Friday, December 28, 2007

Rehairing Bows

I will be rehairing bows this weekend. I try to do several at one time so that I can have all the tools I need out at the same time.

Here are several things to consider when having a bow rehaired:

1. Real vs. Synthetic Hair - The only time I use synthetic hair is if someone wants to store (and not use) a rehaired bow (e.g., they don't play but they want the bow rehaired for sentimental reasons). The synthetic hair doesn't attrack the carpet weevils that eat the hair out of bows. I use real horsehair in bows that will actually get used because the real hair plays much better than synthetic hair. The synthetic hair is more slippery than real hair, and it doesn't accept the rosin as easily.

2. How often should I rehair my bow? - Professional classical players generally rehair bows every 6-8 months I've been told. This information came from Liesl Schoenberger who has played Carnegie Hall & European tours classically, and also performed on the Grand Ol' Opry.

The hair tends to get brittle after a certain amount of time and loses its elasticity. I only rehair my bow when there's not enough hair left to play! If the hair gets too old, or if the bows gets exposed to hot weather, the rosin dust can actually harden on the hair. You will see this with old bows that have been stored away in cases in attics and such. If this happens, you should probably rehair. If your bow gets something spilled on it, then you should also probably rehair.

3. Can I clean the bow hair? - I have heard of this, and I have even seen kits that you can purchase to clean the hair. Unless you've spilled something on the hair that's sticky or slippery, you probably don't need to clean the hair. Some say to use alcohol, though I would think this would make the hair brittle and more apt to break. It can also remove lacquer. I have also heard to use a soap and water mixture. I haven't actually used either.

4. Should I get my bow rehaired or should I purchase a new bow? - This all depends upon how much you like the bow you are considering rehairing. If it is a very inexpensive bow ($40 or less), then I would only rehair it if I really LOVED the bow. It costs $40 to rehair a bow, so it wouldn't be cost effective otherwise. Make sure the bow you want to rehair is straight when sighting down the bow from the frog to the tip, and also make sure the bow has ample camber. Camber is the natural curve of the bow. Bows that lack camber tend to be bouncy and are very hard to rehair properly because the hair tension depends upon proper camber. Take a look at the photos below to see the difference between warping (something you don't want) and camber (something you do want):

This bow is warped. You can see that when viewed frog to tip, it veers off to the right.

This bow has proper camber. With the hair loosened, the hair touches the middle of the bow. You may have to click on the picture to enlarge it enough for a good view.

This bow has no camber. With the hair all the way loosened, the hair doesn't even come close to touching the middle of the bow. You may have to click on the picture to enlarge it enough for a good view.

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