- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 6, 2016

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Over the years, Michael Duff has learned a lot about what makes a good bow. His business, Berg Bows, has created viola, violin and cello bows that have become favorites with musicians across the world.

But for many years, Duff has had one bow on his mind - and one man whose vision Duff wanted to make a reality.

Duff knew the late Janos Starker, the famed cellist who taught many students at Indiana University.

“I’m the only bow maker he endorsed,” Duff said.

Over the years, Starker and Duff discussed the possibility of re-creating a Nikolai Kittel bow. Duff said Starker “took me under his wing” when they discussed the bow and the dream of Duff creating such a high-quality bow.

“I remember distinctly, it was so superbly crafted,” Duff said.

The bows are also expensive, and Starker liked the idea of Duff creating a synthetic bow that would not only play well but be affordable to young musicians.

Duff said many companies got into mass producing bows, but many are of poor quality.

“They (manufacturers) saw this prospect of dollar signs,” Duff said. “I haven’t seen one I like.”

Although Duff’s bows are synthetic, he has spent years trying to find the magic combination to make the perfect one. The prospect of creating a synthetic version of the Kittel bow would require a lot of research. To help, Duff spent a significant amount of money to buy the book “The Bows of Nikolai Kittel” to help him get critical data for the bow.

After Starker died, Duff knew he had to get his hands on the Kittel bow the cellist owned. He was lucky enough that the family gave him permission to borrow the bow for two days. During that time, Duff had the bow digitally scanned with twin laser beams.

“It’s amazing technology,” Duff said.

With that information, Duff was well on his way to creating a mold for his bow. But there was more. Duff also worked on the frog of the bow - the part at the end where the bow hairs are attached - and the tip to find the right combination of materials that would create a beautiful sound.

The tip is typically made of ebony wood, but that wood is endangered. So Duff decided to use African blackwood for the tip. As for the frog, Duff found a way to modify the wood that creates a better sound loop in the bow. Using the frog on his existing bow style, Duff said, musicians can tell a significant difference in the sound.

With his new bow, Duff is clear that he’s shooting for the stars.

“I’m not attempting just to make a copy of the Kittel cello bow, but also improving the sound in my Berg replicas by incorporating my unique discovery of the stabilized exotic hardwoods into the frogs, yielding more tonal refinement and more sound power, because the stabilized woods have a faster velocity of sound compared to natural wood,” Duff said.

Now all that remains is the creation of the mold, which costs $22,000. Duff set up a GoFundMe page in an effort to raise the funds. To help explain the project, Duff enlisted the help of Justin Kyle Crossley to create a video about the project, which can be seen on the GoFundMe page.

Duff has already talked to Mike Baker at Specialty CNC Inc., who will make the mold. Duff anticipates that once he has the funds, it will take Baker about a week or so to create the mold. With the mold, Duff figures he’ll have his first bow a month later.

With the realization of his longtime goal of creating this particular cello bow, Duff’s eyes sparkle with hope. He hopes musicians, music lovers and friends from his time in IU’s microbiology department will contribute to his efforts, to help him fulfill the dream of a famed cellist he considered a good friend.

“Mr. Starker’s dream was it would be nice to have a synthetic bow of the caliber of a Kittel cello bow. That would have realized his dream,” he said.


Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, https://bit.ly/1qp0dyC


Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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