Why the stigma surrounding black hair?

Edited: April 27, 2019, 9:17 PM · I got my hank of black bow hair for bass in the mail today (14 grams---enough for three and a half violin bows!).
I paid $16 for it, which is the same price as one 4g hank of white hair from the same supplier. What the heck? It's a total steal! I put it on my bow today, and it really sounds great with gut strings. Gritty and exact. And I played it in a very large room, so no downstairs-office-effect this time.

It's a bit coarser and a lot thicker than white hair, so I understand that it may not be applicable for some styles of playing. But it's definitely not inferior. In fact, I prefer it to white hair on this particular bow with my violin. I think it gives me more control on my very heavy G and D strings.


And yes, I took the Coruss off. I put it on my CF backup, where I think it makes the most sense to have synthetic hair.

Replies (23)

April 27, 2019, 9:26 PM · A number of my double bass colleagues use it, and a couple violinists do a 50/50 mix.
April 27, 2019, 10:32 PM · I've done the zebra thing. One time I had the inner edge black and the outer edge white. I don't know if it made a huge difference but it looked very cool!
April 28, 2019, 9:37 PM · Shmuel Ashkenasi uses pure black on his bow. He makes it sound good!
April 29, 2019, 8:30 AM · I really like the idea of combining the two colours of hair, that must look so cool!
April 29, 2019, 10:00 AM · Well, black hair takes more tension than white hair, so you'd only be making the bow less consistent to play on.
April 29, 2019, 10:40 AM · Supply and demand. You could walk in an orchestra and see 1,2 probably none at all of the upper strings or cellos using any black hair. Only in the basses is this a bit more common but the majority I’ve seen still use white hair. It’s not popular so it costs more
Edited: April 29, 2019, 10:56 AM · How much more does it cost? I would have thought "supply and demand" would increase the price of the more popular, desirable product. Perhaps you meant "economy of scale."

Coming back to the original question, is it a stigma? Or do most pros just not prefer how black hair plays, and so they pass that preference on to their students?

If it's merely a stigma, then it's in good company as far as violins and violin playing are concerned.

April 29, 2019, 1:02 PM · Bulk black hair is less expensive than white, FWIW.
April 29, 2019, 1:43 PM · Paul, black hair is coarser than white, and tends to feel more grippy on the string (some people also say it doesn't last as long, but I don't actually know). Most violin players find it too grippy / coarse-sounding/feeling. Some violinists will do a salt and pepper mix, very few do all black hair.

Of course, the difference between black and white hair is also going to vary a lot depending on the quality of white hair you get...

April 29, 2019, 2:38 PM · Irene, you might find this paper changes your mind about black hair being coarser (there others which arrive at the same conclusion about surface texture):

http://www.fineviolinbows.com/pdf/Analysis_bowhair.pdf

Any extent to which black hair plays differently seems to result from its greater thickness (assuming everyone is using Chinese hair these days) and different elastic properties.

April 29, 2019, 3:07 PM · coarser means thicker
April 29, 2019, 5:28 PM · Hah, a fair point Lyndon. I would have to argue with far too many barbers, hairdressers and thread makers if I disagreed. :-)
April 29, 2019, 5:46 PM · Luthiers I personal know don't provide black… I may try if they do
April 29, 2019, 6:27 PM · "Coarser" hair means each strand has a larger diameter. For bow hair I think "thicker" means the same. I think what barbers call "thicker hair" means there are more strands per square inch of scalp.
April 30, 2019, 6:43 AM · One of the reasons black hair costs less is that it is less processed and there is more of it (they allow for more variation in color). They also don't sort it as much so there is more variation to the texture of the hair. Black hair is fine to mix if that is what players prefers. There is no stigma in the industry, it just costs less to produce.

If a player is looking for something out the norm it usually tells me that something might be out of adjustment as they may be trying to compensate for something. i.e. The post plays a big roll on how the bow catches. In my experience for most professional classical players with good instruments and bows properly set up for standard classical repertoire will prefer the high quality white hair.

April 30, 2019, 10:15 AM · Cotton said in regards to mixed hair:

" Well, black hair takes more tension than white hair, so you'd only be making the bow less consistent to play on."

For the record, I did not find this to be the case with mixed hair.


As an aside, I was wondering how often horsehair is bleached?

April 30, 2019, 11:50 AM · I think frighteningly often. I had a chance to talk with Lemuel (of Lemuel Violins) about horsehair and he says the good stuff is getting harder and harder to come by, by virtue of all the junk on the market.
April 30, 2019, 10:16 PM · LOL Tim, just don't get stranded.

Cotton, the problem of finding the good stuff with all the junk on the market applies to everything.

May 1, 2019, 11:30 AM · I wasn't aware that there is a stigma concerning black hair. Anyway, for me it's academic - my hair is a lot lighter in color now than it was when the photo adjacent this post was taken.
Edited: May 9, 2019, 11:43 AM · I just went for a rehair with Isaac Salchow in NYC this morning. I asked him to put all black hair on my Tourte model bow by Charles Bazin. I really like it so far. The hair is a bit stronger than the white hair and it seems to stick to the string more. Contrary to what some say about black hair, the tone does not sound forced or grating.

Roman Kim told me this afternoon he’s recently been using all black horsehair and said ‘it’s the best!’ He also told me that he’s noticed that the black hair lasts longer.

May 9, 2019, 6:18 AM · You met Roman Kim?!

Aw, man...

Edited: May 10, 2019, 12:27 PM · You can see Roman using the black horsehair here:

And Shmuel Ashkenasi:

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