V.com weekend vote: How often do you have your bow rehaired?

November 25, 2016, 6:16 PM · The hair on a bow is made from horse hair -- tough stuff, but it's still hair.

bow hair

That means that over time it grows brittle and wears out -- it loses its ability to grip the string, even with rosin. When that happens, it's time to bring your bow to the shop and get it rehaired (unless you are trained to do this yourself!) But how often do you need to rehair your bow, and how often do you actually do it?

First, how often should it be done? It can depend on how much you play, the quality of the hair and also your environment's humidity. In general, luthiers tend to recommend getting a bow rehair about every six months.

But what people do in practice can be quite different. Those who play a lot might get it re-haired every three months. But if it's still sounding good, others might stretch it out quite a bit longer. Or one might forget, might not have it in the budget for this month, or not really know about re-hairing the bow -- and years can go by! One of my high school students had grown busy and somehow had not done it in a year -- a year of playing quite a lot. The difference, once it was re-haired, was quite remarkable.

For you, how long do you typically wait before getting a rehair for your bow?


November 26, 2016 at 06:17 AM · I think it depends how much you play as to how often you repair your bow, I get about a year between repairs but I wash the hair in month 6. I also do my own rehairs. You get to know when the hair is lacking by experience.

November 26, 2016 at 07:34 AM · People who make their living rehairing bows will doubtless wish to de-friend me when l say this, but I don't think you ever have to rehair your bow. OK, that's an exaggeration, but I really do believe that it's only necessary when a significant amount of hair is broken/missing, or stretched. If a player keeps their greasy hands off of it, and doesn't over rosin, plays in a way that doesn't break hairs, and is willing to clean it when necessary (which is very rarely if you're conscientious), hair can last almost indefinitely.

Contrary to popular mythology, there are no scales on the hair holding the rosin or affecting the strings. If there were, a newly haired bow would work at least some before rosin is applied. It doesn't. I've had bows rehaired after years of use, only because I believed the people who say you should, and found the performance to be no better or worse than it was with the years old hair. I also believe that the action of frequently disassembling a bow for a rehair places a burden of wear on the parts. Of course the skill of the rehairer is a factor here. But if it isn't really necessary........?

OK, it's time to tell me how wrong I am. ;)

November 26, 2016 at 12:47 PM · I agree completely with Mark Bouquet.

November 26, 2016 at 05:27 PM · My daughter's bow seems to lose the tensile strength in about a year. After rehairing the difference is quite substantial.

November 26, 2016 at 05:42 PM · Hair lasts for very very long time if unused and properly stored. Bow hair stretches, gets brittle and breaks when regularly played,especially if you work on pieces requiring all sorts of colours and intensity. I change my bow hair every year.

November 26, 2016 at 05:46 PM · I was shown (by a reputable luthier) that if you twist the hair ribbon around and draw the BACK side across a string, and compare that to the feel of the working side, you'll get an indication of whether you need to rehair. I've also heard that in a pinch you can rehair by just turning the ribbon over and re-installing it on the bow. No?

November 26, 2016 at 08:18 PM · I have more than one violin (actually 4 - one is a loaner) and several bows. I have them rehired when needed (some more than a year and some in 6 months or so) - can no longer tighten it as the hair has stretched, need more than usual rosin, has it been a long time being played, or just sitting in the case, and I'm not sure, does it feel the same as I wish it to sound, does it feel the same, and a variety of other "feelings" or issues. Needs and feels are different - (Once the members of my section were wondering if I was going to get through the last concert of the year with the small amount of hair left on my bow. I finished the concert and immediately handed it to my stand partner who rehired bows.)

Do it when you feel a bow needs to be rehired - not just because some one feels that any particular time is best.Each bow is different, each player is different, each repairer is different, and each hank of hair is different!

November 26, 2016 at 10:03 PM · I disagree that you don't need to rehair your bow! Yes, you can certainly keep playing for a long time on old hair, but the difference between playing on a bow with fresh hair and a bow with hair that is six months old + is incredibly obvious: with old hair the bow loses sound, grip, articulation options, etc.

It would be nice if bows could just grow new hair, though! Can we invent that? ;)

November 27, 2016 at 12:46 AM · Laurie: Bowgaine?

I can see four possible ways that bow hair could lose performance. First if something happens to the surface of the hairs themselves, which ought to be something one could study by electron microscopy. Second, if the hair gets so stretched that you can no longer tighten you bow enough to take up the slack. That seems easy enough to test. And third if the hair stretches *unevenly* -- that is, some hairs stretch more than others, resulting in a broader distribution of tension. Not sure how to measure that, but there ought to be a way. Finally, fourth, if some or most of the hairs break and go missing, which some experience more than others.

November 27, 2016 at 11:12 PM · My understanding is that the hairs themselves have microscopic "hairs" -- almost something like cilia, and they are angled. This is why a good luthier strings half the hairs going one way, half the other. The microscopic hairs on the hairs are what "grab" the string and actually sort of pluck it a zillion times as the bow goes across the string. But those do break off, it's like your tires going bald. You can still drive your car for a very long time but it will not be the same.

November 28, 2016 at 05:33 AM · Another aspect of the hair stretching as it ages is that when the bow is tightened on a bow with older hair the frog (and the player's right hand) will be further away from the balance point, changing the balance and playing characteristics of the bow.

November 28, 2016 at 06:50 PM · Completely and utterly confused. When the dust mites bite, new hair is required. Really don't know if I buy into the tiny slanted hair thing (cilia). I should look under a microscope to check this out. I still rely on my (symphony orchestra) violin instructor to know when my bows need to be rehaired but he seems to agree with the "if it isn't broke, don't fix it" group of string players. Thank you Laurie, I enjoy reading this blog!

November 28, 2016 at 07:50 PM · I thought this page was nicely presented and readable.


In the final summary: "A short glance at bow hairs played for one year and a sample of the same bundle left in mint condition indicates that primary the decreasing elastic properties as an effect of the ageing process are relevant for the playing quality. The surface of the used hair samples show only few slightly damaged scales."

The electron micrographs that show the surface "platelets" or "scales" look actually quite smooth to me. If the scales are raised, it's not by very much.

November 29, 2016 at 07:50 PM · When I started playing viola, I think my bow had bad hair. I was breaking a couple of hairs at each rehearsal, and in less than a year I had to rehair the bow simply because there was hardly enough hair left to play. After three years I'm still playing on the same replacement hair, and I hardly ever break one.

November 30, 2016 at 08:03 PM · @Laurie Niles " I disagree that you don't need to rehair your bow!"

Amen sister! I'd probably lose an eye or something if I didn't get my bow rehaired once or twice a year and I'm not a heavy rosin user. Of course my concert bow gets more use than the carbon fiber bow that I use with my electric violin or for some outdoor gigs.


December 1, 2016 at 06:00 AM · I've only had one bow rehair in 8 years or so of playing, and it was because I lost too much in a bow bug attack. Regarding balance of bow as a result of frog location: I guess my bow hair doesn't stretch out from age. But it can shrink or stretch based on the humidity. That was brought home to me dramatically when I got home with my newly rehaired bow and couldn't loosen the hair! I called my luthier; she said it was just fine when she gave it to me and did I leave it in the sun when I was driving home? (It was a hot day.) I had merely driven one mile between her house and mine with the bow in a cardboard tube and immediately carried the bow into the house.

December 1, 2016 at 11:54 AM · I see that my customers need rehairing once per year on average. I always try to give some advice, especially to students. Choosing the right quality of hair (and, with the best price) has been very important for the consistency of my rehair service. Here in Sicily, we have hot summers and frequently musicians play very near to the sea (Taormina greek theatre,...) so the hair stretches a lot. I avoid using very thin hair unless my customers asks for Mongolian, otherwise I use Siberian hair. Also, having the bow inspected more frequently allows me to spot some problems that would risk to aggravate if unnoticed (for ex., I received a bow with a small crack from the nipple to the mortice under the frog; some customers wear the leather lapping and dig a deep cavity into the stick). Giovanni, violinmaker, Syracuse

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