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Can You Rehair A Violin Bow Yourself?

When it comes to maintaining your violin, every piece counts, including the bow. Each strand of hair on your bow plays a crucial role in producing the beautiful sound you love. Over time, however, these hairs can wear out, break, or simply lose their effectiveness, leading to a less than optimal playing experience.

Is rehairing a violin bow something you can do by yourself?

The task can feel daunting, even for seasoned players. But is it worth giving a shot? Can it save you from frequently visiting the repair shop? This article explores the intricacies of the rehairing process and the factors to consider before deciding to undertake the task yourself. Understanding how this process works will allow you to make an informed decision about whether rehairing a violin bow is a viable DIY task for you.

Also, be aware that some inexpensive stringed instrument bows cannot be rehaired. Check with the supplier to determine if your bow can be rehaired. 

can you rehair a violin bow yourself

Need for Rehairing: Why and When?

Without a doubt, even the finest violin bow will need a rehair at some point.

The primary reason bows need rehairing is due to hair breaking or stretching over time, which can significantly alter its tension and responsiveness. Moreover, while playing, dirt, and grease accumulates on the bow hair, causing it to lose its grip on the violin strings, resulting in a less articulate sound.

So, when should you consider having your bow rehaired?

A general rule is to rehair your bow every six to twelve months for regular players. However, the frequency also depends on the playing intensity and amount of time played, environmental conditions, and how well you maintain your bow.

Though it is tempting to perform a DIY rehair, experts advise against it. It requires technical precision and deep knowledge about violin bows which an average violinist may lack.

Tools Required for the Rehairing Process

Rehairing a violin bow requires the following high-quality tools to ensure a professional outcome:

  • Hair Gauge: To measure the appropriate thickness of horsehair.
  • Rehairing Jig: A carefully-crafted tool essential for holding the bow in place during the rehairing process.
  • Rosin Powder: Used as a "pre-rosin" technique that once applied to the freshly done horsehair, enables the hair to more easily accept rosin once applied to the bow from the player.
  • Wedge Knife: A quality tool to precisely cut the plugs that hold the horsehair in the bow.
  • Pointed Pliers: Necessary for removing and inserting the small metal eyelet from the frog end of the bow.
  • Superfine Sandpaper: Strong and flexible, this is used to gently clean the frog and stick, preparing them for rehairing process.
  • High-temperature Hot Glue Gun: Required to secure the horsehair into place.
    Working on a bow

    Choosing the Right Bow Hair

    Selecting the appropriate bow hair is vital for optimal violin bow performance. Bow hair usually originates from the tail of a white stallion. However, hair quality can differ based on factors like the horse's diet and the environment in which it's raised.

    Age plays a significant role in horsehair assessment. While younger hair is thinner and more prone to breaking, older stallion hair is thicker, making it a superior choice.

    There are synthetic bow hair options, but they don't match the grip and tonal excellence of horsehair. Thus, selecting the right bow hair for your specific needs and style can immensely improve your playing experience.

    can you rehair a violin bow yourself

    Step-by-Step Guide: Removal of Old Hair

    1. Preparation:

    Begin by securing the bow on a table or within a clamp, making sure it's steady and won't move. Then, release the tension by fully loosening the bow, turning the screw in a counterclockwise direction until the frog comes loose. This prepares the bow for hair removal.

    2. Remove the Old Hair:

    Detach the frog by gently pulling it away from the stick. Once done, utilize a small knife or razor blade to carefully sever the old hair on both ends. Thoroughly inspect both the tip and the frog, removing any leftover wedges or bits of old hair.

    3. Measure and Prepare the New Hair:

    Next, gather your new horsehair. A bundle roughly the width of a pencil should suffice. Measure this against your bow to get the right length and cut the ends so they're squared off. Comb through this freshly cut hair to ensure it's smooth, free from tangles, and neatly aligned.

    4. Tying the Hair:

    With one end of the hair, tie a robust knot. The knot should be sufficiently large to not pass through the hole in the tip of the bow. Then, thread the hair's opposite end into the frog’s hole. Pull the hair until the knot at the tip sits snugly in its place.

    5. Secure the Hair:

    Wrap a small section of the hair around the main bundle at the frog end. This creates a secured segment that will rest inside the ferrule of the frog. Cut off any excess length from the hair that extends past the frog, but ensure there's enough left to tie another substantial knot. Tie this second knot firmly.

    6. Adjusting the Wedges:

    To hold the hair in place at the tip of the bow, insert a small wooden wedge. This ensures the hair remains taut and secured. At the frog's end, insert another wedge inside the mortise, providing additional security for the hair.

    7. Reassemble the Bow:

    Carefully slide the frog back onto the bow's stick. It's crucial to ensure that the hair lies flat against the stick and is evenly spread out. Once you're satisfied with the hair's positioning, tighten the screw to introduce tension back into the bow.

    8. Final Touches:

    • To complete the process, apply a generous amount of rosin to the newly installed hair. This aids in providing grip against the violin strings, ensuring a rich sound quality during play.
    • After replacing the hair, complete the process by using a fine-toothed comb to ensure even distribution and alignment.
    • Apply rosin along the bow hair's length to generate friction for sound production. Start lightly and add more if needed, as excessive rosin can create unwanted dust.

    can you rehair a violin bow yourself

    Common Mistakes to Avoid While Rehairing

    Rehairing a violin bow is a meticulous process, and even with the best of intentions, it's easy to make mistakes. To ensure a successful rehairing job and to maintain the quality of your bow, be wary of these common pitfalls:

    • Using Low-Quality Hair:
      Not all horsehair is created equal. Opting for cheaper or lower quality hair can result in diminished sound quality and require more frequent rehairing. Always source high-quality Siberian or Mongolian horsehair for the best results. Antonio Guiliani bows from Kennedy Violins are haired with high-quality Mongolian Horsehair.

    • Over-Tightening the Bow:
      When reassembling the bow, avoid tightening it too much. Over-tightening can put undue stress on the bow, leading to warping or even breakage.

    • Using Excessive Glue or Adhesives:
      While some might be tempted to use glue to secure the hair, it's not the traditional method and can damage the bow and affect sound quality. The wedges should suffice to hold the hair in place.

    • Not Properly Aligning the Hair:
      The hair should lie flat and evenly spread from the frog to the tip. Misalignment can result in uneven tension and affect playability.

    • Skipping Rosin Application:
      Newly installed hair is slick, and without rosin, it won't grip the strings effectively. Failing to apply rosin can lead to a weak or muted sound.

    • Not Combing the Hair:
      Before installing, always comb through the hair to ensure there are no tangles and it's aligned neatly. Failing to do so can result in knots or uneven tension.

    • Using the Wrong Tools:
      Always use tools designed for bow rehairing. Repurposing other tools might seem convenient, but they can damage the bow or not provide the precision required.

    • Rushing the Process:
      Rehairing a bow requires patience. Hurrying can lead to overlooked details, resulting in a subpar rehairing job.

    Remember, practice makes perfect. If you're unsure about any step or feel hesitant, consider observing a professional first and seeking their guidance, or having the bow professionally rehaired. After all, your instrument's sound quality is on the line, and it's always best to approach such tasks with care and thoroughness.