How to Care for My Violin, Viola, Cello or Double Bass Bow…& Rosin
Most Student Violins come as a set with a case, bow, rosin and violin in a ready to play set up mode. It is not surprising to know that most would neglect knowing proper care for the bow which can be very vulnerable as it is just a long wooden stick. Even if your bow is just $20 (our BB1 Series), this is worth a read as you may transition to a more costly bow or eventually an antique bow which can cost as high as USD$200,000 and also as you are owning a piece of art or history, you must keep it responsibly. Cakes of rosins these days can cost from $5 to $100 each, so it also would be good to note some information on care on these which are related to bow care.
PARTS OF THE VIOLIN BOW
To know more about bow care, you should be familiar with the names of the different parts of the bow which come together to make the bow work. The viola and cello and French or German style double bass bow would be similar and require similar care. Here is a rough diagram that I’ve drawn out:
ALWAYS LOOSEN YOUR BOW?
If you do not want your bow looking like the one in the photograph on the left, you must remember to loosen the bow at the back adjustor screw. In practice, I would actually advice anyone with 1/8 sizes and below not to touch this adjustor screw at all and “leave it in one mode”. This is because at such a short size, the hairs will not be pulled as much and the child would grow out of the size of the violin before this “wear and tear” happens. The stick is also not as long to be subject to a strain or danger when transporting around. If a child meddles with the adjustor screw and over-tightens the bow instead, this will cause more damage rather than be helpful in bow maintenance. At 1/4 size and up, the average child using this violin size would be the age of 7 or older, they will be able to manage adjusting and loosening of the bow and to treat the bow responsibly. At 1/4 size, the bow is also lengthier, which means a greater pull on the hairs if not loosened after every practise. You would want to loosen the bow for 3 reasons:
- To Keep the Structure of the curve of the Tourte Bow. Even if you have a Baroque bow it would be good to keep the original bend of the bow rather than to stretch it out. It is possible that the bow can become bent or warped and no longer straight due to the strain. Some may even snap as in the photo.
- To preserve the elasticity and quality of the hairs whether you have synthetic or natural hairs.
- To minimize damage or danger to the bow while transporting even though kept in a violin or bow case, some accidental knocks and force may result to the bow snapping. You would just be better off loosening the bow so that there is no tension. How much to loosen? – the answer is to do it all the way as even a little tension would mean the bow stick or hairs are being pulled.
DO NOT TOUCH THE HAIRS… EVEN IF THE HAIRS ARE SYNTHETIC AND NOT REAL HORSE TAIL
The hairs of all Belcanto Violin bows are made or real horse tail. Even if you have synthetic hairs, fingers have natural oils that may build up on the hairs and cause the hairs to be oily and dirty. Unlike our own head of hairs where we can shampoo it, we will not be able to clean bow hairs as effectively. There are hair cleaners that you can buy, but due to the structure of the bow, it is advisable not to clean it yourself and prevention rather than to manage the dirt on the hairs would be a wiser choice. In 6 months to 2 years depending on how much you use your hairs, you can get the whole rehaired. The cost of this is about SGD$60-$80 depending on type and quality of hairs. If you own a fairly inexpensive bow like our BB1 model (SGD$20), you may just want to get it replaced. You can watch violinist Ray Chen on his discussion on synthetic hairs and natural horse hairs in the video below.
DO NOT OVER TIGHTEN THE BOW
If you over tighten the bow, the bow will lose it’s shape over time and also may warp or break. The hairs will also be over pulled and loose their elasticity and become frail. Such that when you play, you may find that the bow keeps shedding. For violin bows at all sizes, when needing to use the bow to play you can maintain about a 1cm gap if measured in the middle part of the bow. See the photo below:
WHAT IS THE ROSIN FOR?
Rosin is resin from conifers or pine trees. At different times of the year or different species of plants, the rosin would be darker or lighter. Some may even be colorless or green in appearance. As hairs are smooth and have no friction, the rosin is applied to facilitate friction and sound when played (bowed) over the violin strings. There are many brands and sizes of Rosin that you can buy, but they are all for the same function to increase friction for vibration and sound to be created.
HOW MUCH ROSIN DO I USE AND HOW DO I APPLY IT?
You can apply as much rosin as you want and there will be no ill effects to the bow. There can be difficulty to play if there is too much or too little rosin. However, if you want to maintain the appearance of the varnish on your violin and also may have a sensitive nose, you may want to just apply it five times up and down per a hour of practice like I do myself and for my students. (There is no official preference or rule) It is important to remove any trace of rosin with a tissue over the violin after each use so that it does not build up and stick over time. This may cause an unwanted appearance and also the rosin build up can affect the sound of your instrument.
HOW TO MAINTAIN MY ROSIN SUCH THAT I CAN USE MOST OF THE ENTIRE CAKE
When using rosin, apply it evenly no matter what shape the cake is. Some may be round or rectangle, but you should go over the whole surface of the rosin and not leave a “runway”. See the photo above. Try also not to apply it too close to the frog otherwise you may crack or chip the rosin with the metal ferrule of the bow. Apply in one direction and not up and down too violently so that the hairs are not pulled in a forceful manner.
HOW DO I CLEAN MY BOW?
You may tissue off the stick after each practise, as earlier mentioned, it would be better to leave the cleaning of hairs to a professional or either to rehair your bow altogether. Do not apply polish on the stick of the wood as you may accidently get some on the hairs; any oil on the hairs would reduce the friction of the hairs and you may “lose sound” when you play in that area of the bow.
PROFESSIONAL CLEANING AND MAINTENANCE
You can go to an archetier (bow maker) or any good luthier, when you feel that your bow needs to be rehaired. The hairs should be spread evenly across the ferrule and if there has been a lot of shedding on one side, it is advisable to stop using that bow and get it rehaired. Continual playing on a bow in this condition may cause the bow to be overused on one side which will cause the stick to warp again. A good specialised archetier would be able to straighten the bow for you if this has already happened with your bow. If your bow hairs need cleaning, it is also advisable to get it done professionally. Cost and efficiency wise, it may be better to just get your bow rehaired if your hairs have been already on the bow 6 months or more.
SUMMARY OF HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR BOW
To care for your bow, you simply have to make a habit of loosening it after each play. Tissue off the rosin of your bow stick (and violin surface) and keep it in a safe place like in a case. Never leave your bow on a sofa or bed. It is also never too early to cultivate good habits of keeping your instrument well even if you had purchased the BV1 Series instruments from us, as all our instruments are handmade, any replacement will never be the same. If kept well, a bow can last for a few hundred years!