Charles Ervin Violins, Inc.

Your bow has been a wonderful addition for me and plays in such a reliable way. It allows me to search for more daring colors and bow speeds as if it knows what I want to do already. The sound is very clear.

Norman Fischer
Senior Cello Faculty Member
Sheppard School of Music
Rice University, July 2007

Charles Ervin's bow has given me a new 'cello to play that is many times more delightful to play than when I bought the 'cello (made by David Folland). Although a very fine modern instrument, I often felt that we were arguing with each other. With the bow, our time and work together are fun, easy and predictable; the 'cello behaves exactly as I ask it to behave.

The bow has also had a very pleasant effect in the area of ease of playing - from a psychological view: because I know what to expect from the 'cello, I don't worry nearly as much about the technical side of bringing that out. Further, my body is far less tense when I play, allowing for a much more physically pleasant playing experience.

Maestro Ervin's bow also pulls a thick, round, full and complex sound from the 'cello that I had never heard before, and I feel the whole 'cello vibrating. Also very satisfying is the ability to draw a full sound all the way to the tip of the bow and back again, with no collapse in the sound. (I have noticed these interesting phenomena in all of Charles' bows that I have played.) With his bow, I feel like my playing has finally come alive, and it has risen to a level of freedom, ease and joy like never before.

M. Shawn Sanders, Ph.D.
Austin, Texas
February 8, 2008

New Bows by Charles Ervin
Following Models by Francois Tourte

See Ervin Bow Photo Gallery here.

The greatness of a bow resides in the ease with which one can handle it, its superior ability to hold the string, the complexity and beauty of the sound it draws, and the lightness of touch it permits in any passage. The bow is the most important member of the violin trio: it is the engine, the string is the transmission, while the violin is the chassis. A great bow can couple with the violin and enhance its sound, but a great violin is not able to perform at its best with an inferior bow.

The bows of Francois Tourte combine these qualities in full measure. Their rarity and high price prevent most players from owning one while their merit is such that all players deserve to enjoy their benefits. As modern bowmakers, we cannot do better than understand and imitate Tourte's achievements, providing our clients with functional copies which activate the potential harmonic resonance of their instruments.

Charles Ervin's Violin Bows. If we assume Tourte's achievements to be engineering accomplishments, it is at least theoretically possible to duplicate his bows through study and repeated experimentation. But if we start by declaring our productions equal to or better than the ancients or by assuming Tourte and Stradivari had unique personal talents which cannot be communicated, then we are defeated before we begin, and their arts will be lost to us. Charles Ervin participated in the purchase of Carol Glenn's Tourte violin bow in 1985 and had access to it for study and comparison for twenty years. That familiarity was essential in finding the keys to Tourte's design and practice. Charles' identification of those features, incorporated in every Tourte bow he has examined, makes functional copies possible. A functional copy is one which shares the performance of an original bow or instrument. An aesthetic copy merely duplicates its outward appearance without matching its performance. Charles offers his bows to you in demonstration of his discovery that Tourte's bows are engineering creations capable of being duplicated in their function as well as their appearance.

Concentrating his attention on the great bows of Francois Tourte, Charles Ervin has studied and copied fine examples of Tourte's artistry for more than twenty years. Dr. Ervin's violin, viola and cello bows have consistently been compared favorably to the originals. Applying his training as an experimental scientist to the mystery of Tourte's historically unequalled achievements, Charles has noticed design features that have been overlooked or under-appreciated for two centuries. When these are re-introduced into careful copies using highly vibrant old growth pernambuco, Charles is succeeding in building the next generation of classic French bows.

Trained first as a violinmaker in Cremona, Charles began his bowmaking career with Andrew Brown, teaching assistant to Giovanni Lucchi in Cremona. Later he studied with William Salchow and adopted construction skills to bowmaking that he perfected making violins. Having daily access to Carol Glenn's Tourte violin bow for two decades informed his thought and his copies. He then extended those discoveries to Tourte's viola bows and cello bows housed at the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian where he was permitted to make exact bench copies of the best examples. Frequent return visits provided confirmation of the correctness of his path toward a full restoration of the art of Tourte.

Charles' cello bows are based on a bow once owned by Professor Paul Olefsky of Austin, Texas, later to form part of Janos Scholz' superb collection which is now housed at the Smithsonian. Because of the technical control exerted over the construction process, Dr. Ervin's bows enjoy great consistency in their playing characteristics.

See Ervin Bow video demonstrating these points here.

I agree with Ed about the beauty of the frog on my bow. It's shape complements the shape of the stick perfectly and feels comfortable enough for me to want it always to be in my hand. I miss it when it is not there. The inlays range from not so subtle beauty to spectacular. I have never seen mother of pearl that looks like this. The two pearl settings in the side of the frog and especially the one in the end of the screw have so much fire that they look more like fine opals than mother of pearl. In fact, several people have asked me if they are opals. The effect of the frog side pearls is much accentuated by their size and gold surround. The slide pearl reminds me of swirling white water, giving me some personal satisfaction because of my propensity for white water rafting. The eight settings in the screw's side are elegant and richer in color and depth than any I've seen in other bow screws treated similarly. I've thought about having you make a spare set of fittings so that if these are damaged or when they have become inevitably worn, the spare set could be used as "original" replacements. The stick has been showing better and better as I continue to wipe it each day. It has developed a golden depth that in some light seems to come alive with a warm iridescent glow. The gold mounting brings out the flecked and patterned highlights below the surface of the stick. And those same highlights complement the highlights in the various inlays. I find myself looking everywhere for previously undiscovered sparkles.

I have given much reflection as to what color pernambuco I like. Early on I found myself attracted to medium browns with golden brown highlights. Then I saw a bow with fairly light orange wood and found that I preferred that. I've now seen many bows, observing their color among other attributes. This bow has my current favorite. It is a very warm, reddish-orangish brown. Not too light and not so dark that one might miss the wonderful nearly black striations that run the length of the stick and are prominent in the head's cheeks. I must repeat your reference to the foot of the head which I assume is shod with Mastodon ivory.

And now, on to the meat of the matter, the playability and sound of the bow. One of my colleagues, a bass player whom I had known in Aspen and who played as principal bass in the Arizona Symphony, upon observing the visual beauty of my Archet d'Ervini asked "does it play as well as it looks?" For a brief instant I asked myself how I could choose, then I realized that the truthful answer was easy to come by. I looked at the bow again, delighting my eyes anew and said "Much, much better than it looks. The only negative to looking at this bow is that I can't be playing it while I look." I do try sometimes, usually making myself dizzy in the process. Oddly, as a result, I believe that I have developed certain mostly unconscious visual cues as to bow speed and position based on subtle darker rings in the stick passing through my peripheral sight. For instance, though I have not thought about it before and am not now looking at the bow, I know that the most prominent of those darker rings is halfway between the center of the stick and the bow's balance point.

When I ordered gold mounting I was a little concerned that the extra weight of the gold would be too much. This simply is not the case with this bow. When I handed the bow to Sarah, her first comment was "it seems so light". I don't know the actual weight of the bow but I do know that it is heavier than either of my other bows. What Sarah was responding to was the balance and feel of the bow. Once in ones hand it becomes a natural extension of the arm. So natural, that it seems as though it should just stay there. It is unbelievably easy to place any portion of the bow on to the string with as much or as little weight as one would want without bouncing or extraneous sound and with an immediate grip of the string by the hair. One merely needs to pick a point on the bow and the depth into the string. Drawing the bow was a physical treat the very first time and has continued to give me joy each subsequent time. The hair maintains resistance everywhere there is hair, including the two extremes (and I do mean extreme) and the often tricky spot just beyond where the stick's curve bottoms. This is true for a very fast moving bow tilted towards the fingerboard and for perfectly flat hair traveling at a snails pace. There is also an extension farther over the fingerboard and closer to the bridge of this controlled, smooth resistance than any other bow I have played. This all remains true even with very little rosin. Spiccato is, as Ed said, very easy. Again, I just pick spot, depth, angle of attack, tilt and speed and off it goes. I've even managed it very near the frog and very near the tip. So, there is a tremendous palette of spiccato articulation available, on the string, off the string, far off the string, far into the string, soft attack, hard attack, long decay, short decay, ringing, brushy, rapid, relaxed. It's all there. Also, because of the consistency of the hair/string contact, bow changes are a breeze; it is possible to make the change in direction almost indistinguishable. The bow also lends itself to changes in speed, weight and angle for articulation. I sometimes find myself thinking of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's declamatory singing style and imagine that the bow is trying to articulate words as it sings. It is even easy to make sound with no attack at all.

OK, the heart of the meat of the (wooden) matter - sound. First, this bow is loud. Not the kind of loud that is biting or brutal, but rather singing, whether it be a hard, pushy sound or a warm, soft, rounded sound. Imagine a Bel Canto singer, projecting at full bore but changing the shape of her mouth for variations in color, presence and vowel sound. Playing with Helina's kids, I find that I can blend with as many as eighteen young violinists, all with a substantial sound. I'm sure this sounds like exaggeration, but it is not. I have no trouble hearing myself, I know the kids can hear me because they keep looking at me when my line is interesting and I notice them imitating my articulation and phrasing. And Helina has not once asked me for more sound since playing this bow. A definite change from previous experience. I know that I could not come close to that with either of my other bows.

When Arius was rehearsing, frequently Ed would describe a sound that he was looking for and I would stand and think for a minute and then produce the sound on my bass. After awhile it became a fairly uncanny experience as we could do this with considerable consistency. Reading "dark, corey, buzzy and pushy sound" and "ethereal, having a disembodied quality" I believe that I understand exactly what he is describing. Simply put, this bow has both sounds and a great deal in between. I even think I know what to do to get those two. The bow's ability to produce consistently even when taken to extremes of speed, tilt, distance from the bridge or even mass (no muscle please), allows for a tonal palette that I did not think was possible with my instrument. But it's more than that, it just has tonal qualities that I've not heard with any other bow. So let me name just a few that I've found. There is a clear, open, ringing, bright sound. A sound that is dark, enclosed, with lots of fundamental. There is a brushy, heavy, Vienna Philhamonic sound. There is a ringing, booming, pizzacato sound (yes, with the bow). There is a dark chocolate, incredibly rich, surrounding, melancholy, straight from Brahm's imagination sound... There is a sound that lends an unearthly presence to a certain vibrato. Imagine that you are standing on a very high mountaintop, looking down into the gorges below. It has just finished raining so there are clouds hanging on the mountain sides below you and there are multiple rainbows inviting you to walk over them (they're below you) to drink from one of the myriad sparkling streamlets. There are sunbeams being dispersed by the clouds in several fan shaped patterns. The oxygen is thin so that you know you are breathing and alive and there is a certain taste in your mouth that only moisture at high altitude can bring. In silence you are holding your lover's hand on one side and your child's on the other. The image of an angel appears and surrounds the three of you. Imagine how you would feel. I've stumbled across that unearthly sound twice and hope that I may find it again and settle on how it's done. My wish is that I will continue to discover and that I may actually learn to bring these sounds into being at will. And that I will learn how to tie them together into music. I will close by saying thank you. I would thank you from the bottom of my heart even if only for those two brief moments at the top of the mountain, but there has already been so much more.

Gratefully Yours,

Bob Fried
Music Director
Arius Chamber Music Society
Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2001.

Charles Ervin Violins, Inc.

6508 Shoal Creek
Austin TX 78757
(512) 467-2277
(575) 613-5677

Website: http://www.ervinviolins.com/
E-mail: crervin@ervinviolins.com

I have played the new violin bow you made for me for about six months now, more or less. I was very excited about it when you put it in my hands and I first tried it. As you recall, I tried it on some fast passage-work in the Mozart E-flat string trio, which I was practicing when you arrived with the bow.

I found that the bow excited the string with such immediacy that I could synchronize fingers and bow at the blinding speed necessary to the music for the first time ever, and every time after that. At the subsequent concert some days later my colleagues and the audience were very enthusiastic about my playing, but none more than I.

You said at the time that you had wished to create a bow which would draw an exciting sound from my 1779 Guadagnini, and it certainly did that, but now even more so, when you suggested recently that I tighten the screw until the point where it starts to be hard to turn. At that point, when the stick is really tensed, the bow seems to have a real life of its own! I have been pleased that the dynamic contrasts and shadings possible are really astounding, and so satisfying to the player and the listener. I have other fine bows by historical French makers, but I keep coming back to your bow when I wish to play solo. Congratulations!"

Richard Kilmer
Principal Second Violin
The Austin Symphony
May 2007

"Why doesn't my neck hurt?"

Rachel Horvitz
Cello Teacher
Austin Public School System
After playing her newly-received Ervin Tourte model cello bow for the first thirty minutes.
December 21, 2007.

Your new viola bow is my secret weapon. Whenever my Rocca viola is sounding under the weather, I can count on your bow to power through its reluctance and give me an excellent performance in the recording studio.

Greg Ewer
Oregon Symphony
Portland, Oregon, 2006.