Excess rosin on violins.Why?

August 26, 2018, 4:14 PM · I'm curious. Why do some fiddlers leave tons of rosin all over their violins? Is there any practical reason for this?

Replies (33)

August 26, 2018, 4:19 PM · No. Just a fiddlers habit. To demonstrate their fiddlerism and demarcate themselves from classical musicians. Maybe also a bit of superstition. Nothing to worry about. And definitely nothing to imitate.
Edited: August 26, 2018, 4:25 PM · And don't call them violins. They're fiddles! (I've been trapped in an exhausting lecture a fiddler once thought he had to give me about that topic... But I cannot fully remember, were a few pints involved...)
Well, for myself, I definitely own a violin...
August 26, 2018, 5:40 PM · If you think you ever want to clean it off -- you better not let it collect!!! After some point it will need professional help!
August 26, 2018, 6:25 PM · I have wondered this as well. My cousin has a mariachi group who played at our family reunion a couple weeks ago. The violinists rosined up frequently between songs and had a blanket of rosin all over their instruments. They also left their bows almost completely slackened. They sounded together and good, but very bright and kind of tinny. There was also a lot of rosin on their bows. I get that they're potentially not classically-trained, but is that literally just a style choice? Everyone does things their own way, but I would imagine regardless keeping that much rosin on your instrument or bow is going to damage it. They didn't even wipe it off after.

This is also not a read. I appreciate all musical genres, but I'm legitimately curious to know if it's a tradition or if it's like an image thing.

Edited: August 27, 2018, 9:40 AM · A cousin gave me a fiddle, caked in rosin. I used some plastics polish to remove it all. I probably removed some juju by doing that. There is also a rattlesnake rattle in it. And it had mechanical tuners. Sunburst coloring, no flamework on the back. Still have it, and as my ears deteriorated I finally got to where I could tolerate it and had the soundpost moved back up near the bridge where it belonged. My other fiddles sound better though. I might just move that rattlesnake rattle to one of my other ones though. Supposedly, besides adding juju, the rattle cleans out dust inside the box.

I suppose letting the rosin collect shows that you play a lot and have history. And, they may not know, or be able to tell the difference in the sound with or without the rosin.

Edited: August 27, 2018, 7:22 AM · It's an old tradition. Most modern fiddlers I know are fully aware of the effect on a violin's tone and understand it, and many of them do keep their violins clean from rosin dust, especially if they have valuable instruments. They can tell the difference. But traditional fiddlers for centuries were interested in making a very different kind of sound from elite classical musicians, and they didn't need the ultimate refined singing tone at noisy events in the days before amplification. In my part of the world they were playing for dances, weddings, community celebrations or house parties in their rural towns and villages, not performing concertos in concert halls on Strads and Guarneris. They were often fishermen, farmers, carpenters, mechanics, etc., who had to work hard for their living, and in those days they played on inexpensive instruments they could afford. They were (and are) highly intelligent people, many of them were (and are) superb musicians in their own right, and many of them tended to distrust unsolicited advice coming from classical musicians who often looked down on them. There was a tenacious belief that leaving the dust on the violin gave it a better sound for fiddling. Rosin dust today is sometimes a statement, a marker, and many musicians like it not just to indicate their hard work but as a sign of their connection to the oral tradition in music going back to the earliest times. The traditions are still very much alive, and the repertoire is full of marvellous music. They deserve respect not condescension, even if they leave the rosin dust on their fiddles. Or violins.
August 27, 2018, 7:59 AM · Since classical violins and fiddles are used in such different ways, does anyone know if they are deliberately made or set up differently?
Edited: August 27, 2018, 8:06 AM · Fiddles can have flatter bridges to facilitate playing drones and double stops. Otherwise the bodies are the same.
Edited: August 27, 2018, 8:16 AM · The instruments are exactly the same. Sometimes there's a a difference in bridge set-up. Many fiddlers prefer to have the bridge cut flatter and lower to make droning on adjacent strings a little easier. Others use a classical bridge and standard height. Steel strings with fine-tuners are often preferred for their power and projection, but many fiddlers like gut or synthetic.
Edited: August 27, 2018, 10:54 AM · One way to satisfy opposing preferences would be to persuade a luthier to revarnish the area where rosin naturally accumulates with a varnish simulating the color of rosin dust. Including the end of the fingerboard of course. Or would such a revarnishing get the unfortunate luthier expelled from the craft, with his name being expunged from all monuments, inscriptions and labels?

More importantly, when you wipe rosin dust off the violin you do of course include the bridge itself in the process, don't you? The reason is that rosin dust settling on unvarnished bare wood and not removed won't do it any good whatsoever over a period of time, to the stage where the tonal characteristics and even physical strength of the bridge will be affected.

I use a fine-haired brush to get rid of the rosin dust on the bridge - safer than using a cloth the action of which could conceivably alter the position or angle of the bridge slightly, or even rub the dust into the wood.

Edited: August 27, 2018, 8:32 AM · Then God said to Abraham, ... “This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each fiddle among you must be caked in rosin. You must leave the rosin on your fiddle as a sign of the covenant between me and you. From generation to generation, every violin must be left with its build-up of rosin. This applies not only to the fiddles of your family but also to those of your servants ..."
August 27, 2018, 8:52 AM · Nice one, Paul. Now someone insert that into the middle of a reading in a church service and see if anyone notices ;)
August 27, 2018, 9:23 AM · I've seen many many times, at least in the area where i live and play (northern Italy) that folk violinists not only leave a blanket of rosin, but often put also zero care on their violins and bows and strings, deliberately.

Once a quite popular violinist told me that she will never put care in her violin, even playing in winter outside. She told me "i played under the water while raining with no problem", concluding with "....... and you (if you don't do this, ndr), will never be a folk player" ..........

I'm very happy to clean my violins and keep them protected by humidity and sun ...... :)

August 27, 2018, 9:31 AM · @ Parker Duchemin, mea culpa for my condescension (i.e. might not be able to tell the difference in the sound), even though I'm a fiddler.

Good point on not needing ringing tone for playing dances. What's needed is loudness, rhythm, and some licks.

August 27, 2018, 9:38 AM · Ask this guy.

August 27, 2018, 9:43 AM · I suppose different fiddlers do it for different reasons. Some perhaps want to make a conscious statement, while others just don't care all that much for their instruments.

I'd venture to guess that some fiddlers like to over rosin to get maximum grip and a gritty sound while applying as little bow pressure as possible, relying heavily on fast finger/wrist action and fast/short bowing motion. With heavy use of rosin, build up happens rather quickly, and much cleaning discipline is necessary if one is to keep the instrument clean, so could probably think why bother, it won't last 5 minutes.

August 27, 2018, 9:54 AM · I read somewhere that rosin was hard to come by for the old Appalachian fiddlers. They let the rosin build up, and when they needed some, they ran their bowhair over the buildup.
August 27, 2018, 10:23 AM · Wow. I had no idea. And I feel horribly guilty if I miss just ONE DAY of carefully wiping the rosin from the strings and the violin!
Edited: August 27, 2018, 11:55 AM · Those are amazing comments. I guess it's a case of style, like heavy metal groups have shoulder length hair, pop singers dress in provocative outfits, country singers seem to like to wear cowboy hats everywhere, and so on. Frankly, I find too much rosin on a violin/fiddle lazy. It looks to me like someone with a cold who didn't bother to wipe their nose. However, dress how you like, make your instrument as ugly you can, that only works up to the point. Because when the bow hits the strings looks don't really matter above the singular question - can you play that thing or not? Are you any good or are you just trying to look like you know what you're doing? So, look however you like, but if you can't play it, it doesn't really matter.
August 27, 2018, 1:20 PM · Looking the part is just as important for classical players. Unless you're Nigel Kennedy
August 27, 2018, 2:26 PM · " I read somewhere that rosin was hard to come by for the old Appalachian fiddlers."

Certainly not because of a shortage of available pine sap around the Appalachias!

Edited: August 27, 2018, 3:20 PM · Michael, I don't think it's lazy, whatever it looks like. Custom, perhaps, a bit of studied indifference, and often a firm belief that it helps the sound. I've spent a good deal of time with fiddlers in the last 20 years, and I'm trying hard to learn to fiddle properly, though I'd still call myself a classical violinist (and I do clean my violin carefully!) Hard to generalize, but fiddlers are anything but lazy, in my experience, and ethnomusicologists will tell you how hard they work to get the sound they need. Good ones, that is. Lots of them clean the rosin too. But as you say, the only thing that finally matters is -- can you play that thing well! And as Steve pointed out -- classical musicians do have their own styles and dress codes. Something to do with their traditions, I dare say, which would look pretty funny at a barn dance.
August 27, 2018, 5:01 PM · "Why do some fiddlers leave tons of rosin all over their violins?" From my personal prejudice: Disrespect for the instrument and laziness.

I take care of my stuff, including my violin. My students are all instructed on keeping their instruments well cared for. Yes, I dropped a few for showing up more than once with a film of rosin under the strings, on the fingerboard, et cetera.

Of course, a close friend and luthier, absolutely loved the people who caked their instruments with rosin because they paid him to clean up their instruments every year.

August 28, 2018, 3:16 AM · Looks like some players need plenty of rosin to play Bach


Edited: August 30, 2018, 5:01 AM · Re Paul's post of August 27, I got it into my head to translate it into Latin - there's a Latin study group I'm involved in. For fun, I decided to run the text through Google Translate to see what disaster would ensue. I was not disappointed - my worst fears were confirmed.

First, Paul's original post:
Then God said to Abraham, ... “This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each fiddle among you must be caked in rosin. You must leave the rosin on your fiddle as a sign of the covenant between me and you. From generation to generation, every violin must be left with its build-up of rosin. This applies not only to the fiddles of your family but also to those of your servants"

Google's initial Latin translation:
Et ait Deus ad Abraham: ... «Hoc est pactum, quod tu et semen tuum post te: Quilibet debet sudorque cruorque per resinam proposuerunt te in fiddle. Vos discedere ut fiddle resinam proposuerunt in signum foederis inter me et te. In saeculum saeculi: omne vitae sit in sinistra sua aedificabo-sursum et resinam proposuerunt. Ita, non solum ut in fidibus et de cognatione tua, et de illis servis tuis."

On a very cursory examination that looks a little but not quite like Latin, but here is Google's back-translation into English:
And God said: ... "This is the agreement that you and your descendants: Everyone should caked upon their gum for you fiddle. They set forth in the sign of the covenant between me, that you leave to the fiddle, and the balm you. From generation to generation, all of life is left in their build-up and resins. So, not only do so out of tune and your family and their servants. "

Not so good! Then I ran Paul's original text through Google's English-Latin followed by back-translation from Latin-English cycle several times to see what would ensue, on the reasonable expectation that a good translation should be reversible to at least a good approximation to the original. But even worse incomprehensibility came with further translations and back-translations, culminating in this nonsense:

Deus: "Hoc est pactum, quod omnia ejus sudorque cruorque per gum ad fiddle. Foederis inter me et relinquam in fiddle de Forth ac resina non est. Generatio et postquam resurrexit, ignem et lis festinans build- sunt. hoc modo lyra familiae serviat.

Back-translation into English:
God: "This is an agreement that everything that caked upon their gum to fiddle. Agreement between me and leave the fiddle of Forth as balm is not. Generation and after rising a fire and a hasty build-up. This means happier the family may serve Thee."

Moral 1. Google Translate can't handle Latin, unless the original English is perhaps in the strict Latinist style of 17th c English writers, but even then I have my doubts.

Moral 2. Don't use Google Translate for anything of importance. Get it translated by someone who knows both languages well.

Edited: August 29, 2018, 9:35 PM · Holy Moly. If you have Amazon Prime and can watch this, jump to the 8:40 minute mark of this video for some impressive rosin accumulation, and possible varnish damage, on the blonde woman's fiddle.


September 20, 2018, 12:38 AM · W.R. mentioned the Mariachi fiddlers. I do that. The majority of Mariachi violinists are un-schooled. Because they are competing with the trumpets they try to play as loud as possible by using excess rosin, a heavy bow hand,and all steel strings, on their cheap equipment. It doesn't work. Instead of sounding louder they just sound noisier, edgy. The very best professional groups, like Vargas,Camperos, Sol de Mexico, don't have those problems, can sound very impressive, with a playing style I would call a survival of 19th century romanticism.
Edited: September 20, 2018, 2:39 AM · @Steve Jones: Oh, the artist formerly known as Nigel Kennedy looks the part. He is very careful to look the part.

My violin is covered with rosin because I'm too lazy to clean it.

September 20, 2018, 5:16 AM · @Michael - hope this isn't a relation of yours being dissed?
September 22, 2018, 6:16 PM · Joel, thank you for the clarification. Everything that has been said on this thread has been what I suspected, but it's nice to hear confirmation and specifics on the topic as well! I think I might try to look up the professional mariachi groups you mentioned.
September 23, 2018, 12:22 PM · Thanks Wesley. The best Mariachis are large (~12), expensive, and booked far in advance. Vargas is in Mexico City, those other two are in Los Angeles. Another major center would be San Antonio TX.

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