My hair is slipping

My hair is slipping

Seems lately I’ve noticed that the hair on my bow has less "tooth" than it used to. I’ve noticed more of a tendency for the bow to skid on the strings, such that quick notes, especially on the e string, don’t sound before I’m on to the next note. To be sure, I’m playing faster than I once did, but still …

Here’s my question for TheSession’s fiddle brain trust: does bow hair lose its bite after being played a while? Is it necessary to rehair one’s bow at regular intervals? If so, how often do you rehair?

I’ve been playing pretty much every day for about 4 years on the same hair. I’ve tried all different kinds of rosin and strings and I have 5 different fiddles, but only the one (good quality) bow. It’s unlikely I can blame this problem on the rosin, the strings, or the instruments. So, is it me that’s slipping, or my hair?

Next time I have an opportunity, I’ll try out some different bows to see if I notice a difference in "bite".

Re: My hair is slipping

Could be rosin build up on the strings. Clean ‘em and see. Could be rosin build up on the hair (though that’s a little less likely.) You could also try Rogaine. πŸ™‚

Re: My hair is slipping

Yea, tell me about it , you think YOU have problems — mine’s falling out!

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There’s your answer, Scott, get Jack to send you some of his fallen-out hair in the post, give it a wash, cut it in half, and you can rehair your bow with it πŸ˜€

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hahahahaha… wait! S’not funny!

Re: My hair is slipping

I am quite convinced that bow hair does lose it’s grip after a lot of playing. Most players never experience this because they break hairs and eventually have so little that they have to have the lot replaced.

If, as it seems, you are like me and even after regular hard playing the hair is still intact after a number of years the hair becomes so smooth that it won’t hold rosin.

A rehair should do the trick. Trust me I’m a fiddler!

Four years sounds about how long I go between rehairs. By which time I know I should have had it done three months ago!

John.

Re: My hair is slipping

I know that there’s some debate and dissagreement over the physics of how the bow hairs really work and why or why not one would need to rehair, but for myself and several other fiddlers I know, after 4-6 months it just doesn’t grip the way it used to, and even at such a short time frame I always notice a huge improvement with new hair. Depends how much you play though.

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Re: My hair is slipping

Thanks jim, it reminds me of when I asked a friend to say hi to Peter Horan for me. When I saw him again I asked if he did, and he told me Peter said hi back and had a message for me. I asked what it was, and he said, "Tell hi him I’m fucked."

Re: My hair is slipping

Rosin definitely builds up on the hair, and you can buy kits with cleaning solution and a little fine-toothed comb to clean your bow hair. It works, but it’s a tedious process, and then it takes a while to get the hair properly rosined again.

The debate over how bow hair grips the strings seems to split two ways. One side says it’s the rosin that grips the strings, and you need to replace the hair only when it thins due to breakage. The other camp claims that microscopic barbs on the hair grip the strings, and you need to rehair when those barbs are either worn off or permamnetly gummed up by rosin. Either way, I like to rehair my main bow at least once a year. Much longer than that and the hair just doesn’t grab as well as it should, rosin or no. I’d probably do it every 4-6 months if I had $30 burning a hole in my pocket.

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Re: My hair is slipping

What difference do you notice after you clean the rosin off the hair? Is it possible that instead of rehairing my bow at 4 months I could just clean it off a couple times a year? I sure wouldn’t mind saving the cost of rehairing if cleaning it had the same effect. πŸ™‚

Hmm. And is it the rosin build up, or a build up of other gunk that gets stuck in the rosin?

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Re: My hair is slipping

Good question, Zed. I assumed it was rosin build-up, but I’m sure there’s lots of other gunk stuck in there. The bow hair cleaning kit came with a cleanser and a ‘rejuvenating liquid.’ Both are labeled as highly flammable, so I assume they’re solvents (probably alcohol based) to break down the rosin. The only time I’ve done this, it took the little blotch of hand oil, down by the frog, off the hair too.

It took some work. First, you soak a cloth in the cleaning fluid, wrap it around the hair, and rub the length of the hair until the hair is slick and clean. That took about 10 minutes. Then you let it dry—the better part of a day. Then you comb the hair until each strand is separate from the others. I spent about 45 minutes just on that step—you have to go very slowly and gently, and the comb sticks a lot at first. I think I even did another rub down with the cleaning liquid, and more combing. Then you soak another cloth in the rejuvenating liquid and rub the hair again. Then you rosin it up, which takes some time—like rosining up brand new hair. All the while being extremely careful not to get any of the liquids on the stick.

The end result was very much like fresh bow hair—nice and grippy.

I should mention that the kit cost about $15 USD, but it comes with enough cleaner and rejuvenating liquid to clean your hair every 4 months for years.

Of course, if you’ve got old hair, and you subscribe to the barbs-equal-grip theory, then you still might want to rehair the bow.

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Re: My hair is slipping

Wow, I might have to try that stuff. My old boss at the violin shop would use alcohol to clean the hair, but I never heard about anything to recondition it. Well, it is hair after all, I suppose it makes a lot of sense. πŸ™‚ Makes me wonder if shampoo and conditioner would work … But I think I’ll harness my curiosity on that one. Weren’t horse shampoos really popular for human hair a while ago?

Though surely it would be easier to keep the solutions off the stick if you undid the frog and got the hair and stick at some distance from one another. The site I found to buy the stuff only mentions loosening the hair.

I do wonder about the barbs vs. rosin debate. On the one hand, new hair can make such a difference, on the other hand, you hear stories of people who’ve gone a lifetime without ever rehairing and still make wonderful music.

Anybody tried those incredibows yet?

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Re: My hair is slipping

I’ve read on other violin forums that it *is* safe to use shampoo to wash bow hair, but you have to be really careful because the best/only way to get it out is to rinse with water.

Water is a dangerous thing around a bow. I’ve only heard of it being done on cheap fibreglass bows. But, getting water on the frog or tip and the little splints that hold the hair in will swell up and quite possibly split the head or frog and ruin it.

A busted frog, at least, is replacable … fixing a broken bow head is big $$$.

I’d avoid conditioner, too … it’s usually just a variety of oils to keep (human) hair soft … oil on bow hair is not-so-good.

It sounds like the solvents are safer because the evaporate on their own without needing to be rinsed.

Re: My hair is slipping

Rosin is meant to accumulate in between the shaft of the hair and each tiny barb along it. This is how the bow stays sticky enough to make the strings vibrate as you play. If you play really hard, and only use a short length of bow, then all your tone is concentrated in that small area. This will wear out the hair sooner by rubbing the barbs and wearing them away over time. Then you need fresh hair.

Dirt on the strings can weaken the effect of the rosin, so keep your strings clean. I tell my students not to touch either the bow hair of the part of the string they play on with their fingers, as a habit. Call it fiddle/bow hygiene!

Hope the rehair doesn’t cost too much.

Re: My hair is slipping

Fiddlefingers, that’s the theory I’ve gone by too, but some people don’t agree that the barbs are all that important. They reason that the rosin is sticky all by itself and will stick to just about anything, barbed or barbless. It certainly sticks to fingers—even just an inadvertent touch of left-hand fingertips on the rosin cake proves that—you won’t be able to slide at all—very uncomfortable!

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Re: My hair is slipping

Just to prove a point to myself - I’ve got 3 bows - performance, practice and sheep-dip. The sheep-dip bow is slightly warped, but I’ve used it on and off for 30 years, and it’s never had a re-hair. It’s been properly cleaned though, and fresh rosin applied. Now that bow does lose its grip, but the other 2 bows have had several re-hairs done, and they don’t lose grip.

Just how much ‘grip’ is ‘grip’ is up to the individual - how fast do you bow, how much pressure on the string, do you bow strictly left-right-left, or do a figure-of-eight (not a joke, lots of people do it without realising).

I’m sure if you could get the hair under a powerful enough magnifier, the bow with the original hair would look fairly smooth, whereas the re-haired one would have huge big sharp scary teeth along either side.

Zina made a good point about the rosin crystallising on the hair (that’ll be the hair on the bow, Zina πŸ™‚. That also contributes to a slipping bow.

Jim

Re: My hair is slipping

Yeah, Will, but how then do bows ever need rehairing? They do certainly become too smooth after a long time. If the barbs don’t matter, how do you explain it?

Re: My hair is slipping

Any comments from viola players in our midst - or any fiddlers who prefer to use viola bows - bearing in mind that the hairs on a viola bow seem to be slightly coarser than fiddle bow hairs?
Trevor

Re: My hair is slipping

I agree, fiddlefingers—like I said, I think the barbs matter. We’ll have to leave it up to someone else to explain the barbs-don’t-matter theory.

I’d go so far as to say that cleaning the hair probably only works once or twice, and then I prefer new hair. In fact, my good bow is at that point now, and I should do something about it….

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Re: My hair is slipping

There’s another way of looking at why the barbs matter. If barbs weren’t considered essential we’d all be using bows with nylon or other artifical fibre hairs. I’ve heard this has been tried, but with little success because an inordinate amount of rosin was necessary to get a useful grip and tone out of the strings.
Horsehair is the chosen material of choice for bows because it is the only easily available material that has the barbs that give the grip. In principle it may be possible to make hair out of artifical fibre that replicates genuine horsehair down to the microscopic detail of the barbs, and such "hair" may indeed work. As far as I am aware such an artifical hair hasn’t been made and would in any case be economically unattractive (i.e. hideously expensive) in view of the ready availability of the genuine article.
Trevor

Re: My hair is slipping

David! Hope all is well with you and the family — how’s yer little bunny doing? Hugs and kisses to you all in the hinterlands…

Re: My hair is slipping

The ‘barbs’ or ‘scales’ on horse hair have very little if nothing to do with the ‘grip’. If they did, the bow would work better in one direction than the other! Either that or whoever rehairs your bow would have to turn every other hair in the opposite direction and spread them evenly across the bow. Good luck with that! Imagine what a rehair would cost! No, it’s just the rosin. Too much rosin isn’t good because rosin will also pick up dirt and lint and the hair would be so clogged that the rosin would be ineffective. Adding more rosin would only work for a short time. Clean the hair and apply a minimum amount of rosin. Re-apply only when necessary…not every day!

Re: My hair is slipping

There is an artificial bow hair that works very well, from incredible.
I could be wrong but I was under the impression that bow hair restorers always use half the hair one way and half the other to allow the barbs to grip both directions….

Re: My hair is slipping

No, the hair all lays the same direction, so that when you cut it to length you are losing as much as possible of the tatty end, not the younger, stronger stuff at the root.

One or two re-hairers do claim to reverse half the hair. Whether or not they actually do it I’ve no idea, but I suspect it is just one of the many bottles of snake oil that some craftsmen use to try to make their service appear superior to their competitors.

Re: My hair is slipping

Is your hair slipping? You need SyrupStikβ„’ wig glue! The premier wig glue in a stick. That hair will never slip again.
http://joefago.com/thesessionshoppe/miscellany.html

Oh… wait… *bow* hair?… Not sure SyrupStik works for that…