Non horse hair bows

December 5, 2016 at 08:01 PM · I am wondering if anyone has experience of non horse hair bows. I am a vegetarian and find using bows with horse hair unpleasant, as I try to avoid using all animal based products.

Yes, I know that my violin will have been constructed using animal based glue and that this is inconsistent with this request, but it is something that troubles me, and a non horse hair bow would, for me, be a step in the right direction.

Also, does anyone know where I can get one from?

Thank you

Replies (51)

December 5, 2016 at 08:47 PM · That's what I would like to know, too.

And, how good they are.

Btw. I learned by research that using horse hair for bows does not increase the number of horses being killed. Bow hair are a side product of meat production.

December 5, 2016 at 08:55 PM · ... or you can even "harvest" it without killing any horse.

At Amazon I found Herco HE902. No idea if it's worth trying, but if you can do the rehair job by yourself, it's only $ 4,08 you might loose.

December 5, 2016 at 10:01 PM · There is no substitute for horse hair that works decently. There may be many other animal products in violins like honey, propolis, seed lac (insects), egg white, cocchineal, ivory black, hairs used in brushes, gut strings, lizard skin (for violin bow grip) etc.

Horse hair is a byproduct of slaughter. The selection process discards most of it, just a very small part of it suits the needs for good bow hair.

December 5, 2016 at 10:36 PM · "Do they hurt horses to cut his/her tail?? That seem very unnecessary. The part that is used for bow I thought is just like cutting your own hair, not dangerous for the horse? "

As Manfio said, horsehair is a by-product. White hair is considered to play better than black hair. Hair can be bleached to make it white/whiter, but that reduces its inherent qualities and downgrades it. Bass players often use black hair. You can harvest hair from your own horse and use it, but it's time consuming and ends up being much more expensive.

December 5, 2016 at 11:13 PM · Collecting hair from living horses for bow hair is impossible, I think.

The animal must be raised in cold places, for proper thicknessess and eslaticity.

The hair is then selected for colour, diameter, uniformity, length, strength, elasticity.

As with many other products used by violin makers, it is a highly specialized activity, in general in the hands of the same family for generations, as its is the case for tonewood (the Rivolta family in Italy may be in its 4th generation), pigments and violin varnish resins, etc.

Violin making is a traditional craft that depends on traditional materials, the same materials that have been used for almost 5 centuries.

Musicians, on the other hand, need tools for making music, for doing well in auditions and make their bread and butter.

Here a video made in Mongolia, most of the top horse hair comes from Mongolia, you can see the many activities involved.

December 5, 2016 at 11:18 PM · There is a bow that doesn't use horsehair. It is called the "Incredibow" and was discussed here back in 2008. It has a carbon fiber stick, reminiscent of some types of baroque bow, and a synthetic polymer "hair" which is said to be everlasting. I've never used one but several years ago have seen them used by folk musicians, some quite good. Whether it is suitable for other genres is for the individual to decide, but the good news is that the experiment is unlikely to break the bank.

See, from which it looks like some R&D has gone into the design of the bow since I last saw one all those years ago.

December 5, 2016 at 11:21 PM · "Do they hurt horses to cut his/her tail?? That seem very unnecessary. The part that is used for bow I thought is just like cutting your own hair, not dangerous for the horse?"

Oh, no, that's not even the point, we don't care it's painless.

Can't anyone consider the horse's feelings?

What if a horse don't want to get a haircut or tailcut?

It's barbaric not to ask the horse if he wants his hair cut or tail cut.

What about the other horses running around it? They may mock the bold horse! "Hey, you bold dog, how is it going?"

December 5, 2016 at 11:35 PM · Going to find a violin that wasn't constructed with hide glue?

December 6, 2016 at 01:04 AM · As yet there has not been, as far as I know, a suitable replacement for Mongolian horsehair and old-fashioned hide glue. If it helps, even synthetic organic polymers derive partly from animal matter because petroleum originated mostly from algae and zooplankton. But I suspect it doesn't help.

December 6, 2016 at 01:57 AM · To follow up on Trevor's comments, I have several Incredibows and I think that they are worth your consideration. A different type of bow in many ways, since it is very unlikely to break any of the hairs, they do not need to have tension reduced when not being played, and don't even have any adjustment to do that. There are several weights and many color options available at the incredibow website, or once or twice a year, used ones will come up for sale on EBay.

December 6, 2016 at 04:49 AM · I have been using Zarelon synthetic bow hair for a couple of years (on a Coda GX) for fiddling and I am very happy with it - no broken hairs, sounds good. I can't say anything about how it handles advanced violin techniques and subtleties. Google "zarelon" to find it.

December 6, 2016 at 10:22 AM · I never met a professional player that uses artificial hair. Music and violin making are very competitive fields.

If you get something 1% better in sound and playability with animal products you will use them in your audition for a good orchestra, or for making an instrument.

December 6, 2016 at 10:49 AM · Surely even vegetarians & vegans cut their hair! Unlike sheep gut used for strings, horse hair grows back. I have every repect for vegetarians, but this seems just silly!

Which of course doesn't answer your question..

December 6, 2016 at 11:15 AM · Some years ago i tested briefly a bow, just rehaired.

After some minutes i was forced to notice that it had Herco artificial hairs........ I had not noticed..... :)

December 6, 2016 at 12:53 PM · hi Barrie, please consider that using plastics instead of natural products may be bad for the environment, in terms of resulting pollution (sometimes poisonous), use of energy, and loss of natural habitat (a factory is less hospitable to all sorts of wildlife, plants, insects, birds, etc, than a pasture or even a farm.

December 6, 2016 at 12:56 PM · It seems that we, humans, have to live with some kind of guilt. Some old guilts have vanished but were replaced by new, contemporary ones.

December 6, 2016 at 02:50 PM · Eating steak produces me no kind of guilt, but pleasure, good health and admire the art of cooking. It's just that some people are... duh.

December 6, 2016 at 04:06 PM · Luis Claudio: yes without guilt there can be no morality.

Tim: denigrating people with whom you disagree is kind of... duh.

December 6, 2016 at 04:21 PM · The Incredibow people sent me a free violin bow when I bought a cello bow from them years ago. I thought of those bows as my baroque bows, but did not use them for very long as they required somewhat different technique - and the "handles" are different from the norm. I felt the plastic "hair" did not hold rosin as long as horsehair.


On the contrary, I believe real morality is a product of love and a spiritual sense. I don;t think of acceptable behavior that is the result of guilt or fear to be particularly moral in any way - but it is better than the alternative - so if it works…..

December 6, 2016 at 07:44 PM · Whatever, I don't even know why you said that neither what kind of conclusion you made out of my message.

December 6, 2016 at 08:42 PM · Manfio: We had a discussion...somewhere...about using 'live' horse hair to make a bow, and it can be done, and someone was going to try it, but don't know if they ever followed through.

It's likely not worth the effort. Too much work involved in collecting and dressing the hair and no guarantee how good it will be once installed.

But, here's a video of collecting horse hair for bracelets. You'd need to take more care and find hair long enough to use for bows.

December 6, 2016 at 08:45 PM · Many other musical instruments have animal products, today's piano hammers are made of wool-felt but many piano restorers say that the old Rabbit-felt hammers used in the past by Steinway were far superior in tone, producing a soft, yet focused tone.

In the woodwind fish bladder and sheep wool for the pads.

Animal skin drum heads in many percussion instruments.

If your furniture is more than 50 years old, it was glued with hide glue too.

December 6, 2016 at 08:58 PM · The greatest improvement in matters of ethics towards animals were synthetic strings.

I don't know what I would do if I still had to use gut strings (not to mention the progress in quality)

Btw, in drum heads synthetic materials are a progress, too. But I know you'll never convince the traditionalists...

December 6, 2016 at 10:23 PM · Tobias, where did you get the notion that synthetic strings reduce the slaughter of animals?

Mostly, animals are slaughtered as a food source. When byproducts find uses, isn't that better than throwing them in the trash?

And most of our energy comes from deceased life forms, whether from burning wood, coal, natural gas, or oil. Do you heat your home, cook food, or use electricity? If so, I'd guess that's a bigger fish to fry, than the comparatively minuscule impact of using deceased-life-form products in the fiddle business.

December 7, 2016 at 12:47 AM · You can rosin a coat hanger and use it as a bow. Yes, it's been done!

Improvise with anything that you can apply rosin to...

December 7, 2016 at 12:47 AM · My violins have gut strings. When I pass by a field of sheep I say "Thank you" to them.

December 7, 2016 at 07:29 AM · We're not really helping Barrie, are we!

December 7, 2016 at 09:42 AM · David, I never said that. I was talking about ethics.

For me, the simple question is: do I increase demand of slaughtered animals?

By using byproducts I do, too, but indirectly: The slaughter industry has more profit if they can sell even the waste.

I can live with the small impact I produce, but I would very much prefer having a choice.

Btw. What fossils have to do with the killing of living creatures I cannot imagine ;-)

I live on many kilometers of shell limestone...

December 7, 2016 at 10:41 AM · I mean... hahahaha, can people be even more hypocrite?

What would be a total waste and unethical would be not to take advantage and use what we got in Planet Earth: animals, plants, stones, water... Now that would be disrespectful, and also not to use what humans have developed and discovered for thousands of years: cooking techniques, hunting strategies, farming...

You know, I believe these kind of "issues" or "ethical discussions" get produced in civilizations that live so good and are so bored that they feel the need to whine about a problem that is actually not a problem, just in your imagination it is. It's a shame. I like to call them "first world problems", there are groups of people to stop "men spreading", to make chickens live like they were kings or something...

December 7, 2016 at 12:51 PM · I don't think there's anything productive about shaming the OP for his ethical choice. He only asked if there's an alternative to horsehair. Sheesh.

December 7, 2016 at 06:58 PM · I apologise for my first post: it appears that one can't take the hair from a live horse (although one would get more bowfuls of hair per horse if one could).

Is there no real feedback from synthetic hair users?

December 7, 2016 at 07:24 PM · Tim,

your style speaks for itself.

It makes no sence to discuss ethics with most carnivores, so I just want to point out two typical flaws that often occur in this kind of discussion (if it can called so).

1. The idea that "we got the whole world as a possession" comes mainly from the Abrahamic faiths and is one of the bad heritages we have to get along with.

2. What once was right must not be right today. Just google "naturalistic fallacy" before showing you obviously have no clue.

But let's stick to bow hair.

December 7, 2016 at 07:50 PM · Adrian wrote:

"I apologise for my first post: it appears that one can't take the hair from a live horse (although one would get more bowfuls of hair per horse if one could)."


Actually, one CAN take bow hair from a live horse. Maybe all that's needed to popularize it, is enough people who are willing to pay 300 bucks for a rehair.

In the meantime, one could try one of the synthetic substitutes, such as Zarelon, mentioned earlier. Never tried it myself, but the the guy below likes it.

December 7, 2016 at 08:14 PM · We used to cut the hair off of cow tails and it grew back quite quickly. A cow does have a series of bones making up the tail unlike a horse. I would think a horse could regrow its tail in two or three years.

December 7, 2016 at 11:42 PM · Since I am already cranky...I will go ahead and repeat myself...;).

1. You can use hair from living horses.

2. It would be a PITA to collect and dress.

3. It might not be white and pretty.

4. It will cost WAY more.

5. Horse tail hair grows back at different rates...but let's go with about 1/2" a month.

So if you collect 30" would take 60+ months (5 years) to grow that length back.

You wouldn't cut the all the hair off an entire would only harvest hairs long enough to use. A horse needs it's tail to swat at flies.

The number of vertebrae in cow tails and horse tails varies a bit depending - but both average about 18 I believe. The hair growing on the tail is different though.

December 7, 2016 at 11:51 PM · I have tried two kinds of synthetic hair. One stretched too much and the other was actually quite decent. I don't remember the brand but can recommend my excellent luthier who does the best rehairs:

I'm sure he could give you good advice and rehair by mail perhaps?

December 8, 2016 at 11:21 PM · BTW, I gather that mares urinate on their tails and ruin the hair!

December 9, 2016 at 12:02 AM · Since I'm old enough to have the title: Curmudgeon... I get the ethical vegetarian position. However, the horses in question is neither harmed nor killed in order to collect the hair. A friend of my youth raises horses and sells the white hairs to a local violin shop - the horses are just fine and don't seem to be bothered by the trimming - they are alive, well and thriving. My guess is that the chemical processes used to make the synthetic hair does more damage to the environment where other animals are trying to live.

December 9, 2016 at 03:45 AM · I have read that Huberman used aluminum bow hairs for a while. Of course, he never was known for having a glamorous sound, even if Brahms did approve of the young prodigy's interpretation of his violin concerto.

December 9, 2016 at 09:24 AM · Thank you for the (mostly) interesting and useful responses. I am a committed vegetarian from childhood, and try to be vegan whenever possible. I also love music and enjoy playing my violin, but wish to do so in a way that reflects my beliefs. Despite some of the comments here, I do not apologise for my views, and urge others who are clearly unsympathetic to the vegetarian way of life to keep an open mind. Whether horse hair is a "by product of slaughter" or not is irrelevant - it is still based upon the exploitation of animals. I am now going to find out more about Incredibows, which look ideal. As for gut strings - is this really necessary?! Anyway, an interesting dialogue, but I just wish that some members had stuck to the original question, rather than trying to convert me! Thank you all.

December 9, 2016 at 04:31 PM · Hey, it's a discussion forum. ;-)

December 9, 2016 at 05:23 PM · Now we try to convert you?

Vegans or vegetarians are then ones that suffer the spam from omnivores?


I don't know about you, but no matter how "nice of a person" you think you are or how you think you are "better" than omnivores, the thing is that all vegans/vegetarians think eating meat is wrong, and that's just it, it's done, there's no way that you can respect anyone that is not vegan/vegetarian. It doesn't matter how you try to hide it, using all kind of "beautiful" words: respect, I don't force anyone to be vegan, etc... It just doesn't matter, you're just like religious people, if it were for you or any random vegan, you would force all your ideas and beliefs into everyone. Just like when religion meets power, you believe in its God or you're a dead man, literaly. If a vegan meets power it would force every single person to be vegan. We omnivores have been ruling forever and never forced anyone to eat meat or anything (don't come up with some weird story of one particular person, please).

The problem here is you and your ideas of good and wrong. If you had anykind of power over a population, you would force your personal beliefs into all, no one could eat meat, because that's wrong according to you.

No one has any problem with vegans, in fact, we don't care at all about what you eat, no one in the world gives a glass of water about what you eat, so yo can go vegan or stoneater, we don't care. But hey, it doesn't ends there, because of you, not us. You guys not only want to eat whatever you want, you guys want to force into every single human your personal beliefs of good and wrong, that's why you go to restaurants shouting out like savages "it's not food, it's violence" and more hundreds and hundreds of acts like that. That's just one of the millions of reasons I call you (vegans/vegetarians) one of the most hypocrite people in the world.

Peace out.

December 9, 2016 at 08:20 PM · Tim,

this must bother you a lot. Wow.

I made the experience many meat eaters share a bad conscience, I think because they know that they do harm to living beings.

Your reasoning is flawed, btw. Eating animals or not are no equal alternatives, like collecting stamps or not, because doing it means to kill. Nowadays we know that animals are no mindless machines, like Descartes believed then, they share a conscious mind, they feel, they think, they can feel fear and pain.

You should question yourself: would the animal I will let kill so I can eat it's body parts agree? Vegetarians with ethical motivation don't ignore the will and right of animals to live and be free of pain and fear. They will stand for what they think is right against those who simply ignore it because of habits, taste or the feeling to be superior.

Maybe this gives you an idea why vegetarians are not hypocrites, but people who accept some (sometimes uncomfortable) consequences when they start looking at the world with open eyes.

December 9, 2016 at 09:11 PM · ....

December 9, 2016 at 10:41 PM · Not that much, simply I just had to reply to a vegetarian/vegan that whines about being forced to do something. It's hilarious. I won't reply anymore, don't worry.

December 10, 2016 at 01:36 PM · "You can harvest hair from your own horse and use it, but it's time consuming and ends up being much more expensive."

This seemed to go unappreciated, but it's very funny.

To the OP: Despite a few exceptions it's my understanding that most horse hair used for bows is a by-product of slaughter, but in a similar way that car leather is a by-product of meat trade. If it eases your conscience at all, the horses aren't raised for the hair, then killed and thrown in a ditch (see above quote).

However, as this is likely not the case for you and this post not meant as conversion therapy (haha?) I will say that (despite promotional videos) plastic hair tends to be scratchier and thinner sounding, has different elasticity and a smoother microscopic surface so it doesn't hold rosin as well. You'll need to factor this is in vis a vis rosin type, strings, bowing technique, etc... and there is something to be said for the fallout from manufacturing plastics on the surrounding ecosystems. So I recommend finding the luthiers who buy their hair from local equestrians and pay for shipping.

Unfortunately, biological material in strings and bows often produces the most natural sound and (though this might be a morbid choice of words) "alive" feeling in fine instruments; which are, after all, made entirely of formerly living stuff :)

Good luck in your search, let us know what you find!

December 10, 2016 at 02:09 PM · I agree that this was a pretty straightforward question with no need for editorial comments. Many of us buy sub-optimal products because they are more durable, cheaper, etc. I often buy the cheap shoes, car, watch, cell phone, etc., where I save 50% but get 90% of the productivity. I'd gladly buy a bow that functioned at 90% if I didn't have to rehair as often (ever?) or worry about warping.

And, seriously, I am still a meat eater but I also know that a lot of meat production and preparation is pretty gross and I assume future generations will judge us for it.

I wouldn't be surprised if 90% of new students start on carbon fiber everything in another decade or two. I think that will be progress.

December 11, 2016 at 12:04 AM · Barrie, when you do find different bow hair material to replace natural hair I would be interested in hearing your evaluation of substitute hair.

December 11, 2016 at 05:44 PM · Me too.

December 11, 2016 at 07:05 PM · Coruss is a synthetic bow hair which is the result of research by members of L’Orchestre de Chambre de Toulouse.

Laurie mentioned it here:

There are a few youtube videos (this one's in French, but has subtitles)

December 12, 2016 at 08:30 AM · Thanks!

I found this source:

I have two identival CF bows and if he agrees will let my violin maker rehair one with coruss bow hair, so I can compare them. This could take a while, but I will report the result.

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