Why does rosin build up need to be removed from our strings?
I have always done it, but don’t understand why it is necessary. “Always clean the rosin from your strings when you finish practicing”, I was told by my teachers. Then, thanks to the members here, I learned that cleaning the strings with an alcohol swab improved the response of synthetic strings. What I wonder is, if the bow hair needs rosin to produce a vibration from the string, why does a build up of the sticky stuff on the string inhibit that adhesion?
Well the rosin somehow coagulates on the strings but not on the bow. Dont know why though.
The rosin is needed for friction between the horse hair and string. Rosin on the string will make it difficult to create the proper friction for string vibrations. The string is essential scraping off the rosin from the bow to develop the build up. Alcohol can react with some synthetic core materials and is probably better to avoid using it.
Accumulated rosin on the bowed area of a string changes the vibrational response of the entire string so that instead of producing a pure tone and related overtones the frequency spectrum is changed to include audible interference of neighboring frequencies.
I might’ve mentioned this on here before. I recommend having a rotation of micro fiber cloths to clean your instrument. If you keep using the same one over and over, all you’re doing is mixing the excess rosin dust around on the strings and instrument. The varnish can also become quite cloudy looking.
I appreciate all the responses. I routinely use a cotton cloth to clean off the rosin and rotate it so I always use a clean area. Despite this, I notice the bow isn’t grabbing as it once did. Might the Vision strings have reached their end of life?
You might try cleaning your bow hair. Lots of youtubes available for doing that, but if you search this site for it, you'll find a good set of instructions by Andrew Victor.
I always place another cloth below the strings when swabbing them with alcohol. This will catch and absorb any liquid before it can damage the varnish or fingerboard surface.
My teacher uses alcohol (any eau de cologne) on her strings once a week or so. You can see that rosin buildup affects the strings' shape and therefore, as someone said, acoustic properties. I use eau de cologne, but not enough to require a cloth over the violin to protect it. Just put a tiny amount on a thumbnail sized patch of cloth so that it is damp but nowhere near dripping. If you squeeze the cloth and there's one single drip, then it's damper than I have ever needed it to be.
Strings sound and respond best when their weight remains the same all along the playing length. Rosin buildup creates a heavy spot.
I always hang my cloths over the back of a chair. In retrospect a good idea.
Your thumbnail will do the same rosin scraping job as a credit card - and it is always available ("at hand" so to speak). I learned this one from a late principal 2nd violinist of the San Francisco Symphony. But it seems to me it's no more effective than a microfiber cloth, just handier.
Thumbnails are useful things. Geologists use the hardness of the thumbnail (1 on the mohs scale, the same as talc) as their starting point for measuring rock hardness. If your thumbnail is softer than a credit card, it will do the strings less potential damage than a credit card. You'd find out which is harder by trying to use one to scratch at the surface of the other. I'll let someone else do the test. I suspect the card is harder, but I could be wrong.
One kind of string that hasn't been considered so far in this discussion is plain gut, in particular plain gut A and D together with a wire-wound gut core G, a combination I use most of the time. A solvent, of any type, to clean such strings is clearly out of the question, as is the use of a credit card or equivalent to scrape the rosin off. I therefore use a clean cloth which still leaves a little residue of rosin embedded in the string - is there a better viable alternative? Or am I too precious in the matter?
Good question. (alcohol dissolves protein, and I assume gut is protein). There are many considerations I can think of, though. It may be that if you use little enough alcohol, the rosin will neutralise it before it harms the strings. That little alcohol may only be capable of dissolving a microgram or two of gut anyway. The rosin and friction of playing may do the gut more harm than the alcohol. The gut strings may need replacing long before any harm done by alcohol is noticeable. Why don't I wait for someone who plays on gut to answer, lol!
Gordon, I’m not enough of a chemist to debate that alcohol does or does not dissolve protein, but I use methylated spirits to preserve samples ( when formalin not desired) . If alcohol dissolved gut protein , there’s a lot of us that wouldn’t be round today.
Gordon, my plain gut A and D last somewhere between 9-12 months before they need replacing, for tonal reasons, but not for fraying which I find is minimal on those strings. The wound gut G lasts no more than 6 months before the sound starts to go south - this is what happens with wound strings anyway.
The only two things I know related to this are:
I use injection swabs - alcohol infused squares - with a cloth on the belly to catch any drops. I clean the strings in the bowing area AND the rest of the string and the fingerboard.
Rachel Barton Pine had a podcast with the owner of Otto Infeld (Dominant) Strings. He said that every violinist should have some OOOO steel wool to clean the rosin off the strings. If you ever feel that your bow doesn't have enough rosin on it, it may not be the bow that is not "attacking" the string, but that the string is being resistant to the bow because of too much rosin. Use some OOOO steel wool to clean the excess rosin off the string and (without re-rosining the bow) start playing again. It will sound (and feel) as though you had re-rosined the bow. The bow usually has enough rosin, it is just that a string caked with rosin is not as responsive.
Sorry Gordon but you are wrong. I am a protein chemist and we use etanol to precipitate protein. I use etanol to wipe rosin from my wound gut strings regularly and have not had a problem with that.
I've long opposed cleaning metal or metal-wound strings with anything harder than they are. Thus I oppose using steel wool. An adult cello student of mine 20 years ago started using nylon scrubbies on his cello strings (because his 80 year old mother crocheted them (for cleaning his pots and pans) and he gave me one. I purchased additional ones later from ebay ( https://www.ebay.com/itm/Nylon-Pot-Scrubbers-Scrubbies-Handmade-Crocheted-Pack-of-6-Assorted-Colors/264560263482?hash=item3d9905413a:g:yKUAAOSwICJcuhAP ). Ever since I've carried a scrubbie in every instrument case.
Joel, different string manufactures have differing views on the use of steel wool. One of the factors influencing how well the bow grips the string is the surface texture of the winding material, and steel wool can alter this from the way it was originally manufactured.
I use a natural cork to clean my string of rosin. Cut a slit in the edge of the cork and press it over the string so the string is well into the cork and rub a couple of times. The rosin build up is gone and no harm is done to the string. Rotate the cork as you rub and both the top and underside are equally cleaned. Caveat- Don’t use the composite corks found in some wine bottles because the glue used is much harder than the cork itself and could cut into the winding.
Bo, in my defence, I was once shown what happens when you mix ethanol with hot egg-yolk. I think also an alcoholic's throat varicose veins may have been mentioned.
The egg white is pure protein, yolk, not so much.
If you crack an egg into ethanol the egg white will soon start to turn from translucent to cloudy and eventually white just as if boiled.
I clean my strings roughly every 2 weeks with a good string cleaner and then with just a cloth in between and I can keep life in my strings for 4-5 months tops.
I use the finest grade steel wool as well. Very lightly ran over the string. I use Passiones and have noticed no ill effects or shortened lifespan. I didn't care for any kind of liquid cleaner because even with fast evaporation times, I'd still have to wait to play, which was annoying.
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