New Shop Poster


This is a new poster for the shop that was designed, created and silkscreened by a great local artist, Justin Santora.  It depicts scenes from the shop and the Fine Arts Building. We will have at least 30 of these, so if you are interested in buying one, just get in touch.

Check out Justin and his work at:

An Argument for Silver Tips


With all the problems surrounding the use of ivory or mammoth for headplates, one obvious solution is installing a silver tip.  A metal tip is obviously not ivory and has historical precedent – Hill bows come to mind as well as the work of a number of French makers.

An article entitled “What’s the Alternative” from the October Strad Magazine Accessories 2014 Supplement does a good job reviewing all the alternative tip materials, but it also it shows the wide range of opinion and concerns of makers and restorers.  Of course, getting people in my field to agree on anything is like herding cats. (Btw I’m mentioned briefly in the article. The fame is going to my head).

There are numerous alternative materials available to modern makers and repairmen that will work just fine – meaning that they will protect the tip of the bow, help reenforce the head around the mortise, provide proper balance, and make it across borders safely.  It makes sense that people on my end of the violin business tend to think more of numbers and technicalities than the more common sense issues of function that players must consider.

It is true that it is much more difficult to get silver to adhere well to wood, but the fact is that it is not impossible.  Yes, Hill bows traditionally used pins to keep silver headplates secure, but that is a practice that no self-respecting bow maker or restorer would do today because of the danger of cracks.  I simply use super glue and use what I call “faux pins”.  These pins go through the silver and into the ebony layer underneath, but don’t touch the wood of the head.  I find that this really helps the silver tip to stay securely fastened to the head of the bow.   There are also a wide range of glue types and epoxies available to the makers and restorers of today.

The next objection is the of weight change and the effect of a silver tip on the balance of the bow.  It is absolutely true that silver is heavier than ivory, but has anyone actually measured the weight and balance point differences?  Well, I have.  For example, a silver tip, 0.6 mm thick, 23mm long and 10mm at its widest, with the mortise cut out, weighed 0.7grams, while an ivory tip of the same dimensions weighed 0.4 grams.  How much did 0.3 grams move the balance point?  It moved 1.5 millimeters or about 1/16 of an inch.

As an experiment I took a bow that weighed 60 grams and had a balance point of 9.5 inches as measured to the end of the wood at the button and had several highly accomplished professional violinists play it.  Next, I stuck a 0.3 gram piece of lead tape to the head of the bow and had them play it again.  The universal comment was that the 1.5mm movement of the balance point had a nearly unnoticeable effect on the playability of the bow.

The truth is that is you really wanted to be a perfectionist or you have a super-sensitive player when adding a silver headplate, you could easily add 0.3 grams to the grip and wrap to balance out the stick (Elizabeth points out in her comment that this is not quite right.  MORE weight needs to be added at the end of the stick to properly balance out the bow – ES).  I have also found that very thin silver eliminated any measurable differences in weight with the ivory tips.  However, a silver tip may not be the best choice for a bow that is significantly balanced towards the head and already quite heavy.

Another argument I ran into when discussing this issue with colleagues at the last VSA convention was that installing a thinner headplate would reduce the overall height of the head and therefore have noticeable (and possible negative) effects on the bow’s playability.  It is important to understand that most older bows do not have their original tips and therefore it is very difficult to determine how thick an original tip would have been on any given stick.  Replacement ivory headplates appear in many different thicknesses – some paper-thin, others oddly thick.   However, we’re talking about a height difference of a fraction of a millimeter.

Does overall head height have a role in the playing characteristics of a bow?  Without a doubt.  How does the difference of less than a millimeter in height effect those characteristics?  I don’t have any evidence yet, but my educated guess is that it is negligible.

So go ahead musicians – get a silver headplate. Bow makers and back-room bow folks, have no fear, it’ll be just fine.

Fixing a Bow Lift

bowrap1Sometimes a crack starts to form behind the head of a bow.  This beginning of a crack is called a lift.  If you have a lift, you could simply glue or epoxy it and hope that it holds or you do a more invasive repair, grafting on a new piece of wood, but for most bows the simplest solution is to wrap it.

It is important to note that once a bow suffers from a serious lift or crack behind the head, it’s value plummets to value of the frog and button that number depends on who made the bow of course.  Also, any repairs behind the head are difficult to guarantee – in my experience they may last for many years or fail relatively quickly.   The bow is quite thin in this area, grain direction may not be ideal, and there may not be much glue surface to work with.

A good inexpensive fix is to glue the lift and wrap it with Kevlar thread.  Kevlar has a very high tensile strength compared to its weight, so it is a good choice for this application.  In the pictures you can see the thread being wrapped around the stick using an interesting jig I came across in a fly fishing catalog.

bowrap2This jig is simply a c-clamp modified to dispense thread at various resistances.  To make the thread pull easier, loosen the wing-nut on the spool attached to the clamp’s handle, to increase the resistance, tighten it.  The thread then passed thru a small guiding loop, up and around the bow, before being tied off.

bowrap4Next, the thread is tinted to match the color of the wood before super glue is applied over the wrap, hardening it into a kind of cast.

bowrap3Kevlar is very strong and light, so balance is affected very little.  It may not look perfect, but this type of repair is not too pricy and quite effective.  It will keep your stick functional, but you should consider eventually looking for a replacement


Keep your Shop Humid for Winter

FullSizeRender(1) Winter will soon be upon us and it will be time to dust off those humidifiers and stock up on overpriced filters.  Inventory and customer instruments need to be properly cared for during our cold and long Midwestern winters.  The radiators kick on and the humidity gauge goes down, down, down.  We all know the damage dryness can cause to wooden instruments – open seams, cracks, etc.

A few years ago I was out at Skinners at their Marlborough, MA headquarters looking at instruments in their basement storage area when I noticed that they had a small humidifier that was connected to a water line.  It was attached to a Humidity Controller and a waste water line, so it only switched on when the sensor determined that the humidity had dropped below a certain percentage.  I liked that it was plumbed into a water and drain line, so it could run without concern over refilling or cleaning a water reservoir.  Of course, it turned out to be a very pricy museum-grade device, so I decided to find a more affordable alternative.

When I began researching plumbed-in humidifiers, I discovered that many houses with gas-forced air and central air systems had them connected to duct work as a way of keeping the house properly humidified.  The problem was that these units were sold as add-ons to existing systems and were not really usable on their own.  I was just about to give up on the idea when I discovered the perfect solution: the Aprilaire 360!


If you have a sink or any running water in your shop, I recommend giving one of these a try.  It is a box about a foot square, housing a metal filter and a large fan.  It seems to be designed to mount in a wall or closet, but it can just sit on a shelf if you like.  All you need to do is connect a water line to the box, attach a hose to the drain fitting (I drained mine into a sink), hook up the included humidity controller and plug it in.  The instructions say that the unit should be used with warm water, but I find that regular temp tap water works just fine.

FullSizeRender(3)Water runs through the 360 continuously when it is on, but at a small trickle.  The sound is not so bad from my perspective – a slight whirring can be heard from the large fan and maybe the quiet gurgle of running water.  The humidity controller is a basic analog unit but can easily be replaced with a digital model if you choose.   Once the 360 gets running though, the humidity difference can be felt right away.  Tip: make sure the water connections going both in and out of the unit are tight to prevent potentially damaging leakage.

My new shop is big and beautiful, but alas it has no running water, so I traded my Aprilaire to restorer Whitney Osterud across the hall for his two 10 gallon traditional models.  I keep these running almost continuously during the colder months, and they barely keep up.  The gospel of the 360 has since spread through the Fine Arts Building with John Becker, Lou Torick, and Ryan McLaughlin adopting its use as well.  Currently I’m trying to figure out how to turn a unit into a portable model with a reservoir and pump – it’s just that good.

They are usually available for around $300 new.

Stay humid my friends!




Consider buying this great new book by Bruce Babbitt.  Markneukirchen Violin and Bows: from Saxon and Bohemian Musicwinkel, Late 19th and early 20th Century is a book that is long overdue.  In addition to many examples of great Markneukirchen instruments and bows, there is tons of information on the history and tradition of German violin and bow making.  $249 plus $15 shipping from: