Learning to Rehair Bows

August 31, 2010 at 12:40 AM ·

 It is time that I get my bow rehaired, and a question has come up in my mind. It will cost me $50 for a rehairing, and if I were able to do it myself it would save money over time, covering the costs of future rehairs. I know that rehairing is, by no means, simple, and it takes some professional training in order to avoid the risk of damaging the bow and hairing it properly. 

My question is, how much training does it take to get to a level where I can perform the rehairing as well as a skilled luthier, and what does the training involve (can I learn from a book, etc.)

Thanks in advance.

Replies (19)

August 31, 2010 at 01:28 AM ·

Hi Michael, "What does it take to learn to rehair a bow?" This is a question that I get asked often. What you should be asking is "What does it take to learn to do it right?" and "What and how long does it take to learn how to rehair every bow right every time?"

I usually answer questions like this in this manner: Anybody can play notes on the violin, but it takes a lifetime (or at least many years of concentrated study) to become proficient at it. After all, nobody willingly pays to listen to a mediocre violinist--the same is true with rehairers.

It is also false economic thinking that you will save money by rehairing only your own bows. If you are indeed a good player, you will never become good enough at rehairing your own bows (doing only several a year) to do it well. You will have more problems with your own rehairs than it is worth.

There are DVDs and week-long courses that serve as a good intro to learning to rehair a bow, but it really does take hundreds of bows to even begin to understand all of the (seemingly minor) intricacies of fitting plugs, wedges, getting the hairs parallel, getting the tension correct (on both sides of the hair ribbon), etc. My advice to you: If you want to learn how to rehair bows, do it right and learn in a shop from a reputed rehairer where you can be exposed to bows of all types, makes, values, and also all of the myriad problems that can happen when rehairing bows.

Josh Henry, Bow Maker & Restorer
www.FineViolinBows.com

August 31, 2010 at 03:37 AM ·

Well, I often look at the world a bit differently; not only am I a fiddler, rather than a violinist, but I am also seriously CDO (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but I needed to re-arrange the acronym, so it is in alphabetical order).

I have 176 hairs on my bow. Every practice session, I count them, and if there are any missing or damaged, I replace them. I have ground down a pair of tweezers (the smallest ones I could find were still too big for the task), and I have modified a number of sewing needles (ground the eye so it is more a hook). For the needles, I use two size 8, a size 10, and a 14 (for european sizes, that is two 60s, a 70, and a 90). Which I use depends on where the hair was located in the bunch. The difference in the two 8s are the angle of the fork I left; one is straight across, and one has one arm longer than the other.

So far, I have gone well over two years, and have yet to need a re-hair.

So, take good care of your bow, and you will never need to take your bow for a rehair!

August 31, 2010 at 10:13 PM ·

I'll vote with Josh on this one.

Is a rehair just a rehair? Is a bridge just a bridge? Is the Tchaikovsky the same no matter who plays it?

I've done hundreds of rehairs, and been trained by some of the best, but it's been a few years. If I need one done today, I'll send it out. If it costs a hundred bucks, that's fine.

September 1, 2010 at 04:15 AM ·

Well, since I chimed in with levity, I guess I should also answer with more substance.

I find that when I play, there is a significant difference in the bows I have; some is attributable to the bows, but in at least one case, I know the hair is a bit uneven (it doesn't tighten as evenly and smoothly as the other bows). It is not a valued bow, so I never thought about having it rehaired; I just have learned I can't get as good of sound when playing with it.

 From time to time, I have tried to imagine what the rehair process would be if I were to do it myself. I have done more than a few detailed projects over the years, so I have a bit of depth when I think of the task.
When I think of what it would take to get the hair even and smooth from one end to another, I think that it must be a combination of technique and having the right equipment. Without the tools, it would be difficult to do an acceptable rehair. Without the skill of knowing the critical points of detail, I imagine it coming out badly. In a task like that, it is impossible to 'focus on everything'; there must be some details that require your attention at key points (when I am placing the wedge in the tip, what must I do to make certain the hairs are evenly distributed?).

Simply based on my musings, I will leave rehair to professionals.

December 8, 2011 at 03:45 AM · I re-haired a bow when I was a teen as an experiment on a cheap bow. It was one of the most challenging things I've ever done and of course it didn't turn out to well.

December 8, 2011 at 03:56 PM · How often does one rehair a bow and what indicators (other than losing a majority of the hair) need be present to qualify the bow for such a task? Thanks in advance.

December 9, 2011 at 08:37 PM · That's very individual.

Professionals may rehair 4 times a year.

But even then, those I know that make a living from playing probably average 1X a year.

I've only rehaired once to date...but now that I'm playing more...in combination with a mysterious hair breaking incident (two different bows in two different cases...I'm suspecting cats jumping on said case may have been the cause), I have two that need rehairing any day now.

Other reasons are the hair loses its grip, it gets oily (from skin oils, most often near the frog)...or the hair starts to stretch or pull out of position so you can no longer tighten properly.

December 9, 2011 at 08:41 PM · ...sorry...mysterious double post...

December 9, 2011 at 08:59 PM ·

December 9, 2011 at 09:23 PM ·

Howdy,

It seems that I am our of step on this one.

I'm one of those folks who really enjoys learning new stuff...

Years ago, I read a fair amount about rehairing bows, and gave it a try. To my surprise, I found it rather easy.

In fact, were I to rehair another two or three thousand bows, I believe it likely that I could do a reasonable job.

Wait... I've changed my mind. Leave this one to the pros.

All the best,

Lothar

December 10, 2011 at 12:01 AM · @ N. A. Mohr,

If you are experiencing a sudden uptick in broken hairs, it could be a pest; Bow mites.

Look to this post for information; I don't feel the need to type it all over again.

http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=14174

December 11, 2011 at 04:19 PM · Quick referral:

https://www.lahbows.com/

Lynn Hannings, in Maine, sells supplies including rehair kits, does workshops etc., also makes bows. Other resources are easy to find, including YouTube videos.

If you like to putter, as opposed to just playing, it's not expensive to get the pieces to rehair, and suitably mediocre bows are everywhere. Rehair, take it apart, repeat as necessary until you get something plausible.

There seems to me to be a benefit to gaining a tactile understanding of how these mechanisms fit together and how they work, makes you more "intimate" with the instrument you're playing.

January 25, 2012 at 06:11 AM · Bow rehairing is one of those skills like tightrope walking, hanging wallpaper, and playing the violin that is very hard for a beginner. You need to learn how from someone who knows and is willing to teach. You could easily ruin the frog of a bow without experience and the proper tools.

January 25, 2012 at 05:18 PM · I have been learning. The hardest part will be carving wedges, and buying all of the equipment. Unless you will be trying to make a business out of it I would just have a professional do it.

January 25, 2012 at 06:25 PM · i suspect it's rather like tuning pianos. A piano tuner told me "after your first 100 or so you'll get the hang of it and after your first 1000 they'll sound good."

December 3, 2013 at 07:31 PM · Would you ask your dentist how hard fillings are to do because you were thinking of doing them yourself?

August 16, 2016 at 01:26 AM · I'm not responding to you personally, Jonathan. These are just my thoughts in general. Please forgive me, but I believe rehairing a bow can be learned by a serious person who is dedicated to the goal. I have found some of the views expressed in this forum to be somewhat snooty. In my humble experience, I have run into professional bow rehairers who are reluctant to share their knowledge. Musicians, on the other hand, generally are happy to share advice to anyone who is interested, no matter on what level. Yes, it is a skill, but as a violinist, I would not equate this skill with the years it takes to play the violin professionally. Imagine someone telling you to never attempt to play the violin and leave it to the professionals. There is a vast amount of information available regarding the rehairing of bows to help anyone seriously interested in the craft. Motivation,attention to detail and dedication are the most important ingredients, I think.

August 16, 2016 at 04:30 AM · This is kind of like thinking you're going to save money on eggs by raising chickens.

August 16, 2016 at 05:36 AM · Playing the violin badly doesn't damage the violin, unless you're handling it carelessly and brutally too. A bad rehair, on the other hand, can very easily wind up damaging a bow. The history of musical instruments is too often a sad story of damage caused by unqualified repairers, and I can easily understand the reluctance of skilled luthiers to be freely disseminating this information.

I sometimes see enough bow hair for a single rehair offered for sale, and I have to wonder who's expected to buy this? People who know what they're doing (not me) don't buy it this way, and people who do buy it this way probably don't know what they're doing.

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