Can the horse hair on your bow actually wear out?

October 7, 2010 at 05:52 PM ·

When is the best time to re-hair. I have had my fiber bow for a while and it does not send to grab the notes like it did when it was newer.

Replies (21)

October 7, 2010 at 06:32 PM ·

The hair does wear out for violin-playing purposes. The little barbs on the hair that grab the string wear over time, the end result being that the string doesn't vibrate as much as it could. Eventually you'll learn to judge when the hair needs to be changed. Dynamics become hard to pull off and the bow generally feels slipperier on the strings. It's a similar feeling to playing without rosin, or without enough rosin. I'd say if you're playing daily, and you have the money, you'll probably want a rehair at least once a year - maybe more if you're playing a lot. In my area this generally costs at least $40, sometimes more. Some people do better re-hairs than others, so if you're not satisfied with one person's work, try another.

October 8, 2010 at 12:32 AM ·

 Emily, 

Thanks, I just put news strings on the violin, and I am sure I need to re-hair my bow.  It has been a long time.  

October 8, 2010 at 01:06 AM ·

There are no barbs on the hair.  The friction generated by bow hair comes from the rosin.  Quite a few people apparently have success with carefully cleaning their hair by various methods, you'll find quite a lot of past discussion about this here.

October 8, 2010 at 02:01 AM ·

Sorry about that. I was misinformed then. But rehairs are still absolutely necessary.

October 8, 2010 at 02:53 AM ·

Well, maybe not barbs, but the hairs are not perfectly smooth; bowing does affect them.

http://www.drbows.com/bowhair.html

October 8, 2010 at 03:44 AM ·

Check Norman Pickering's comments on bow hair at http://www.scavm.com/norman.htm

October 8, 2010 at 05:04 AM ·

I've been wondering the same thing in the past 3 months.

Apart from the hair no longer grab the strings well, I wonder what kind of impact it has to the sound. Anyone of you notice the sound got thinner as the bow hair wears? I can imagine the sound will get coarser when the bow hair become dirty or wear out, but I can't be sure if it'll also take away the richness of the sound.

October 8, 2010 at 05:31 AM ·

 "Well, maybe not barbs, but the hairs are not perfectly smooth; bowing does affect them."

Maybe. The best hair is hand-selected to be as smooth and uniform as possible.  I think the main problem is that the hair stretches, so the scales open up so much that rosin comes out of the little gaps too quickly.   Also, when it stretches, it loses its "springiness" and no longer feels right.

BTW-  It's interesting to note that one of the world's leading premium hair suppliers (Sowden & Sons) actually uses mare's hair, not stallion, for their top line product.  They claim that the urine opens up the scales more, so the hair holds more rosin.  I wonder if it also goes bad more quickly?

Interesting since most websites say mare's hair is verbotten.   FWIW, I know of at least two luthiers who dislike the Lowden product, but others who love it.

October 8, 2010 at 12:49 PM ·

When the bow hairs wear out, you have to put the bow out to pasture (maybe to stud).
 - Sorry, but I couldn't resist this one. I've been holding on to this comment for a couple of days.

October 8, 2010 at 03:39 PM ·

 Yes.

 

See my last post, two floors up.

October 8, 2010 at 06:11 PM ·

I did know an orchestral leader once who seemed to still have the horse attached to his bowhair. Well, it sounded like that...

October 9, 2010 at 02:50 PM ·

I sort of did an experiment in the past 2 days and it seems to show some evidence of the hair doesn't wear out.

Basically, when I apply rosin, even just a little, it'll start to feel like I'm applying grease on the hair. It just won't produce a rich sound.

Since yesterday, I just play without re-applying any rosin, until the bow running out of rosin, although it won't run out of rosin completely. Then, I start to hear the richness of the sound again, and the bow actually grab the strings better. Of course, the bow will still make some whispering noise and skid from time to time, but the "vibration" is there, it feels like the strings vibrate with more energy.

As for now, it seems that the bow hair doesn't hold rosin as good as it was new anymore. Or should I say it doesn't even hold rosin anymore, any freshly applied rosin will act as a layer of grease between the hair and the strings.

I'm going to buy some denature alcohol from Ace Hardware and cleans off every last bit of rosin from the hair (by dipping the bow hair into a jar with alcohol), as what Michael Darnton and other knowledgeable folks suggested. Prior to that, I used some fine spirits that I bought from art store, and only use it to "wipe" off the rosin on the hair (I used it sparingly because it's expensive!), rather than dipping all the hairs into the alcohol, which doesn't seems to work, or was it actually making it worse.

Will report back my findings about it, and if anyone of you have bows that you think the hair is worn, try to play until it run out of rosin.

October 9, 2010 at 03:38 PM ·

 First try combing out the surplus rosin and any gunge with a fine comb.  And be very careful when using alcohol based solvents to clean bow hair – it won't do the varnish on the bow any good whatsoever.  And of course keep well away from any heat source.

For some time I've been taking the view that if you can see that white stuff on the strings do you need to put any more on the bow?  A good test is to clean off the strings with an alcohol-based solvent (I like to use isopropanol – but note my warning above) and then start playing.  If you see rosin appearing on the string then think twice about do you really to re-rosin your bow.  The sound is better (ok, that is probably a bit subjective) but I think that less rosin will mean that there is less torsion (twisting) applied to the string and therefore more energy into the lateral vibration mode. I apply rosin about once a week, rather less now on the cello bow since I don't play orchestral cello anymore.

You've only got to look around in any orchestra or string ensemble and you'll see players vigorously rosining their bows as if their lives depended on it.  That's probably what is weakening and wearing out the bow hairs.  I almost never break bow hairs on cello or violin, and then only if it gets caught on something.

I also wonder if all those fancy – and expensive! – rosins are really necessary.  I last bought rosin for my violins when I first started playing (10 years ago), and my cello rosin about 20 years ago. Cheapskate is my middle name :-)

October 9, 2010 at 04:25 PM ·

I found that I get a better sound from wiping away the rosin from the strings (only with a microfiber cloth) than adding rosin to the bow each time.

 

October 9, 2010 at 04:43 PM ·

Check these out:

http://iwk.mdw.ac.at/Forschung/english/bowhair/bowhair.htm#hairsurfex

http://www.violinshop.ca/miva/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Category_Code=FAQ_BOW

I found them interesting. On the second site it does mention over rosining causing brittle hair.

October 9, 2010 at 06:18 PM ·

Another sign it's time fior a rehair is an increase in the surface noise of the bow on the string, kind of like when the phonograph needle needs changing!

October 9, 2010 at 11:28 PM ·

Can hair wear? Yes. Photomicrographs have shown it.

Does this relate to changes in the playing quality? Probably not, most of the time. The likely culprit is contamination with skin oils, and junk floating around in the air. Note that windows accumulate a film, even if they aren't touched.

October 12, 2010 at 09:13 AM ·

@Don, "My next madness is to rosin the back of the hair as perhaps a primer to rosin reservoir"

Probably not a good idea because the rosin on the back of the hair won't do the varnish on the bow any good at all, and anyway all that loose rosin flying off the bow when you're playing might make you sneeze!  

October 12, 2010 at 03:49 PM ·

 Thank you everybody for your comments.  That is very good information.

November 16, 2010 at 11:02 AM ·

I've just purchased some denatured alcohol and cleaned the bow hairs on my primary bow.

I have white spirits (or mineral spirits) that I purchased from art stores but it's expensive so I usually use for wiping the bow hair. It works alright but I keep experiencing slippery moments after that.

By using the method demostrated by eHow.com (available on youtube), dipping the bow hair into the alcohol really cleans off the old rosin AND getting them off from the bow hair. The bow hair now looks white and a little transparent, just like new. Applied some rosin and it plays just as good as when it's brand new, or at least 80% of the playability.

What I did previously by wirping the bow hair seems to melt the rosin but did not actually getting rid of them off the bow hair, so some of the rosin still stuck on the bow hair and actually making the playability worse.

Off to practice with a smiling face... :-)

March 5, 2011 at 08:59 PM ·

As a professional violinist I can honestly say I have never heard of cleaning your bow hair with alcohol!!  That just does not sound like a good idea.. It might remove some rosin (which you will just have to reapply) but it can't be good for the hair.  It would dry it out and make it more brittle.  So.. it would break easier and then you'd need a rehair sooner.

Firstly, horse hair is quite coarse.  Under a microscope, you can see there are quite prominent edges that the rosin grips to.  That's why we use horse hair as opposed to something finer.  It becomes worn out from use and dirt and oil from your hands, the air, your strings and so on.  I can't say I have ever noticed a build up rosin on bow hair causing a problem.  We need rosin to get a grip, and we add more as we play because it wears away.  There is never any need to remove the rosin.

It's also really important to exercise caution when using alcohol.  It will damage the varnish!!  It works well to clean strings, which might be the first thing you want to try if you are having sound/grip issues.  Rosin does build up on strings.   Taking a q-tip, or cotton ball and making sure not to drop any on the varnish, fingerboard, bridge, etc., you can clean rosin build up from the strings.  If your strings are sounding dull, you'll notice a huge difference.  Sometimes when you think you need a new set of strings, a little cleansing will make them feel like a brand new set.

Sorry, could not resist this one!  Hope this offers some useful tips for all of you that stumble upon this comment!

 

 

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