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Ever since the days of François Xavier Tourte (1747/48-1835), pernambuco has been the most popular kind of wood used to make bows and is favoured over brazilwood, especially for premium quality instruments. Pernambuco is the name given to the heartwood of different trees of the genus Caesalpinia, especially Caesalpinia echinata or Caesalpinia crista.

Pernambuco is most prevalent in the Atlantic rain forest (Mata Atlântica) of Brazil and was first brought to Europe from Portuguese colonies. It is also in high demand as a dye because of the large amount of red pigment it naturally contains. Over the course of time, more and more ways to use this wood were discovered, especially in crafting furniture, until Tourte discovered the material for bow making and came to prefer it because of its very useful physical properties. Pernambuco offers the ideal combination of strength and elasticity; its specific density means that sticks can be crafted at an advantageous weight, and its dark red colour has had a significant influence on the aesthetic of modern bow making.

The kinds of materials commonly used in earlier times, such as snakewood, quickly fell out of favour in comparison to pernambuco and are now used most frequently for replicas of Baroque bows. The massive amounts of pernambuco used due to the surge in popularity of string instruments in the 19th and 20th centuries has greatly endangered the existence of suitable kinds of Caesalpinia trees. In recent decades, technical developments have given rise to carbon bows as a respectable synthetic alternative, but nevertheless pernambuco remains the material of choice. A variety of different initiatives and companies work to ensure the sustainable use and proper reforestation of pernambuco in Brazil and other tropical countries.


Nils-Christian Engel ist begeisterter Amateur-Cellist

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