Why do some players break a lot of bow-hairs while others don't?

November 7, 2020, 12:35 AM · There's a thread running just now where some people are saying they rehair once or twice a year when it becomes too thin because of breakages.

I find this hard to understand, as I pretty much never break any hairs despite a fairly big tone and vigorous technique. I'm often playing Scottish Strathspeys which involve a lot of off-the-string attack. And I'm a bit of a klutz, so it's not as though I have a delicate hand on the bow.

Some of the people I play with break hairs in every session, yet they are much more restrained than me.

Can anyone help explain what might be going on here to account for this difference?

Replies (13)

Edited: November 7, 2020, 7:16 AM · For me a significant factor has certainly been how much energy I'm putting in, coupled with bad technique. While I was doing a lot of miscellaneous orchestral playing, often leading a section of relatively inexperienced amateurs, I tended to exaggerate my attack for demonstration's sake. I used to break a lot of bow hairs, and on one occasion was upbraided for my habit of dropping the bow onto the string. Another related bad habit that left visible scars on my violin was lunging to play pizzicato without tucking the frog into my palm! For the last 10 years I've concentrated almost exclusively on chamber music and broken bow hairs could probably be counted in single figures.
November 7, 2020, 3:01 AM · I'm not sure. It could be a function of the quality of the hair and the quality of the rehair, in addition to playing style. I always have the same person do my rehairs, and I don't tend to press or have much of a reason to do "orchestral attacks", which perhaps could get some hairs, so it's pretty uncommon that my hairs ever break. Steve's experience makes sense to me, although I'm not any kind of pro. I tend to practice at least 2 hours per day on average, and I hardly ever break hairs.

I think I must be at about a year on my current rehairs.

Edited: November 7, 2020, 4:17 AM · The only hair I've broken in 2 years was when I accidentally caught it in the zip of my violin case.
November 7, 2020, 7:15 AM · Hair breaks when the hair gets caught between the string and the stick. Basically either their is not enough hair tension or the player is just pushing too hard. An article I did a while back explains some of the principals of tightening a bow: https://adbowsllc.com/2016/01/26/how-tight-to-tighten-a-bow-and-its-effect-on-tone-production/

If at a good tension and the player is still bottoming out the stick, they probably need a stronger bow.

Edited: November 7, 2020, 11:34 AM · Even when I use a lot of weight or purposely force, with the stick touching the hair, I never break bow hair.
I don't know why that happens for some, maybe low quality hair, but I'm sure that for a few pop famous like Alexander Rybak or David Garret, they do it on purpose for style, it will look cool, if you get what I mean.
Edited: November 7, 2020, 8:49 AM · Brittle stock, dry weather, sparse rehair, more downward force, and steep bow roll.
November 7, 2020, 9:23 AM · I think a lot of it comes down to the player’s bowing style. I’m reminded of Charlie Daniels wearing out a bow each show.

Hairs might break more often if there is too much rosin on the bow. The quality of the hair plays a big part as well; cheap hair is bleached to make it look whiter. Bleach desiccates the hair and makes it brittle.

November 7, 2020, 10:50 PM · I also rarely break hairs when playing. That can happen from a too forceful on-the-string accent at the frog, where the stick is inflexible. Anywhere else that should not happen, as the stick acts like a shock absorber. I do get broken hairs from accidents; the bow spinner in the case can catch, the E-string tuner. And another place where you guys will not have a problem. As a Mariachi fiddler, the bow hair can get caught on the silver chain botonadura on my pants.
November 22, 2020, 1:06 PM · IMHO, breaking hair usually comes down to poor technique. My observation is that students tend to have an overly tilted bow which causes the hair to be pinched between the stick and the string.

Cheers Carlo

November 23, 2020, 7:01 AM · Hi, I once attended a recital by Midori, and she lost so much hair that I was wondering, how she could make it through the evening. Why that was - not sure, but if it was a matter of poor technique, wow, I wouldn’t hesitate in “worsening” my technique to her level even if it cost me that extra bow hair! ;-)

I can add some of my own experiences, anyway:
First, I do have my bow rehaird about twice a year, or at least once, depending on the importance of the projects I happen to work on. Although I hardly break hairs, the bow starts losing precision, after a while. It won’t really take the rosin, anymore, either, and yes, I did try to clean the hair in several ways in order to try to avoid the rehair.

I once had a rehair, however, after which the hairs started to break. So much so that I had to have it done, again.

So, the quality of the hair can vary, and some (or all??) luthiers use a flame, at some point, as far as I know - the experts will know. It would thus make sense that if the flame just got too close or too long in contact with the hair that it eventually causes damage.

I wonder that the fact that you and I don’t break hair might simply be due to the fact that the bowmakers we go to happen to work without affecting the hair so much, or they work with other suppliers.


November 23, 2020, 10:42 AM · It's a running joke at our house, every time my cellist daughter plays a Brahms piece with piano, the hairs start breaking - from pulling a big sound on a big piece with big accompaniment. Has nothing to do with our bow guy.
November 23, 2020, 12:55 PM · Perhaps a contributory factor could be not cleaning surplus rosin from the strings after playing.
November 24, 2020, 4:50 PM · Sometimes it's just a bad batch of hair. When I started playing viola I would break two or three hairs at every rehearsal. Eventually there was so little left that I had no choice but to re-hair - and after that I hardly ever broke a hair.


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