From Frans Clarke
Posted July 26, 2005 at 07:24 PM
I've heard of actually washing the horsehair, but if you're that desperate, maybe you should just get it rehaired.
My teacher, who played professionally for close to 30 years, recommends unscrewing the hair at the frog and very carefully washing the hair with a bit of mild shampoo in a basin of warm water. Followed with a good rinsing, just like you would your own hair. It's easy to do, just be sure to keep the water away from the wood. After it dries reassemble the bow and put enough rosin on to grip the hairs.
Yeah, Wanda, that sounds right...I just couldn't remember it for myself. You dry it un-screwed, right?
(not that I'm considering it right now...I seriously need to get my bow rehaired, in my opinion, but my teacher and luthier don't think so, so maybe not...it's been more than a year, though...and the horsehairs are breaking pretty regularly now...Oh well...I need a new bridge any time now, so when I finally get there I'll make him rehair it. :) Woah, this is way too long for parenthesis!) ;)
It's even better then I remember, it tells you which alcohols are good and which are bad. It also tells you how to remove the rosin from your violin. I'm not going to type this whole paper but if you give me your e-mail I'll be glad to send a scanned copy. Thanks again
Oh and I cleaned my bow before using its instructions and it never told me to loosen the bow hair and take it out. And my bow sounds great.
This may be contraversial, but a way I use to tell if my bow is ready for a new rehair is to run it on back of one of my fingers to feel the teeth, just have clean hands and don't use any pressure. Mainly though, I can tell by the feel when I play.
Maybe your teacher dosen't need to rehair her bow very often because she dosen't have to practice as much as you?
Get a good bow technician, I had someone mishandle one of my bows once. The hair was pulled more on one side of the string and it bent the bow.
Mine as well get the belt sander to do a professional job. Well I'll tell you tommorow how it went.
PS - If the belt sander ruins my bow I will sue for emotional damage for $1000, and $20 for the value of the bow. Your total bill, $1020.
My prof's pernambuco bow is over 10 yrs, and never been rehaired - just cleaned. Plays and sounds beautifully.
Sadly, my old wood bow warped in this heat and humidity, and lost its tension. I rehaired, but this made no difference. I bought a cheaper carbon fibre bow that has very good hair, and this is working out fairly well. I still prefer a high quality pernambuco bow and hair.
But so far, I am not convinced that bows need to be rehaired often.
Sometimes light detergent or shampoo in water very dilute.
There are drying and other tricks to get the hair working, too.
Too much rosin, not very good rosin, dirty hands, amusing body chemistry seem to lead to dirt.
With the odd cleaning now and then my bow hair lasted 10 years. Still usable, but I'm having a friend expert rehair it.
If you want lots of information, talk to Adam Sweet at Emily's Violin Shop.
Split ends are real in human hair. Of course horse-hair wears out. Everything wears out. Even Stradivari wear out.
Someday there will be no Tourtes left to play. But there will still be tourtes to be eaten :-)
Bow hair does "wear out" from use. Friction over time will cause the hairs to break, and will do damage to the hair itself over time. I have to assume that it will make some acoustical difference in the sound. I would not think that cleaning would really help since the wear is on the hair itself, changing it's texture. I'd be tempted to say that cleaning may even make a bad situation worse, but I have never tried.
I *could* ask the lab to take some photos of new hair vs. old hair, but right now I only have "old" hair samples. I could take a hair and clean one part and not the other to see the difference. I'll ask anyway. It could be fun. :) They have some cool cameras for microsections.
Here a link containing scanning electron microscopy (SEM) pictures of horse hair with and without rosin:
And here’s another site with some interesting SEM pictures of bow hair and the violin wood itself:
A local dealer recommended combing the bow hairs with a fine tooth comb to remove the old rosin. Does anyone do this regularly?
I would think that combing dirty bow hair is about as effective a cleaning method as combing human hair.
I think the major problem with degraded bow hair effectiveness is rosin melted on to the hair. I have no scientific evidence for this, but it makes some sense, since cleaning the hair with a solvent or soap and water (also a solvent for rosin) is an effective rejuvinator. Every method that works to clean bow hair or strings is consistent with this hypothesis. It will also remove oils or grease from hair or strings.
Are there no bowmakers willing to shed some professional light on this subject? Why not email one outside of this format, ask the question, and report your findings?
I change my bow hair at least once a year... 9-12 months on average.. so I don't do much bow cleaning.
Another thing worth noting is that it is not wise to change rosin types without cleaning the old rosin off before applying a different brand, some varieties do not mix well with others.
Horse hair lasting 10 years is plain nonsense, even if you only practiced 1 minute a day!
Using tack shop "Mane and Tail" shampoo/conditioner to clean your bow hair? The notion that it is good for horse tails, and the fact that some riders use it on their hair proves nothing. I have had horses all of my life and am familiar with the product. It makes a horses tail look full and shiney, but I would never use it on one of my bows!
Never tried using sandpaper... but will try it out... starting with 1200, and 600 grit paper, and get back to you.
White spirit works for me. Bought it from art supply shop, Winsor & Newton brand. Works wonder, after cleaning the bow hair looks new and transparent (not see-through!), and still hold rosin very well until now. The bowhair has been at least 2 years old.
I use Acetone (nail polish remover) . Sounds harsh but works better than Alcohol and will not make hair brittle . Alcohol absorbes mosture in the hair . I tried Acetone on some cheep (campfire ) bows to test with no ill results. I just rehair my good ones . I also use the mild side of a emery nail file to ruff up the hair (again campfire bows) .
Heck , I'm just a Hillbilly Fiddle Player , What do I know !
i've heard that if you want to wash your bow hair, just wash it with detergent and water. i have ever tried it and it worked. after that, i dried it with hair-dryer. and it's clean!!
I trust we are only discussing the small area where the thumb might gain contact over time the dirt and rosin cause build-up...GENTLY, with soap and water...AIR dry...nix to using a hair dryer
As long as you are careful of your bow stick and as long as you realize that the downside of cleaning the bow hair is the re-hairing you were going to get anyway, I can see ABSOLUTELY NO HARM in cleaning one's bow hair by any of the methods described. It is critical, however that no liquid of any kind get into the ends of the hair, where it could swell the blocks that hold the hair into the tip and frog and do irreparable harm to the bow itself.
My old Voirin plays like a dream (I don't use it very often) and I last had it rehaired 12 years ago. Before that it went about 20 years. My most active bows make it about 6 months to a year between cleanings, and 3 or 4 cleanings between rehairings - but usually by then there is enough broken hair on one side that that is the main reason I get the bows rehaired.
I think all the speculation about the nature of bow hair and rosin and so on is obviated by the 1997 book "The Violin Explained," by the late physicist/musician James Beament. I think it covers most questions most string players will ever have about most things string. Of course, we would not want it to eliminate our get-togethers here.
As I live in a hot climate, my bowhair needs cleaning quite often,I loosen the hair, wash it carefully with shampoo, no brush, just with my hands, rinse it and press the hair to a paperkitchen towel, let it air dry after that and once dry, attach it again. I have been doing this for years and find it works very well. my bowhair seems to last much longer. Fits nice ans a bit tighter after the wash. Be careful not to get water on any other part of the bow.
I occasionally remove the frog by loosening the screw to wipe off the green gunk (which tends to accumulate under the stick and over the metal piece of the frog) using an instrument-worthy cleaning cloth and rub the gunk off.
If you're inquiring about the hair itself, I've read that several violinists will wipe the bow hair with a cloth after playing to remove excess rosin (which, if I recall correctly, should serve to further the life of the hair, something about the rosin weakening the hair over time).
Eh, my memory of bow part nomenclature may be a little shabby...
Well, I can tell you, shampoo seems to be okay on some bow hairs and not on others.
I just tried one bow, great success. Tried it on another bow (my main bow, which also happens to have been rehaired recently), won't hold rosin at all anymore. Now I have to get it rehaired -- again.
I don't think I washed one more than I did the other, and I used the same shampoo -- and I got two different results.
Moral of the story... just because it works for some people and for some bows and sometimes, doesn't mean it'll work for everyone, for every bow, or every time.
I have tried the sanding method on Chinese higher quality bows by sanding cross the hairs too some success. I used a small Emory board for finger-nails. I then rosin the bow and get improved playability. It seems that there is a disturbing move towards synthetic horse hair by manufacturers and it simply does not work. Many have commented on this thread that one bow hair does NOT work for another. I agree with their observations. In a perfect world your bow hair should be Mongolian horse hair. Guess again, maybe, maybe not; your luthier may not even know? I would agree from experience first hand, that if its truly real hair a broken strand twisted together and burned in a candle flame, has that distinctive hair burned SMELL. If you don’t recognize that smell, its not real hair.
The shampoo method works well on real hair and the most effective degreaser is Orange Dawn dish detergent, its cheap; rinse well and dry; naturally please, no hair dryers. I unscrew the adjuster, place it in a very small plastic bag and twisty tie it. This assures me little water in the frog, a real bad thing.
Those that try this method will feel proud. Those violinists that achieve no improvement have questionable bow hair and it should be replaced. Fixing very old violins has taught me a strange little secret. Very old hair on bows, sometimes 50% loss in volume, re-rosined has yielded amazing sound ability on the strings. Now how can that be? Perhaps real horsehair is the secret?
Scheryl & Roth does make a rosin remover. I personally have never tried that method, I think if I did rosin remover the bow hair, I would still dish detergent wash it also, and air dry, I use the sun method on the clothes line, believe it or not, and it’s a winner. Regards, Don
I take it back -- I got my sound back!
I talked to my stylist, who told me to try washing the shampoo off with soap. Apparently shampoo adds a coating of silicone (silicon?) to make hair shiny, and it doesn't come off with just water. Hand bar soap did the trick.
Donald, that's definitely true -- I used up my old bow hair until it was down to maybe a few dozen hairs. It sounded unbelievably bright, which I liked.
I read somewhere else on the forums that for this reason a lot of players ask for less hair when they get their bows rehaired.
I just learned how to rehair my bow. I figured some woodwind instrument players make their own reeds, so why not a violinist learning to rehair their own bow. Once you start buying the shanks of hair it's really really cheap to do it. Like less than the cost of one bow rehair at a luthier.
A survey of horse hair from around the world showed that hair varied in elasticity.The strongest thickest and least elastic ( =good ) comes from Canada. Francois Tourte is said to have recommended strong thick horsehair.
that's great, so how does one learn to rehair their bow? and where would you buy canadian's horse hair from?
RE: Cleaning the horsehair on your bow if it's really getting caked on.
I'm NO expert, however my luthier suggests using Ivory bar soap for a gentle cleaning and a certain type of alcohol (from the hardware store) for a more thorough cleaning. Will have to check on what kind. On You Tube search "cleaning a violin bow". He uses denatured alcohol BUT you better not get it on your bow! It will remove the finish. Ouch $$. Maybe just take it to a good violin shop or a luthier if you don't feel comfortable cleaning it or have it rehaired.
I'm open for suggestions too regarding how to clean the wood and metal parts of your bow.
There is a Bow Re-hairing DVD available via You Tube. Also one available on ebay but it's not a professionally made DVD however it gets the important points across.
Thank you in advance!!
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