Violin bow hair

November 18, 2017, 7:14 PM · Does 400 hours on a violin bow indicate it is time for a rehair especially since it is slipping on the “A” string and only holds the rosin for 3 hours. If I add more rosin it slips more! Any ideas? I am not a novice player. I bought my bow 1 year ago and I wonder about the quality of the hair. I have not had this happen before and I have always had Mongolian hair.

Replies (22)

November 18, 2017, 8:08 PM · Rehair your bow at least once a year.
Edited: November 18, 2017, 8:38 PM · I find I need five or six good strokes of rosin per hour. I remember reading in other threads how various pros and advanced players claimed they were hardly ever rosining their bows. I asked me teacher about it and he looked at me over the top of his glasses, and he said, "Paul, rosin your bow."

I get my bow rehaired about once a year, but only because it's reasonably convenient and not very expensive, and I've heard it's the thing to do. But honestly I don't really think it does all that much good. Cleaning the hair does help significantly. I find it useful to clean the bow hair with denatured alcohol every few months. I get the same fresh grip and sound from cleaning that I do from rehairing. If you have never done this I suggest you try it. Just make sure the solvent only touches the hair, not the other parts of the bow. Gently work the solvent into the hair using a soft toothbrush. After cleaning you have to let it dry very thoroughly and then rosin it up well, and then play your violin for about 15 minutes while the dust flies and the rosin distributes into the bow hair.

You've indicated in other threads that your bow only slips on your A-string. I can understand that such an issue might be maddening, but it unfortunately is not the kind of problem that strangers on the internet are likely to solve without seeing you play and inspecting your instrument and bow closely. My guess is that it has to do with how you hold and draw your bow. A pro teacher should be able to help you resolve it.

November 18, 2017, 9:10 PM · Thanks Paul
You have made some good points:
1. Can’t expect accurate replies from amateurs.
2. Washing the hair. I think this is the only thing I haven’t tried.
3. I gather that after a rehair you don’t notice much difference?
4. It could be my bowing technique which way have changed because of my age—83. I started when I was 11.
Why it hasn’t happened before ads to the mystery. My luthier can’t understand it either. I will ask him if the hair is Mongolian.
By the way I have an Eastman Cadenza carbon fibre bow
November 18, 2017, 9:16 PM · Has anyone else played your bows on your violin(s) and got the same result?
November 19, 2017, 9:09 PM · Yes. Today by a woman player in a symphony orchestra. She said it was fine. So I can only assume that is my hearing. I forgot to mention my poor hearing in my other discussions. I use 2 aids. My wife has told me that it sounds fine. I still don't know why I only notice it on the A string. It must be somehow related to my hearing. So I will just carry on as long it is ok to others. My wife is very musical; plays piano and had a handbell choir for 25 years. They were very good. "Always listens to your wife"!. That was a good question Andrew. Finally thought of it today, even before I read your reply. So I guess I just saved $70.
I am a retired GP/FP so I probably should have thought of my hearing myself! Last time I saw my audiologist he said I only have 10% hearing without my 2 aids
Best regards
PS. I live in Sudbury Ontario Canada
November 19, 2017, 10:25 PM · Using alcohol to clean your bow dissolves the rosin and spreads it all over the hair which is not ideal, the best thing to use to clean bow hair is warm soapy water, no risk of dissolving the varnish on your bow. As long as there is enough hair cleaning your bow hair should extend its life indefinitely. Hair doesn't really wear out, at least that's what I have been told, it does get dirty, though.
Edited: November 20, 2017, 7:42 AM · Terry,
The percentage description of hearing is, in my opinion, meaningless. I believe it refers mainly to understanding speech in various conditions.

There is an on-line hearing test ( ) t- hat is increasingly difficult to find - that will allow you to plot your own audiograph. In addition, if you do the test with over-the-ear headphones you can slip your hearing aid (even a behind-the-ear aid) into the headphone so you can measure the actual amplification you are gaining in each frequency range. With this information you can go to your audiologist and specify the amplification you want your hearing aids set for in each frequency range.

Believe me - it really works, I did it! The difference this has made to my music (playing and listening has been world-changing.
I also am 83 and I bought my digital aids at CostCo for economic reasons. I had tests at Kaiser, CostCo and them my own tests using the on-line test. The were all in pretty good agreement.

Edited: November 20, 2017, 8:10 AM · Lyndon, Of course you are correct about alcohol and soap-and-water cleaning of bow hair. But there is a risk of getting moisture into the wedges at the tip and frog and that can lead to catastrophic damage to the bow. Also, cleaning with water is going to put your bow out of commission for a long time until the water absorbed by the hair evaporates.

I have done both types of bow-hair cleaning for a number of years and have not had trouble with alcohol cleaning. However I and careful to only clean my bow hair with "Alcohol Prep Pads" sold in drug stores to apply alcohol to skin before administering a hypodermic shot. These do not drip alcohol. Yhey allow you to clean all the way to the very tip and frog. I grasp the hair ribbon between a folded-over pad and wipe along the hole length of the pad and then IMMEDIATELY dry the hair with a cotton cloth. Then I use the same pad, folded the other way and repeat the process. I do this with 4 pads, thus going over the hair 8 times - until the cotton cloth no longer shows yellow from the dissolved rosin. I have no fear doing this on any of my bows - not that I have any "great" bows, but F.N. Voirin, R. Weichold, P.M.Siefried, A. Nürnberger and 18 others ain't too bad.

You can tell when a alcohol-cleaned hair is ready to re-rosin because it no longer feels cold to the back of your hand. The alcohol cleaning that I do does not seem to remove absolutely all the old rosin, because even after cleaning you can still get some sound from the bow before re-rosining.

It is certainly possible that alcohol might damage hair - but back in the 1950s and earlier, Vitalis was a men's hair tonic that contained alcohol, and I remember I used it for a while and I still have a full head of hair, though now white enough for a violin bow. I remember Vitals especially because at my last cello lesson, in late 1951, my teacher offered be a swig of booze from a Vitalis bottle, I refused. Unfortunately he was enough of an alcoholic that it had destroyed his major-symphony career years earlier and he had already had too much that day - and that day I played better than he did - and he never returned for another lesson. When I close my eyes I can still visualize Barney Siegert and me sitting there that day 65 years and 11 months ago (almost to the day).

November 20, 2017, 8:08 AM · Using water and soap, it only takes a few hours to dry, and you get absolutely no sound when you bow it until you re rosin, it removes all the rosin, alcohol just spreads it around and makes hairs more likely to stick together.
Edited: November 20, 2017, 8:13 AM · Unless you wipe the dissolved rosin off between each application of the alcohol. But I do concede your point.
November 20, 2017, 8:39 PM · Andrew
I forgot to mention earlier that I have had a hearing aid for 25 years, 2 for the past 15. They are Widex in the canal with 3 volume controls and telecoils. My audiologist is well trained. I can barely hear the C above the
E string. They are set for the usual setting for “normal” hearing at 8 feet which is the accepted setting as you may know. They can be adjusted on the computer at his office. I also have an infrared system for tv which I use for tv when my wife is home. I also have an fm system that o use t church and meetings. I have discussed all of this last year with the president of the American hearing association (not sure of the actual name). I am a
longstanding member of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association. Tomorrow I am going to my former office to look at piece of my bow hair and compare with the micro photos online. I got a note today from Eastman
Music Co. who made my bow. They suggested changing the hair every every 6 mo. for the amount I play. The hair is Mongolian. I hope I am not boring you.

November 25, 2017, 7:10 PM · Andrew. Do you have any more comments?
I had a letter from Eastman saying that I need a rehair. The bow is certainly slipping and it was not 2 mo ago. It is their Cadenza 302 60 g. and feels great. Certainly better than my 3 others.
Cheers to all for your suggestions

November 25, 2017, 7:36 PM · Have you tried cleaning the hair yet, as I talked about?? Could potentially save getting the rehair.
Edited: November 25, 2017, 7:51 PM · Lyndon wrote, "Alcohol just spreads [rosin] around and makes hairs more likely to stick together."

That really depends how you do it. If you do it with the prep pads, then you've got to wipe it away immediately with a separate cloth and probably do that three or four times -- that's my own experience with the prep pads. It can be done, and Andrew seems to like that method, but I don't find it convenient. I use prep pads mainly to deal with any grime that's built up at the frog.

Instead, I remove the screw, take the frog away from the stick, and allow the hair to drape through a soup bowl containing perhaps 250 mL of alcohol. By lowering and raising your two hands you can convey all the hair through the solvent. This larger volume of alcohol (denatured ethanol, not aqueous isopropanol) has the effect of dissolving the rosin away and diluting it much more than the small volume of solvent (probably less than 1 mL) contained in the prep pad. Afterward I secure the stick of the bow on the table with a book and let the frog dangle off the edge by its own weight, which keeps the hair straight while it's drying. I always let it dry overnight because ... why not. The next day I brush the hair gently with a disused toothbrush.

Terry you asked, a while back, whether I notice any change upon rehairing. Yes I do, but not really all that much more than I noticed from just cleaning my bow hair in the manner that I've described here.

November 25, 2017, 8:24 PM · Why would you want to risk damaging the finish on the bow with alcohol when you can use soapy water and get just as good a result, beats me???
November 25, 2017, 9:21 PM · The first time I used alcohol to clean bow hair I gave it some thought - I lived in the middle of the Mojave Desert, 150 miles from North Hollywood, CA (where I first got my work done after moving to CA) and I figured the worst that could happen was that I would still need to have the bow rehaired.
I didn't!

Over the years a friend of mine took up violin making and other "lutherie pursuits" including rehairing bows so I did not have to send my bows away for rehairs, but I continued to clan the hair before getting a rehair - in fact I mostly get a rehair only when the hair starts to get sparse on one side of the "ribbon."

Now I live near one of the top shops in the country (Ifshin) and I also know a violist within 2 miles who does bow work - studied it too after retiring from whatever he did before.

My bows include 19th century F.N. Vorin and R.Weichold, Albert Nürnberger, and 2 Paul Martin Siefried - all "alcoholics" by now and some 17 less played lesser bows that have not yet taken to "drink." They seem to worse for these rare treatments.

Yes the result of using soapy water (as Lyndon suggests) is just as good, but more time consuming, and as far as I'm concerned riskier to the wedges.

I mostly use drug-store 70% isopropyl alcohol, I've used diluted and denatured ethanol also and even "pure" ethanol that I had to pay the federal tax on. I find the 70% isopropyl just as effective for this purpose.

I used Paul Deck's method the one time I dined my bow hair in a bowl of alcohol - and I also used that method when I use soapy (or detergent) water. I just thought it was sloppier.

November 26, 2017, 1:58 AM · I never tried cleaning my bow hair with alcohol, as I don’t really see the point.
My luthier says with 4/5 hours of daily playing, one should change bow hair every 5/7 months, because the microscopic things on the hair that ‘grab’ the string and make the sound or whatever they are called get used with time and stop being effective.
So it’s not so much a question of rosin as it is one of the bow hair not being effective anymore.
I shall note I always buy top quality Mongolian horse hair, so depending on the quality of the hair you use, you might need to change more or less often.
Edited: November 26, 2017, 3:16 AM · From what I have been told, That is not true, there are no microscopic things on the hair that grab the string, the things that grab the string are microscopic particles of rosin attached to the hair.
November 26, 2017, 8:18 AM · I haven't rosined one of my bows for 2 months now and it's been 3 years since I purchased it (Or my mom did) and I haven't had it rehaired yet because I'm too lazy. But contrary to what everyone else says, my bow is still fine, and works just like my new one.
Edited: November 26, 2017, 9:03 AM · Lyndon I agree with you about the mythical "scales." There are pictures of such things, but they're electron-microscope images that are not relevant on the physical scale of bow-to-string contact. It is interesting, however, to ask what there is about the surface of the hair that causes it to take rosin so well. Is it chemical or morphological or both?

Regarding the risks of using alcohol, that is why I prefer taking the nut off of the stick so that the hair is well away from it while I clean it. It is possible to be *careful* about how one does things, both in planning and execution.

Nevertheless, I will indeed try your soap-and-water approach next time. (While doing so I will think lovingly about my gear pegs! LOL!!)

November 26, 2017, 9:49 AM · You should have you bow re-haired once a year.

As far as cleaning bows, I would never risk my expensive bows in a liquid cleaning process. Getting moisture into the tip or frog could be quite damaging. As careful as one may be, accidents happen.

November 26, 2017, 10:22 AM · "You should have you bow re-haired once a year." Yes that's what "everyone says." My question is, "Why?" How does bow hair wear? On the other hand I can easily see why you would want to do this if you don't clean it ever.

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