When Benoît Rolland conceived Spiccato® in the early
1980’s, his project was twice ground-breaking:
he was creating the technology for the first
carbon fiber bow of concert quality at a
time when luthiers and musicians strongly favored classicism;
moreover, he invented what seemed then impossible: an invisible
mechanism allowing the musician to adjust at will the
camber of the bow.
Totally innovative in both domains, Spiccato® was a
success. Though this was a titanic and
exhausting venture for Benoît, it allowed him to
approach bow making from a scientific stand-point and to run
systematical analyses of the comportment and
fundamental structure of the Bow.
This greatly enriched his experience as a maker and
deepened his understanding of the French traditional
bow-making. Building upon his synthesis of historical
and new knowledge, Benoît went further in his own
creation of fine wood bows, harmonizing experience of
the hand, sensation and scientific understanding.
Fundamentally, the philosophy of the School of French bow making requires a master to go beyond perfecting the ancestral tradition of his art: he should also pioneer new ideas and expand the bow making knowledge. In the 19th-century for example, J.-B. Vuillaume patented an iron bow using the latest techniques of his time. When Benoît Rolland initiated the Spiccato® adventure, he had this philosophy in mind.
A substainable craft
For this research he set forth challenging goals: to conceive an adjustable and unbreakable bow of concert quality, yet affordable. His other motivation was ecological. By the early eighties, concerns were growing over the dwindling supplies of pernambuco wood. Benoît Rolland was one of the first professionals to act with a view on protecting this increasingly rare natural resource. His objective was to preserve at once both pernambuco wood and the patrimony of historical bows by developing a viable alternative material for making high quality bows in numbers. Rolland proposed to reserve pernambuco wood logs for only making bows as fine art works.
Rolland very rarely engages in retailing historical bows; he chose the more demanding path of giving his time, energy and knowledge to conserving the historical patrimony and himself creating bows that may contribute to tomorrow patrimony. To Benoît, “Bows are valuable for the world of talents that they represent”.
Creating an entirely innovative bow of high quality in synthetic materials, implied combining a multiple expertise: A masterful understanding of historical bows and the capacity of replicating them; the capacity of handling research in science and technology; and an in-depth analysis of the culture of classical musicians, as no innovation would spread if interprets do not accept it.
Creating Spiccato® meant for Benoît Rolland coming out of his way as an artist, self-teaching science and new technologies, engaging his reputation as a renown maker, financing the research and initial manufacture, and ultimately traveling the world in all possible harsh conditions to bring the bow to the musicians.
From its first years, Spiccato® rallied around its bold concept the unfailing enthusiasm of great soloists, of independent minded professors and enlightened collectors, of lawyers who made it an exhilarating and memorable venture. Spiccato® is now played worldwide and reached its maturity while no synthetic bow surpassed yet the quality of the Spiccato® Maestro made by Benoît Rolland.
The concept of Spiccato® was deceptively simple: create a high-quality bow of composite materials incorporating an inner tension mechanism.
15-Year genesis of a new concept: the adjustable camber
In 1982, in his Bréhat Island retreat, Benoît Rolland was inspired to do something which was deemed impossible: creating a bow whose camber, and thus whose playability, may be modified at will by the musician, as he tightens or loosens the bow hair.
The camber of all traditional wood bows is set once by the maker, and becomes a defining characteristic of the bow. By contrast, the Benoît Rolland’s breakthrough design incorporates a patented camber adjustment mechanism which allows the bow to be transformed into four or five different profiles, therefore personalities.
The Spiccato trade mark
In 1991, after extensive research in engineering and physics and many prototypes, the Spiccato® technology was born. It was registered as a trade mark in 1992 in France. Embraced by musicians as the first high-tech bow worthy of their art, played on stage, Spiccato® has been a resounding success. Benoît Rolland made himself about 1,500 Spiccato® bows in his French manufacture.
In the Musicians’ hand
During 1993–1999, Spiccato® gained increasing popularity; many musicians corresponded with Benoît and encouraged the quest. It was enthusiastically endorsed by leading string players such as Sir Menhuin, Joseph Suk, Jaime Laredo, Heinrich Schiff, Glenn Dikterow, and Christian Tetzlaff. Benoît also made a special model for his friend Jean-Luc Ponty. In 1994, Spiccato® won the International Musicora Prize in Paris; it was again a feature of Musicora’s Anniversary in 2004.
Opening a market
As any invention that reveals a lucrative potential, Spiccato® had its challenges. At different points of Spiccato®’s development, Benoît Rolland had to defend his intellectual property and his life endeavor. Both lawsuits that Benoît won with the help of lawyers devoted to the arts, have set a very precise goal, and we hope, a precedent: they imposed respect of the work and invention that an artist intended for the progress of the art at large.
The talent of artists for creating ideas that open new markets is rarely rewarded by the gains from these markets. Moreover, businessmen who choose to ignore or even steal from the artists and inventors often quickly ruin the quality of the original concept. Benoît Rolland reacted against this shockingly common situation where ultimately our general level of culture and quality of life is at stake.
Now part of a culture
In 2006, the trade mark Spiccato® was definitely recognized in its integrity and registered in the Principal Register of the United States. It confirmed that law and art can collaborate to the refinement of a culture.
No new idea in classical music stands the trial of light and time without the approbation and lucid support of performers and teachers. Benoît Rolland wishes to express his deep gratitude by dedicating the Spiccato® adventure to the musicians, for their inspiring gift of talent.
The quest for a high-quality carbon fiber bow was clearly a challenge that could be attempted only by a bow maker with an international reputation. Even with the successful production of the first Spiccato®, persuading the classical music world became a marketing crusade. Today, Spiccato® is played worldwide by students as well as professionals. Benoît Rolland’s groundbreaking invention paved the way for the now numerous manufactures of synthetic bows.
The specifications for a high-tech adjustable bow
Drawing from his experience and systematic observations, Benoît Rolland started with exhaustively listing the qualities and specifications of a fine classical bow; he thus achieved a conceptual model for Spiccato® with its such specification.
Followed a period of several years, during which Benoît designed for himself an intensive program of education and research, reading, experimenting, and corresponding with physicists. Eventually, he succeeded in perfecting the formulation of the composite concept and know-how which responded to his specifications: playability, bowing stability, sound, but also aesthetics with some likeness to Rolland’s classical line of bows. The model sustained the stress of the tension mechanism.
Designing the inner adjustment mechanism was in itself a challenging process that required a great deal of materials testing. Benoît built upon his familiarity with structures and riggings of sailing boats stressed at sea. He made his first Spiccato® prototypes with marine techniques and materials.
Benoît Rolland’s initial choice in 1985 of composite fibers came from his lifelong passion for racing sailboats. In the course of life on boats, he became familiar with the properties and behavior of materials such as carbon fibers, glass fibers, Aramid fibers (as Kevlar®), epoxy and polyester resins, spectra fiber and nylons. Besides the resistance of the materials, he tested their musical potential. Among these many possibilities, carbon based fibers emerged as the clear choice for a high-tech, manufactured bow.
Patenting and manufacturing
Most of this research, design and testing for Spiccato® was supported by Mr. Rolland personally and Rolland’s Company, with additional funding from grants, awards and investors. Patenting the mechanism was yet another learning!
In 1991 the first Spiccato® bows were produced from molds. By 1993, the testing years allowed for the production of 500 bows that soon found their way into the hands of orchestra musicians throughout the world. Rolland designed and made the molds, refinished and adjusted each bow himself. The Spiccato® bows personally made by Benoît Rolland are now sought after by top string players, and have even been acquired by some Japanese collectors.
Marriage of elegance and technology
The unique combination of custom composite materials, physical design and patented tension mechanism culminated in a bow that remains stable over time and will never be out of shape; a bow that is impervious to shifts in humidity and temperature, harder than wood, and therefore potentially more powerful in sound volume. From the very beginning there were two goals: Spiccato® had to be as good as the best traditional bows of its range, in playability, weight and balance, while preserving a quality of aesthetics.
While it is true that Benoît Rolland’s carbon fiber bow is a manufactured product, it nevertheless carries the Benoît Rolland® imprint. As with his wood bows, the two brands Spiccato® and Arpège (under its initial design at Rolland’s French manufacture) were originally molded from Rolland designs.
This marriage of elegance and technology is the superb fulfillment of Rolland’s fifteen-year pursuit of a unique vision.
Grants And Awards
Besides research grants and development support for Benoît Rolland’s innovative research, Spiccato® has received international awards including:
- First International Prize Musicora, 1994, Paris
- First Prize Fondation Patrimonialis, 1996, Paris
- Research grant ANVAR, 1991, Paris (National Agency for Research Value & Advancement)
- Developement grant PUMA, 1992 (Promotion for Use of Advanced Materials)
- Feature of Musicora 20th Anniversary, 2004, Paris
Benoît Rolland terminated in 2005 his collaboration with the American company that manufactured during a few years Spiccato®. Benoît is currently working on the new generation of Spiccato® and will announce its release on the market. No bow is currently authorized to be manufactured as Spiccato® or as a likeness of it.
Lord Yehudi Menuhin:
“A gift for the violinists”
“It is a great pleasure for me to play the Spiccato® Bow conceived by master bow maker Benoît Rolland. It has elegance, playability, sticks to the string; moreover, the adjustment system in the stick adapts the bow to both the classical repertoire and contemporary music. I highly recommend this bow to violinists, as a back up bow as well as a primary one: especially on tours when variations in temperature and humidity will be a worry anymore, for this bow remains unaffected by it. Congratulations to Benoît Rolland for a major innovation and a perfect realization.”
“Bravo Benoît for inventing the 21st century bow, my favorite!”
“Spiccato® violin bow is really remarkable. I am glad to own one and to play it often! I added to my collection a truly outstanding bow.”
“Spiccato® is a convincing alternative to the best traditional bows. Its innovative adjustment key provides every violinist a perfect tool for his work.”
“Hard to break, easy to play.... I highly recommend this bow.”
“Not a lot of wood in it, but a lot of music!”
“ On the eve of the third millennium, ancient workmanship serving violinists of tomorrow.”
“Flexibility and response provide for sound projection. Carbon fiber bows were yet lacking a velvet-like quality. Spiccato® now brings together all three indespensable qualities.”