Bow rehair: too thin?

November 1, 2021, 8:31 PM · Good Evening.

I've made good enough progress with the violin, I'm expanding my basic research to bows, rosin, and accessories.

I recently took my $250 pernambuco bow to be rehaired, but I picked it up today and I'm skeptical. I'm not sure if rosin is making the difference in my hybrid and carbon fiber bow, but I don't remember either of them looking so thin.

I can't find much on the internet about this, perhaps I'm using the wrong keywords but any articles or advice is very much welcome. Being in Florida, I've been using a less agreeable dark rosin so I invested in quality lighter rosin, Bespoke supple, but I don't want to apply it when I'm not even sure about the bow.

Thank you very much.

Replies (28)

November 1, 2021, 8:40 PM · Contact the bow rehairer with your questions. I did that once many years ago when I thought my Coda bow hair ribbon looked a little sparse. He informed me that the amount of hair a bow gets should be related to its stiffness: stiffer bow gets more hair. Anyhow this was the first time I had had that bow rehaired and it worked much better than it had when the Coda company sent it to me.

I later applied that lesson to all my bows and improved their performance significantly.

Edited: November 1, 2021, 8:57 PM · I can't comment on the rehair (it looks like a hairy bow that perhaps hasn't been rosined yet), but be careful looking for silver bullets. The silverest bullet of all (aside from Coors) is more practice. Like Andrew said, the bow was probably rehaired according to whatever the rehairer thinks will suit it best - You haven't mentioned whether it plays well or not after the rehair.

I would say a good rule of thumb is to buy whatever rosin is closest within reach at the store, and then to not buy another cake for 10 years. If in 10 years you still think that there might be a difference between rosins, then you can go out on a quest to find the holy grail.

Other accessories, such as violin lube, pegging compound, f-hole grout, and a bow frog eye that turns blue when the bow is cold, are for advanced bank accounts and not for hard-practicing violinists like you and I.

November 1, 2021, 8:59 PM · Thank you, Andrew.

You're 100% correct. Guess I'm just angsty about beind blind sided but I should trust in them being professionals unless they prove otherwise. I sampled bows when I dropped mine for rehairing and fell in love with the Codabow Diamond GX, so that's where my savings will go next.

I appreciate your insight.

November 1, 2021, 9:06 PM · Thank you Christian,

I haven't played it yet but will try it out now that Andrew talked some common sense at me. I was using dark rosin that's always colored my sound with a scratchy quality. I didn't notice until recently and my sensitivity to my sound quality has increased.

Everything else in my life, even if it's a luxury, I'm begrudged to some degree to throw money at it but the violin I'm finding the money goes like water for some things. The rosin I bought is what the gentleman helping me try bows was using and I admit, I was bedazzled by it. It actually helped my bowing and added no added qualities.

November 1, 2021, 10:28 PM · Gabriel, I never loved a bow before I got my Diamond GX. My sound and playing improved immediately with it. Your bow looks like it hasn't been rosined as mentioned above.
November 1, 2021, 10:49 PM · Thank you, Ann.

The bow now has the new rosin I mentioned above and I am a very happy camper. I took the bow to the shop because I was just noticing the scratchy quality it had. The Codabow adds a "creamy" side that I love and the weight and feel are fantastic. I caught onto the rosin though and I have to say, with this Bespoke supple, I'm good to wait patiently. I never would have thought rosin would make such a difference. On first practice though, it stubbornly clung to the strings. I imagine this rosin could be destructive one weren't careful.

November 1, 2021, 11:11 PM · Gabriel, it sounds to me as though you are using one of the Leatherwood rosins from Australia - my favorites!
Edited: November 2, 2021, 1:21 AM · Specifically pertaining to rosin: my opinion is only as good as anyone else's, but I've never found rosin type/brand to mean much of anything. I don't believe in heavy rosining, and can generally wipe several hours' worth of rosin dust off my instrument with a few seconds of gentle wiping with an untreated Shar cloth. I either have enough rosin on, or I don't, and if I notice that I'm rosining more and more often lately, then it's time for a rehair. Micro-tweaking your setup will play a much smaller role than continuing to level up your right arm technique. Try something simple like playing A440 on a drone, either from an app or some kind of tuner/metronome device. Try matching the tone of the drone with your violin as closely as possible. Even if the tuner is emitting a very bright, mechanical tone, see if you can make your violin match it. Developing a vocabulary for articulation and tone production is something that can and will happen across a variety of setups. I wouldn't get too caught up in setup minutiae presently.
Edited: November 2, 2021, 6:20 AM · Thank you, Aaron.

I do appreciate advice, however, I have been at this for 3 long years and I have played with too much, to little, and variants between of rosin. I have spent the long hours sounding like a wailing cat and gradually improving my sound and sensitivity with etudes, countless hours of scales, research, using gratiatingly slow practice with tuners and drones, and persistent practice.

I know you only broached the topic of rosin, but as a general rant not directed at anyone, I actually limited myself greatly due to advice I recieved here. In this hobby/profession, equipment plays a huge factor and many people probably quit because their equipment is limiting, impedes their progress, and leads to frustration and killing confidence. I spent far too long on my beginner $500 violin because advice here when I posted about being ready to upgrade that, because I had named my violin, it sounded as though I was attached and everything was fine, just keep practicing. I just upgraded to a $2500 violin, it has been night and day and my progress has been on a fast track, with much of it overdue catching up because of easier string crossings, more pronounced "sing" to assist me knowing when I am landing correct notes and other benefits.

I mean no disrespect, but I love this hobby, it is my zen and refuge from a brutal and emotionally exhausting profession (dog rescue). I don't make money doing it and I likely never will, but what is the purpose of making money if we don't use it in pursuit of those things we love?

Thank you again and I hope you have a great day.

Edited: November 2, 2021, 6:24 AM · Am I to conclude from this discussion that the craftsman who rehairs my bow will somehow measure the tension of the stick before deciding how much hair to put on it? If so, by what means is this measurement typically conducted?
November 2, 2021, 6:50 AM · I suspect an experienced rehairer (who actually tries to tailor the amount of hair to the bow's stiffness) can do it by feel or by eye (when tightening the bow with the remaining hair still on it). However, not all rehairers are give a damn about that and just grab a standard (premeasured**) "hank" of hair and work with that.

**I recall reading an autobiographical "footnote" by someone whose first apprentiship in a violin shop involved creating pre-measured bundles of hair for violin, viola and cello bows.

I have a "trio" of ARCUS (CF) bows that are extremely stiff and using the formula I "developed" I requested my luthier shop use a specific amount of hair I wanted in each of the bows. They charged me extra for the extra hair.

November 2, 2021, 8:56 AM · Gabriel - ultimately you will have to learn to adapt to the amount of rosin remaining on the bow - I don't think I have ever seen a violinist re-rosin their bow during a performance (though I guess it happens) or even during a 3 hour orchestra rehearsal. Since the bow needs more rosin after a long session, we must all be playing with a declining gradient of coating.

I typically just do a couple of swipes of the cake of rosin [I've no idea what brand; I went through blaming rosin for my lack of technique years ago and bought a number of different cakes that are now used by whichever is sitting on the shelf on my stand.] on the whole bow (no more) and then a little extra at the frog where the strings get a bit dirty - and off I go.

The only important factor for rosin for me is that it does not cake on the string and does not splatter on the instrument. Thus, I guess most of the cakes that I bought are on the hard side (I think the ones I am currently using is a Hill, it lost its wrapping years ago).

Edited: November 2, 2021, 9:43 AM · Thank you, Elise.

I appreciate the feedback and insight.

To clarify, I live in a humid environment and I was using a dark rosin, which according to materials I have now reviewed and watched, will cause scratch and a "heavier" draw, especially in more humid environments because it is softer. I switched to a light rosin and the draw of my bow is smoother and I do not scratch from just laying my bow on the string, which was a constant. Formerly, I blamed my technique and attacked it from many angles and exercises, but if a light colored rosin makes a difference, then I don't believe I am in mistaken in saying my technique did indeed improve and the tweak of rosin made a difference.

I don't believe in using quick fixes as a temporary band aid for my technical issues. This approach would only be cheating myself in the long run, I prefer to build real skill.

November 2, 2021, 9:37 AM · As an addition, I'm not pushing the product I mentioned. This is just part of my personal journey and finding what I like and what works for me.

As far as the rosin: I tried it, I liked it, I bought it, I'm happy with it. My former rosin, which I've used since about a month after I started and ditched the china stuff is Holstein dark. Listening to my recordings, while one has a scratch, it also has a darker quality to it. My opinion may change over time, but the question I've asked and information I relayed is in the realm of preference and not an estimation of my own skill or technique.

November 2, 2021, 10:43 AM · that bow hair looks fine to me!
Edited: November 3, 2021, 10:59 PM · I recall reading (somewhere) that the darkness of rosin is related to the "softness" ONLY because it is purposely "color coded" by the manufacturers so we can specify "dark rosin" when we really want a softer lower MP grade.

The two more recently developed product lines of the MAGIC ROSIN company are both transparent and clear (like glass) and would seem to prove that statement. Earlier the company had 3 softness grades of rosin and they were all clear and transparent.

By the way, hearing graininess (scratchiness to some people, I guess) when you bow the strings is not necessarily a bad thing - that sound does not really travel. The concertmaster of my college orchestra got to hear Jascha Heifetz in concert from the first row and reported back that he hear could hear that sound that close. I heard Heifetz in concert 2 years earlier from the first row of a balcony and it sounded like the recording, none of those scratchy sounds.

But I think violinists, playing for their own amazement rather than that of others, should satisfy their own hearing. Even in her 80s my wife has hearing that registers better than 0 db on most of an audiograph frequency range. My unaided audiograph now ranges from -45 db on down to -70 db at 2 KHz as the frequency rises (I am functionally deaf without my hearing aids). It is clear why my wife is not enamored of high violin sounds and prefers cello as her favorite instrument. Fortunately, I play both.

November 2, 2021, 12:59 PM · The amount of hair a bow needs is dictated by the size of the mortise for the plug. Overcrowding the tip with hair will cause the ribbon to lose its flatness and putting too much in will make the bow feel dead in the hand. It’s a common beginner mistake to put too much hair in—an experienced rehairer will evaluate each bow before cutting a hank out of the bundle. In addition to the sound considerations, putting too much hair into the head risks cracks or blown-out cheeks. When there’s not enough hair the bow can produce a hollow tone and may be erratic in handling.

James Tubbs was mindful of the danger of over-hairing bows, so he made frogs where no spread wedge was needed; once too much hair was put in, the rehairer would be forced to remove hair in order to get the ferrule to fit. As it turned out, many rehairers didn’t like this feature, and the majority of Tubbs bows were altered to accept a spread wedge. Bows by this maker are known for being especially sensitive to the amount of hair put in.

November 2, 2021, 1:01 PM · I just recently had a viola bow rehaired and specifically asked to have a little less hair this time - I felt like the last rehair used too much, and the slightly softer camber of this bow didn't like it. Now the bow plays really nicely - definitely an improvement!
November 2, 2021, 1:43 PM · Rich Maxham wrote:
"The amount of hair a bow needs is dictated by the size of the mortise for the plug."

I'll take issue with that one. The size of the mortise can have nothing to do with the ideal amount of hair, from a sound and playing properties perspective.

November 2, 2021, 8:17 PM · Could you elaborate your reasoning? Given a mortise of a certain size and the hair gap, there’s only a certain amount of hair that fits before the mortise is overcrowded. The only way to fit more hair in is to increase the hair gap, something that is detrimental to the hair ribbon and makes the plug exponentially more likely to fail. I often come across rehairs that need to be redone because the hair gap was too big, resulting in the plug popping out or the hair pulling up in the mortise.

If the frog mortise is over-haired, the frog can suffer. An over abundance of hair can lead to split rails or a damaged slide.

November 3, 2021, 10:49 PM · Not PURELY to bump this thread (though it is an interesting one), I just wanted to apologize to Gabriel, as I meant no disrespect at all. I didn't really answer your question, and instead basically offered unsolicited advice. You are absolutely right that equipment makes a HUGE difference. I think teachers sometimes forget that it's much easier to make beautiful sounds on their expensive instruments and bows than the setup the student is playing on. I never like telling a student that their best course of action is to go buy an instrument or bow that they currently can't afford, but sometimes it is the best way forward.
November 4, 2021, 3:20 AM · Rich, in that case, rather than saying,
"The amount of hair a bow needs is dictated by the size of the mortise for the plug",
wouldn't it be more accurate to say that the MAXIMUM amount of hair a bow can take may be limited by the space available in the head and the frog?
I think of this as a separate factor from the amount of hair that will make the bow perform best, one that rarely comes up unless one routinely uses over-abundant amounts of hair.
Edited: November 4, 2021, 5:04 PM · I have a cake of dark cello rosin that I've been using on my cello bow for about 40 years, and now on my violin bows. It's getting a bit thin but hasn't broken. In case it does go without warning I keep a new cake of violin rosin in my case ready to take over at short notice.

Don't buy shares in manufacturers of bow rosin as long as the likes of me are still around!

November 4, 2021, 7:08 PM · Trevor the manufacturers are doing just fine because there are plenty of folks who lose them, drop them (and don't remold them), and because there are still others who have to try 40 different brands.
November 5, 2021, 3:45 PM · David,

I see your point and agree that the mortise dictates the maximum.

When I’m doing a rehair, I don’t count the hairs or consult a table to determine a formula for each bow. As I’m cutting the plugs, I look at the mortises and form an idea of how much bigger or smaller the mortise is than the standard. Then I measure out the hair with my gauge and add or subtract hair based on my previous observations. I’m aiming for a nice flat and even ribbon of hair that fills the hair gap without overcrowding the mortise while also complementing the flexibility of the stick. To me, when those conditions are met, that’s also what will be best for the bow’s tonal performance. Once I’ve put the hair in, I don’t change the amount (other than to trim out a hair that doesn’t lay well at the end).

A well known bow maker told me that the average bow rehairer puts about 20% too much hair in, so I’ve always kept that in mind.

November 5, 2021, 4:16 PM · Thank you for the further explanation, Rich
Edited: November 5, 2021, 4:40 PM · One common criticism of bow reahairers has been that if they didn't put a mega-wad of hair in the bow, they were trying to "cheap out" somehow.

In reality, the cost of the hair pales in comparison to the cost of the labor required to do a really good job.

Edited: November 6, 2021, 9:29 AM · I've been experimenting with bows since I began playing again, and I've picked up a few insights.

A good bow person will indeed vary the amount of hair, depending on characteristics of the bow. I just had a bow rehaired, and my bow person explained all this to me.

Rosin can make a big difference in the sound of the violin. I've experimented with a variety of high quality, and rather expensive rosins in differing qualities. (Light to heavy.) For my violin and current bow, I now use Leatherwood Crisp, which is a rosin with remarkable grip on the string. Yes, expensive; but, worth it. Besides, it will last a lifetime.

In fresh rehairs, both my bow person and my luthier heat treat the bow hair with an alcohol burner and rosin. For me, this is essential, or it can take an eon to break in new hair.

I began with a G.A. Prretchzner I'd picked up in an antique store for $150 with a throw-away violin. This bow was unplayable, because it jittered too much. (Too bouncy on the string.) So, I upgraded to a different bow.

In the meantime, I subsequently had my bow person work on the bow camber of the G.A.P., not having realized at the time that this was possible. I'm back to using that bow and quite like it. It carries a little risk, because cambering can (very rarely) break a bow. But, I had noting to lose with that bow.

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