Ifshin Violins


by Jay Ifshin

For the string musician, a fine bow with just the right playing qualities is a treasure that at times seems nearly impossible to find. For many years, we have had one of the largest collections of fine bows available anywhere. Musicians have come from all around to acquire fine bows from us. Many came intending to purchase a fine older French, English or German bow but after trying the work of Morgan Andersen, they realized that the finest modern master made bows can often have better playing qualities (and workmanship) than more expensive older bows. The bows of Morgan Andersen represent the foremost workmanship of any contemporary bow and we have always believed very strongly that his bows are the finest being made today. Because of our very close personal relationship, going back more than 20 years, we are proud to announce that we are the exclusive agents for the violin, viola and cello bows of Morgan Andersen.

After winning a number of gold medals in International bow making competitions, Morgan Andersen has become one of the most important bow makers of his generation. I first met him at the Violin Making School of America in Salt Lake. Morgan was born in the Seattle area in 1956. He began playing the guitar and mandolin at 13 and a couple of years later began to seriously study the piano. At the same time he began to build some simple musical instruments in his father's workshop.

When he graduated from high school, Morgan had the chance to attend university but had become interested in making musical instruments, so he found a job in a violin shop in Seattle. His duties were quite basic but it did give him a chance to decide if he liked this kind of work. He heard about the violin making school in Salt Lake City, Utah and applied. He started the next year.

The training at the school with Peter Prier the director of the school and Paul Hart, included all aspects of violin making, but no classes in bow making (other than periodic lectures). The lectures piqued Morgan's interest so he read everything he could find on the subject but realized he wanted to know more.
When he graduated in December of 1977, Andersen had three job offers from important violin shops. He chose Frank Passa's shop in San Francisco because the position required someone who was specifically interested in bow making. Morgan worked with Reid Kowallis, a trained machinist and classmate from the violin making school. Passa was available throughout the bow making process with critiques of visual style and playability but generally left them alone to figure out how to put the finished bows together. Morgan still uses many of the techniques developed at Passa's. "I learned the basics in his shop and without him, I would not have become a bowmaker".

He knew all along that he didn't want to own a violin shop, selling E strings and rehairing student bows. He wanted to make bows. In August of 1979, he moved back to Washington and set up his workshop on Bainbridge Island and it didn't take him long to achieve a reputation as a maker whose bows played well.
The best violin and bow makers need to have access to the finest works of the classic makers in order to continually improve their work. Bainbridge Island is a bit isolated so he started making trips to the San Francisco area to look at, study and make copies of fine old and pristine bows we have in our collection in Berkeley.

While Morgan was at Passa's shop he worked on the Voirin model that reflected influences passed down to Passa from Emile Ouchard. After leaving Passa, Morgan continued on this model and also had great success with a cello bow modeled on a Grand Adam model. He then turned to the Lamy and Sartory models along with those of Dominique Peccatte and Pageot. His current model is a personal interpretation of the work of several of the great French makers such as Pajeot, Maire, Peccatte and others. His work, study and experimentation paid off in 1986 when he won gold medals at the Violin Society of America Competition. Two years later he won another gold medal for a cello bow along with the "Hors Concours" title.

Morgan Andersen on making and choosing a bow

There are four factors that influence the playing qualities of bows: quality of the wood, the weight and its distribution, the height of the head and frog and camber and graduation. All of these factors vary a great deal in fine old master bows. A key factor is camber and graduation. Unlike other makers who often work to fixed patterns, Morgan refines camber and graduation together, jumping back and forth from one to the other and he does this with the stick under tension. His goal is to distribute stress along the entire stick, reducing unevenness and uncontrollability. What is most important is to achieve a certain feel to the stick.

Morgan Andersen violin bow, gold-mountedThere are general rules that can be observed about bows. For example, fine bows that are soft and supple tend to produce a broad and smooth sound. A very strong and rigid bow can produce a brighter sound, but this can be one dimensional and unsophisticated. The ideal is to draw the best from each. Morgan also recommends that players be open-minded about weight. Just because the best bow they ever played was 62 grams doesn't mean that a 58 gram bow might not be as good for them. Some players want the stiffest bow they can find and some makers have that quality as their primary goal. However, that sort of bow will never have the playing qualities of the fine old master bows. A supple quality combined with responsiveness is the key to the qualities of fine bows by such makers as Tourte, Peccatte and Kittel.

Morgan Andersen violin bow, silver-mountedAndersen's progress and development is due in large part to hard work, honesty about his work and the willingness to constantly ask questions to expand his knowledge. He is always amazed at how mysterious and complex a little stick of pernambuco can be. It's a riddle that can never be solved. If he ever did, he would probably start to loose interest in making bows. "I love making bows and accepting the challenge to meet the demands of today's performers."