Stéphane Thomachot 2008
Silver Violin Bow Review
from France, here is my new bow by master bow maker
Please note these are purely my impressions as a player; I have no technical
knowledge of bow making.
However, I have an excellent quantity of experience
playing with first class historic and modern French bows.
Please take the following review not literally, but as
always with bows, one must express subjective feelings:
The differences between one bow and the next can be small ; if I have
exaggerated it is only with the intention of
being clear and pointing out the differences in a colourful and contrasting way.
If you disagree with any statements,
then please stop reading, and write your own article !!
Updated Feb. 2010 / June 2012
For years I heard promising rumours and enthusiastic
stories about this world famous maker. It took a couple of years just to
remember this name which would later come up more and more often. I had tried bows by makers
who had studied with him, and heard reports from colleagues who had played with his
bows. Everybody spoke well about this (by now) legendary Thomachot, but nobody
could really tell me how to contact him! !"Somewhere in the South of France.", I
was told by some random Luthier in Rue de Rome, ... would that be near Avignon ?.... now
how does that tune go... "Sur Le Pont de Cucuron??! ..".
A couple of months down the line, after researching what little
material I could find on the Internet I found an email address, and when a reply
from Mr. Thomachot came back, earlier in the year, Spring 2008, I
put my order in. Eventually this led to a few phone calls, in which I was asked
to describe the type or consistency of the bow I desired. i.e. How hard or how
soft. Well, I said, "firmer than a Voirin or a Rolland, but a softer or
similar stick to Jules Fétique." I also specified a little on the heavy side,
even if just by one gram or so. I wanted the build of a "Concerto" rather than a
"Chamber Music" bow. Anyway, the estimate for completion was mid Summer, and due
to various delays and an absence on my part, I received the bow this November
2008. Incidentally, the shipping itself went very smoothly; it took little over
24 hours... via Internet I was able to track the whereabouts of the bow during
shipping and had a pretty good idea of when exactly I was going to receive it.
moment I unpacked the bow, (which was packed very well indeed) everything felt good
about it. I played on it with great pleasure for the afternoon, though by
the end of the day the hairs settled and turned out to be a little too
short to completely loosen the frog. That means it's more humid in France than in England...
(probably because the central heating in my house has dried the air out -
also I found out the workshop was also rather dry, and the usual risk was supplying a
bow with hair too long). However within 48 hours I had the hairs lengthened
(they didn't have to be changed luckily, but Mr Thomachot recommended no more
than 5 grams of bow hairs if I was actually rehairing). "Well was it really worth the wait
?" you're asking.. the answer is definitely yes, it's great bow; but read on to
find out why!
Above : The fairly tall handsome head. The finish
of the chamfers show distinct signs of the makers hand. The bow weighs 60.7
Silver vs. Gold
I generally prefer a Silver bow to a Gold one, though Gold
bows are traditionally better ! Silver is lighter than Gold so less weight on fittings means more wood on the bow is allowed.
I think a good Silver bow represents 95% of a makers ability and should
certainly have all the qualities a bow maker is famous for. Makers do select
their best woods for Gold bows.
You can sometimes find a marginally better Gold bow... but at a
disproportionately higher price. Silver has to be best "value for money".
I ordered a Silver Thomachot bow because I wanted a typical example of this
makers work, and a bow that I can use every day especially for my teaching. One
of my requests was for a "medium" bow... not too much of anything, and certainly
no extremes, the only exception being a little bit weighty (but still normal).
Tonus (Tone) on the Thomachot
So what's the feedback on the Tonus (Tonal) front ? That's my
first test on a new bow. An open D from heel to tip. A perfectly even unforced
stroke, designed to melt your ears with a luxurious warmth, roundness purity of
tone. And "unforced" is the key here... this bow plays in high resolution. It
likes to be held softly, only slightly firmly... there is no need to grip, and
the sound is fat, warm, and certainly unforced. The tone at the heel is
exemplary, and is maintained to the very tip. The bow is soft, and plays like
velvet. The bow does not require a firm grip, and a certain lightness helps the
transparency of sound. One sniff of an open E string, and effortlessly, the bow
sticks to it, emitting a full fat bodied sound, full of bass. Yes, that's an
open E with lots of bass / body of sound. Never before in quite the same way has
an open E sounded so warm and full ! Of course all the E string range
sounds great... mature and round... there is no trace of harshness.... a million miles from the squeaky high
pitched screeching everyone associates with violin E strings. In fact, I would
suggest the open E test is a good one to judge the warmth and richness of sound
of a bow.
Double Stops and Chords
Next on the list of high priorities in the quality of a
bow. The richness, roundness and purity of double stops. A double stop (and a
chord) is more demanding of the right hand, not just the left (which for obvious
reasons seems the harder). The ease or readiness of emissions and the focus of
sound are important factors which make life easier or harder for the right hand.
A good bow plays double stops more easily. Chords, too, are fuller and sound
more compact and coherent with a good quality bow. The Thomachot excels in both
departments, I am pleased to say. Chords are unforced and well rounded; again
there is no sign of an aggressive edge to the tone. Naturally a good feel and
ease of sound production in the right hand has positive repercussions on the
left hand... fingering becomes easier, lighter and the finger preparation of a
left hand chord faster. Chords sing nicely, and when a bow plays chords well,
harder chords are easier... It must be said that this bow has tremendous
sensitivity and vibrancy at the heel, an area (in some lesser bows) which
sometimes lacks a good tone. This Thomachot sits well on the string throughout
its length but it also has a certain lightness which can really bring out the
transparency in a chord and make it sing.
Soft / Hard Stick
This is a slightly softer stick than I was expecting.
However, I love French bows, and that is such a typical trademark for a classic
French bow. It feels like
an old mid period Sartory, but perhaps a bit softer. Pleasantly soft, I might
add: This softness is a good quality in that it gives you more tonal range and
dynamics compared to a hard bow. The structure of the bow is firm, however, so
there is softness and firmness at the same time. The head seemed a little tall
at first, giving the bow more tension, but when I compared it with other bows it
was totally normal.... so more my impression than anything else. I would
definitely say the camber is exceptional on this bow; a classical three point
contact; lay the bow flat on a table and it touches at the heel, middle and head.
This strong camber is giving the bow some firmness and structure. The bow is
lively and eager to bounce: Spiccato and all off the string bowing is very
predictable, reliable and repeatable. I would say the bows' natural bouncing
point is a little shifted towards the tip compared to normal, but this is not a
problem. You get to know your bow pretty well with time. To produce the best
tone with any given bow, I would say that bow would possess the following
optimum three variables; weight / velocity / point of contact. In addition, as
to firmness of grip or hold, I find softer bows work better with a more relaxed
hold, and harder bows need a firmer grip. But always remember a good tip "Don't
squeeze da bow!". The following comparison showed up some of these differences.
Firstly, the Thomachot does not in any way sound like a
new bow. A bow acquires and matures most of its remaining tone in the first 5
years of use, and then matures another 50% in the next 5 years.. after 25 years
it has practically reached its maximum resonance. These are rough figures, not
to be taken literally, but the concept seems true. So this is hardly fair, but I decided to compare
the Thomachot with a real classic heavyweight in the tone
department... a mature Jules Fétique. Jules was the brother of Victor, who made
bows of considerable rigid design. The Jules Fétique is an early 20th
Century workhorse bow costing 3 to 4 times more than the Thomachot. The Jules Fétique I own is a
large scale / massive bow, it feels firmer, slightly more direct,
almost with more penetration and focus of tone, especially chords with the bass
strings, D and G. The Fétique suggests or needs a stronger bow hold, too so I
would say the Fétique is more rigid than the Thomachot. Also, playing on one and
then switching immediately to the other is tricky. It takes time to adjust the
firmness of one's bow hold so that it matches the consistency of the stick and
so that the best tone is produced. Adapting to a different bow probably takes
30-60 minutes, and this does tend to make comparing bows difficult. Let me add
that 1 hour would still only allow a superficial settling down... for a deeper,
more comfortable and at home feeling, I would need to play a bow for a week or
two to really get 100% out of it. Suffice it to say that one cannot simply
change bow immediately.
Above : You can see the frog has no silver
underslide, (this is to enhance the richness of sound). The fitting of the frog
without underslide apparently takes more work, according to Mr. Thomachot.
I can certainly say the this frog boasts a very perfect fit to the bow. The
Silver lapping is Silver thread (actually more expensive than Solid Silver),
probably used in preference to conserve weight.
You could argue that comparing Thomachot to a Fétique is like
comparing oranges to apples; they are simply quite different both in design and
performance, yet both bows hold their own ground, and excel in their own right.
The Thomachot certainly has a wider gamut of colours and a generally lush tone,
whereas the Fétique is more one dimensional in terms of dynamics, but shows
greater focus and purity of tone in the bass register (G and D strings). This is
especially evident playing a double stop G &D, Also, after playing the Fétique,
switching back to the Thomachot, one can say that the Thomachot does not feel poor
nor disappointing in any
way... I did a similar test with an EA Ouchard at Raffin's last year. I tried it
against a Lamy... and the Ouchard didn't quite have the same lush tone, it had
maybe 70% of it, but, more importantly it certainly
did not sound poor nor disappointing in comparison. Of course it was a lot more rigid than the Lamy.
It's also very difficult to stay objective, because the prejudice one has in
favour of famous old names ! Blind tests are often interesting and very
I also own a
Benoit Rolland bow
(click link and scroll down to see it). The shape of the Rolland head (but not
the camber) is a little strange; the tapered end of the stick is a little thin
and the head a little big. However, the Rolland has a dark
wood, and also a warm, dark tone to go with it. The Bass is exceptionally rich,
but although it is a beautiful bow, made with exquisite precision it is also a
bow of somewhat light build, not my first choice for a Concerto Performance. The
differences in this second comparison are much less pronounced than with the
Fétique, yet compared with the Rolland the Thomachot feels more robust, thicker at the heel,
and is a slightly more rigid and composed stick. Both bows have an equally beautiful sound,
the Rolland on a slightly smaller scale has a darker tone, very sweet and full of bass, and the Thomachot no less impressive; a
luscious powerful tone from heel to tip with perhaps more life and lightness in the
treble. These are the only two contemporary bows I own,
and they certainly are masterful works, by surely the World's top two makers.
The wood of the Thomachot is not a dark chocolate brown that the Rolland has,
but rather a lighter colour and fairly red stick. Subconsciously I tend to think
a dark wood will make a richer sound, but in the case of the Thomachot this
reversal certainly caught my attention. Between the two I
wouldn't be able to say which is the better bow, because they mostly compliment each
other in design and characteristics.
The biggest surprise for me ordering this bow was that I
actually got almost exactly what I was expecting. There were no disappointments
and nothing unusual turned up ! I literally got exactly what I wanted, which is
very unusual in this day and age ! The very few features that were a little
different and unexpected were minor enough to forget about. Tonally this bow
rivals older bows of the 20th and 19th Century. It is of course brand new in
perfect condition with no wear or tear which is a big positive compared to an antique
bow. Good bows are marvels of engineering and this one is no exception;
springing strokes are predictable and easy. I would rate this bow very highly;
it is a versatile tool, a good all-round performer, has an awesome tone, and is a great pleasure to play
Addendum 1 year on..
It's Feb. 2010, and I use the bow for teaching and as a
general purpose bow. It's definitely sturdier than the Benoit Rolland, which
seems more delicate in comparison... again, the Thomachot is suited to Concertos
or sturdy style bowing in Solo Bach... the Rolland has a darker and more
intimate sound. The Thomachot is certainly brighter... silvery bright. It has
probably mellowed somewhat over the year... that's hard to prove of course, but
certainly a subjective feeling. Basically, I'm still happy with the bow, and am
not disappointed in any particular weakness or shortcoming inherent in the bow.
It seems like an excellent general purpose bow, suitable for almost any
repertoire... I feel the bow encourages a Concerto scale sound and use; so far a
versatile bow with excellent sound, elasticity, form and structural nerve. I
would say there is scope for very slightly more rigidity, and perhaps another
gram of weight... the neck does worry me as it looks a bit thin ... but then
don't they all ?
Addendum 4 years
on.. (Nov 2012)
The bow will
be 4 years old this year . The sound has definitely mellowed during
its first four years of life. It feels more and more like a mid period
Sartory. High resolution sound is produced, bright in overtones and treble
content. Chords are sounding more rounded, and the bass is acquiring more
and more focus. I am using this bow 60% of the time. It requires a soft
hold not to dampen the lively vibrations it has when in action. The build
of this bow is excellent... it's a long bow, with a good balance of soft
and hard... the softness is in the stick, and the hardness is in the build;
they are well balanced and have provided me with a versatile all-round performer.
It is a very sensitive bow, and vibrates readily, with great rapidity.
A light touch and fast bowing produce a remarkable transparency. Indeed,
it suffocates under a firm hold; the bow like to float over the strings, the mid
range of D and A string sound is never coerced by forcing, but by
using the cushion of air, or rather a lightness of pressure that allowes the string
and sound to breathe. The equivalent feeling is of a car with soft suspension... not
the hard ones that go over bumps with a bump, but the softer suspensions
that absorb all the shock. Still very happy with it.
Below : Thomachot Bow Head