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Testimonial - part 5

A bass bow

The weight of Tunnicliffe's bows has remained 'pretty much the same': '...except if you get a section leader like the principal bass player from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Jack McCormack, who created a fashion for real monster French bows at 155g when the average is 140-142g. 'The average German bow made from pernambuco is between 128g and 133g, with snakewood ones slightly heavier (133-137g).

The delicate work of finishing the head starts with the face and throat which are reduced to their final shape. Tunnicliffe checks their contours with two templates that represent his ideal bow head shape. A beautifully carved head can greatly enhance the finished bow, while its style and proportion are the personal signature of the maker. Next, the 45 degree bevels that extend from the bottom of the head are cut out and finished with smooth flat and half-round files. The ridge that runs from the crown of the head to the tip forms automatically as the cheeks are bevelled and shaped, while the tip is brought to a pleasing little triangular shape by using as small file and abrasive paper wrapped around a small dowel of wood to finish off.

A Tunnicliffe bowThe stick of my bow is prepared for polishing using a series of silicon carbide abrasive paper that is wrapped around a short, stiff steel ruler that helps avoid rounding the corners off from the octagons. Next the grains of the wood have to be sealed and filled. Up to 12 coats of french polish are applied with a cloth. Each is allowed to dry before it is rubbed back to the bare wood with extra-fine abrasive paper. The bow is haired with best Mongolian white that Tunnicliffe obtains from Michael T. Sowden & Sons of Drighlington, near Bradford. Bass bows normally use between 12g and 15g of hair, which can number more than 400 hairs - my bow has 440: 'Some bows can take more hair than others. I don’t count the number to use; it really is a pure gut feeling.'

Although the polished bow looks finished, the stick must be tested at slightly more than playing tension because it can pull noticeably to one side or other under the considerable poundage and the force being exerted on it through the hair. The whole process of recambering and straightening the stick can often be extremely difficult and frustrating and can take anything between one and six hours to complete (excluding cooling time). The final curvature will differ slightly between each bow as it depends on the density of the wood at points along the stick.