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Violinist.com Interviews: Vol. 1

Our exclusive, one-on-one interviews with 27 of today's best-known violinists, including Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, David Garrett, Anne Akiko Meyers, Maxim Vengerov, and others.


Rosin problem

Instruments: rosin

From James Dong
Posted October 27, 2010 at 05:38 AM

 Which rosin suits which string?

I have been using evah pirazzi strings so naturally I chose to get oliv evah rosin. But what if I want to change strings?

Also how much rosin is necessary to put on? For every hour that I play I put 4 strokes (up and down)

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on October 27, 2010 at 11:00 AM

For the last fortnight (must be coming up to 3 weeks now) as an experiment I haven't been applying rosin to my bows.  I play every day and only give the strings a quick wipe after.  For instance last night I was playing nearly 3 hours more or less continuously in an English folk session and there was no sign of rosin dust on the violin at the finish. Generally, the sound seems to be getting better on both my violins.

I don't keep rosin in the violin case now, so as to remove temptation. I suppose sometime I may need to apply a swipe to the hairs, but I don't know when this will be.  This is getting to be an interesting little experiment.

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on October 27, 2010 at 11:08 AM

Oh, I forgot to mention strings. One violin has ChromCor steel  E and A, with Evah G and D, and the other one has a mixture of old Obligato and Visions until I get around to a replacement set of new Eudoxas (my favorite) in the next few days. 

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on October 27, 2010 at 06:04 PM

 Both are pernambuco. One, by far the better and lighter, is about 90 years old, maker unknown, and it belonged to my mother. The other is modern German circa 2001 which I bought new as my second wood bow for £200 then. 

From Tom Holzman
Posted on October 27, 2010 at 10:00 PM

There is probably no "right" rosin for particular strings.  I think that just about everyone on this site has their favorite that works best for them, but I suspect that unless you are a very exceptional player, you won't notice much difference in how different rosins make your strings sound. 

You probably don't need to apply rosin very often.  Some of the luthiers on this site, or your luthier, can probably advise about how frequently and how much to apply.

 

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on October 27, 2010 at 10:21 PM

@Don, both bows were rehaired 4 or 5 years ago.  I've had only one or two hair breakages, not from playing but due to the hair getting caught in something.  I like to have as close to the minimum tension in the hair that I can get away with.  Although there are the usual grease marks down near the frog you get from a lot of playing I don't think either bow will need rehairing for quite a while yet.

From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on October 27, 2010 at 11:05 PM

I noticed those grease marks near the frog on my bow.  The other day I was trying some really long bow strokes and found I couldn't get any sound out of that part of the hair - but an application of rosin seemed to fix it.  I'm as bewildered as anyone about what's the right amount of rosin - but what about that grease mark?  Do I need to clean the hair?

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on October 28, 2010 at 12:35 AM

 On my bows there is no more than 4cm (1.5 inches in old money) right down by the frog that is grease marked, and I've never rosined it. It's directly under my thumb. It doesn't bother me because I don't see any point in playing that close to the frog anyway.

I wouldn't try to clean that little bit of grease off – it's loaded with my DNA and is therefore an indication of ownership :-)  The only time that grease is going to disappear is when the bows get rehaired, and that's some way off.

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on October 28, 2010 at 01:22 AM

 It's not phenomenal.  I'm just tight :-)

Seriously though, the time for a rehair would be for two reasons: (1) the hairs are no longer doing their job and bow control and tone suffer, and (2)  the hairs start to break for no apparent reason. Reason (2) happened this year on my daughter's cello bow, which hadn't been rehaired since it was bought 20 years ago, so in this case the reason is obvious – the hairs were getting brittle with age.  She brought it over to England this summer for rehairing and borrowed my bow to take back to Belgium. Meanwhile, I'm currently using her rehaired bow for cello gigs.  A couple of swipes of rosin on the new hairs and it was ready for immediate use in a gig that evening. The re-swap of bows will take place at Christmas when we meet again.

If a bow isn't holding the rosin then what may be happening is that rosin on the bow has hardened with over-application and is skating on the string.  Adding more rosin is a very temporary solution and actually makes matters worse.  The answer is to clean the rosin off the bow, or (what I think is the more practical option) have it rehaired and go very easy on the rosin next time.

To check out the amount of rosin on the bow, I clean the strings thoroughly with something like isopropanol (taking the obvious precautions regarding fire risk and keeping it well away from the varnish), and bow the strings.  As soon as I see rosin dust on the string, then I know there is enough rosin on the bow and I don't need to apply any more until such time as the cleaned string doesn't show rosin.  

A little rosin goes a very long way.   It's not too much to say that one block of rosin could last for decades. 

From James Dong
Posted on October 28, 2010 at 08:59 AM

 Is using alcohol to clean the bow bad for the wood?

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on October 28, 2010 at 10:31 AM

The alcohol certainly wouldn't do the bow's varnish any good if the two come into contact. 

From Kheenan Walkins
Posted on October 28, 2010 at 11:57 AM

The alcohol could very easily ruin the varnish. What I do is dampen a piece of cloth (that I expect to throw away after) with alcohol and just rub the bow on it in the same way I would rub it on the rosin block. the caked up Rosin comes right off. The hairs initially develop an odd sticky texture. but after a few swipes that starts to diminish. If you use a light coloured cloth you'll see the rosin being deposited on it. Also the job would be done more effectively if you don't use the same spot on the cloth more than once or twice.

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on October 28, 2010 at 09:19 PM

Don, glad it's worked out (as I expected it would).  Now is the time to sell your shares in the violin rosin companies :-)  

From Peter Charles
Posted on October 28, 2010 at 11:44 PM

I will never let alcohol anywhere near my bow hair.

It's bad enough that I'm drunk when I play, but to have the bow hair not sober too would be too much!!

From Susan Young
Posted on October 29, 2010 at 01:50 AM

Peter, I agree!  My violin may have a fiddle set up and with my luck it would prefer a good Kentucky bourbon.  The closest I have is Congac which is too expensive to share!

From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 29, 2010 at 03:50 AM

 What? Just rehair every six months. No you don't clean the bow hair with alcohol.

From James Dong
Posted on October 29, 2010 at 09:26 AM

But bow rehairs are really expensive :S 

and yeah, I was pretty sure cleaning the bow hair with alcohol couldn't be good... 

Anyway I see that a lot of people show support for putting less rosin on. Does this mean that only the day before a performance I should put on rosin? or a few days earlier for that matter?

From Susan Young
Posted on October 29, 2010 at 11:52 AM

So what is the preferred method for cleaning bow hair?  Is it alcohol or is there a better way?

From David Light
Posted on October 29, 2010 at 12:43 PM

Variation on the rosin theme: what do you do to get rosin off the top of the violin body?  Obviously, alcohol is out of the question.  Ideas?

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on October 29, 2010 at 01:17 PM

When my old violin came down to me through the family it hadn't been touched since the start of WW2 and needed refurbishment in different areas.  The luthier pointed out that the varnish between the fingerboard and bridge was black because of the rosin dust that had combined with it over the years.  It seems he removed the blackened varnish mechanically rather than using solvents, obviously being very careful not to damage the wood, and revarnished the cleaned area with a matching varnish.

The violin had belonged to my mother who was a serious violinist and teacher and would not have let rosin accumulate like that (she always insisted I cleaned my cello after every practice), so I can only assume it was a result of laxness on the part of a previous owner, perhaps her grandfather or his father, or whoever had owned it before 1850.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 29, 2010 at 01:18 PM

 The preferred way is to re-hair your bow. I don't know a single person who cleans bow hair with alcohol.

From David Light
Posted on October 29, 2010 at 09:05 PM

By the way, for those who might be interested, I experimented this afternoon by gently rubbing some of my wife's makeup remover (non-alcohol and non-oil-based) on the top of the fiddle. Presto!  The rosin disappeared, liquifying much as alcohol would do, but also leaving the finish intact!  Now, for the record, my finish is a low-lustre, almost a matte finish, with very little gloss.  In fact, three hours have now passed, and the fiddle finish is still intact, with absolutely no stickiness at all.

From David Light
Posted on October 30, 2010 at 12:56 AM

Don, you'd laugh if I told you the last time I polished a pair of brown shoes!  Or ANY shoes, for that matter!  By the way, my wife says that makeup remover is really lousy (no good for eye makeup) so I can have the whole bottle!  Yippee!

From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 30, 2010 at 02:03 AM

 Every six months works well. Cleaning the fingerboard ONLY, I recommend using the thin alcohol wipes that come in first-aid kids. As for the wood of the violin, wipe it with a dry cotton cloth every time, after you play to get the rosin dust off. Otherwise, the rosin dust starts to adhere and won't come off. When that happens, if you have a decent fiddle, see a luthier. 

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