MY APPROACH TO BOWMAKING
For my wood selection, I like to start out with very dense pernambuco in the selection process for my bass bows. This idea is contrary to what many other makers use for their bass bows, but I find that with the dense wood, I can make the stick thinner and still have a good orchestral weight to the bow. Most bowmakers would reserve their very best wood for violin, viola and cello bows but I like to use the very best for my bass bows.
As a bassist myself, I have had the good fortune to study and play many fine examples of historical French and German style bass bows. For the French style bows, I gravitate towards the Vignerons and Sartory models for their superb playability, which is what makes them so popular with bass players. For the German style bows, I draw inspiration from the classic H.R. Pfretzschner model, which in my opinion, is the ultimate in German bow playability. I offer two sizes of Pfretzschner frogs to my clients, and they choose which one they prefer depending upon their hand size.
The camber I put into my bows is conceived to allow the bow to spiccato well, yet lay into the string and stay connected throughout the whole hair length. The graduations of the stick are individually tailored to each piece of pernambuco, depending upon its strength, stiffness and weight characteristics.
I enjoy working with my clients to make a bow for them that will compensate for any shortcomings of their individual bass, such as a sound that is too bright or too dark, and/or sluggish string response. I choose a stick which will offer the preferred sound type and weight that the client requests.
The recent listing of pernambuco on the CITES II register, means that this wood is now officially “endangered”. Thus it is incumbent upon any bowmaker who has a supply of pre-listed pernambuco to utilize each and every stick they have, despite knots or flaws in the wood. During the making of the bow, the heating and cambering (bending) of the stick culls out those sticks which have vulnerable knots and flaws which will cause the stick to break. Throughout the history of bowmaking, the great bowmakers used sticks with knots which had successfully survived the bending process and those bows survive to this day, many even seeing heavy daily professional use.
My goal is to make a bow that will enhance the individual player’s musical experience, which they find they can’t live without. If I don’t succeed in meeting those expectations, I enjoy trying again, ferreting out the nuances which will make a successful match between bow and player.
A partial list of musicians for whom Susan Lipkins has made bows includes:
Jeff Turner, Principal bass, Pittsburgh Symphony
Don Evans, Pittsburgh Symphony
Peter Giles, Pittsburgh Symphony
Jeffrey Grubs, Pittsburgh Symphony
Max Dimoff, Principal bass, Cleveland Orchestra
Charles Carleton, Cleveland Orchestra
Scott Haig, Cleveland Orchestra
Mark Atherton, Cleveland Orchestra
John Schaeffer, former Principal New York Philharmonic
John Pellegrino, Columbus Symphony
Lenny Finklestein, Raliegh Symphony
Boris Astafien, Cincinnati Symphony
Larry Glazener, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Wan Hao, New York City Ballet Orchestra
Marji Danilow, New York City Ballet Orchestra
Duane Rosengard, Philadelphia Orchestra
John Hood, Philadelphia Orchestra
Thomas Martin, former Principal London Symphony
Anthony Alcock, Principal Scottish BBC Symphony Orchestra
Hal Robinson, Principal bass, Philadelphia Orchestra
Jenna Huebner, Columbus Symphony
I grew up in Queens, New York. I attended the High School of Music and Art, followed by receiving my Bachelors and Masters degrees in Double Bass performance from the Juilliard School of Music. I had long been intrigued by the double bass instruments I and others played and also found the bows fascinating. The professional musician’s lifestyle and auditions seemed daunting to me. Instead I sought related areas of the classical music scene in which I might become involved. A position opened for me to work in sales at the bowmaker, William Salchow’s shop. Soon a bench opening for rehairing arose and I learned to rehair bows, which suited me well. William Salchow generously agreed to teach me how to make bows in the hours after the shop had closed. Yung Chin, who was then working in the Salchow shop, also gave of his time, guiding my training. Once on my own, Francois Malo of Montreal and David Samuels, now living in Israel, contributed generously to my early training.
As a result of my contact with bass teachers from my music training, I was surrounded by bass players and as a bass player myself, I naturally gravitated towards the making of bass bows. Even early on, as a well trained player, my bows were made from the player’s perspective. As my bowmaking skills developed, so grew my understanding of playability. My intuitive sense of bowmaking developed from the player’s foundation guided my process and I found myself specializing in the making of bass bows, in both the French and German styles.
I have attended the Oberlin Bowmaking Workshop in summers since 1999, where with my colleagues, there is rich exchange of information, methods, and ideas. In the summer of 2000, I studied with Stephane Thomachot and Mitsu Sasano in Paris, which advanced my foundation in the French style of bowmaking. With this firm grounding in the classical French style, my bows are not only beautiful but real “players’ bows”.
I make my bows to order, one at at time, striving for the highest quality with each bow. I have since gone on to make bass bows for many of the most prominent players in many major symphony orchestras.
Susan Lipkins, Bowmaker
2290 Glasco Turnpike
Woodstock, New York 12498