Tag Archives: renaissance violbows

Robinia pseudoacacia

What is the wood I use for the bows ?

Robinia pseudoacacia, in English known as the black locust, is a tree of the genus Robinia, named after the French botanist Jean Robin, who introduced the tree to Europe in 1601.

In France we are used to the common name Acacia or, more accurately, Robinier. In mai the trees flower and the white abundant flowers show us how common they are in forests and along the roads. The common name Acacia is well known for the transparant, deliciously flavored acacia honey.

The species is native to North America, but has been widely planted and naturalized  in EuropeSouthern Africa and Asia.

The wood has a pale yellowish color, sometimes with pistachio green lines. Exposed to the sunlight it turns to a reddish brown. It is resistant to rot, due to the Flavonoids in the heartwood, which allow the wood to last over 100 years in soil. We see it often used to make fence posts.


Although it is a North American genus, traces of Robinia are found in the Eocene and Miocene rocks of Europe.

By a strange telescoping between common names and scientific names, there is confusion in the names of three kinds: the genera Acacia, Robinia and Mimosa. Indeed, the species called Mimosa in everyday language has the genus name Acacia, when what we call Acacia is actually Robinia, belonging to the Fabaceae family, subfamily Mimosoidea.


Is the use of Robinia historical or not ?

I am happy to use local wood, as bow makers did before the introduction of tropical woods, like Snake wood, Iron wood and Pernambuco.

Did renaissance bow makers use Robinia ? No, it was introduced in Europe in 1601.

But I am pragmatic, it is local now and extremely suitable for the goal : producing a good sound on a renaissance viol, direct and clear. For me it’s the best option.

Take your viol and try these bows, you will be amazed … and we will talk about it …

Even in modern bow making I see possibilities for Robinia bows. Pernambuc is no longer available and with a sustainable and ecological trademark, Robinia could be a good option for the future …

Why not ?

And, what else is possible ?

Viol bow and Pyrenees December 22

We had a wonderful day in the French Pyrenees, an hour away from where I live, hiking in ‘Les Mont d’Olmes’ with my three grownup children. I took a bow with me. I like to have a bow in my hands, touching it, being with it, and I am convinced that the energy of nature adds to the energy of the bow, reflecting in the playing afterwards. 

Videoclip Tobias Hume

In the following clip you can see and hear the first renaissance violbow with Merens hair. 

Merens is a local horse breed from the Ariège, French Pyrenees.
I filmed in the ‘Château de Mayragues’ where I made the recording of ‘Le Manuscrit de Foix’ in 2001. 

It’s Tobias Hume’s music : Becchus an Hungarian Lord his delight.

If you listen with headphones you will have a lot better sound …

Renaissance viol bow Frogs

Bow Frogs

When I started making renaissance bows, I quickly adopted the loose-frog-without-screw system. Actually I went through all the stages of Medieval bowmaking, from hairs attached with a piece of rope to miniscule simple frogs and click-in frogs.

I adore the simplicity of this way of giving tension to the hair and I even left the clip system behind because it limits the flexibility you can have when you can slide the frog in exactly the right position. To prevent it from slipping away you simply put some rosin between frog and bow.

The hair is fixed on both ends the same way, with a small piece of wood in the mortise made for it. You simply pull the frog to get the right tension. The acaciawood keeps its tension very well, so you don’t need to relax the bow each time you stop playing.

If you want more or less space between the hair and the stick you can put in a higher or lower frog in two seconds.

Wikipedia on baroque violin bows : The screw mechanism for changing hair tension is first mentioned in a French shop inventory of 1747 !!!