Violin Bow Care and its Maintenance
Widely considered to be the toughest instrument to master, and probably the most demanding to maintain – owning a Violin can be a challenge at every step. While there are many guides that talk about buying that perfect Violin, very few actually talk about maintaining one; especially the Violin bow.
Why really bother about maintaining the bow?
For starters, it is the only part of the violin that actually helps produce any sound (with aid from the rosin of course). A poorly maintained bow will not be pleasing to the ear. Secondly, the bow is critical to how a violinist plays the instrument. The more time a violinist spends using a bow, the more comfortable he gets using it. Frequent changing of the bow therefore, is never advisable. Most importantly, a good quality bow isn’t all that cheap! It’s far more prudent to maintain a bow than to keep buying new ones.
So now that we have your attention…
This article is divided into 6 sections, for your ease. Following the pointers here will make maintaining your bow a breeze.
- The first section covers a few accessories that you ought to own.
- The second talks about how to apply rosin to the bow.
- The third part talks about cleaning the bow hair.
- The fourth covers the care required pre & post using the bow.
- The fifth talks about re-hairing your bow.
- The final section has a few other tips to keep in mind.
1. Accessories Required
While we aren’t recommending any brands, here is a bare bones list of accessories you need to maintain your bow:
a) A microfiber cloth, that is soft and non-abrasive.
- Make sure that the cloth is not pre-treated with any chemicals or cleaning agents.
- It should be perfume free.
- Lint free
b) A fine toothed comb.
- The bristles should be soft and flexible.
- The ends should not be sharp.
- The brush head should have curved corners.
c) A good Quality Rosin
- The rule of thumb is, the warmer the temperature, the lesser the grab should be, and the lighter in colour the rosin should be.
- The effectiveness of the rosin varies as per the humidity of where you stay and play.
- Identifying the best one is a matter of trial and error. Be patient.
d) Rubbing Alcohol
2. Applying Rosin (rosining) to the bow
Applying Rosin is not as tough as you might think!
The first and most crucial step is to buy rosin that suits your needs, basis the grab required (depending on humidity and temperature). Remember that while you apply rosin, your goal is to ensure that each hair string on the bow is evenly coated. ‘Just enough’ is the principal to follow as too much rosin will fall onto the violin.
The method to rub rosin is ‘slow & long’ strokes along the entire length of the bow hair at an even pace, a couple of times over. Bass bows need comparatively lesser rosining, and need lesser strokes. The number of times you need to apply rosin is completely dependent on the playing time. Generally after about 2 hours, you need to apply a tad bit of it.
The rosin you buy may not be attached to a base, or in the shape of a block, in which case you need to rotate it as you apply. This will ensure it to wear evenly and not groove therefore allowing for optimum contact.
Remember to always dust off the excess rosin from the bow stick so that it doesn’t stick to the violin. This can be done using a soft bristle brush.
3. Cleaning the bow and its hair
Every once in a while, you are going to need to clean the bow. This can be divided into two clear parts. The bow frame and the bow hair.
To clean the bow frame, its best to use a microfiber cloth, that is untreated and free of any perfume. While wiping the frame you should never get the cloth near the hair since dirt can easily sink into them. If you wish, every once in a while you could use a polish that is available for musical instruments. Do not ever use polish that is meant for furniture. Over a period of time, shiny metallic parts – like nickel or silver fittings, tend to tarnish away due to oxidization. In such a case, get the bow professionally cleaned and then just wipe it regularly to keep the perspiration and oil away that comes from contact with the human hand. Do not try to clean it at home since you might end up damaging it.
To clean the bow hair, inspect them closely, especially the areas that come in contact with the finger, the bow, and rosin. Do also look at the underside of the bow hair (the side not in contact with the violin) for dirt too. Once you have, pour some rubbing alcohol onto a new microfiber cloth, enough to dampen but not wet it. Wipe the bow hair in a smooth, slow manner, in long strokes. For the underside of the bow hair, you will need to slip the cloth in between it and the frame. When doing so make sure that the bow frame is on the upper side so that when you wipe it nothing falls onto the frame. Rubbing alcohol while great for the hair, is bad for the frame. In case you do end up wiping the frame accidently, don’t fret. Just use a lightly moistened cloth (with water) to wipe the frame off. You can also use a soft bristle brush to take care of the fine dust that settles on the bow hair.
4. Pre & Post play bow care & Bow Hair Replacement
Before you start to play, keep the following points in mind. As mentioned above, use a dry, clean, lint free cloth each day to wipe rosin dust from the bow stick and the surface of the instrument before it has a chance to sink into the finish. A clean, dry cloth should also be used periodically to wipe rosin build-up from the playing area of the strings. Rosin which is allowed to accumulate too heavily, especially on the undersides of the strings, will adversely affect the tone and playability of the instrument. Ensure that the bow hair is taught enough but not too tight. A simple way to check for the same is by placing a pencil between the bow hair and the bow frame at the center. If the pencil fits snugly, it’s just fine.
After playing, it is very important to loosen the bow hair using the screw since the bow hair add a lot of pressure to the bow frame that needs to be released after play. Needless to say, the violin and the bow must always be placed in its case when stored and moved about.
5. Rehairing the bow
Often you shall see that a strand of bow hair has come loose and is dangling about.
If you feel like pulling it out – don’t ever! The correct thing to do is to cut it to as short a length as possible. Pulling a strand can loosen the mount on either end of the bow that holds the other 150-200 stands. Also remember, that hair getting loose is a sign of normal wear and tear arising out of use.
While we have talked about how to clean the hair, do remember that if the hair get too dirty, it is better to have them professionally replaced as otherwise they don’t hold onto the applied rosin hampering play and sound both. Generally, if you use your violin regularly, you might need to rehair the bow every 2 odd years.
6. Finer Points
- The Violin bow is very delicate. Never use it as an extended handle or a stick. It is meant for one purpose only – playing.
- It makes great sense to invest in a case that protects the instrument well. It should be able to provide complete insulation from shock and temperature fluctuations.
- Never keep the violin case in direct sunlight for too long or extreme temperatures.
- Bows get damaged if the rate of change of temperature is too fast. So if at all you have left it in direct sunlight, let it cool down for a bit before bringing it into an air-conditioned room.
- Inspect the bow weekly for the correct tension and regular wear and tear.
The Violin is a musical instrument like no other, and being able to play one is a matter of great pride.
But while you do bask in the glory of being able to play a tune on this tricky instrument, do take care of the violin too – it always proves to be a rather rewarding ownership.