Fiddle Players: Why So Much Rosin?

February 2, 2019, 9:48 PM · Why does almost every bluegrass fiddle player have a ton of rosin on their violin in the bowing area? Is it just an aesthetic choice to not clean their instrument to maintain the raggedy bluegrass "don't care bout nuthin" persona? Or is there a functional reason they leave the rosin on? Maybe because they play so fast and hard that they need a ton of rosin? I have no idea, just guessing.

Does anybody know the real reason (if there is one)?

Replies (54)

Edited: February 2, 2019, 10:16 PM · Lazy and sloppy! And if the bridge is tilted or bent too - well you can figure it out.
Edited: February 2, 2019, 10:21 PM · Many of them actively seek a gritty, twangy sound. It's the same reason they often prefer steel strings. Some of the strings marketed as "fiddle" strings make Red Labels sound smooth and mellow by comparison, and it's totally intentional -- the same manufacturers produce "violin" strings at similar prices that are more in line with typical steel strings.
Edited: February 3, 2019, 9:57 AM · We have had this discussion not too long ago ( and it was interesting to learn that excessive use of rosin is often due to custom, style and the wish for a certain sound.
Edited: February 3, 2019, 7:27 AM · It occurred to me the other day that I can't remember the last time I rosined my bow. I think I last used Hill's, if anyone wants a recommendation for a long-lasting rosin. lol.
February 3, 2019, 6:12 AM · Honestly, it's just a cultural tradition. A kind of reverse snobbery.

I've been scolded before by long-time session players for not having enough rosin build-up under my bridge, especially if they know I'm a classical player. I just smile and nod, LOL.

February 3, 2019, 7:42 AM · Lots of fiddlers, especially those with good instruments, are very careful about wiping off the rosin. As Sarah says, it's mostly just a cultural tradition, and a kind of reverse snobbery.
February 3, 2019, 7:47 AM · It shows that one uses the fiddle. Plus, it is an emergency rosin supply!
February 3, 2019, 7:57 AM · It's tradition. Loosely based in improper education of care and maintenance of their equipment along with being cheap. They compensate for lack of grip when the hair is worn out by using more rosin instead of getting the bow rehaired. Then it gets perpetuated from generation to generation as what an authentic fiddler does. Great modern fiddlers with superb instruments take way better care of their instruments and have fine bridges carved, not the overly flat ones you see. That being said, aside from instrument care and maintenance these musicians can tear it up!
February 3, 2019, 10:06 AM · Ask this guy!
February 3, 2019, 11:04 AM · Wow Leon lol I don't know what to say to that video haha
Edited: February 3, 2019, 1:38 PM · I think there's an opportunity here ... rosin spray (fortified with titanium dioxide) to make your violin look like a fiddle. Then when you get back from he jam session you can quick clean it all off instead of letting it build up over years and destroying the varnish on your priceless Italian antique.

But yes I think Sarah is completely right.

February 3, 2019, 2:03 PM · Has anyone mentioned that a permanent layer of rosin dust will damage the varnish and eventually the all-important wood underneath?
February 3, 2019, 2:11 PM · Trevor - probably not mentioned, but ~ 18 years ago my luthier charged me $75 to get the rosin "inlay" off one of my violins where it had lived next to the bridge since before I bought it. Nothing I had tried worked.
February 3, 2019, 2:27 PM · Not sure the arguments about care of your instruments are going to convince any of that subset of fiddlers. The same reverse snobbery applies to instruments -- the same people will take pride in supposedly being able to use a $150 fiddle and play circles around a classical player with a Stradivarius, and accuse anyone who pays over $500 for an instrument of snobbery. I've encountered several of that type.
February 3, 2019, 5:40 PM · Step 1 of varnishing I suppose.. just add some organic solvent and you are done!
Edited: February 3, 2019, 5:52 PM · Well, I have played traditional fiddle music in several styles professionally for forty years. I have a nice instrument and bow, and would never let rosin build up on them. It has always been a mystery to me why some players do that, and I have also seen fiddles and bows tossed around in alarming ways. Respect your gear! However, neither have I been ever "scolded" or criticized for keeping my instrument in good condition.
Edited: February 3, 2019, 6:05 PM · Here in Denmark and the other Scandinavian countries there is a great fiddle music tradition but NOT any "keep-the-rosin-on-the-violin-deck-fashion". At least I have not seen anything like that.
February 3, 2019, 9:32 PM · When I bought my violin secondhand, it was a former bluegrass instrument... caked with rosin. My mom had to use steel wool very carefully to get it all off!
February 4, 2019, 3:08 AM · It is absolutely disgusting. I really hate it. And wow the video, it is extreme, I cannot touch this violin, yuck :/
February 4, 2019, 9:42 AM · @Russel Evans, Do you mind sharing which area of the country you noticed this? I occasionally attend casual bluegrass events in the summer. I haven't noticed this here. I have seen it with a few YouTube players.

To me the instrument is only a tool. I try to take good care of my tools, but I don't worship them.

February 4, 2019, 11:10 AM · Russel and Martin...If you look at the video closer, even the bow is completely covered with rosin. I once met a gentleman who played in a string quartet and let me try his $6,ooo bow. It wasn't covered with rosin, but was extremely sticky. He told me that he never bothers to wipe it down. He never said why.
February 4, 2019, 11:48 AM · I don't see my violin as a tool, but more as an inseparable friend.

That said, I have no reason to hate on this phenomena, which happens beyond fiddle styles. I think Mariachi style players also "enjoy" these aesthetics-if indeed they do. It may also be a passed-down tradition based on innocent ignorance, and not meant as any real "badge of honor" among these musicians.

I wouldn't recommend it even on a budget violin, but of course do not feel "superior" to them just because I wipe clean my instrument.

February 4, 2019, 12:39 PM · @Timothy I've mostly seen this from watching players on YouTube, but even top notch players like Michael Cleveland have tons of rosin on their instrument.
Edited: February 4, 2019, 12:59 PM · @Russel Evan, Mostly curious to see if it's only happening in one area. Thanks for that.

There are probably a small handful of blue grass players that would do it because they know it grates on classical musicians:) My thinking initially was they are emphasizing that it isn't about the violin. Similar to what others have already said about reverse snobbery. If the players are doing it to make a statement of some kind though, isn't this also distracting from the original purpose of the art?

February 4, 2019, 1:07 PM · leon skibinski: wow, interesting, I wish I will have such bow one day :)

It is only my personal opinion, I love instruments, and all my guitars, dragged over rock gigs and festivals were always super clean, super maintained, restrung often and everything perfect, that's me :) In other things I have total mess :D

February 4, 2019, 1:13 PM · Mark, I'm the same way. "A clean instrument is a happy instrument".
Edited: February 4, 2019, 4:58 PM · It's not rosin its cocaine.
February 4, 2019, 3:06 PM · I sometimes wonder if my lazier students don't sprinkle their violins with flour to make me believe they have practiced a lot!
February 4, 2019, 6:36 PM · Actually one probably has to handle the fiddle very carefully not to disturb the rosin dust to get something like that on that video!
Edited: February 4, 2019, 7:07 PM · One thing about over-doing the rosin is that it helps to keep the rosin manufacturers in business!

Question, do the folk fiddle players have any clear-cut preferences for the kind of rosin they use, or even have the rosin paranoia that some classical players seem to have?

February 4, 2019, 11:31 PM · I use Andrea Solo rosin, and am really happy with it, for what that's worth.
February 5, 2019, 12:37 AM · Adrian,

I was just thinking that - I wonder if on a psychological level it has to do with giving the appearance of a well played instrument.

Edited: February 5, 2019, 8:46 AM · We can buy "distressed" guitars, blue jeans and furniture.Maybe one day we will buy a new violin with a light coating of rosin on it and a few scratches here and there.
February 5, 2019, 9:43 AM · I acquired a violin where the rosin coating had blackened with time.
I tired cleaning the black area, only to find that it was part of the "antiquing"!
February 5, 2019, 11:18 AM · Timothy--Uh, "distressed" violins have been made for 200 years! All those Dutzendarbeit with screwdriver scratches. You can buy one today!
February 5, 2019, 11:45 AM · Yes but it wouldn't be new with an old look :O ). Have you seen those Fender Telecasters all dented up on sale? To be honest Paul. I wouldn't buy one of those if you held a gun to my head. I would much prefer an instrument like the Dutzendarbeit!! The instruments got those marks honestly.

In my honest opinion they haven't scratched up those guitars enough.

February 5, 2019, 11:24 PM · I am mainly guitarists (studied jazzrock guitar and sound engineering). And these guitars are driving me nuts. Destroyed instrument. If you see my guitars (I have also Fender Strat (notice t at the end:) and tele). After 15 years of service, dragged over many gigs and concerts and studios, they look amazing, like a new (almost, some kind of daily usage wear is here).

I am always thinking about these guitars like a snobby fetish for rich wannabe musicians, maybe I am wrong

February 6, 2019, 7:58 AM · @Martin Podhola, I would have never guessed. You never know who may be on violin forum. Congratulations on such a long career playing electrics! I feel the same way about these distressed instruments.

I know instrumentalists who have an old instruments they have especially for gigging because they don't want to ruin their nice instruments.Buying something scratched up just doesn't seem right to me. I don't gig out with my electric guitars.My main electric recording guitar uses variax technology. 26 guitar models in one guitar. I still prefer the clean sound of a fender.

Back on point- The rosin is supposed to be on the strings? Why would I want it on the violin body? I wouldn't.

February 6, 2019, 8:40 AM · Timothy - Yeah, I agree that the distressing thing is pretty ridiculous. But that guitar - trust me, I've seen worse.
Edited: February 6, 2019, 11:32 AM · Nina, might have driven the cost up to get a more distressed look ;)

I think I have a new part time job idea.Professional Instrument distressor. Give me a little sand paper, some light acid to oxidize the metals and I'm on my way.I could probably knock out a few hundred in a day, and it would be great stress relief. For violins I'll get a sprayer and shoot some ground up rosin under the bow area, give it a few gentle knocks and scratches here and there, some light sanding or varnish removal and wa-la.

If anyone is interested I have several pairs of distressed blue jeans for sale in larger sizes.I personally distressed them and can authenticate as needed.

February 6, 2019, 11:36 PM · "We can buy "distressed" guitars, blue jeans and furniture.Maybe one day we will buy a new violin with a light coating of rosin on it and a few scratches here and there. "

Oh, I've seen new instruments sold with varnish that's supposed to look worn in strategic places. Never preferred the look (any more than I liked it on anything else, don't even prefer it if come by "honestly"!), wondered for a way-longer-amount-of-time-than-is-unembarassing-to-admit why they were done that way, finally figured out after years that it's supposed to look well-worn...

February 7, 2019, 12:39 AM · I've seen guitar shops offering "relicing" services to wear out your guitar for you in key spots so it looks old for big bucks. I think musicians and music shops should have the same hippocratic oath to do no harm. While I have to admit an old looking, well worn guitar does looks cool, I would die of embarrassment if I had to admit to somebody I paid $60 to get it artificially reliced.
February 7, 2019, 12:58 AM · @Timothy Smith: yes it is a big world in here :-)

@Russell Evans: 60 bucks? usually it costs 10 times more :)

February 7, 2019, 3:33 AM · My 18th c violin, which has been in my family since 1850, has acquired some honest wear in its long life - scratches, a couple of splits in the top table (professionally repaired), and black rosin residue under the fingerboard (still there). My mother and I have looked after it well in the last 100 years, before which it belonged to her grandfather and great-grandfather, family history being silent on how those gentlemen looked after the instrument. Before 1850, who knows, except that it probably belonged to a professional violinist.
February 7, 2019, 3:52 AM · @Martin I just pulled a number from thin air without thinking. I actually have no idea how much it would be, but yes, definitely much higher than $60. Let's just pretend I forgot a 0
February 7, 2019, 9:26 AM · Trevor I would love to hear that violin.
This is all encouraging to older people. We have a saying from the south when someone looks particularly well worn. They've been "rode hard and put out to dry".My goal is to be a young looking kind of old. If you can blow out the candles on a 100 year birthday cake more power to you!!
If a person could play like the masters of the instrument and he or she had rosin on their violin would you let them into the orchestra? You're darned tootin'.
February 7, 2019, 6:21 PM · There's a saying among scuba divers that you should look out for anyone whose gear is too new or too old. Gear that's too new can indicate a newbie who doesn't know as much as he thinks he does. Gear that's too old is either worn out or poorly maintained. Either way, there's trouble ahead. At least with violins these things are less likely to kill someone.

I play both classical and bluegrass - but I keep my violin (or fiddle) clean.

By the way, what's this word "reliced"? I'd never think of letting my instruments have lice in the first place, let alone re-infesting them.

Edited: February 18, 2019, 5:05 PM · I want to be careful to not be overly judgmental, but I've always thought that perhaps back in the past the only way a fiddle player could get rosin was to make it from the local evergreen resins in the forest and that the rosin, being crudely made and not processed like we're accustomed too, was very soft and needed to be constantly reapplied to the bow, which is why it would be heavily applied and being soft would be all on that fingerboard. Also a good build up on the strings would mean less reapplication to the bow? Of course it's just a thought I once had. I do not know if anyone can substantiate this? My family settled in the Smokey Mountains in 1720 and I don't know how assessible to quality rosin would have been to people out in the mountains and hills back in those eras?
February 18, 2019, 6:27 PM · @Charlie, you were probably just making q joke, but just in case, "relic-ed" is when an instrument is purposely knicked up and worn to make it look like a vintage instrument. It's the equivalent of buying distressed jeans with the knees slashed. I personally think it's cheating and is kind of dumb.
February 19, 2019, 5:37 PM · I suspected as much, but I never could resist a bit of word play. And I agree, this kind of stuff is dumb. I'd rather see good, honest wear on an instrument that is otherwise well looked after. Ditto for a pair of jeans.
February 19, 2019, 8:00 PM · An old fiddler I knew said that rosin used to be hard to come by. They never threw, or wiped, any away. That could be the case for the Transylvanians in the video as well. Folks in the first world who do that today are imitating the old folks, for no practical reason.
Edited: February 21, 2019, 4:28 PM · "Tradition!"
-- Fiddler on the Roof
Edited: February 22, 2019, 9:08 AM · Like so many others, I don't like how it looks. Frankly, it's something a player has to earn to pull it off with any kind of style. When I've played in Bluegrass and old time music jams, I've often seen fiddlers with caked up rosin on their fiddles. I also see fiddlers with clean and well cared for fiddles. In the end, as the music goes around the circle from player to player, the real test comes with the solos. If they can really play that thang, then how it looks seems completely secondary. On the other hand, if they can't pull it off, the whole appearance is that of a wannabe. It's like the movie, Bull Durham, when Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) picks up the shower shoes of another player, Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) saying, "You have fungus on your shower shoes. You'll never make it to the majors with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you'll be classy. Now, once you're in the majors you can let the fungus grow back on your shoes, and everyone will think you're colorful. Until then, it means you're a slob." I have a similar attitude about players who can't really earn that rosin all over their violins. Play it well, and nobody will really care. Until then, please clean it off.
Edited: February 22, 2019, 9:52 AM · I really don't understand this obsession on our site with fiddlers who leave rosin on their violins. So what if they do? Paganini had messy hair (maybe there was dandruff on his Del Gesu). Some very fine fiddlers, for traditional reasons, let the rosin accumulate. How very dreadful. Some other fine fiddlers don't. We all know it has a deleterious effect on the sound, it's all been explained here as a tradition, as thumbing their noses at elitists, etc., etc. So what's the big deal? Seems to me like part of the game.

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