A graduate of Juilliard, Susan Lipkins is one of the most respected bowmaker in the country and has made bows for Hal Robinson, Alex Hanna, Jeff Turner, Max Dimoff, Thomas Martin, and other major bassists worldwide.
We talk about Sue’s early years growing up in Queens and studying with Homer Mensch and John Shaffer at Juilliard, her inspiration to become a bowmaker, the multitude of small steps that go into making a bow, tonal characteristics of different strains of pernambuco, and advice on choosing a bow that works for each individual.
I grew up in Queens, New York. I attended the High School of Music and Art, followed by receiving my Bachelors and Masters degrees in Double Bass performance from the Juilliard School of Music. I had long been intrigued by the double bass instruments I and others played and also found the bows fascinating. The professional musician’s lifestyle and auditions seemed daunting to me. Instead I sought related areas of the classical music scene in which I might become involved. A position opened for me to work in sales at the bowmaker, William Salchow’s shop. Soon a bench opening for rehairing arose and I learned to rehair bows, which suited me well. William Salchow generously agreed to teach me how to make bows in the hours after the shop had closed. Yung Chin, who was then working in the Salchow shop, also gave of his time, guiding my training. Once on my own, Francois Malo of Montreal and David Samuels, now living in Israel, contributed generously to my early training.
As a result of my contact with bass teachers from my music training, I was surrounded by bass players and as a bass player myself, I naturally gravitated towards the making of bass bows. Even early on, as a well trained player, my bows were made from the player’s perspective. As my bowmaking skills developed, so grew my understanding of playability. My intuitive sense of bowmaking developed from the player’s foundation guided my process and I found myself specializing in the making of bass bows, in both the French and German styles.
I have attended the Oberlin Bowmaking Workshop in summers since 1999, where with my colleagues, there is rich exchange of information, methods, and ideas. In the summer of 2000, I studied with Stephane Thomachot and Mitsu Sasano in Paris, which advanced my foundation in the French style of bowmaking. With this firm grounding in the classical French style, my bows are not only beautiful but real “players’ bows”.
I make my bows to order, one at at time, striving for the highest quality with each bow. I have since gone on to make bass bows for many of the most prominent players in many major symphony orchestras.