Local company puts a new spin on the violin bow

Local company puts a new spin on the violin bow

Image Credit: File

A local small business that focuses on making musical instrument parts has recently developed a new product for violin bows that could change the industry forever. The company, known as BowWorks, is operated by David Warther, who is known more for his ivory ship carvings in his museum near Sugarcreek.

Warther carves during the day, and his carvings fill the museum that bears his name, but in the evenings he is busy developing and making musical instrument parts. His latest development is an imitation horsehair that is used on violin bows.

“Historically, violin, cello and bass bows utilize real horse-tail hair to make the music as it is drawn across the strings of the instrument itself,” Warther said.

Warther said real horse hair is expensive, inconsistent in quality and has faced serious supply-chain problems in recent years. In addition, it has been a struggle to purchase the hair most highly sought after.

“The best hair originates in Siberia and Mongolia, where horses have the finest tail hair that is needed for this trade,” Warther said. “It is then shipped to China, where it is sorted and graded, strand by strand, for violin bow family applications.”

He said by the time it reaches other nations, the highest quality grades are $600-$800 per pound, and those grades are still riddled with problems of inconsistencies in quality. In addition, real hair is negatively affected by the moisture and temperature changes seen by players as they play indoors and out in the different seasons of the year.

Thus, Warther set about trying to create and manufacture a new brand of bow that moves away from real horse hair.

For the past 2-1/2 years, Warther has been experimenting with advanced polymer fibers and has worked with professors and technicians at the University of Akron, with three major polymer manufacturing firms, and with a polymer consulting firm in New England.

Their hard work and creativity have paid off.

“We fully studied and mapped the microscopic texture of real horse hair in full length spectroscopy in order to replicate the natural texture and geometry that makes real horse hair work in our string instrument world,” Warther said.

The BowWorks.com website says this new WhiteHorse bow hair is an advanced polymer with a scientifically applied surface finish that possesses the same properties as high-quality natural horse hair.

While those words may not mean much to the average person, those who play stringed instruments will rejoice in the creation of a new bow string that should be tougher and longer lasting while maintaining the beauty and elegance of the traditional horse-hair strings.

Warther said the specialty polymer fiber is made in Europe and spun in the U.K. to his specifications, which is critical in creating the proper size, color and surface finish.

In his local shop, Warther utilizes a machine he designed that adds a proprietary surface finish and then bundles the hair into the length needed for bows.

Amazingly, the machine was built in Amish Country, made by Steve Troyer at VB Machine Shop in Walnut Creek and computerized and programmed by Current Electric of Sugarcreek so the fiber can be drawn through a variable speed process while the surface finish is being applied and the fibers are being bundled.

“It’s been fantastic to work with some local businesses to create the necessary equipment we need to create our product,” Warther said. “It’s working incredibly well.”

While the product is new, Warther has seen his WhiteHorse bow hair being well received by the bow-making and violin-playing community.

“The test markets and trials these past two years have been nationwide among bow makers and players with an emphasis on players in Nashville, Tennessee, where there is a very wide assortment of players from rough fiddlers to classical players,” Warther said.

He said one entertainer in Nashville provided tremendous feedback without even realizing it.

“What really pushed us forward in a hurry was working with a guy in Nashville who does bow restoration and works with a lot of people in that market,” Warther said. “He had a client who consistently went through hair and was extremely violent on his bows because he played so hard.”

The customer began using WhiteHorse bow hair to try it out. The client said this player was in every two or three weeks, having new horse hair put on his bows, so this was an opportunity to test the validity of the WhiteHorse product.

That was more than one year ago.

“We knew he was using it, and a couple months go by, and we still hadn’t heard any word about him,” Warther said. “I called the client and asked him, ‘What’s up with this guy?’ He said, ‘He’s still using your hair.’ A couple more months go by, and I call him again, wondering where we were with him. He said, ‘The guy’s still using your original hair. He hasn’t been back in, and he is a guy who is incredibly harsh on his bow.’ That told us we had a material that can really hold up.”

While the new product should ignite a new purchasing option in the global bow string market, Warther said BowWorks will continue to sell real hair to players and bow specialists in addition to the new product Warther developed to solve the problems inherent in real hair.

“It’s an exciting advancement and should serve anyone who plays with a bow well,” Warther said.