The violin bow: Practical tips on care, rehair and maintenance

The use and proper care of a violin bow: violin bow treatment, cleaning, tightening, rosin, hair, etc.

On this page we have compiled some tips, questions and answers about general violin bow treatment and handling and how to clean a violin bow properly. This information applies to violin bows as well as to bows for other stringed instruments.

How do you generally treat a violin bow?

To maintain the value of a good violin bow and keep it in optimum playing condition, it is very important never to tighten the bow hair too much and to always loosen the bow hair after each playing session. The stick should also be wiped clean with a soft cloth after each use to remove rosin dust. Violin bows that are regularly played should be sent to a luthier along with the violin for periodic check-ups. That way, minor flaws and any wear to the screw can be repaired before they can cause damage.

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How do you clean a violin bow? 

As is the case with the instrument, the first and best way of cleaning and taking care of the violin bow is to wipe off rosin dust after every time you play. A soft cloth of microfiber or another material reliably removes the freshly formed dust whilst also polishing the surface of the stick somewhat. Minor clumps of rosin in the hair can usually be combed out with an old toothbrush.The specific kinds of dirt that can accumulate on a violin bow include sweat from the hand, and sweat contains several fatty compounds. Students in particular are often uncertain about how to hold their right hand, and as a result the hair around the frog can quickly grow fatty and fail to take on more rosin, which limits the usability of the bow. To eliminate these traces and restore the bow hair to good condition, we recommend washing the hair. This approach can also make sense if an old cake of rosin has been replaced with a new one with very different properties than its predecessor.

To wash the hair, you first need to release the frog from the stick by completely loosening the screw. Please make sure that the hair at the frog and the tip are not pulled in a different direction than usual during their normal use, and the loosened hair should not be twisted either. Have a small container of rubbing alcohol ready, and wash out the old rosin with careful massaging motions. You must be extremely careful to ensure that the alcohol does not come in contact with the stick, where it can leave lingering marks. The second phase is to remove other kinds of soil, especially fats, with a bit of soap or shampoo and water. Last but not least, the violin bow hairs are carefully dried with a towel, the frog is put back into place and secured in place with the screw. To speed up the drying process and make sure the hair is in the proper position, we recommend gently combing the hair with a fine-toothed comb or an old toothbrush. After things have dried properly, the hair can be re-rosined.

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How do you rosin a violin bow properly?

The simplest and best method for rosining the violin bow the violin bow on a daily basis is to tighten the bow hair as normal and then run the rosin up and down the hair. Contrary to a commonly repeated rumour, the direction you choose to apply the rosin makes no difference. Most musicians first apply short fast strokes at the frog and top and then run the rosin along the length of the entire bow. The priority here is evenly distributing the powder throughout the hair and selecting the right quantity, which in turn is a question of many individual circumstances. Not every instrument responds equally well to every violin bow with exactly the same quantity of rosin, but experienced musicians develop a sense for how thoroughly and how often they should rosin their violin bow. One very effective method is to pulverise some rosin and apply it to the bow hair with an old toothbrush. This is only recommended for new violin bows which have never been rosined before; the large amount of powdered rosin will have a negative effect on the hair already in use.

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How to choose the right rosin for your violin bow

Opinions are probably more divided on the question which is the best rosin than they are about the “right” strings to use. The choice of rosin is essentially a matter of individual taste combined with the specific characteristics of one’s violin bow and instrument. At Corilon violins, we use the French "Bernardel" rosin which has turned out to be the best rosin providing the best grip and attack. The ambient condition of the room where the violin will be played should also be taken into consideration. Many musicians use different rosin in summer than they do in winter, or different rosins for different styles of music. For this reason, some rosin manufacturers offer a range of products. Again, one can only find the ideal solution by trial and error. It is generally worth it to invest in a high-quality product. After all, this substance has the first and most immediate effect on the sound of violins.

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How often should a violin bow be rehaired?

Here as well there is not a solid rule as to how often a violin bow should be rehaired. Professional musicians often have their bows rehaired two to three times a year, whereas amateurs can often let years elapse between rehairing. The way sound is created by a violin bow is a very complex process which relies upon the rosined bow hair causing friction on the string. The hair for violin bows is taken from the tails of particular breeds of horses; the bow hair has to have a surface structure that is well suited to holding an even coat of rosin. After longer periods of use, the microscopic-sized scales on the hairs no longer fulfil their purpose completely, which has an immediate negative effect on the playing and acoustic characteristics of the bow.

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How do you handle loose or broken bow hairs?

The bow hair on a violin bow usually consists of some 150 to 170 strands, so if individual hairs become loose or tear, there is no need to have the violin bow rehaired right away. This is a normal sign of wear and tear and has no effect whatsoever on the playing characteristics of the bow. It is, however, important not to pull such hairs out of the tip or frog; instead, just use a sharp knife or very sharp pair of scissors to cut the hair as short as possible. The hairs are secured at either end, and the mounting becomes loose if individual strands of hair are ripped out.

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Related articles:

The violin: practical tips on care and maintenance

Violin, value and violin appraisal

History of the violin bow

François Xavier Tourte, founding father of the modern violin bow

Bow maker and entrepreneur H. R. Pfretzschner

Bazin's grandchildren: bow making in turbulent times


Related information:

LIBRARY - text about the history of stringed instruments

Catalogue of fine violins and master violins

Online catalogue