A bow needs to be rehaired when…
The bow of the average music student should only need rehairing about once every two years or so. More diligent students and professional musicians may rehair their bows every two to six months. The better you care for your bow, the less frequently you’ll need to replace the hair.
The most common signs it’s time to rehair your bow include:
More hairs are broken on one side than the other. This causes uneven tension on the stick. Over time, the bow stick warps, requiring yet another repair. Incidentally, improperly replacing your instrument’s bow hairs can have the same effect.
Hair loss in the middle. Similarly, putting too much tension on the strings can chew up bow hairs in the middle, compromising sound and altering your bowing.
It’s sticky, discolored, and/or smelly. All bows eventually become sticky, discolored, and even smelly. This is due to the combination of rosin, dust, general grime, and finger residue from accidental touching. Always wipe your bow off – just like your instrument – each time you play. Read, The String Musician’s Ultimate Guide to Rosin, to ensure you’re using high-quality rosin and rosining techniques.
What to do if your violin bow won’t tighten or loosen
The following is an extract from an article on instrument care for players in The Strad’s January 2021 issue. To read in full, click here to subscribe and login. The January 2021 digital magazine and print edition are on sale now.
The average player tends to have little understanding about the workings of their bow. I certainly didn’t know much about mine before I learnt how to rehair it. Your bow is half of your instrument, not an accessory, and a good one makes a huge difference. If you’ve never paid much attention to the quality of your bow, it’s worth exploring your options.
The first thing to keep in mind is that a tightened bow is far more likely to break under tension than when it is not, so always loosen it when not in use. The next thing that is important to know is that weather has a big impact on the length of the hair. Horsehair is longer when the air is warm and humid, and shorter when cold and dry.
Tightening and loosening a bow is accomplished by the frog sliding back and forth along the stick when you turn the screw. The length of the mortise that the frog fits into is the total range available for adjusting the length of the hair.
If your bow won’t tighten enough, never keep turning the screw in an attempt to force it to do more. There are actually two main parts to what most players call ‘the screw’. The portion that fits into the stick that screws into the eyelet attached to the frog is the actual ‘screw’, and the ‘button’ is the part you grasp. When you keep turning the screw past the point where there is any mortise left, you start pulling the button off the screw itself.
If the hair is simply too long, sometimes a luthier can shorten it. Often it makes more sense to rehair the bow.
When the hair length is not the issue, two other reasons for a bow not tightening are a failed plug and a failed knot. If the piece inside the frog called the ‘plug’ that is holding that end of the hair in place has shifted or come loose, that can cause the knot to move forward. If the knot holding the hair together itself fails, what looks at first like a bow that won’t tighten turns into hair simply falling out of the bow. Either of these problems means you need a rehair.
Occasionally when a bow won’t tighten it’s because the eyelet is stripped. This feels like the screw turning easily and uselessly when you try to use it in either direction. Often people describe this to me as the screw being stripped, but it’s actually the brass eyelet which the screw fits into that is the part that fails. In this case you’ll need a new eyelet.
When a bow won’t loosen, the hair is too short, and there is no way to go back into the bow to adjust the length the way you can sometimes do when the hair is too long. More often than not, this is related to weather, and factoring in the composition and the quality of the bow is important when deciding whether to get a rehair to fix it.
Where I live in Wisconsin, we sometimes experience shockingly cold snaps in the winter for as long as a week or two, when everyone’s bow hair shrinks up at once. It doesn’t usually make sense to replace the hair, which will then likely be too long once the polar vortex has passed. For inexpensive carbon-fibre bows in my rental programme, I tell concerned customers not to worry about the temporary extra tension since the bows should survive it and be back to normal when the weather levels out. For people with wood bows that could be vulnerable to breakage, I advise them to loosen the screw completely and remove the frog from the bow when not in use during that period.
If your bow won’t loosen and you expect to remain in the environment that made it so for an extended time, get a rehair.
The influence of a good instrument and acoustic on the musician’s progress and practice habits
Even if we can create a complex tonal pattern in our minds and compose after becoming deaf, there is still an enormously important aspect of the quality of the tone we could produce and imagine. Here we must be able to bring the colour and depth of the sound.
Even Beethoven had to have an idea of how it sounds, to be able to compose such a rich and perfect piece of music when deaf. The violin was acoustically designed centuries ago, and the best acoustic results are achieved when played indoors. Only indoors can space beautifully strengthen the sound of the “traditional” instruments which has then been developed further over the centuries. Even nowadays no other system, including the most advanced electric amplifiers and sound engineering, can match the sound of a violin played in a properly-designed acoustic space.
The difference in the etymology of the word violin in different languages might be proof that the quality of the sound during the first impression of the listeners could have an impact on the name of the instrument. While the word “violin” in Italian comes from “the root 'viola', which is a derivative of the Medieval Latin word 'vitula' (meaning "stringed instrument") “, in Polish the word “skrzypce” comes from the word “skrzypieć”, meaning 'to creak, squeak or scrape'.
During my professional life, I have undertaken many observations and analyses of good sound production. The most crucial are: - The angle of the fingers on the strings. Good instruments allow a player to keep an easier angle. Playing low quality (improperly measured) instruments can change the position of the hand. - A good bow allows the player to use different techniques and focus on the sound; it is easier and less demanding to play with a proper quality bow. - We need to enjoy and love the sound we produce as violin students. It is recommended that we change the instrument if we are not able to produce an enjoyable sound. - A will to produce different and/or better sound can change the way we hold and play the instrument.
Expertly-made and good quality instruments are getting even more important in this fast-changing world. There is less and less time for experiments and proper education can save plenty of time. While music education is one of, if not the most time and money consuming in the world, a wrong approach can extend the process for many years and sometimes make it impossible to achieve the desired outcome.
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