How to identify a bad bow rehair

April 24, 2007 at 03:32 AM · I recently got my bow re-haired at a very good local shop. However, I had no idea it was badly rehaired until I got home and played it and realized how terrible it sounded. What are some ways that you can tell a good rehair apart from a bad rehair just by looking at it?

Replies (28)

April 24, 2007 at 03:45 AM · I think a good way to tell would be to look at the evenness of the spacing between the hairs on the bow. If you see clumps of hair and it's very thick in some parts and not as much in others, then it was probably a careless rehair.

April 24, 2007 at 05:08 AM · Some clueless people will often put too much. Also, sometimes it is an issue to get good quality horsehair. Up here in Canada sometimes your hair is shot within a week.

April 24, 2007 at 02:13 PM · This is what I prefer:

Loosen your bow until loose and push the frog toward the tip. With the frog in the most forward position, you should still have slight tension in the hair - if it is drooping, then you are either in a higher humidity area than the luthier was or the hair is too long.

Also, the width of the hair should be relatively the same at the frog and the tip and the hair should be not be "angled" looking directly at at plug in the tip. Often, the tip is physically not quite as wide as the frog, but barring that, it should be quite even.

April 25, 2007 at 12:05 AM · I took two bows in for rehairing, and didn't get them back for three weeks. Within a couple of days, the hair started breaking and falling out, like the hair on my head when I was on Interferon! Yikes! I must have lost about a third of the hairs within a month.

I had it rehaired by someone else (Ilya Rutman in Boston) who always offers 24-hour turnaround. It's been a couple of months, and not one hair has broken or fallen out. The hair is straight and strong, and sounds great.

I could have asked the original outfit to redo it at no charge, but I don't like to trust incompetent people to repair their damage. I learned that lesson a long time ago with auto repair.

April 25, 2007 at 12:49 AM · Rachel - Of all the bad rehairs we've had we could see that the hair was either uneven or too thin. The only exceptions were one where the hair was too long (so we couldn't tighten the frog enough) and one where the hair popped out from the tip after a week.

The fact that you said it SOUNDED bad struck me as unusual. Please excuse me for asking this, but you did rosin up those new hairs, yes?

April 25, 2007 at 01:39 AM · If you can't tighten the bow enough, you are long past a bad rehair - you are venturing into luthier malpractice!

April 25, 2007 at 01:57 AM · Christopher - Amen. Chalk it up to underappreciating the value of a good luthier and the skill involved in rehairing a bow. (I even thought I might get a book and try to do it myself....., yeah, you can stop laughing now.) I'm much smarter now. ;-)

Rachel - That raises another good point. If you find a good luthier stick with them. I wouldn't be afraid to change luthiers until you find one you like.

April 25, 2007 at 04:40 AM · Christopher, I have to disagree with you-to a point. Yes, after a quality rehair your hair should be even, not over either side of the tip (this will deaden the sound also), and the hair should be long enough to allow you to tighten the bow without losing the camber, and short enough so that you don't run out of screw length before the hair is tightened. BUT, sometimes hair (even quality hair which is a key consideration on your rehair), shortens or lengthens when you change from different humidity environments. Usually the change is modest and can be compensated for by tightening or loosening the bow as needed, but in some cases, it can make the bow unplayable until the bow is rehaired correctly for the environment. I had a customer up in Alaska that always wanted the hair on his bows longer than normal due to his particular environment, and I know of other climates that need it shorter as a general rule. So having a bow that doesn't tighten can mean either that the re-hair person left the hair too long, or that the climate affected the bow, either way, not a case of Luthier malpractice (plus, I don't consider a rehair person a Luthier, I reserve that term for an instrument maker or restorer).

April 25, 2007 at 11:21 AM · What is the effect of uneven bow hair? My daughter's bow came back with the bridge side of the bow with thinner hair. It gets gradually thicker to the other side. Thank you.


April 25, 2007 at 12:55 PM · Angelo,

I understand your point - actully, I addressed in the post just a couple higher than my last with this statement:

"Loosen your bow until loose and push the frog toward the tip. With the frog in the most forward position, you should still have slight tension in the hair - if it is drooping, then you are either in a higher humidity area than the luthier was or the hair is too long."

I particularly remember the condition of my bows during a tour of Taiwan. I recently had a rehair yet I had to tighten the bow to it's fullest extent to get it to a playable tension. With me living in Atlanta (very humid summers) that is really a testament to the humidity in Taiwan. That being said, it would have to be extraordinary situation that would render a properly rehaired and quality bow "unplayable" by such factors - I would still look to the rehair job for corrections.

The person I bring my bow to for rehairs is a luthier - so pardon my use of the term as it may be specific to my situation (it was also meant to be humorous.)

Hair that is too long has many ramifications that can hamper your playing. The frog is the second most weighty edition to your bow other than the stick itself. If your frog is in the back most position when tight (toward the screw) than the bow will have a different balance point, response, feel, etc.


I am not a bow maker or "rehair artist" but I would take the bow back for a rehair if it came back uneven. Maybe someone here with experience can explain differently, but I would really be concerned with having less hair on the bridge side, especially, as this will have the most contact with the string.

April 25, 2007 at 02:18 PM · Ihnsouk, while I'm not a practiser (sp?) of having the hair thicker/thinner on the 2 sides, there is a school of thought that this actually helps players who really dig in to the strings while playing. My problem with your situation would be that (for a right-handed player) the right side of the bow should have more hair if this was done on purpose during the rehair or is a style of the rehairer. If the right side of the bow has less hair, I can't think of a positive reason for this (or a positive outcome concerning the length of time before another rehair is needed). Remember, at some shops different people do rehairs, and sometimes they are not done to the level the shop expects. If you bring it to the attention of the shop manager/owner then they should (hopefully) address your concerns.

Christopher, I saw your earlier post also and I agreed with your humidity comments, but some players may believe that an easily correctable "length of hair" problem actually damaged their bow, hense my problem with the term malpractice. Curious (if you don't mind telling) who does your rehairs in Atlanta. I know Beth McClain (Atlanta Violins), Ron Sachs, Steph Voss, and Daniel (williams/Gengaki). Wasn't sure if there are any others that do good work over there.

April 25, 2007 at 03:46 PM · Thank you, Christopher and Angelo. It is on the right side that has more hair seen from the top, or on the fingerboard side when playing. Is that the right side you mention? Would it have a tendency to bend the stick sideways when tightened?


April 25, 2007 at 04:05 PM · Angelo,

I have been taking my bows to Stephanie Voss for years. In the past, I have taken them to Williams Gengakki and wasn't impressed. Jon Crumrine was my hands down favorite, but he went to work for Reuning and sons and I haven't heard much from him since. I am thinking about trying Ronald Sachs next time for the bow I play most often. My Dodd bow I am sending to Salchow for a new appraisal and rehair - we'll see how that goes.

As far as the "malpractice" comment is concerned - it was meant to be more humorous than an indictment. I will tell you, however, that if my bow went to that extreme after a rehair, that rehair person would never see my bow again. Additionally, if a rehair is done that badly, then there is a clear possibility that you are dealing with someone that has the potential to do serious harm to your bow. One of my bows is the victim of this (Blown out cheek due to either too much hair or too large a plug - or both.) These instruments are far too prized and delicate to let someone practice rehair technique. Give me experience.

April 25, 2007 at 07:10 PM · Christopher, John Crumrine is now in Boston working at Johnson's. I agree on the experience counts comment.

Ihnsouk, it would have more hair (in this particular style) on the right side (away from player's side). Unless the rehairer went way overboard, or you tighten the bow so much you lose camber, you shouldn't have any problem with the stick bending. Plus, while I don't use this style, some people like it, but never use this style (or have it done) on a Viola rehair.

April 25, 2007 at 07:22 PM · Angelo,

Out of curiosity, are you the violist that I toured with on a couple occasions (Giattino tours?)

April 26, 2007 at 03:22 PM · First of all, I use good quality hair, straight round hairs of smaller diameter. In one kilo bundle of hair, I usually find about 15 to 20% are good. I put less hairs on a softer stick and more on stiff sticks. As someone mentioned earlier, the hair should be of the right length, the hair should not fall apart when the frog is at forward position. Never ever open the frog with a knife and plier. I am not a commercial re-hairer. I encourage violin players learn to re-hair their bows.

April 26, 2007 at 04:40 PM · Christopher, Oh, I see, I disagree with one point of yours and in retaliation you call me a Violist (lol). No, I am a not-very-good Cellist, who has recently gone from being a bow salesman to opening a shop in Arizona.

April 26, 2007 at 05:27 PM · My greatest apologies. You had made reference to a viola bow of yours and I thought I'd inquire. I would never resort to such name calling if I knew it weren't true! If it is any consolation, the violist I was referring to, also named Angelo, is a fine musician.

April 26, 2007 at 10:57 PM · I’m a professional bowmaker and have rehaired many hundreds of bows. Bow rehairing is an illusive art and requires many many bows and deft hands to master.

Clearly, the rehairer needs to begin with the best hair that he can find. Since about 90% of the rehair cost is in the labor, cheap hair is a false economy. I use Siberian stallion horsehair, which starts out at a 33” length. Many rehairers use 31.” The hair is unbleached and costs about $350 per pound. You can actually pay even more for hair, but I don’t see the quality or esthetic advantage in this. This longer length results in extra expense but allows the rehairer to use more of the strong part of the hair and avoid using the weaker tip area. This results in fewer hair brakes for the player when playing.

Each hair should be individually inspected before bundling and tying to remove irregular hairs (curly, knotted, weak, off-colored, etc.) Even with the most premium hair bundles this can be 15-20 hairs. Inspecting is time consuming and too many rehairers shortcut this critical task.

One mistake made by many rehairers and customers is the desire to put in too much hair. It may seem counterintuitive, but after a certain point, more hair equals LESS sound. The extra hair actually dampens the vibration of the string. Too much hair can also stress the mortises in the tip and frog sometimes resulting in unfortunate damage to the bow.

Even for the experienced rehairer, obtaining the appropriate hair length is a constant challenge. Hair does stretch and contract remarkably in different humidities. I like to try to have the hair job finish with just a tiny bit extra slack when the frog is all the way forward on the stick next to the thumb leather. You need this extra slack so that the frog can be removed safely from the stick should the humidity drop significantly.

When the rehairer leaves too much slack though or with an substantial increase in humidity the opposite problem can occur. A large gap can open between the thumb leather and the thumb projection of the frog in getting the bow up to playing tension. Extreme slack can cause the player to overturn the button screw and actually twist off the button itself, which can be rather disconcerting, to say the least! Too much gap can also cause excessive wear to the stick where the thumb makes contact, eventually resulting in an indentation in the stick. This negatively effects the value of the bow.

Excessive hair breaking can be a result of the rehairer using inferior hair and often because the hair was bleached. Bleaching the hair is not recommended because if inevitably weakens it. Breaking can also be a result of sharp edges on the inside of the metal ferrule or because the rehairer jammed the spreader wedge in too aggressively, partially slicing into the hair ribbon. Too much pressure on this wedge can also unattractively bend out the flat part of the ferrule.

Rehairing jobs can’t be rushed. The hair is thoroughly wetted before combing out and the final determination of the hair length. After installation of the maple wood plugs, which must be custom carved for each mortice, the hair is then tightened up and allowed to dry for a few hours. This wetting allows the hairs to even-up in tension as they dry, which results in a truly flat hair ribbon. I like to let it set overnight. Some rehairers try to rush this stage by using a heatgun, which inevitably causes an uneven tension in the individual hairs.

If there is any common problem with the length of the average rehair, other than crossed hairs, it is that the hair is left too long. As a player myself, I like to have just a modest gap between the thumb leather and frog when at playing tension. To me, it feels more secure and stable when playing.

Good luck!

John Greenwood, Bowmaker

April 28, 2007 at 11:35 PM · Very informative post, John.

I used to rehair bows about 30 years ago, but

I'm quite rusty at it, so it takes me a long time

to do it.

The bad hair job I described above had hairs

breaking at the tip and the middle. I think the

tip block was jammed in, and the hair was bad.

There might also have been bow bugs, so I vacuumed

the case, cleaned the hair, and put cedar oil

sachets in the case. Last thing I want is to

have a good new rehairing destroyed by an old

bad one.

January 8, 2012 at 11:06 PM · After I had an attack of "bow mites" I had a luthier tell me to keep a couple of moth balls in my case. Stinks, but I've done it for over 30 years, and it has not damaged my instruments or bows, and I never again got a case of bow mites.

January 10, 2012 at 01:30 PM · Let's get back to Rachel for a minute:

Rachel, someone on the thread asked you about rosining your bow after the rehair. You might have enough experience for this to have been an unnecessary question, but just to cover the ground again......

I took my favorite bow in for a rehair a couple of months ago. It was the first time I'd had a bow rehaired, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect when the bow came home. I was also trying to break in a new cake of rosin (I'd just switched to Liebenzeller). I rosined the bow for what was probably at least 100 strokes, and still couldn't get the rosin to stick to the new hair. The only sound I got could be compared to "heavy breathing" -- not anything even close to my violin's normal tone. I phoned the luthier who had done the rehair, and he suggested that I "rough-up" the surface of the rosin. I made some shallow cross-hatch scratches in it, and the problem was solved! A more experienced violinist would have known what to do, I'm sure, but as a relative beginner (less than 2 years), this was new territory for me.

Not knowing your level of experience, I might be overstating the obvious for you, but it was a tip that I was very thankful for.

Hope the problem is solved soon! Good luck!

January 10, 2012 at 04:21 PM · Hope the problem is solved soon! Good luck!

I hope so too - it has almost been 5 years...

January 10, 2012 at 05:44 PM · Yikes!! I didn't look at the original post date. "My bad!"

September 24, 2012 at 04:04 AM · A good re-hair will have the following. The hair will be the same thickness (quantity) of hair across the width of the re-hair. The wooden plugs and the wood wedge do not come loose and the wedge holds the hair evenly across the Ferrell. The bow should not be overburdened with too much hair, every bow (piece of wood) is different. Too much hair can cause the stick to warp over time and to be hard to tighten. The hair should be good quality and free of defective hairs. When the bow is completely loosened the hair should be not tight and not loose. In the loosened position the hair should just lay flat on the center of the bow and just touch, this is also dependent on the camber of the bow. The bow should be clean and all metal parts undamaged.

I hope this answers the bow re-hair issue clearly. Any specific questions can be sent to me through my website.

Thank You

September 26, 2012 at 12:34 AM · If your luthier can't re-hair your bow correctly I would say never bring it back. Re-hairing a bow is a notch above changing your strings, it's the easiest job a luthier will do. I just do it myself now so I don't have to worry about it.

July 6, 2014 at 01:20 PM · Hi, I recently took two bows to be re-haired. Both good quality bows, and my favourites! I've had them for about 10-15 years, but don't usually get them re-haired very often. When I went to pick up the bows I was told that the frog on one of them had fallen apart when the Luthier tried to re-hair it, and he accused someone else for gluing it together in the past, but he was the one who had previously re-haired it. Then I noticed that the stick of the other bow was a different colour to what it was usually, and when I asked him about it, he simply said this is because its now clean. However the colour is much lighter and no longer has any shine to it. This was my absolute favourite bow and now I'm finding it hard to play with, the stick doesn't seem to be completely in line with the hair and their are gaps in the hair, it is also thinner in parts. From reading the above posts, I'm assuming this was simply a bad re-hair. However I have heard of scenarios where a Luthier has swapped a player's bow with someone elses, so I really hope this is not what he has done! There would be no way of proving it or finding out the truth. This situation really upsets me as I'm very fussy about my bows, and this is because I have RSI problems with my wrist. If the bow is not the correct weight I end up in a lot of pain. Any advice on what I should do?

April 3, 2017 at 12:08 AM · If a few of my bow hairs are bent in one spot (i.e. not fully straight even when tightened), could that be a cause of having a hard time producing a completely smooth tone?

I've pulled out a couple of hairs in the past, since they were looser than the rest (when the bow was tightened). Does that reflect on a bad bow-hair job?

I have my bow for only 4 months (it came with my current violin) and have never done anything with it. I am completely in the dark when it comes to this topic.

Should I just get it re-haired? Is it a simple process?

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