Tag Archives: viol bows

Nota Bene viol consort USA

Since 2016 the musicians of Nota Bene viol consort are playing with Renaissance viol bows made out of Acacia wood.

Recently they recorded the concert in the Slosberg Recital Hall, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA USA. We are lucky to share a moment of this beautiful event with Pietro Vinci’s music on Sonetti Sirituali.


“Tolti dal latte” by Pietro Vinci 1525 – 1580

 

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.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robinia_pseudoacacia

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 ?

Acacia wood and Shaving horse

Where do I find the wood to make the renaissance viol bows ?

In 2007 I was looking for wood to make bows for renaissance viols. From where I live in the Ariège I went down the hill to the forest, where Acacia trees grow.

Acacia trees are common in France, known for the delicious acacia honey. Farmers use the wood to make fence posts, because it doesn’t rot and can stay outside in the rain and sunshine for decades.

Down in the valley the forest is dark and humid, the small creek has steep slopes and dead trees are lying down, covered with green moss. I was surprised though to find such high quality, dry and firm wood showing up beneath the moss cover on a tree lying on the ground for years already.

Acacia has very long and strong fibers, which makes it easy to split. Working with a draw knife on a shaving horse you can really keep the fibers from one end to the other in the bow. This wood has a natural tendency to bend, from an inner tension I would say, and that tension I use to give the bow its arch. For that reason these bows keep the tension very well, you don’t need to relax them all the time as with Pernambuc.
Working with a draw knife and a shaving horse or bench is really fun, it goes so fast and gives me also kindling-wood to light the stove.

I never found better wood for my bow making since. Although Pernambuc and Snake wood are much easier to work with ( because of the homogeneity you can more or less make the bow you want from whatever piece of wood) I find Acacia much more exciting to work with. Because of its irregular structure, you have to find where the bow is in the wood. Your piece of wood delivers a bow, which is always different, always a surprise … I like that interaction with the material !

It’s awesome to have the wood abundantly available for free just in front of me. Getting it directly from nature, there are no discussions about tropical hardwood, suppliers, transportation and prices, and I know the material from the beginning to the end of the process. How can it get even better ?

Next time we will look into the species Acacia – Robinia pseudoacacia more in detail.

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