Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Violin Bow Hair: Having a Good Hair Day

Written by: Angie Newgren of Fein Violins

Since I first started working at Fein Violins, my knowledge of stringed instruments and bows has grown quite a bit. One thing I was particularly interested in was bow hair, and what goes on before it is in the shop. I knew that most comes from horse hair, but I didn't know specifics, so I did some research.

There are only a few types of bow hair that makers select to use on their bows.
 Bow makers choose horse hair from these lines of horses- Siberian, Mongolian, Manchurian, Canadian, Australian, Polish, and Argentinian. There is also synthetic hair, but violin and bow maker Andy Fein never recommends using it. Never.

Bow makers have more to consider than just the breed of horse for the hair. Usually, they choose horses raised in cold climates because their hair is stronger. Also, stallion hair is valued higher than hair from mares because the urine of a mare hits her tail hair and weakens it somewhat.

Bow makers choose white hair because it is considered finer in texture. Some people in the bow hair business bleach their horse hair. This is something to be avoided because it weakens the hair.

Although some horse hair used for bows comes from live horses, usually it is taken off a horse from a slaughter house (so their meat, hooves and hide are all being used). Once the hair is cut it goes through numerous processes before being handled by the bow maker. It is first washed and cleaned with a mild soap or detergent. 

Next, the hair gets "dressed." The skill and meticulousness of the dresser is as important as the quality of the hair. Dressing involves making sure all hairs are around the same length (too short and too long are pulled out), making sure all are strong and durable, and making sure all are straight. The dresser removes any hairs with knots, curls or kinks. Even when the horse hair is ready to be put on the bows, the makers still double check to make sure all hairs are straight and durable.

Occasionally, we hear of a bow that a player or repairer claims was haired in the wrong direction. Fortunately, there really isn't a directionality in bow hair. Even if there was, which direction would be the wrong way for up bows? For down bows? Hopefully, you see the point. 

If you would like to know about how to take care of your bow, visit our other blog Bow Care 101. And, if you would like to know more about how much tension to use when playing, visit our blog on proper bow tension.

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