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How Often To Change Violin Bow Hair

As a musician, keeping your instrument in perfect condition is as crucial as mastering your skills. In the case of violinists, maintaining the components of your violin is multifaceted, one of which includes taking care of the violin bow.

The bow hair, in fact, plays a significant role in production of the iconic sound that a violin emits. It can wear out and break over time and require a replacement for optimal performance. This may lead beginners and even experienced violinists to ask the question — just how often should you change the hair of your violin bow?

In this blog post, we're going to delve into when it's time to replace your bow hair, consider some factors that make this timeframe vary, and provide some expert tips for prolonging the life of your violin bow hair.

Please note that inexpensive student bows are not always able to be rehaired. Instead, they should be replaced with a bow meant for advancing students or intermediate players.

how often to change violin bow hair

Understanding Bow Hair’s Lifespan

Over time, the hair stretches, becomes greasy, and loses its rosin-holding ability, impacting the sound produced. While some wear and tear is natural, prolonged use of damaged or worn-out bow hair will eventually compromise the quality of sound you are able to produce. Here are some signs that your bow needs some attention:

  • If you notice the hair becoming thin or patchy, it indicates the bow hair is wearing out.
  • When you feel your bow struggling to hold rosin or create sound like it used to, it is indeed time for a change.
  • Yellowing of hair is another cue to get a new set of bow hair.
  • Additionally, excessive stretching or breaking of hairs during play may signify a bow hair change.
  • If, despite your best efforts at creating the sound you want, if the sound is still off, it might be the fault in the bow hair, not the violin.

how often to change violin bow hair

Factors Affecting Bow Hair Longevity

Several factors come into play when determining how often to change bow hair:

  1. Frequency of Play: Regular players will naturally wear out their bow hair faster than occasional players.

  2. Type of Music: Intense styles, such as heavy fiddling, can strain the hair more than soft, melodic tunes.

  3. Playing Technique: Players who exert more pressure or use broader bow strokes might notice quicker wear.

  4. Environment: High humidity can weaken bow hair, and frequent temperature fluctuations can cause it to stretch or break.

  5. Touchingthe hair, or allowing the hair to come into contact with dirty or greasy surfaces, will shorten the life of the hair.

Let's go through each of these and discuss.

Frequency of play

Every stroke on the violin strings exerts a certain amount of pressure on the bow hair. For regular players who practice or perform daily, this cumulative wear is significant. Each passage, scale, and piece of music practiced means more friction and rosin accumulation on the hair.
With time, the continuous back-and-forth on the strings leads to the stretching, thinning, and even breaking of the bow hair. It's similar to the wear and tear we'd expect from any tool used frequently.
Thus, it's unsurprising that professionals or dedicated students, who might clock in several hours a day on their instrument, find themselves visiting the luthier more often for rehairing, compared to those who might only pick up their violin once a week or less. The frequency of play directly correlates with the longevity of the bow hair, making it a paramount factor in determining when it's time for a change.

Type of Music

Music, in all its beautiful diversity, demands different things from a violinist. The bow hair feels these demands intimately. Consider the vigorous, fiery strokes of heavy fiddling, often characterized by rapid bowing techniques, aggressive chording, and lively tempos. Such intense styles subject the bow hair to heightened stress, causing it to wear out more quickly.

On the other hand, playing soft, melodic tunes or slow adagios, where the bow glides gently across the strings, exerts less strain. The genre or type of music a violinist gravitates towards, whether it be classical, jazz, country, or folk, will inevitably influence the longevity of their bow hair.

Those engrossed in high-intensity genres should be especially vigilant about the state of their bow hair, ensuring it always meets the demands of their music.

Playing Technique

Different playing styles and the intensity of play directly impact the lifespan of your violin bow hair.

For instance, an aggressive or hard-hitting playing style tends to wear out bow hair more rapidly than a softer, more gentle style. The higher the pressure exerted on the bow hair and the friction generated, the quicker the bow hair deteriorates.

Frequent rosin application due to vigorous playing can cause the hair to degrade quicker. Over time, persistent high strain reduces the hair elasticity and vitality, leading to a noticeable decline in sound quality.

Therefore, violinists with a heavy-handed playing style might need to replace their bow hair more frequently, possibly every six months. Conversely, those with a gentler technique may only need a yearly replacement. Balancing technique and care can significantly extend your violin bow hair's lifespan.

Environment

Changes in humidity and weather can have significant impacts on the longevity and performance of bow hair. High levels of humidity can cause the hair to swell, which reduces the tension and affects the sound production. On the other hand, dry weather can make the hair brittle, leading to potential breakage.

Extreme temperature changes also play a role. Overly warm conditions may cause the bow hair to stretch and lose elasticity, while cold environments may tighten the bow hair too much.

Overall, fluctuating weather conditions necessitate regular rehairing of the violin bow. It is recommended that professional violinists residing in areas with volatile climate should consider changing the bow hair every three to six months. Continuing to play with worn-out bow hair can cause unnecessary strain on the instrument and impede performance.

Kelly at Kennedy Violins rehairs a bow for a customer

Bow Hair Professionals: When to Consult

Even the most skilled of violinists encounter a situation where they may need assistance in identifying the ideal time for a bow re-hairing. Fortunately, professional luthiers, like those here at Kennedy violins, are there to guide you through the process.

When encountering doubts regarding the appropriate time-frame of re-hairing, a consultation with a bow hair professional is the best approach. Not only are these professionals well-versed in the process, but their keen eye can evaluate the condition of your bow hair most accurately.

You may also consider getting professional advice if your instrument's sound quality begins to suffer, or if you are increasing the frequency of your bow re-hairs.

Remember, to maintain the best sound possible, it's essential to not overlook the condition of your bow hair. Trust your ear, trust your gut, and when in doubt, trust a professional.

how often to change violin bow hair

Proper Maintenance to Extend Bow Hair Life

Just as musical notes are critical to every captivating melody, so is your violin bow hair to the quality of your sound. Proper maintenance can significantly extend your bow hair life, saving you both time and resources.

  • Clean your bow regularly to prevent rosin buildup and premature degradation. Soft, lint-free cloths are ideal for this purpose.
  • Never touch the bow hair directly. Oils from human skin can compromise the tension and uniformity of the hairs and prevent rosin from adhering to the hair.
  • Always relax the tension on your bow when you're done playing as this helps to reduce the wear on the hairs.  This is accomplished by turning the screw on the bow counterclockwise until the hair touches the wood of the bow.
  • Keeping your bow in a controlled environment with consistent humidity and temperature is also key to prolonging its life.

Remember, every stroke counts. Proper maintenance isn't just about extending the lifespan of your bow hair, it's about preserving the quality of your music.

So, How Often Should You Rehair?

Considering the factors mentioned, here is how often you should rehair your bow:

  1. Professional Players: If you're playing daily or for extended hours, consider rehairing your bow every 3-6 months.

  2. Student or Intermediate Players: With regular practice sessions, aim for a rehairing interval of 6-12 months.

  3. Occasional Players: If you only pick up your violin now and then, a yearly rehairing might suffice.

However, always trust your judgment. If you notice a decrease in sound quality, difficulty in getting a grip on the strings, or visible signs of wear like hair thinning or breaking, it's time for a change.