Have you been playing for a while and noticed that the hair on your bow has a case of “bed head” and isn’t quite falling into line anymore? Or maybe a bow was gifted to you, but the hair has more gaps than strands. It’s time to get it rehaired!
Getting new hair on a bow (getting a bow “rehaired”) is relatively straightforward. Most local shops that sell, trade, or stock bowed instruments should be able to perform this maintenance task. When in doubt, a good starting point is to find out which music shop in your area supplies instruments to local school programs, or contact your community orchestra or community college program to get a recommendation. Depending on the brand of bow you have, you may also be able to send your bow back to the manufacturer to get the bow rehaired.
Aside from the obvious cases of a bow having very little hair still attached, when should you rehair your bow?
The exact frequency of bow rehairing is dependent on many factors including how much you play, the environment your bow lives in, the quality of the bow hair, and others. Sometimes it’s obvious that it’s time to rehair, such as when there are so many broken hairs that the hair doesn’t look full any more, or if the horsehair cannot be loosened enough to take tension off the stick. But, sometimes it is more subtle. At some point, even if the hair looks fine, the hair stops engaging the strings in the same way. It’s ironic that I’m the one writing this post since I am the poster child for not rehairing my bows as often as I should. It’s usually the way my bow is playing (or not playing) that drives me to finally show up at my local music shop, my bow in my hand. No amount of rosin will fix the way my bow skitters across the strings and I know once again, I’ve waited too long.
How often should you rehair your bow? If you are following Fiddlehed’s practice every day fiddlosophy, consider rehairing if it has been at least a year since you purchased or last rehaired. If you have a very wet and very dry season where you live, you may want to consider rehairing every six months – in the fall and in the spring – because of the humidity changes. I live in northern CA where most of our rainfall occurs in the winter, combined with very dry low humidity summers. I hang my fiddle and bow on the wall for the ease of every day practice, but I’ve noticed that my bow hair ages faster now that the swings in humidity are not buffered by being stored in a case.
The last thing to consider is whether you want to rehair your bow with natural or synthetic horsehair. There are pros and cons to each. In the end, it’s a personal choice. Each type has its vocal supporters, and equally vocal opponents. The good news is that you can always switch if you opt to try something different with a rehair and hate it. It also might be possible to try out the “other” type of hair on two similar bows in a shop so you can compare directly before committing.
When I get my bow back from a rehair, there’s always an adjustment period. The amount of friction between the hair and the string has changed, and often I find that balance of the bow has changed slightly too. This is completely normal and to be expected because of the physics of how the bow, hair, and frog work together. However, the biggest change is the sound. The rich, full, nuanced tones that come out of my instrument are a reminder to not wait so long next time.
Like most things on earth, you can find this online…
This post was written by guest blogger and teacher (and veterinarian and mother and ultra-marathon runner 🏃♀️) Melinda Newton