Pernambuco (or Pau-Brazil, Caesalpinia echinata) is a slow-growing, medium sized tree growing exclusively in the Mata Atlantica or Brazilian Atlantic forest. Pernambuco grows very slowly, needing at least thirty years to grow mature enough for the red-brown heartwood to be suitable for bowmaking.
Until around 1850, pernambuco was imported into Europe for use as a dye in the textile industry, but it wasn’t until the late 18th century that pernambuco was first used for making violin bows. Earlier bowmakers used various hard and dense tropical woods, usually referred to as “Ironwood.” Soon after 1800, pernambuco replaced all other woods for bowmaking because it has the perfect combination of weight, density, balance, and resiliency for advanced playing qualities. More than two hundred years after it was first introduced to musicians, few comparable substitutes for pernambuco are known to bowmakers or musicians. Its combination of rigidity, flexibility, density, beauty, and ability to hold a fixed curve are properties which make Pernambuco a unique material for bowmaking.
Conservation Efforts to Sustain and Replant Pernambuco
The International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative (IPCI) is an organization whose membership is made up of bow makers, violin makers, violin shops, and musicians, and whose mission is the preservation and sustainability of pernambuco. Pernambuco grows exclusively in areas of the Brazilian Mata Atlantica. These coastal forests have been subjected to severe deforestation over the last half century. The IPCI is dedicated to reversing this deforestation through research, replanting programs, educational outreach and other conservation measures. Supporting the IPCI helps to ensure the future of pernambuco and the continuation of the craft of making bows for generations to come.
Part of my commitment to help conserve pernambuco is to offer alternatives to musicians looking for new, less expensive bows. There are many thousands of good-playing pernambuco bows in cases that just need a little maintenance or repair. If you have such a bow, please consider having it evaluated for repairs.
If you are in the market for a less expensive bow, I encourage you to inquire about trying some of the restored vintage bows that I have available. In many instances, these older bows have superior playing qualities to many of the modern imported bows that flood shops today. These vintage bows represent a great value, and help diminish the demand of factories for pernambuco wood that go into making new bows.
For more information about Pernambuco, and the conservation efforts to replant and sustain this wood, please click on the links below.