As a violin student advances from a beginner to an intermediate level, they may require a higher quality bow. The superior craftsmanship of a decent bow will provide them with the tools they need to improve their playing technique and tone. However, the cost of more professional bows can seem unusually expensive, especially to first-time buyers. If you’re concerned about the price of a violin bow, there are a few precautionary measures you can take to extend its life. From paying attention to humidity to rehairing as needed, here are a few ways you can get the most out of your violin bow.
If you’re upgrading to a higher quality bow, you’re probably already well aware how important rosin is. Still, it’s importance is worth mentioning. Although the hair of your bow may appear smooth to the naked eye, it’s actually covered in tiny cracks and scales. If you don’t use enough rosin or rosin one area of your bow with too much pressure, the hair will be ruined, rendering your bow useless. Rosin can be purchased in powder or cake form. Although there is no right or wrong type of rosin, we recommend that you try out both until you find the type that you prefer. After the first time you rosin the bow, apply five or six strokes of rosin before each playing session.
Clean it Properly
The recommended method of cleaning is to use a soft cloth to remove rosin dust, oil, and dirt. You should use this method to clean your bow immediately after each use, otherwise it has a chance to sink into the finish. Although special cloths can be purchased specifically for cleaning bows, any lint-free, non-abrasive cloth should do the trick. Similarly, there a wide variety of polishes and cleansers that can be used on bows. Just keep in mind that if your bow is properly cleaned and maintained, these products won’t be necessary. If you’re a newer player, it’s best to avoid these products in general, as there’s too much risk that you’ll apply too much and ruin your bow.
Rehair As Needed
Although there is not a solid rule as to how often a violin bow should be rehaired, most professional musicians have theirs rehaired two to three times a year. Most amateurs, on the other hand, can usually let 1-2 years lapse between rehairing. This is why rehairing is necessary: over time, the microscopic-sized scales on the hair of your bow no longer fulfill their purpose completely, and this has a negative effect on the playing and acoustic characteristics of the bow. If your bow isn’t performing as well as it used to, and it’s been awhile since it’s been rehaired, it may be time to take it to a repair shop. For more information about whether it’s time for a professional rehairing, speak with your music instructor or a qualified repair technician.
Pay Attention to Humidity
Humidity control is just as important to your violin bow as it is to your violin. Unfortunately, the task is easier said than done, especially in climates with severe seasonal temperature and fluctuations in humidity. Although case or instrument-held humidifiers are available, experts recommend humidifying and dehumidifying the environment in which the bow is kept the majority of the time. After all, case humidifiers will only protect your bow while it’s in the case. While bows can be taken from a properly humidified environment for a reasonable amount of time without damage, it’s important to remember to return it to its humidified environment as soon as possible. Otherwise, the wood and hair can lose or gain a damaging amount of moisture.
Adjust Tension Properly
When adjusting the tension of your bow, only bring it to the tension need to play at- nothing more, nothing less. Some newer players make the mistake of adjusting it too tightly with the idea being that they’ll need to adjust it less often. Unfortunately, this can lead to unnecessary damage. The bow should always maintain curvature toward the hair, and should never be perfectly straight or obviously concave. Finding the right tension for each playing style will take some experimentation and, once it’s found, note the distance between the stick and hair. When putting the bow back in its case, loosen the screw all the way without removing it, and always handle it with care.
Avoid Playing with a Balding Bow
Losing a few hairs every once in awhile is completely normal, but as soon as there’s a significant amount of hair missing it’s time to stop using the bow. Tightening a bow with lop-sided hair for a significant amount of time can actually warp the bow, and a rehair will always be cheaper than purchasing a brand new bow. As a general rule, get your bow rehaired when the wooden plug under the hair at the tip of the bow begin to show through. As mentioned before, professional players usually rehair once or twice a year, while students can usually go 12-18 months before a rehair is necessary. No matter how long it’s been, stop playing as soon as bald spots start to form!
Photo via Flood G., CC