Music

Hinged bow lets any violin player sound like a quartet

Hinged bow lets any violin pla...
The Polycorde (many strings) Bow allows you to flip between sounding like a single violin or a quartet
The Polycorde (many strings) Bow allows you to flip between sounding like a single violin or a quartet
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Slacken off the bow, and you can play all your strings at once
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Slacken off the bow, and you can play all your strings at once
A simple thumb lever shifts the Polycorde bow from regular to multi-string modes
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A simple thumb lever shifts the Polycorde bow from regular to multi-string modes
The Polycorde (many strings) Bow allows you to flip between sounding like a single violin or a quartet
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The Polycorde (many strings) Bow allows you to flip between sounding like a single violin or a quartet
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Who knew the venerable violin still had surprises in store for us, after nearly 500 years as one of the leading voices in music? An Australian master archetier, or bow-maker, has built a simple device that allows violinists to easily alternate between a regular-playing bow and one that's capable of playing five-note chords.

The bridge of a violin is curved, and thus the strings don't sit in line with one another as they do on a guitar. This allows violinists to vary the angle of their bow to isolate each of the strings for expressive single-note playing or to play two strings at once when it's time to get a hoedown happening. If you really jam the bow down on the strings and bend it, you might be able to hit three strings at once.

The Polycorde (many strings) Bow is an unusual but simple design; a generously curved bow with a simple locking lever that can be operated with the thumb as you play. Leave it locked out, and it's a decent enough bow for anything that's not super quick or technical, according to inventor Charlie McCarthy, who recruited master bowmaker Philip Smith of Hobart, Tasmania to realize the design.

Slacken off the bow, and you can play all your strings at once
Slacken off the bow, and you can play all your strings at once

Flip that lever, and the bow slackens right off, and the wide curve in the bow allows you to easily drape the bow across all four or five strings of your instrument, letting you play full four or five note chords and effectively be your own violin quartet. Because it's so mechanically simple, the mechanism itself can be operated almost without thinking about it, leaving the violinist free to ponder things like "what the heck can I do with this new-found ability?"

McCarthy is selling the Polycorde Bow for AU$2,200 (a little under US$1,500) – which sounds like a lot, until you look at other non-hinging snakewood bows that Smith sells for twice that money and upward. The Polycorde is handmade, also from snakewood, and you can choose from regular, coruss, black or salt and pepper bowhairs. McCarthy says versions are in development for the viola, cello and double bass.

Take a listen in the videos below. In the first, McCarthy has just got hold of the Polycorde.

Introducing Charlie's new bow - The Polycorde (many strings)

In the next, he plays a chordal accompaniment to a pre-recorded lead voice.

Using the Polycorde Bow as a rhythm fiddle supporting a melody player

Source: Polycorde Bow

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4 comments
John Sellers
Many years ago I saw Isaac Stern play the Bach Chaconne with a curved bow so he could play the four note chords rather than breaking them. His bow was not curved as much as yours. The bow had a traditional frog rather than anything like your gadget. The bow was lighter than yours and could curve more or less depending on the demands of the moment.

In my own amateur studies, I study with a teacher who was a student of Itzhak Perlman. This teacher has an incredibly relaxed and beautiful sound. He intensively taught me to use the weight of my bow for increased resonance, carrying power, and purity of sound, thus eliminating as much as possible the effect of one's muscles on the sound.

After all, contact with strings due to weight of the bow will always be perfectly predictable, unlike the vulgarities of one's muscles from moment to moment.

I'm sure you will have great fun fiddling with your contraption, and I wish you all the best. I've done a bit of fiddling myself. By nature, it is has a strong social component which is likely to welcome your device as long as you can jam along without busting the jam.

For me, however, I think I will stick to my regular bow.

Have fun!

Mikilee
@John Sellers...Your comment seems to be directed at the Inventor (Charlie McCarthy) & Builder (Philip Smith)...neither of these gentlemen posted this article, thus, I highly doubt they will be reading your contribution. You would be better served emailing either of them directly.
(respectfully submitted with an eye roll)
CraigAllenCorson
@Mikilee - Eye rolls are seldom, if ever, considered respectful.
warren52nz
What a great idea regardless of who invented it.