black horse hair for violin

July 31, 2018, 10:58 PM · Has anyone here experience using black horse hair? I know some cellists who use it and say it's got more grip, so I'm interested in trying on the violin, and even more so on the viola. I use wound G, D and plain A E on my modern setup instrument so I thought maybe it might help with pulling the sound more powerfully especially with the initial attack...?

Replies (29)

August 1, 2018, 12:31 AM · James,

I'm sure Nate Robinson could talk about his experience more (maybe try messaging him on Instagram), but I know that he plays on Tricolore gut strings with 50/50 black hair and white hair. I've been meaning to try this combination myself but have simply just not gotten around to it yet. One of my great friends who's an even greater violist uses the exact same combination of 50/50 hair.

Some call it "salt and pepper" some call it "Oreo" some call it "cookies and creme" (:

Best of luck

August 1, 2018, 4:24 AM · I have one violin bow with all black hair: it was half the price, some of which is for the "archetier" so the hair itself must be a lot cheaper.

A gruffer tone, and the bow handles differently, perhaps because the individual hairs are thicker, so there are fewer of them, and each hair must take more of the total tension, and more of the available rosin?

August 1, 2018, 8:01 AM · I don't know anything about horsehair but I do have to wonder why black hair would be intrinsically thicker than white. However a local pro violinist told me that he knows other pros who mix in some black hair to improve grip and bite. I recently saw Shmuel Ashkenasi playing with black hair on his bow (but I did not see up close). That's one hell of a good violinist.
August 1, 2018, 8:48 AM · I was under the impression that all horsehair was dyed anyway. Perhaps they just don't bother to dye the thicker or rougher hair so that it can be recognized.

Anyway, it's the rosin that gives it bite. Hair of any color doesn't make a sound without it. Although I haven't tried it, there's likely a reason violinist don't use it. I doubt it will give you more projection. If the hairs are indeed thicker, it will mean fewer in contact with the string, and difficulty getting all the hairs parallel with each other under the normal tension of a violin bow.

In other words, a less refined and controllable sound. Sound like kind of a waste of $75-$100 or whatever you pay in your area. Just because Nate uses it....

Edited: August 1, 2018, 1:26 PM · Well, Scott, I'm usually the one wondering (aloud) whether the influence of a certain detail might just be all in one's head. I have a certain level of respect for "pros know" (and Nate Robinson is definitely a pro), and I'm all in favor of the "benefit of the doubt" but in some cases there is one hell of a lot of doubt.

But then someone will come along with a story such as: "My luthier took my violin behind the curtain and played a few bars of K2. Then there was a pause and he played it again, and everyone in the whole shop jumped out of their socks because the sound was so rich and full. I asked him what he did, and he said, 'Oh, I traded a few of your bow hairs for black ones.'"

Or maybe he said, "Oh, I put gear pegs on your fiddle."

Or maybe he said, "I replaced your steel E-string fine-tuner with a gold-plated one."

Or maybe he said, "I trimmed the extra string length coming out of your pegbox."

August 1, 2018, 2:52 PM · ...Or maybe he didn't play with the exact same pressure and contact point. Perhaps he subconsciously wanted your violin to sound better ....and made it happen.

Yes a few people do things different. But when 99% of the rest of us do things a certain way it's because there's a good reason. I guess if you have the patience, time, and money to mess around endlessly with every aspect of the violin and bow setup, that's fine.

August 1, 2018, 11:18 PM · Scott,

It's my understanding that the hair should not be dyed or bleached as it will damage the hair. Also, the black hair is not "thicker" but more coarse, as in just rougher. Not too long ago I found some semi-scientific research on the different types of horsehair for bows and looking at them through a microscope at their scales, and they tested the different hairs on a single string (a=440) in a Thomastic-Infeld factory to measure the decibel levels of the different hairs. It's a very short read but is interesting nonetheless. Not sure if I'm allowed to link it through but if you google "violin bow hair department of music acoustics" it'll be the first to pop up.

August 2, 2018, 4:46 AM · Differences in the surface texture of hair probably have more to do with how well it acquires and retains rosin, than any action of the roughness itself on the string. As Scott mentioned, a bow without rosin makes almost no sound.
August 2, 2018, 7:24 AM · I post website URLs here all the time - it seems to be allowed.
Edited: August 2, 2018, 9:48 AM · Is this the URL?

If an organization didn't want its data to be accessed then they wouldn't put it on a publicly available website. In this instance it appears to be research carried out by the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna.

Research, and publishing it, is what universities do.

August 2, 2018, 8:03 AM · David,

I agree with the rosin retaining statement. One of my great bass playing pals told me that he rosins everyday which really intrigued me because (as far as I know atleast..) a majority of people do not rosin every day and it might be that the black hair that he uses doesn't retain rosin as well even though bass rosin is exponentially times stickier than our baby fiddle counterparts.


That is the URL

August 2, 2018, 12:22 PM · If you had half as many hairs that were twice as heavy, how would that play? Even if they retained rosin just as well, my guess is your sound and playability would both suffer.
August 2, 2018, 4:44 PM · James,

In my over 40 years of playing I've seen the issue of dark horsehair come and go and come again and disappear only to resurface many times.

As I kid I lived near and did occasional work on a horse farm. While I never used a measuring device I wouldn't say that colored hair is significantly different from pure white, only that pure white is somewhat less common than colored. Hence it is more expensive. That is the real difference and, of course, to a lot of people less expensive means not-as-good.

I've had my bows re-haired with both white and colored hair and frankly, I don't hear or sense any difference. Others may argue that one is better than the other. However, my choices were, more often than not, economic.

All I could think when I read your post was: "Here we go again."

August 3, 2018, 12:57 AM · I wonder how much of it is 'tradition'/preference opposed to function.
August 3, 2018, 6:52 AM · The darker hair available for bows is cheaper because it is less sorted and the better selection goes to other industries like brushes. I would say dark hair can be good, but because the dealers know that white hair is preferred, they are going to seperate the best white hair for that. So given whats available, for a violin bow specifically, I wouldn't use the dark horsehair. "Salt and Pepper" is fine for cello bows, but there are coarser grades of white hair that will work better, in my opinion. You may want to experiment with your rosin if you are looking for something else regarding grip. And if the bow still isn't gripping the way you would like, try a different rehairer and have your soundpost checked.
August 3, 2018, 9:24 AM · Again, as far as I know, and maybe David Burgess can chime in:
There are simply not enough horses in the world that can produce pure white hair of this uniformity.

I'm 99% sure that they simply take ALL the hair and grade it for thickness. If it's thicker, they dye it black and sell it to bass players. If it's a finer grade, they dye it white and sell it to luthiers.

August 3, 2018, 10:34 AM · I experimented a few years ago. I tried a few things: my luthier did me a 'zebra' alternating stripes of black and white and another time half black and white - the idea being that the tilt brings you onto the white and full hair brings in the black. I also had a spare bow haired with black. Really, if there was any difference at all it was not much from what I remember. IF there is any difference it is in initial attack but I'm not really sure how much. If my bow could magically morph from black hair to white hair then maybe there could be a valid comparison. Even then, they may be inconsistencies in white hair. Certainly, black hair is not scratchy or anything.
Edited: August 5, 2018, 12:13 AM · Hi everyone, yes as Charles wrote above I do use a mixture of black and white horsehair on my primary bow (Sartory). I got the idea from Shmuel Ashkenasi when I met him years back. As Paul mentioned, Shmuel Ashkenasi uses 100% black horsehair on a few of his bows. Many bass players do as well. I do feel it gives my sound a more defined articulation when I use a combination of white and black hair. Black hair tends to be a bit more coarse. I think it works especially well with gut strings. I also noticed when I use this combination, I only break 4-5 hairs in a entire year. I have Isaac Salchow in NYC rehair my bows. He calls this assortment of hairs I get the ‘trident’ rehair. I highly recommend his rehairs if you’re in the NY area!
August 7, 2018, 1:28 PM · I used it for orchestral playing, Arthur Grove having done the rehairing (Do they make rehairers like him anymore?). It worked well, but for solo work i think I'd need to have at least some white hair.
Edited: August 9, 2018, 10:23 AM · There's a 14th-century pub , the Black Horse*, a few miles from where I live. Great beer and grub, very dog friendly, and I've played Irish folk music there in the past (so there's some sort of fiddle connection!).
* location 51°27'42”.90 N, 2°45'35".53 W on Google Earth
August 13, 2018, 9:26 PM · I use salt and pepper on both my violin and viola bows. I know when I first started using it I did notice a difference. It has been too long for me to remember much about that difference though.
August 13, 2018, 11:15 PM · I use black hair on gut strings. I like the articulation from black hair.

Why don't just give it a try, you can go back to white 6 months later in the next rehair.

At the least you don't need to listen to people who actually haven't tried it and are writing from theoretical speculation...just try it for yourself and then you'll know.

August 29, 2018, 10:03 AM · Scott Cole wrote, I'm 99% sure that they simply take ALL the hair and grade it for thickness. If it's thicker, they dye it black and sell it to bass players. If it's a finer grade, they dye it white and sell it to luthiers.

Scott, I am 100% certain that nothing can be "dyed white." this does not happen!

August 29, 2018, 10:38 AM · Much of the white hair is bleached, just like our paper. In the IPCI book there is a scholarly article that discusses white vs black hair. The diameter is basically the same, but black hair appears to be larger and coarser because of the density of color.
I also think that it is telling that black hair costs me $50US a pound, but it is difficult to find decent white hair for less than $250-300US a pound. Right now, the stuff that i use in my shop is $400US a pound.

So, if you can feel and hear a difference, use it. Better or worse is a subjective evaluation in this instance. The price of the rehair is the same.

Erin: I brough back some excellent, 1k a pound Polish horse hair from a shop in Tokyo. It was very, very fine and very even, almost no waste(you have to go through the hair that you buy and toss the kinky, crooked, uneven, ect, hairs when you use it). Here on the West Coast, it was slick and didn't grab very well. In Tokyo, with the high humidity, it was wonderful. When I take bows to Japan, they almost always end up getting rehaired quickly because the players complain of a coarse, scratchy sound. Also, I have never seen hair dyed black. When you clean the hair with ETOH as part of the rehair, it would bleed off on the cloth.

August 29, 2018, 12:41 PM ·
August 29, 2018, 1:00 PM · Does horse hair come from the tail, mane, or both?
August 29, 2018, 1:16 PM · Back when I was doing some research on getting my bow rehaired I came across several reputable bow makers and rehairers that specified they would only use unbleached hair. Less white hair, while of similar quality to whiter, brings a lower price, so many suppliers will bleach it. Reputable suppliers will acknowledge this, less reputable won't. As mentioned in a previous post, dying isn't practical as it would eventually come off during cleaning, especially when cleaned with EtOH. There was an article in the Strad that mentioned the inferior practice of bleaching bow hair as well.

I personally have not and won't knowingly buy a bow with bleached hair. I'm more concerned with quality rather than color. His name escapes me at the moment but a shop in Seattle that refuses to use bleached hair unless specifically requested, told me that even the the very highest grade of white hair will show some shade or color variations, if unbleached.

I also read that apparently the bleaching process is actually detrimental to the hair, another reason it's probably shunned by most rehairers.

August 31, 2018, 2:00 PM · Coloration is also one reason why stallion hair is more highly valued than mare hair. The stallion gets less pee on the hair.

There could also be something going on with the pee affecting the hair in more ways than coloration. I haven't done enough experiments to know one way or the other.

Edited: August 31, 2018, 5:36 PM · That's very true David, as growing up working on ranches and having my own horses I can tell you without a doubt that male horses, stallion or gelding, will have much cleaner and uniformly colored tail hair due to mare's consistently getting urine on their tails. I can't help but believe it's harmful to the hair as the urine contains urea of which ammonia is a byproduct of, which is also caustic. Since it attacks and degrades most organic material, and from what I've seen it do to leather and fabric, I imagine it would weaken the horse hair as well.

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