V.com weekend vote: Does it matter, what kind of rosin you use?

September 21, 2018, 12:21 PM · The legendary Jascha Heifetz famously told his students that it didn't really matter what kind of rosin one uses on the bow.

At least that's the lore here in Southern California, where the great violinist lived for he latter part of his days and taught at the University of Southern California. He apparently had an old cake of Hill.

I can't figure out if he really meant it, or if it was his way of saying, "Stop obsessing over what kind of rosin I use; if you want to play like me, practice!"


At this point I have three different kinds of rosin in my case: Melos, Andrea and Bernardel. In other cases I have an ancient cake of Tartini (do they make that any more?) and some clear Magic Rosin, through which I could see a cute frog on the day I bought it but never thereafter. In contrast to the careful instructions of rosin-makers who warn against using more than one type, I switch around every few days, depending on what it seems the bow wants, in terms of sticky rosin or not. Lately I've been curious about the Leatherwood Bespoke rosin - there's something sort of romantic about the idea of choosing what kind of sap will go into my rosin and having it made for me. Would it work miracles?

Very young students tend to need their rosin encased in wood, to reduce the chances of either dropping it or of rubbing off the rosin with the cloth around it, while trying to rub it on.

Rosin can last for decades, if you don't break it. Once you drop it onto a hard floor, it can shatter like glass. It's best to just chuck it at this point. If you put the compromised cake back in your case, it will continue to produce tiny rosin crumbs that spread everywhere as it rattles around in the case. A number of people are allergic to rosin and require the hypoallergenic variety -- I'm glad this now exists.

What is your experience with rosin? Does it matter what kind of rosin you use? What is your favorite rosin these days? What qualities do you look for?


September 21, 2018 at 05:39 PM · Laurie, "sap" might refer both to the tree juices from which the rosin is derived, and to the person gullible enough buy it. LOL

Seriously it's great to have a rosin thread for Weekend Vote. I said it matters somewhat because really crappy rosin doesn't seem to work too well for me. I use Bernardel and I can't really be bothered to try a lot of others. It's interesting that some folks swear by what Heifetz reportedly said or did some of the time (e.g., the use of the shoulder rest) and not others (e.g., what kind of rosin is best).

September 21, 2018 at 06:14 PM · I have two cakes of rosin that I use on my violins. One cake must be getting on for 30 years old and is cello rosin - don't know who the maker was. It's getting a bit thin now but has never cracked or broken, but - just in case - I recently bought a dark rosin by Pirastro which feels similar and use that mostly on my #2 violin.

I'm not obsessed by the minutiae of the compositions of various rosins but have a suspicion that one common ingredient may be "oleum serpentis".

September 21, 2018 at 06:57 PM · I tend to change my rosin every few years because I feel they lose their dust after that time and have a shelf life. Throughout high school I used Bernardel. When I went to college I used Hill dark, then Baker’s. For the past 2 years I’ve been using Isaac Salchow’s house rosin which he sells at his shop in NYC. I recommend all of them. Lots of good options! I agree with Mr. Heifetz. No rosin has the superpower to make you miraculously better at the violin.

September 21, 2018 at 07:03 PM · I have cakes of Hidersine, Hill, and Knilling "Hill-style" dark rosin. The Knilling, which I bought in 1998 I think, is the one I use the most often. I have a little less than half the cake remaining. The least expensive rosin I own, it has just the right amount of stickiness, or so I tell myself. I don't see me buying any more rosin; I think I've got enough to last the rest of my life. I really don't see me paying $60 for bespoke rosin!

September 21, 2018 at 09:02 PM · Like all beginners I started out with the amber rosin in the wood block. At one lesson I had left my rosin at home and used my teachers dark green Hill. Perhaps it was just the placebo effect but I thought, and still think, it makes my instrument sound just that little bit better.

I'm just about ready to get my third block of Hill, the remnants of the second block are getting very small indeed and frugal me wants to get every penny's worth out of it. Given how long a block lasts, I guess I'll have to mention it in my will.

September 21, 2018 at 09:09 PM · I used to be very chemically sensitive, and I tried that polymer based hypoallergenic rosin at the time (2003 or 04). After a little while of using it, my lips started turning numb, and it gave my strings a sort of "rubbery" response. I notified the company for a refund and they would never respond.

September 21, 2018 at 09:20 PM · I tried (and still own) 5 different rosins, all relatively similar (rather soft allroundrosins, except the Bernadel which feels a little bis dryer. But the Jade definitely stands out. No, the violin doesn't sound way better with it, but it's the best for by bow's handlig, and it gives me the smoothest, most sensitive and reliable contact to the string.

September 21, 2018 at 10:56 PM · I have to say that the folks who seem to obsess the most about rosin are some of the players who could really use more practice! I think that is what Mr Heifetz was saying.

I have some Japanese rosin that is smooth and sticky, I have long liked Milliant and Bernadel, and I find Hill scratchy, but they all work.

After you can play the way you want to, sound the way you have always imagined and have solved your intonation issues, perhaps you might look at rosin, but by then, you probably won't be very interested in it.

September 21, 2018 at 10:59 PM · I used Bernardel for years then my Luthier recommended I try Liebenzeller Gold II. The Bernardel worked well. If I had continued using it the "somewhat matters" response would have been appropriate. After using the Liebenzeller applied as my Luthier recommended I found it to be incredible rosin. This rosin should be applied sparingly. The best is one downbow and one upbow followed by another downbow and upbow. That is all that is needed. The bow will play well for at least 3 hours after this application. There is minimal debris left on the violin after playing for several hours. The sound is smooth. The Liebenzeller Gold II is a bit pricey in that runs around $30.00 but as discussed in the article, it lasts for years.

September 22, 2018 at 12:49 AM · I now exclusively use bass rosin with my plain gut strings. If it's sticky, it works. I don't care what precious metals or snake oils are added to it.

September 22, 2018 at 02:12 AM · I find that depending on the weather, my strings, which bow, which violin and even the type of music I'm playing, the choice of Rollin can either help or hinder the sound quality I'm trying for. So I'd definitely say it matters somewhat

September 22, 2018 at 09:48 AM · I still rely exclusively on the cake of Hill dark rosin that I bought at the same time as my viola almost 13 years ago. I don't need anything special.

That said, I had one rehair a few years ago where my bow came back pre-rosined with something different, and whatever it was, it sounded scratchy.

September 22, 2018 at 02:22 PM · When I got a viola I just kept using Bernardel. I think it's fine but the viola is less responsive than the violin, so I might want to try something a little stickier.

I wasn't clear at all with what I said about Heifetz. But it doesn't matter, I was just joking around anyway. I just listened to his Haffner Rondo, it's really splendid, that's the way I want to play it. A lot of interesting bowing ideas that I might like to try. Of course upbow or downbow is pretty much irrelevant to Heifetz. He can do all the same things in either direction. Of course there are quite a few "Heifetz slides." But why not? It's an encore.

September 23, 2018 at 02:44 AM · I'm not sure if this statement is correct. "In contrast to the careful instructions of rosin-makers who warn against using more than one type" I've dealt with many rosin makers and many of them actually encourage mixing rosins to achieve the result that works for a player in a given environment. Take Melos for example. The maker of Melos Christos, who is a cellist himself, has always maintained this position. Andrea rosim maker (whose father made Tartini by the way) also endorses thr idea that mixing different rosins can produce a very nice result (check out his new rosin Sanctus). For bass guys using different rosin based on climate has always been a norm....

September 23, 2018 at 09:15 PM · Well that is good to know! I will continue, then, to brazenly use more than one kind of rosin!

September 24, 2018 at 12:03 AM · Many years ago, one of the British firms made and sold two types of rosin, a dark one called "Szigeti" and a light one called "Menuhin". When I visited Szigeti, I noticed that he used the one named after him. A few years ago I was surprised to discover that the Szigeti version was still available in England though the Menuhin version seems to have disappeared. Of course, I bought a cake and I like it though the container gives no information about who is producing it. In any case, it's good rosin and for sentimental reasons I'll continue to use it.

September 24, 2018 at 02:46 AM · @George, your comment about being thrifty reminds me of my violin teacher. Not long after starting lessons with her, she explained how to "resuscitate" a broken cake of rosin by making a mold out of alumninum foil, putting in all the broken pieces, and then carefully melting it over the stove. (_Carefully_ because it's flamable.)

September 24, 2018 at 01:37 PM · I changed my rosin from Hill to Pirastro. Found a world of difference. Pirastro recommends different rosins for their string types.

September 24, 2018 at 01:40 PM · For example, https://www.pirastro.com/public_pirastro/pages/en/Oliv-00004/

September 24, 2018 at 10:40 PM · Rosin is relatively cheap - even the expensive ones. Over the decades I have accumulated many dozens of different brands and grades for my playing of violin, viola and cello. Most I bought, but some were sent to me by the makers (or marketers) to try and comment on.

Back when Heifetz was still rosining his bows there were fewer rosin brands and grades and less clever marketing.

I think the Australian Leatherwood rosins in their "crisp" and "supple" grades are the best rosins I have ever tried. My ancient ears prefer the results with the "crisp" varieties.

The oldest rosin cake I ever had and used was a Thomastik 2-grade (double-sided) cello brand that seemed to date from 1929. The last I saw of it was 14 years ago when my younger granddaughter was using it for violin. It still worked.

September 26, 2018 at 12:36 PM · After the first years using the rosin that came with my first violin I decided to buy something better. I use Petz Vienna, which will last for all my lazy amateur career, it's good enough for me and I don't think I will ever need to buy another one.

September 28, 2018 at 04:23 AM · It might be a good idea to visit the Internet and type in that you are looking for a book called Old Violins, writer Haweis. Go to the chapter "Violin Bows" p. 170 and you weill learn all you need to know about rosin for a bow. Best regards, John A.

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