Nyckelharpa Bows

DoAnn and Earl make and re-hair nyckelharpa bows.

Earl studied the making of traditional violin bows in July of 2013 and has incorporated what he learned in order to make better nyckelharpa bows. He was also able to do detailed reviews of some nyckelharpa bows while in Germany and France in October of 2013.

In October of 2015 we went back to Germany.  There have been a couple of significant developments.  First, there is now a commercially made beginner nyckelharpa bow available.  It is made in Germany.  There is also a psaltery bow that works OK as a beginner nyckelharpa bow.  Both of these bow are made with straight sticks.  We were told that adding an induced bend in the stick (similar to a modern violin bow) does improve the bow.

We now stock both of these bow types. Earl is inducing a bend on some of them.

While in Germany, Earl had some fascinating discussions with high-level players about bow issues.  In general, it is OK to use a bow that is shorter than the optimal length based your arm.  We also found out that not all players like the fairly narrow Swedish-style bow hair width.  We heard this from an advanced player, who does not think the hair width is a big issue.  We suspect he has extremely advanced bow technique.

We were also asked by Holger Funke to make an arched bow with fairly loose hair in it so that 3 strings can be chorded while bowing.  We have made several. These bows could also be used with older styles of nyckelharpas, which use a looser-style hair.
We do still have in stock a number of laminated Swedish style bows that we have made in a range of lengths.  These use a violin frog and are made to be easily re-haired.  Due to the availability of commercial beginner bows, we do not expect to continue making these.

We have developed a modern nyckelharpa bow that has a baroque-style appearance frog and tip.  The frog uses standard violin frog screws.  We are using modern violin bow techniques on the bow stick. 

We have found that there are a range of stick sizes and weight balances in what players want in a bow.  There appears to be a few patterns that we have observed about who likes what weight of bow.  This can help us to make an initial selection of that might work.  For more advanced players or beginners with advanced bow techniques, matching the bow to the player and instrument is important.

You may special order a bow to your desired length. Nickel wire winding, leather thumb grips, and a silver tip plate (available only for the advanced bows) are options that can be added to increase the weight and change the balance of the bow. We have a bow order form available.

Bow Sizing:

To determine an initial nyckelharpa bow size that may work well for you, do the following:

Measure the distance from the tip of your elbow to the tip of your middle finger with your bow arm bent and fingers straight. Provide us with this length (in either inches or centimeters).

This measurement plus about ½ inch should be the measurement from the base of frog to tip of bow.This results in a maximum expected bow length assuming you use the across the belly playing position. Any longer and you are more apt to poke yourself with the excess bow.You can play with a shorter bow, but you run the risk of running out of bow and falling off the strings.

Other bow information:

Many Swedish made Nyckelharpa bows have the hair glued in. This does make it interesting to re-hair them. We have done it, but we usually have to glue the new hair back in, as there is not enough room in the tip to use a traditional wedge to hold the hair in.

The modern fully chromatic nyckelharpas mostly use a bow with hair tension similar to a modern violin bow. They usually use less hair than a violin bow.  The Swedish style bows have less hair tension than a violin bow.

The older style contrabass and silverbass nyckelharpas use bent stick bows with the hair tied on. There is no adjustable frog. The hair tension is adjusted by how you hold the bow. These bows also have much less tension on the hair. This results in bowing multiple strings while playing. In fact, you basically chord along with the melody most of the time while playing. This is a very different sound from the more modern nyckelharpas and bows.

In our opinion, one of the current best nyckelharpa bowmakers is Jean-Claude Condi, from France. Jean-Claude has spent many years developing his designs. Out of respect for a living master craftsman, we will not make copies of his bows. Contact him if you would like one of his.

Some beginner players start using 1/8th size violin bows. They are about the correct length, but too light and probably have too much hair on them. We suggest that these players upgrade to an actual nyckelharpa bow when they get the chance.

Commercial bows available through us:

  • 1/8-sized brazilwood violin bow.  Made in China.
  • Psaltery bow, made in Germany. Only available in one length.
  • Psaltery bow (above), modified (by Earl) by inducing a bend in the stick.
  • Nyckelharpa beginner bow, made in Germany. Only available in one length.
  • Nyckelharpa beginner bow (above), modified (by Earl) by inducing a bend in the stick.

Bows made by us:

  • Beginner Nyckelharpa bow, laminated stick, violin frog modified for narrow hair. Made so it can be rehaired.  Currently available in several lengths. With the commercial bows now available, we have discontinued making these, but we still have some in stock.
  • Bent stick bow for chording.  At this time, it is only available in one length.
  • Advanced Nyckelharpa bows.  Made using modern violin bow techniques with a baroque style tip and frog.  Made in a range of lengths, several sizes of bow stick and silver windings and or tips to adjust weight and balance as needed to meet the needs of the player.

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(Page last updated on 2/27/2016)