How to know if rosin gone bad

Edited: June 17, 2019, 6:15 AM · I’ve had my same rosin for about 12 years and now I’m getting back to playing the violin. I was wondering how do you know if the rosin has gone bad?
When I put it on my bow it seems like a lot of rosin dust falls onto my violin.
Should I have to purchase new rosin? Also, what is the difference in cheap vs expensive rosin? Does it affect the sounds ?

Replies (29)

June 17, 2019, 7:26 AM · If you sniff it and it smells like rancid eggs, it's time to buy a new cake.
Edited: June 17, 2019, 9:06 AM · All I can say from my experience is that I have a cake of Kaplan dark cello rosin that I've been using since the early '90s, and since about 2010 (when my cello playing finished) have been using it on a gut-string violin with no problems. It's still intact, but getting rather thin, so I guess its days are numbered. My other cake of rosin, also dark, by Pirastro, I use on my other violin. That cake will probably outlive me.

I don't have enough experience of rosins in general to be able to comment effectively on different brands etc, but I have a cynical suspicion that snake-oil may be a not uncommon ingredient ;)

June 17, 2019, 7:48 AM · Some rosins will get a little dustier, but rosin is relatively inexpensive you could just buy a new cake if your not sure. Hopefully you have rehaired your bow since your are just getting back into playing. The hair is definitely shot and the culprit of this if you haven't.
June 17, 2019, 8:14 AM · If there's a fossilised mosquito in it, it has gone bad.

My teacher has been a pro violist for 30 years, and she says she has used two cakes of rosin in that time (Good value for money, Hidersine - bigger cakes than some!).

Mind, she went on a week's workshop to Cremona recently and has come back convinced that it is worth paying more for good rosin.

June 17, 2019, 8:18 AM · I've been playing the violin for 70 years, and have tried many rosins, but none has ever gone bad.
Edited: June 17, 2019, 10:08 AM · I had a cake of rosin that I could reasonably date to 1929. It was still working in the year 2001 when one of my grandchldren may have lost it. But it was still working OK.

Some rosins do not work so well on some instruments and some rosins do make more dust than others. Some players prefer rosins with more grip than others do.

The MAGIC ROSIN company (to the best of my current knowledge) produces rosins of 3 different grippiness in large and small cakes. They are very good and reasonably priced (compared to some). It is one way to test your rosin needs.

It is also possible that your bow hair needs cleaning or replacement. I always recommend cleaning* before replacing - as a way of saving time and money. I think you can probably Google bow-hair cleaning methods. Just be sure not to get any moisture into (or near) the tip or frog of the bow.

*My method for cleaning bow hair is given here:
https://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/18371/

I've been doing it this way for years.

June 17, 2019, 12:00 PM · Sniffing violin varnish; smoking horse hair; stealing silver bow ferrules; staying out of its pouch to all hours;
All signs that your rosin has gone bad...
June 17, 2019, 3:58 PM · You may just be putting too much rosin on your bow. I wouldn't worry about it.
June 17, 2019, 4:24 PM · I've been working with rosin for 45 years as an industrial chemist, I play the violin, I've developed one rosin that has been on the market for several years, and I had input into the formulation of another rosin mentioned in an earlier post. I've also done several studies on measuring the differences among rosin with regard to their relative hardness/softness as measured by their glass transitions temperatures. Here's my opinion.

Rosin oxidizes fairly rapidly with time and as it ages it gets harder and "dustier". A 10 year old cake is very different from when it was fresh. A previous employer of mine used about a rail car a week of rosin so shelf life wasn't an issue, but when bagged would not use anything over six months old.

That said, I don't believe violinists can tell the differences between rosins unless those differences are quite large which explains why people continue to use very old, oxidized cakes. In the testing I've done with about 25 commercial rosins I've found that at least half of them are nearly identical in their "hardness" as measured by Tg, but a few cluster on the hard end and a few at the soft end. It's these extremes that people should probably carry in their case if they want two varieties that are truly different.

Rosin costs about a dollar a pound and the small amount of additives some people put in their commercial violin rosins isn't going to change the cost much. Most of the cost of a rosin cake is in the packaging and filling, not material.

People have very strong feelings about rosin which the manufacturers exploit with clever marketing. Dragon's blood? Gold flecks? Fancy box?

In the end I really don't think it makes much difference whether you use an old cake, new cake, expensive cake, or cheap cake, as long as you think it works for you.

June 17, 2019, 4:47 PM · When you apply it underarm and see no difference from deodorant!
June 18, 2019, 3:43 AM · elise stanley:
Damn, sniffing violin varnish too?
My rosin has gone bad and I haven't even noticed it.
Damn!
June 18, 2019, 3:47 AM · You can be pretty sure the rosin had gone bad if:

- It curses to much
- Leaves blood residue in your case or on your bow
- Carries firearms or cold weapons around
- Sniffs white powder
- etc...

In this case - buying a new cake will not solve the problem. You might get stabbed or shot by the bad rosin anytime if it finds out.

Better call the rosin police.

Edited: June 18, 2019, 3:59 AM · Dear Jo J, with lighter rosins you get more dust, this is normal. Make sure to wipe your violin top, fingerboard, and strings, with a clean cotton handkerchief, every time before you are going to add new rosin to your bow. You should only add rosin to your bow if you have a rehearsal, concert, or lesson, and otherwise whenever you notice that the bow does not "grab" the string well anymore. There also exists darker rosin that has less dust, but also there you should wipe it off regularly, it is just not so visible, but it is there. So in the end it does not matter much which rosin you use. Anyway, as others have written, it does not really go bad. Typically you only buy a new rosin when you dropped your old one :-) Yes there are rosin connoisseurs and very expensive rosins, but I think this only matters for high-end violinists. All the best with the violin!
June 18, 2019, 3:59 AM · Tom Quin;
Are the hardness and softness, or the glass transition temperature the only factors affecting the amount of grip?
June 18, 2019, 4:17 AM · Rocky—
Does that mean you won’t find the Joachim bow technique as easy anymore?
June 18, 2019, 2:39 PM · David Burgess:
I wish I knew the answer to your question. I'm fairly certain that no one has been able to correlate measurable material properties of rosin with "playability", but it should be possible to correlate material properties with "grip" as measured by the resistance of a rosin coated glass rod over a string or a rosin coated sled being dragged over a surface as they measure friction.

Logically, the Tg should have a major impact on the brittleness and friability and thus "grip" of the rosin. I also think it's no coincidence that the Tg of bow rosin is around room temperature and resinous materials with much higher or lower Tg's don't work. Tg is also a fairly simple and reproducible test to run.

There are many things I puzzle about with this. The apparent brittleness of a material and the Tg are affected by the rate (i.e. frequency) at which it's measured. The faster the vibration, the more brittle it seems. That's why zipping a band-aid causes less pain than a slower peel. It gets brittle and loses adhesion. Since the stick/slip of the rosin on the string happens at the same frequency of the note played there must be a huge difference in the performance of the rosin depending on whether it's a low bass string or high violin string. But if that's the case, why is rosin for bass instruments so much softer than violin? It should be just the opposite.

Anyway, I'm in the process of retiring and will have some time on my hands so maybe I can look at this more. There are serious academic tribologists (study of friction) who write papers on things like how friction on brake pads causes the brakes to squeal. That's not all that different from the sound I get when I apply friction to the bow and strings of my violin. I'd like to connect with someone like this and delve into violin bow rosin more deeply.

June 18, 2019, 4:39 PM · Fascinating, Tom Quinn. I await your research, but as a player, I agree with your conclusions thus far.
Edited: June 18, 2019, 7:12 PM · "That's why zipping a band-aid causes less pain than a slower peel. It gets brittle and loses adhesion."
Not sure that is the only reason: there are major implications to the activation of skin receptors, 'zip' causes a large but short duration activation whereas peel is the opposite; a smaller amplitude but longer duration activation. Thus, (as I see it) zip will acutely activate large nerve fiber alpha/beta sensory receptors (responsible for touch) but will tend to not activate the small-diameter C fibers - which are the main ones responsible for pain. Peel will activate the former less but the C fibers strongly.


Sorry for the aside, ignore if not of interest.

June 19, 2019, 12:29 AM · I was thinking about this many times. And I really don't know. My friend, specialist in the wood branch (haha he is very clever building instruments and know the wood properties - but this sounds funny:)), thinks the rosin will evaporate some kind of substances inside and degrade slowly but in a matter of months or maybe few years when perfectly sealed and you have a small surface with contact with the air. Also, we were talking and discussing that already oxidized surface can seal it a little bit more (there are fewer holes and pores under a microscope) so I think that not used rosin in a shelf has a longer lifespan until the musician will disrupt the surface. Also, there is this effect during usage, we are still peeling off the oxidized particles and reach the deeper better part.

After these discussions, I found an old Pirastro Black rosin in my old case. It was around 10 - 12years old, absolutely disgusting state, hard as a rock, matte surface with holes inside (due to drying), like moon surface and it was a half of the size.

So go figure it out.

June 19, 2019, 1:40 AM · "Since the stick/slip of the rosin on the string happens at the same frequency of the note"

Is that true actually? I mean, if I just pizz my G string once, it sounds like G, if I pizz it very fast, it still sounds like G.

June 19, 2019, 3:58 AM · Jean, that's largely true, once the string has reached a steady state of vibration.

Slightly oversimplified description:

When one is bowing, the rosin acts as an adhesive, pulling the string to one side, until the force required to pull the string any further overcomes the strength of the adhesive. When the string breaks loose and snaps back, this creates a kink in the string which travels toward the scroll end, is reflected back, and jerks the string loose from the hair/rosin when it arrives. Then, this cycle repeats at the frequency of the played note.

June 19, 2019, 7:50 AM · David - is that why the note sounds dull if you put too much pressure on the string? That would prevent the string from breaking free to vibrate. Thus, 'good tone' requires a consistent and accurate bow pressure (which obviously varies with contact point and bow speed).
Edited: June 20, 2019, 3:01 PM · Yes, it disrupts the cycle of the string breaking free at exactly the right time.
A very light and fast bow can also allow the smaller squiggles (the harmonics) to break the string free, resulting in a sound which puts more emphasis on the higher partials. That's part of the sound palette good players have leaned how to use.
June 20, 2019, 2:49 PM · Here's the culinary equivalent of rosin gone bad...
June 22, 2019, 12:59 PM · To illustrate string action during bowing - and the slipping process:
https://www.facebook.com/bostonphil/videos/2334141486648659/

[sorry if you are not on FB]

June 23, 2019, 8:17 AM · Tom Q -- another chemist here. Any idea what the oxidation reaction is? Looking at the structure of abietic acid I can guess, but I'd rather not guess if someone's got an answer. (I'm even less inclined to look it up.) Also is it possible that the hardening arises from the gradual loss of volatile plasticizing species (water, or a terpenoid or such)? I noticed (anecdotally -- not by any scientific means) that rosins that I melt down and re-mold are a little harder then they were when new, so I wonder if I'm driving off any "plasticizer" in that process.
June 23, 2019, 9:04 AM · Add a little vegetable oil during the melting Paul to soften it. Its great for rosin to use in those motels without any soundproofing...
Edited: June 26, 2019, 2:17 AM · I should have raised this question a lot earlier, but of course powdered rosin on a bow will oxidise a lot faster than rosin in a cake, and, as with stainless steel, we also need to ask, is the external oxide layer on the cake airtight or not? The two rates of oxidisation may make some of these arguments academic if the difference is great enough. These are all questions I don't know the answers to: I haven't done any chemistry since 1976.
June 26, 2019, 3:20 PM · Elise that makes sense. More sense than turpentine. :)

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