I found a little trick with the bow....

January 7, 2012 at 03:12 AM · I experimented with this, just based on a hunch: I washed my violin bow's hairs, (just regular dish-soap & water, rinsed, with warm water, dried with paper towels) but here comes the real trick: put just a "dab" of olive oil on both my thumb, and 1st finger, held them against the violin bow's hairs, and then gently, slowly, ran my fingers across the entire length of the hair, until I could feel the oil throughout the hair's length, getting the absorption of the oil. Let the bows sit outside the case, overnight, and by the time I got home from work the next day, tightened up my 2 bows, re-applied fresh bow rosin, and started using them for practice: and it made a HUGE difference, for the better, tone wise, and overall sound: it's a much warmer tone, no more "raspiness", and no more shrill, unanticipated "squeaks" or "screams".

Replies (65)

January 7, 2012 at 04:23 AM · better to put the olive oil on your loved one and ignore this completely.

Extra virgin


January 7, 2012 at 10:45 AM · Buri, I tried your idea, and now she's way too slick to hang on to. Should I dust her down with some powdered rosin next?

January 7, 2012 at 02:02 PM · I'm sure Freddy is a very nice guy, and that he's trying to be helpful. But every time I see that there's a thread or response posted by him, I've come to rely on the fact that Conventional Wisdom is about to take a major hit. Perhaps his posts should be prefaced with a warning/disclaimer?????

January 7, 2012 at 05:29 PM · Rosin makers add plasticizers, like oils, to soften rosin and control playing characteristics. By applying olive oil to the bow hair you are doing the same thing, but in a very uncontrolled way.

January 7, 2012 at 05:54 PM · Actually, it's my 2nd in about 35 years. Got about 30 years out of the last one. I'm prone to taking the best care of things I own. And this really did make a difference. Thought I'd mention it, for the people out there that care enough to want to take good care of their instuments.

January 7, 2012 at 08:06 PM · Freddy --

My big concern is that, even though you might have stumbled upon a successful formula in what you're doing, other people might not be as fortunate. The "If-an-ounce-is-good,-a-pound-is-better!" folks (or even a more conservative branch thereof) could end up with a real mess on their hands. And their bows. Centuries of violin wisdom have warned us to keep oil away from our bows and strings. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" comes to mind.

January 7, 2012 at 08:45 PM · Its even better with a bit of balsamic - its amazing, you get that authentic Italian sound...

And parmigiano can double as rosin ;)

January 7, 2012 at 09:13 PM · Stop, Elise! I skipped lunch, and you're making me hungry!!! :)

January 7, 2012 at 09:13 PM · I thought squeaking was a result of pushing too hard on the bow? Or a few hairs not having enough rosin?

January 7, 2012 at 09:31 PM · If this weren't such horrifically bad advice, it would be a joke. Oil, rosin, and bow hair simply do not mix.

Joshua Henry, Bow Maker & Restorer

January 8, 2012 at 12:50 AM · If I remove all the rosin from my bow, and replace it with soap, there are no bad sounds whatsoever.

No "raspiness", and no more shrill, unanticipated "squeaks" or "screams".

January 8, 2012 at 01:31 AM · I'm back, nerds ! - Just follow my instructions from my original post: laugh all you want, I bet you wished you thought of it first ! - It works GREAT ! - Just played right along to some Bruch, Monti Csardas, and some Brahms, no problem, and sounding better....STILL. I think I'm done here. later ! - have a nice night !

January 8, 2012 at 04:56 AM · If one of the greatest bow makers and one great violin maker tell you not to do this, that's a bad sign!

January 8, 2012 at 05:17 AM · At the risk of also being laughed at, I have to say what Freddy suggested makes some sense in that treating hair with small doze of oil after or between washings is not such a crazy idea in terms of conditioning the hairs. Women all over the world have done so for centuries. I’m talking about hair conditioning only though. Whether the conditioned hairs will bring about better sound that’s a different story.

January 8, 2012 at 10:15 AM · yep

But if it worked, horses would be doing it....

January 8, 2012 at 02:51 PM · If conditioning is the issue, maybe try various high end hair conditioners? Wait, heck, you can buy "Mane and tail" at Wal Mart!

Only kidding!

January 8, 2012 at 04:23 PM · Well - let us hear from a couple of people who have tried it per instructions instead of dismissing the idea out of hand, so that we have some experimental evidence to judge by. I am not inclined to try it myself at this point, but there is some logic to it. Consider that our fear of oil applies normally to hair rosined and in use. This makes sense; I don't know what results from mixing rosin and oil, but it can't be pleasant. But what's happening with this experiment is different: you wash the hair clean, apply a minimal amount of oil, then let it soak in for maybe 36 hours. At that point you rosin the bow, which implies that after the oil has been absorbed the hair is in a condition where it will take rosin. If hair will take rosin, then we may argue that any oil on the hair surface is gone. And it appears that once re-rosined the bow operates normally, but with some sense that the stroke of the hair on the string is gentler than before the oil was applied. And if you don't like the result then it's easy enough to wash the hair again and start fresh. We know that hair in general is absorbent; and I know a bow maker who believes that hair from live animals is better than hair from dead animals, presumably because it retains more plasticizers or whatever. We await experimental evidence, although one must be cautious, since experience suggests that no single experiment will ever work the same for any two violinists (shoulder rests, anyone?).

January 8, 2012 at 04:24 PM · "Freddy" also suggested using mineral spirits on one's bow a few months ago. I suggest one ignore Freddy's instrument tech advice and go with the tried and true.

It's only $30 to have a bow rehaired in these parts. $50 in the big, ugly cities.

January 8, 2012 at 04:29 PM · Using mineral spirits or alcohol to clean bow hair has been recommended by multiple v.commers. Here is an example. I don't do it myself, but if it works, and they are careful not to get it on to the stick, why not?

BTW, a rehair at my violin shop in our fair city is $65.

January 8, 2012 at 05:52 PM · A rehair for me is just over seventy dollars... and cleaning the rosin off of bow hair has never ended well for me, I've tried it a few times. No matter what I do, I can't get any rehair to last over two months for me.

January 9, 2012 at 12:21 AM · Apologies if responses from those of us with experience in the fiddle maintenance business have been less than embracing of this idea. It's not from lack of experience. Oils and bow hair have not been a good mix, at least for those who are accomplished players.

But if you must, it's probably really good at creating more business for the bow rehair people. LOL

Yes, I'm probably just jealous because I didn't think of it first. :-)

I started experimenting with bow hair conditioners about 35 years ago. Olive oil ended up near the bottom of the list.

Clean hair with plain-old rosin was near the top.

January 9, 2012 at 04:03 AM · One of the first things i learned was not to touch the bow hair with my fingers because the oil from my hands was bad for the hair.

I think I

ll leave the olive oil in the kitchen

January 9, 2012 at 01:08 PM · I'll stick with the experts. It wouldn't be the first time bad advice was passed via the interwebz. BTW, I wouldn't wash my horses' mane and tail with olive oil either.

January 9, 2012 at 03:18 PM · Alicia LOL! You should use moroccan oil - works great on my mane anyway...

Brian - I must be playing way too light - a rehair lasts over a year... Maybe you should switch rosins?

January 9, 2012 at 05:19 PM · David- don't you use WD-40 on the Sawz-All bow hair?

January 9, 2012 at 07:50 PM · That's a good point. If one plays with a sufficiently aggressive and fast tremolo for sustained periods of time, a little lubricant can help prevent the hair from getting so hot that it catches on fire. ;-)

January 9, 2012 at 08:31 PM · Elise, I use Baker's, and I've tried all the other premium brands. For me, nothing else can compare.

I do happen to play at least six to seven hours every day, and I only have one bow.

January 9, 2012 at 08:57 PM · If you are getting unwanted squeaks the first thing to examine is probably your technique.

January 9, 2012 at 11:28 PM · or flea powder...

January 10, 2012 at 12:22 AM · flea powder is good for extra bite - but nothing beats gunpowder for that. Good to have an extra stock of violins and bows - and maybe arms too though...

Brian - thats a lot of playing - but I average 2-3 hrs a day so it can't explain either. Have you checked if other Baker's users have to rehair their bows a lot?

I now use Andrea A Piacere rosin - have you tried that and compared it to Baker's? [Still not on the A list for the latter :-\ ]

January 10, 2012 at 12:32 AM · I used to use Andrea solo rosin, I wasn't a fan; I switched back to Bernardel after a while, when I realized that more expensive does NOT equal better.

Most people (including the few Baker's users) I know get rehairs once a month, or within two months of playing.

January 10, 2012 at 12:52 AM · That seems a bit extreme, Brian. No wonder musicians starve to death.

January 10, 2012 at 01:21 AM · funny, I just switched from Bernadrel to the Andrea - its a bit of a toss up though: the latter has better grip but the former has more subtlety. Since I need help with speed more than tone right now its Anrea... but maybe the gatekeepers will sell me a Baker's sometime in the next couple of years :(

January 10, 2012 at 02:33 AM · The thing is bow hair alone doesn't make any noise at all, which others have noticed. The BRR noise is from the rosin you are using or old build-up rosin. Hard rosin makes more noise(buzz) than soft rosins, and Old rosin is noisy and also distorts sound. Rosin adheres to bow hair no matter how old the hair is, but rosin doesn't adhere to old build-up rosin on the bow. Rosin doesn't adhere to oil either. You are creating a small service area for the rosin to adhere to , less rosin = less noise = less projection and volume also. Good for under the ear sound or close micing ,but not good for projection. Soft rosins will create the same effect. Removing old rosin with isopropyl alcohol allows new rosin to adhere to the stick and extends the life the bow hair. The hair on my bow is about two years old now, I play/practice 20hrs a week and clean the bow with alcohol every two months.

January 10, 2012 at 06:09 AM · I think there are too many variables here.

What strings are used? There may be a distinct difference between steel strings, perlon, and gut. Even one brand to another.

What soap? Soap is a chemical composition, with a number of different additives, including emulsifiers, perfume, wetting agents, etc. Interchanging Borax and Dove will not result in the same results.

What Olive Oil? Specifically, what brand and label? Not all Olive Oils are the same, regardless of the 'virgin' or 'extra virgin' label:


For this to be worth getting on the test bench, it would need more clarification.

January 10, 2012 at 07:45 AM · I've used Baker's for a couple of years and never had a problem of the hair wearing out.

Baker's grips very well, but doesn't have a scratchy side effect. Just pure tone.

January 10, 2012 at 10:27 AM · What bakery?

January 10, 2012 at 10:53 AM · Ray: "I've used Baker's for a couple of years and never had a problem of the hair wearing out.

Baker's grips very well, but doesn't have a scratchy side effect. Just pure tone. " Thats exactly how I would describe the Andrea A.Piacere. Terrific grip but without any scratch. I'd love to compare it to the Baker's.

January 10, 2012 at 02:00 PM · Maybe Freddy can kill two birds with one stone and simply wash the bow hair with castile soap.

January 11, 2012 at 06:38 PM · I think you should all get on with trying to play the fiddle and forget all this rubbish about bows. If you can't make a good sound using ANY rosin and ANY bow and ANY hair - then think about it. It's none of those things, but a defect in YOU!

January 11, 2012 at 07:03 PM · Interesting idea Peter... but, nah.

What if I boil my bow in vinegar? Used to work great for conkers....

January 11, 2012 at 07:58 PM · Anne, castile soap doesn't work because fully saponified soap on the market usually has no oil in it unless it's a super-fatting type, which I usually make for my own use and for family and friends.

January 11, 2012 at 08:50 PM · wow, I can't believe people are still on this subject: maybe I should mention, I'm a mechanical engineer by profession, and have bows that are 5, 10, and 25 years old: none of them have ever needed re-hairing, and I can't fathom why there's soooo many people talking about needing re-hairing. I play about 3 hours a day, 5-6 days / week, and I play softly, but at times, get pretty vigorous with the bows. I don't have any problems with the bows, physically. Never did. This has been very entertaining. Thanks for all of your replies, they've all been noted.

January 11, 2012 at 09:13 PM · I boil mine in vinegar too (not my bow) and I find I then sound just like Heifetz. I thought about having a hysterectomy (spelling?) but I though a vasectomy (spelling?) might be less painfull and cheaper. I find if I stretch my spectacles I get a better sound, more gritty and at the same time sumptious (spelling?). To get a good vibrato I plug myself into the mains (240 volts here in man's land) and it's then more or less continious. If I also boil my right toe (gout) it helps and I find that the sound is very fine. Loosening my bra also helps.

January 11, 2012 at 09:20 PM · Freddy, if you want us to try conditioning our bows with olive oil, then fair is fair ... you have to try getting yours rehaired. You don't notice the decline because it's gradual. When you get the rehair you'll see why people do this.

And why olive oil? I'm rather partial to lard.

January 11, 2012 at 09:27 PM · Lard is fine too - if you want your violin to have a lot of bottom sound. OTOH olive oyl is great for the high registers, if prone to being squeaky...

January 11, 2012 at 10:18 PM · Freddy, many of us have bows that are worth far, far more than yours (you tell us all about your bows in this thread: http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=21593). Please understand we've made some real investments when buying bows, and are apt to want to treat them as carefully as possible, based on hundreds of years of years of thought on the subject.

January 11, 2012 at 10:41 PM · "Lard is fine too - if you want your violin to have a lot of bottom sound. OTOH olive oyl is great for the high registers, if prone to being squeaky..."


Whale oil is good if you want a sound which will project for miles (under water). ;-)

Freddy, how does your mechanical engineering background play in to this? Do you have insights which the scientists and engineers who have been intensively studying violin sound for 30+ years have failed to notice?

January 12, 2012 at 02:43 AM · I hope this post will not offend anyone.

I think that the original poster had only good intentions by sharing what worked for for him.

You don't have to try it if you feel unsafe.

I don't feel safe with the idea, so I won't try it.

Can everyone please stop being so negative and snarky?

January 12, 2012 at 04:01 AM · I'm sure you're right Sara - and while I can't defend snarkiness (whatever that is), there is a larger audience than the contributors and I think the experts here might be worried that if ideas like this are not countered some people may follow such recommendations since they are on V.com and do damage to their instruments.

I think a lot of the humour is just that. Unctuous good fun. I hope that Freddy is not offended by it. If he is I will be the first to apologize and stop posting on this topic.

January 12, 2012 at 04:29 AM · Sar,

you are right to raise the point and I doubt if anyone is offended by it. However, it really is a characteristic of this site that this `unctuous`good fun takes place. It often, in my opinion, is something we often use instead of out and out flaming and abuse which rarely occurs on this site. In this sens eit is arguably positive. It isn`t going to stop I`m afraid.

There is another aspect to the issue though. Suppose we were all deadly serious and discussed the matter from all perspectives in a sbalanced, non-judgemental, non-humorous way as possible? That actually sounds quite a good idea.....

However, the disadvantage of this kind of debate =at times= is it sometimes confers equal weight to all sides of the argument. That is very democratic but in life there are occasions this doesn`t get ther point across that some things are best not done. There are occasisons when there is a consensus, backed up by very high level expertize that something is wrong and potentially harmful if experimented with. At such times such ideas (which are just a little risible in themsleves) are often best giggled at, albeit in a friendly manner. It`s sort of like the approved manner of dealing with Boggarts in the world of Harry Potter.

Reading the `Hunting of the Snark,` by Lewis Caroll may also help.



January 12, 2012 at 07:13 AM · I feel exactly what Sara said and just wasn't sure if and when I should say something about this. The OP seems genuinely believes his tricks which he cared enough to share his experience with us, did so genuinely without any obvious ill intention. Why can we just discuss the pros and cons of this matter? Where are our experts here who can show the leadership by explaining why this won’t work and how harmful the experiment can lead? Why is this a good thing to have tons of remarks here that seem to me have contributed nothing to our understanding of the matter other than seeing some of us having the sheer fun at the expense of the OP? Yes, it is obvious that there is a some kind of consensus here and the clear majority is walking away with a sense of winning in this debate, if there is ever a debate on this thread. But should we be ganging up on a minority voice with what seem to me repetitive and frivolous remarks? I certainly wouldn’t want to be at the receiving end of such remarks, would you? Many of you know me know how big a fan I am of good laughs, but my friends, if it's unkind, can it still be funny?

If Freddy is not offended, he certainly has a heart much bigger than mine.

January 12, 2012 at 09:21 AM · I think we should all enjoy the comments and take them for what they are, a sense of humour. Freddy is obviously not worried by them, and at the same time these joke type comments are subtly warning people to be careful and not try these things at home unless they can afford to risk even a cheap but working bow.

These ideas have been around for centuries and have had the test of time, and that is probably why most people opt for a straight bow rehair carried out by an expert, say every 3-12 months.

January 12, 2012 at 09:53 AM · "Where are our experts here who can show the leadership by explaining why this won’t work and how harmful the experiment can lead? "

Maybe you didn't really read...

I think someone who risks others possession should be ready to risk some cutting remarks.

January 12, 2012 at 03:05 PM · Tobias, maybe I haven't read carefully as you have. Enlighten me please. Let's see why Freddy's suggestion is so harmful that derserves all this?

Thanks Peter, what you said makes sense. And maybe you are right. If Freddy is ok, we should all let it be.

Sometimes minority voice gets silenced in more than one ways... sigh.

January 12, 2012 at 03:13 PM · I think Tobias may be speaking to Freddy, by saying he is not really reading the experts answers. I could be wrong of course ...

January 12, 2012 at 03:19 PM · Yes, I think Freddy is man enough to take all this! I would of course hopefully be more careful with my jokes if the poster was a young person and easily hurt.

That's why I try and look at the person's profile to see if they may be fairly young, or sometimes they might say their age in the original post.

It's always a good thing for young people to give their age, it's nothing to be ashamed of, I wish I were 14 again, and then people will hopefully be sensitive.

January 12, 2012 at 03:21 PM · Peter, he is quoting me, but no matter. I think I said enough. Thanks Peter

January 12, 2012 at 03:21 PM ·

January 12, 2012 at 05:49 PM · I'll repeat my post, with a bit of variation on emphasis.

There is too much variation with 'plain old dish soap', and olive oil also has significant variability. With more detailed information (which an engineer should appreciate the need for this requirement), it may be worth further investigation, but I doubt enough research has been done to say that all dish soap and all olive oil will result in similar results.

January 12, 2012 at 07:39 PM · Funny discussion.

I quoted:

"Where are our experts here who can show the leadership by explaining why this won’t work and how harmful the experiment can lead? "

and then wrote myself:

Maybe you didn't really read...

Now I'll add in answer to the quoted question:

There have been remarks by Josh Henry and David Burgess. for example. I would say these are experts.

January 12, 2012 at 08:51 PM · Tobias, I also find this funny. I know they are the experts but I think we can all benefit from their explanations why Freddy's suggesion won’t work and how harmful it will be if we try. Maybe the explanations are obvious to some but inquiry mind looks for more.

Never mind. I'm sure all is good.

January 12, 2012 at 09:16 PM · "Never mind. I'm sure all is good."


May the force be with you.

January 12, 2012 at 11:13 PM · A peaceful conclusion we have. - Yoda

January 13, 2012 at 02:58 AM · Hey, I'm willing to test it on a basic cheap bow, but I want more complete information on the soap and the oil. Some info on the strings would be nice too, but I don't expect to purchase strings just for the test.

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