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Testimonial - part 3

Checking for true

Although happy to accept repair work, Tunnicliffe prefers to be regarded as a maker, so orders for new bows usually take precedence to repair work. His French or Bottesini-style bass bows are based on the Sartory model with slight modifications. The German or Dragonetti-style bows are based on a Pfretchner model. Nearly all sell direct to European dealers, with a flourishing market in snakewood bows developing through one of Tunnicliffe's German agents. In fact, it has encouraged him to develop bows from fluted snakewood - an exotic-looking wood, slightly harder than pernambuco - where the fluting commences in front of the lapping and stops on the top facets, before the head.

I wanted a gold-mounted bow of top quality and Tunnicliffe wrote the details of my order in a sky-blue book. We spent the next hour searching through his stock, including large amounts of wood which Tunnicliffe acquired from the period instrument maker Arnold Dolmetch in 1979. We ended up with a superb blank of dense, close-grain pernambuco that read 5,500 metres per second (m/s) on Tunnicliffe's Lucchi machine. Despite divided opinions on the use of the machine - which measures the velocity of sound through a material - Tunnicliffe has been a firm advocate of its use since buying the technology in March 1989: 'It sorts the strong wood from the weak. We're after good stiffness quality - the higher the velocity readings, the stiffer the stick will be.' Readings obtainable from pernambuco range from 4,500m/s to 5,900m/s, with a really good bass bow averaging 5,400m/s.

Brian Tunnicliffe, master bowmakerAfter the Lucchi test, wood is subjected to Tunnicliffe's visual scrutiny and any timber containing knots, shakes or other flaws is rejected. The bow blank is put into a lathe and turned to about 14mm - tapering to about 11mm just before the head. It is then treated to six days of ammonia fumes: 'It's a purely cosmetic procedure that is used to darken the colour of any pale wood,' explains Tunnicliffe. 'There is a strong preference for darker bows. On average, five to seven days is sufficient for the fumes to go right through the stick.'