally, the silver rings encircling the pearl eyes in bows by such makers as Sartory, Thomassin, Fetique, and Ouchard are quite thin and thus fragile. They can split, bend, and occasionally even fall out.

The frog accounts for roughly 33% of the value of a bow by a major maker. The adjuster alone can count for 10% of the value. While all the many small parts of the frog do not individually account for significant percentages of value, they are all important and should be preserved.

Just as certain skillful repairs to the stick will only minimally affect value, there are many repairs to the frog and screw button mechanism that can do much to preserve the general condition of the bow. The insertion of a "cheval" is fairly common. Here an ebony piece is joined to the part of the frog that meets the stick, replacing a worn or splintered surface. Replacing the ebony center of the button when the old ebony is core is split or severely worn down, or the pearl eyes and slides when worn or eaten away by perspiration, minimally affects value. And when a bow is in a state of continual service, a bottom slide may be inserted, even when not included by the original maker. The is done to lessen wear on the frog.

MAINTAINING YOUR BOWS

What can you do to maintain the value of a bow you now own? While normal wear and tear is inevitable, you should take a few simple precautions.

Protect the bow from any impact or shock; especially avoid dropping the bow or banging the head.

Protect the handle area from excessive wear with a covering of thin leather or similar material. This will extend the life of the bow.

Replace the leather thumb grip as soon as it shows signs of wear. This will also help protect the stick [and whale bone or wire winding] from becoming worn.

Keep the bow away from extreme heat (as is found in a closed car in bright sunshine), which could cause warping or twisting.

Loosen the hair when not using the bow. When going from a humid climate to one that is extremely dry, the bow could actually snap.

Avoid exposing the bow to the hard abrasive pressure of the fingernails; keep nails short and away from the wood surfaces.

Keep the bow clean; always wipe off excess rosin and especially perspiration after each use, since they have a corrosive effect.

Take your bow only to experienced and qualified people for its repair and rehairing.

A FINAL NOTE

The best repairs are undetectable to inexperienced eyes - and sometimes even to experts. Similarly, replacements of component parts can go unsuspected and thus unnoticed. When looking for a bow, you have two choices: If you choose a brand new bow, you avoid the problem of hidden repairs altogether, though the bow may have been tried out previously by other players.

But when looking for a fine used bow, you should avail yourself of the expertise of a dealer who is both experienced and ethical. He or she has the skill to determine what repairs have been effected on a bow and what role these repairs have in determining its overall value. And such a dealer will also discuss the bow's virtues an shortcomings with you frankly. By working with a highly qualified professional of this type, you may avoid the pitfalls of purchasing a bow with hidden repairs, and you can be confident that the bow you select has an actual value that reflects the purchase price.

Thursday
Nov202008

CRAFTSMAN'S WORK STRIKES THE RIGHT CHORD

Overhead fluorescent lights dance off the rounded edges and resin hues of the 256-year-old cello lying on the bench. The warm, soft glow of wood stands in stark contrast to the brightly lit white walls of the workshop.

With almost studied nonchalance, the workman grabs the instrument by the neck, flips it deftly on its side, and with one quick thrust plunges his blade between ribs and belly.

The instrument responds with a gut-wrenching c-r-a-a-ck that reverberates through the Queen Anne Hill studio. Ancient glue joining top plate to ribs reluctantly gives up its clench in a succession of heart-stopping snaps.

It's an ordeal for the visitor watching in the shop.

The patient is a Stradivarius cello made in 1732 by Francesco Stradivari, and one slip of the knife will damage or destroy one of the world's great string instruments. Conservative estimates place its value at about $500,000.

The owner, a musician in Bellingham, sent the instrument to Seattle last summer for repairs before putting it up for sale. In years past, selling or repairing a cello of this value would have meant carefully packing and shipping it to New York, Chicago or Philadelphia to put the top craftsmen to work on it.

"But there's no one in the world I'd feel more comfortable working on this than Rafael Carrabba," says the musician, who, typical of some owners of rare instruments, wishes to keep his identity private. "He's one of the best craftsmen in the world and a major asset to the Northwest."

Three years ago, Carrabba returned to Seattle from London to set up shop, and now many of these top instruments come to him for repair and restoration. The workers in Carrabba's shop on the top of Queen Anne restore and sell all types of string instruments.

His international reputation as a violin restorer and maker working in some of the world's most famous shops has attracted attention from all over, including a Russian cellist now living in London who came all the way to Seattle last spring to buy one of Carrabba's restored instruments, a 1790 Vincenzo.

His twice-a-year trips to Europe to buy instruments and attend violin auctions and his extensive international network of contacts have enabled him to acquire an evolving collection of rare and valuable instruments - among them Panormos, Gobettis, several English instruments and the Stradivarius.

Carrabba looks like he could have stepped right out of a medieval painting. His straight dark hair cut in an even line across his forehead and a scraggly close-cropped beard frame a face of delicate features dominated by intense brown eyes. Slight of build, he practices martial arts and talks quietly of the discipline of uniting body with mind in his work.

Carrabba is acknowledged by many in the international violin community as one of the best young instrument craftsmen in the world. Born in 1952 in the Rainier Valley area known as "Garlic Gulch," Carrabba got his first job in a violin shop when he was 12, apprenticing with David Saunders, who ran a well- known shop nearby.

He spent time in the shop after school and on weekends sweeping floors, grinding bow rosins and cleaning violins. Saunders recognized early on that his young student had an instinctive feel for instruments, what he called a "gift for the intangibles."

A year later, Carrabba talked himself into a summer job apprenticing with the late Kenneth Warren, a leading instrument maker in Chicago, when he was able to instantly memorize and identify bow types in their cases.

"Warren has a slightly English attitude," said Carrabba. "He taught me how to reconstruct instruments in my mind, really see them, not just look at them. Years later in London, I could walk into a room and recognize a violin from 10 feet away."

Carrabba has worked in some of the most prestigious violin shops in the world.

IN 1972 he landed a job with William Moennig in Philadelphia. "Moennig was tough," said Carrabba. "He would come and scare the hell out of me. He made me work faster and not fuss so much."

After two years, Moennig found Carrabba a job with Charles Beares in London. Beares owns the biggest shop in Europe.

Working in Europe was an eye-opener. European ideas of conservation conflicted with what he had learned about restoration in America.

"Americans approach an instrument with an eye toward making it new again, or at least making it appear new," Carrabba said. "In completing a job, they re-stain areas of natural wear, making the varnish look even - a slick job.

"In England, they consider wear in the varnish a part of the character of the instrument and important that it be preserved. Nothing in London proceeds quickly; they don't do anything to an instrument that can't be removed or corrected."

Carrabba was the youngest worker at Beares. The shop kept up a lively camaraderie playing guessing games to see who could identify newly acquired instruments first. Famous touring artists frequently dropped in, keeping the restorers busy with questions and impromptu concerts as they tried out the stock on hand.

ONE FAMOUS visitor was Pinchas Zukerman, who, as he came down on the final note of his concert the night before, caught the tip of his bow on his $300,000 violin, ripping off a large chunk of it. He nervously stood by as the workshop reconstructed the instrument.

"Actually," said Carrabba, "instruments usually sound better than ever after we repair them. We put them back together, regluing and tightening all the joints, sealing cracks and realigning everything perfectly. The owner usually comes in to find he has a better instrument."

Three years ago, Carrabba returned to Seattle when his first teacher, Saunders, decided to sell his shop and retire. Almost weekly now, he gets calls from shops all over the world inquiring about his stock, and his local clients include members of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Northwest Chamber Orchestra, and other musicians from the Northwest and Canada.

Violinist and former Seattle Symphony concertmaster Henry Siegl says Carrabba is "more important to me than my heart doctor. His intensity, curiosity and knowledge - I've watched him work on my Guarnerius. He has the feeling of a craftsman who knows his wood. He knows what I want out of my fiddle, and he can get it for me."

Already, as word has gotten out about the availability of the Stradivarius, musicians have begun lining up for the opportunity to see it. The principal cellist of a major orchestra in the East has been promised a first look, and Carrabba expects little trouble finding a buyer.

Though he has worked on instruments of this caliber before, having the Strad here is a step toward establishing Seattle in the international market.

By Douglas McLennan P-I Music Critic TUESDAY, December 13, 1988

The Article can be found online HERE

Thursday
Nov202008

Cello lover's aid to young players is instrumental

He loves the sound of the cello, and he loves the instruments - all 40 of them, made in the 18th through 20th centuries - which he now owns and lends out for free to gifted youngsters who need a fine instrument they can take to the next level.

"I knew that when I started at 50, I wouldn't attract many listeners!" says Carlsen, a soft-spoken man of unfailing courtesy who handles these instruments with the delicacy of a surgeon.

"But I gained a feeling for what talent can do. And I saw a need for fine instruments among young players who were getting an earlier start on the cello than I could."

Carlsen's Bellevue-based Carlsen Cello Foundation has evolved in the past six months to fill the need for the instrument he loves the best. Professional-quality instruments pose an eternal roadblock for gifted young musicians. They aspire to the stars, they practice like demons - and their forward progress is halted by the beginner's instrument that doesn't let them achieve the musical effects they need.

For young string players, the problem is usually the worst, because high-quality string instruments - ones on which players can achieve more subtle technical effects and beautiful tone - can run $10,000 to $25,000 and up. Way, way up, especially if you are talking about high-end, 17th- and 18th-century instruments from such Italian masters as Stradivari and Guarneri, which now sell in the multiple millions (when they sell at all).

To read the full article CLICK HERE 

Tuesday
Oct072008

MEETING THE MAKER

Although the sale of old violins, and their siblings, violas and cellos, for millions of dollars capture headlines, there is another world of string instruments dramatically growing and beginning to get the public's attention.

That is the creation of high-quality violins, violas and cellos - a craft, a science, an art. Almost dead in the 1960s, it is now thriving on three continents.

``Only 20 years ago, there was merely a handful of excellent violin makers and bow makers. Now, there are many," said James N. McKean, a New York maker of strings and president-elect of the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers, which is holding its first annual meeting in Seattle this week because the Northwest has become a center for the making of violins, violas and cellos as well as bows.

While its meetings are private, the federation will hold a public exhibition tomorrow afternoon at Plymouth Congregational Church titled ``Players Meet Makers." People can meet leading makers of violins/violas/cellos and bows from throughout the United States and see and hear their instruments.

``Making a good violin is exciting because it requires so many fields of expertise," said McKean. ``You have to know about acoustics, physics, varnish, chemistry, wood. And to make a beautiful instrument, your eye has to be refined. Parameters are tight. Differences are measured in a few millimeters. Your entire world exists within this small universe.

``The greatest achievement in the field comes from Italy in the 17th and 18th centuries. These unique instruments are so beautiful in appearance, sound and design, the challenge is to come as close to that perfection as possible. We work in the same continuum, cut on the same design, use the same materials and the same tools, although the band saw has been added.

``The best instruments don't wear out, if they are cared for," he said. ``Those made in the late 1500s are still being played and sound great. Nothing else epitomizes human endeavor the way the violin does. It is a perfect object for a specific purpose, a combination of beauty and function."

Thirty years ago, the ancient craft, which the Cremonese school - Amati, Guarneri, Stradivari - perfected, was moribund, although commercial grade instruments still constituted a good market. Professional musicians preferred old instruments, not only from various northern cities in Italy such as Cremona, Venice, Mantua, Turin and Milan, but also Paris and London.

Then, in the 1970s, Asians became fervently interested in string playing, first in Japan, then in Korea and Taiwan, and supply no longer equaled demand. Prices began to skyrocket, not only with the most celebrated instruments, which are limited to a few hundred and sell for up to several million dollars, but respectable instruments of any age. A $12,000 instrument in 1975 is now worth $250,000 to $300,000. Simultaneously, in that post-hippie age, people, especially Americans, renewed their interest in the crafts, and schools of violin-making began to crop up. Salt Lake City was particularly noteworthy.

``I was a music major at Western (Washington University) and was always interested in wood and music," said David Van Zandt, one of the Seattle's most notable makers of violins, whose shop is in Ballard. ``I thought I was cut out to be someone who worked with their hands and not their heads. I had a friend going to Salt Lake, so I went with him, took the examination and enrolled.

``I've been making violins for almost 20 years. The satisfaction is not so much financial, although I do well, but emotional because I'm creating something. I don't call myself an artist, but I am making things that are in other people's hands who are creating something as well. That feels good to me. I like to see people happy."

Van Zandt's speciality is instruments suitable for playing early music in period style, especially the Baroque. His clients are scattered across North America.

``The body (of the period instrument compared with the modern) is the same, but the setup is different, including the bridge, sound post, bass bar, fingerboard. The neck is heavier in older instruments and shorter. There is no chin rest."

Of course, all 17th- and 18th-century instruments were originally in this style, but they were altered to accommodate 19th- and 20th-century preferences and requirements. Van Zandt is also a restorer who returns converted instruments to their original style.

In the 1970s and 1980s, brand-new instruments had problems of uneven registers and lack of projection to tonal deficiencies and were frowned upon by professionals. That has changed.

``The quality of instruments has gotten so much better," said Van Zandt. ``Instruments being made right now are as good as they have ever been. Time will tell whether I am right or wrong."

The standard range for new instruments of top quality in the United States is $7,000-$15,000 for a violin and $15,000-$28,000 for a cello.

``Terrible instruments were made in the 18th century," noted McKean. ``The important distinction now should be between good and bad, not old and new."

One of the secrets to the great instruments from Cremona is their tone-enhancing varnish.

The exact properties of that varnish are still questionable, said McKean. The technology of chemical analysis has not quite caught up to the challenge of determining everything in the varnish, deciding what is relevant and, most importantly, their various proportions.

``The same ingredients can make very different dishes," he said.

What current research has revealed is the importance of the ground, the sealer between raw wood and varnish. It is this sealer, said McKean, that the wood absorbs directly and thus alters its vibrations.

``You ask a violin maker what he uses for a ground, and he will talk about the weather," said McKean. It is that crucial and that individual.

Even when they are intent on protecting the secrets of their art/craft, American violin makers want to share ideas and provide their profession with a high standard of expertise and ethics. Thus, the formation of the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers in 1980 by 23 of the country's leading makers and dealers. To join, applicants must have a minimum of nine years of experience (six years of training and three years in business) and submit samples of their work for review, said McKean.

The federation also has constructed a Missing Property Register to aid in the recovery of stolen instruments; is involved in research projects with the Smithsonian Institution regarding varnish formulation and conservation, and has compiled a photographic database of images of 200 of the rarest and most valuable instruments and bows in this country.

In addition to its reputation for instrument and bow making, Seattle is also known for restoration work. One prominent figure is the dealer and restorer Rafael Carrabba.

The majority of Carrabba's business at his shop on Queen Anne Hill is restoration. He buys 19th- and early 20th-century instruments, restores them and then sells them, often through important dealers in New York and London.

``We can put $20,000 worth of restoration in an instrument, sell it for $100,000 and make a pretty good profit. The instruments come from all over the world."

Besides Seattle and Salt Lake City, important U.S. centers of violin making include the Bay area in California, New York, Boston and Ann Arbor, Mich. Other places are marked by outstanding individuals such as Carl Becker in Chicago and David Gussett in Eugene, Ore.

The Puget Sound area is even more renowned as a place of superb bow makers because of individuals such as Morgan Andersen on Lopez Island, Paul Siefried in Port Townsend and Charles Espey on Shaw Island.

Why here?

``Seattle is a collegial place," said Van Zandt.

``The Northwest is very desirable," agreed Carrabba. ``A lot of artists and authors are moving here. There is a strong sense of craft. The wilderness feels good to a lot of people. The city is urban, but the country is very close at hand. It's a place that lets you concentrate on your work, which is essential."

Whether it is New York or Seattle, Cremona or Beijing, the allure of making violins and bows has never been more powerful.

``Measure for measure, the basic design of the instrument has been examined by acousticians, and it is such a complex system it can't be mapped out," said McKean. ``No mathematical model is available. They still don't know how it - a resonating chamber and vibrating strings - works. That is the undefinable that science cannot reach. It is a kind of wilderness that can only be explored by intuition, like trying to find the soul in a body."

 By R.M. CAMPBELL P-I MUSIC CRITIC

Saturday, April 12, 1997

The archived online article can be found HERE