How to Rehair a Violin Bow: A DIY Guide

There’s a lot of maintenance that goes along with being a violin owner. One of the most important things you will need to maintain is your violin bow. Having to rehair your violin bow is a real pain but every so often it’s a necessity.

Much the same as changing your strings, the prospect of changing your violin bow horsehair can be incredibly daunting if you’ve never done it before. After all violin bows are expensive and delicate so you wouldn’t want to accidentally damage them. It’s for this reason that many violinists choose to pay an expert to replace their violin bow hairs and if you can afford it, that’s definitely the right route to go.

However, sometimes the purse strings just won’t stretch to your violin bow hair needs, so learning how to do it yourself is key. As long as you know what you’re doing, your bow should be in safe hands. By the time you’ve finished reading our DIY guide you will know exactly how to get your bow rehaired. Let’s get started.

Does My Bow Need Rehairing?

The first thing you will want to think about is if you bow does actually need to be rehaired. Take a look at your bow and see if you can see any hairs that have snapped or are loose. You’ll soon notice the ones that need some attention. Not every bow needs rehairing when you get a few broken or loose hairs. You can simply cut these off without having to go the whole hog and replace the entire thing. It will all depend on how much you use your bow to how often you will need to rehair the stick. Check out the signs that you need to rehair your bow below.

  1. If the hairs are broken on one side – If you notice that the hairs on the bow are breaking on one side in particular it may cause uneven tension on the stick. If this happens then a luthier will have to use heat to straighten the stick back out. That heat can cause damage to the bow itself. If you start to notice this bend happening it’s time to rehair your bow.
  2. If the hair is breaking from the middle – If the hair is starting to break from the middle of your bow then it may be that there’s too much tension against the string when you’re playing. This means that the hair gets chewed up every time you pass the bow across the strings. If the hair is breaking from the middle it’s time to shop for some new ones.
  3. If the climate has changed – Violins are an instrument that can be incredibly affected if there is a big change in the weather or the climate. Not only can the wood be affected but the strings and hair on the bow can also be compromised. If you are someone who lives in a place that changes with the seasons then it’s very common to have problems with your bow hair in the spring and fall when the humidity becomes higher. In the wetter months you may feel that the hair becomes looser and you can’t seem to tighten them, no matter how hard you try.
  4. If the bow begins to smell – Yes, there’s is such a thing as smelly hair on a violin bow. If you begin to notice an odor, you seem them looking dirty or with smudges then it’s time to replace the hair for violin bow. Some people may choose to wash the hair with soap or shampoo but it can be difficult to keep the wood from getting wet. If you’d prefer to clean the hair rather than having a complete rehair done then send it to the professionals.
  5. If the hair has become discolored – If you haven’t managed to rehair your bow for a long time or perhaps have never have done it all then discoloration can happen. This is usually most noticeable at the end of the horsehair. Discoloration happens because the oils from your skin drips onto the hair as well as old rosin building up on the bow. You can tell that the color has changed easily on lighter horsehair bows .

What You’ll Need

  • Horse hair – You can find a lot of good bow hair online at music stores or Amazon.
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Scissors – Make sure these are sharp.
  • Superglue – Has to be a strong glue.
  • Gauge
  • Thin wire
  • Hair clips – Hair slides can also be used
  • Wire cutters
  • Comb

Removing the Old Hair

Before you even think about changing the bow hair for violin you will have to remove the old stuff. This is super simple to do. All you need is your scissors. Simply cut the hair off and leave a few inches at each end. It’s important to leave these inches at the end ready for the next step.

Next get your needle nose pliers and get a good firm grip on the very end of those inches of hair you left behind. Roll the pliers into the hair so that it wraps around them, sort of like you’re trying to curl it. Keep rolling that hair onto your pliers and start to pull it away from the plug. It will all depend on your bows plug to how quickly the hair will be released. Either way, be very gentle so you don’t damage it.

To take the hair out of the heel of the bow you will need to loosen the screw that is found to the back of the frog wedge. You’ll need to twist it to the left, to begin with, so that you loosen the ferrule. It won’t release straight away and you’ll probably find that you’ll have to wobble it backwards and forwards before it loosens fully. Be patient and gentle again – you don’t want to damage the wood.

Once the ferrule has released you can remove the small wedge that is at the bottom of the bow. This is done in the same way with your needle nosed pliers as you did before on the plug side of the bow.

Buying and Storing Horse Hair

When you go to buy your horse hair there is a general rule you should always keep in mind. The lighter the hair is, the better it will be when you’re playing your violin. If you can afford it you should always opt for lighter hair.

Once you’ve purchased the hair you will need to store it properly. It has to be gathered neatly so that it doesn’t become entangled. If this happens it becomes unusable for rehairing your stick. An easy way to stop your horse hair from tangling is to use hair clips. Place them at the bottom, top and middle of the hair to keep it straight.

Rehairing Your Bow

Now comes the tricky bit. The first thing you will want to do is grab your gauge and measure how much of the hair you will need for your particular stick. It normally is around the same width as your ferrule that you removed from the bow earlier. Gather all the hair that you cut together and use another hair clip or slide to keep it together. You want the hairs to stay together at all times and not get tangled as you work otherwise, the bow will be impossible to use and play with.

Next up take your wire and use it to tie the hair closely together at both ends. Grab your strong superglue and make the hair stick together at the part where it is protruding from where you tied it up with the wire. You do this so you know that the hair will fit neatly into your bow without any of them sticking out. Obviously, you will need to give the glue some time to set before you continue with the rehairing process.

Once your glue is nice and dry you can insert the hair into the top of the plug on your stick. You will need to keep the wooden wedge removed for this part. You can use a thin stick or even a screwdriver to poke the hair into place and get it into the right position.

As soon as you get the hair in the right place for you to be able to use the bow, put your wooden wedge back into the stick. This makes sure that all of the hair stays exactly where they should be. The plug should be completely flush with the tip of your bow.

Before you begin attaching the hair to the frog or heel side of your bow you will need to remove the hair clips you placed there earlier. Take your comb and brush out any tangles that may have appeared during the process so far. You’re aiming for the hair to make a thin ribbon shape. It shouldn’t be big and bulky like a piece of rope. Keep combing until you get it to the right shape.

Now that your hair is lovely and combed place the hair clips back in so that it won’t end up tangled and undo all your hard work so far. Tie the loose end of the hair off with your wire and then use your glue in the same way as you did before to stick the hairs together. Slip this hair through the ferrule. You can always remove the bow from the frog so you get some extra wiggle room to work with.

Next, you want to put the hair in the frog into the small hole from the top down. Grab your screwdriver or stick as well to poke it gently into position. Now you can put the wooden wedge back into place so the hairs stay put. Finally you can slide the abalone back, paying special attention to keep the hairs away from the rail.

You’ll want to reattach your wedges so that the hairs stay in place. Once you’ve finished this process you can use a light heat and quickly blast the strands of hair so that they fuse together. This will pay off in a big way when you go to play your violin. The last step in the process is to get your rosin and prime your brand new bow hair. You’ll have to crush it and then gently rub and pat it along the bow for the best results.

And that’s it! Was it so hard? You now know how to rehair your bows and can continue to play beautiful music on your violin. Well done!

Price of Rehairing Bows

Violins can be expensive instruments and the cost of maintaining such a beautiful piece can be astronomical. By rehairing your bows yourself you will be saving money on having it professionally done. The only cost if you do choose the DIY option is that it will take time and you will have to buy the replacement hair, plus any of the tools that you haven’t got lying around the hair. There’s plenty of options for good bow hair out there that come in under $10. Even the most high quality horse hair for professional bows doesn’t cost more than $20 so you really will save some pennies by learning how to rehair bows yourself.

If going the DIY route isn’t appealing to you or you think you’ll make a mess of it then, of course, you will want to reach out to a professional luthier. For their services you can expect to be handing over $50 to $80 of your hard-earned cash. This will include the horse hair as well as the cost of the labor as well. Of course, it’s money well spent because they will know how to take care of your valuable instrument properly.

FAQs

How often should a violin bow be rehaired?

It will all depend on how much you play your violin to know how often you should be rehairing it. If you are an adamant player who will use their bow for four to five hours a day then you can expect to need new bow hair around three to four times a year. If you don’t play every day then you may only need to replace it once or twice a year. You can change it as often as you like though.

How do you tighten hairs on violin bows?

Tightening the hairs on a violin bow is really easy. All you need to do is turn the screw found at the end of the stick to tighten or loosen the hair. It’s very important to never tighten the hair on the bow too much and you should also loosen the hair after you are done playing. This maintains the value and condition of your bow and will lead you to not having to rehair it as often.

Why do I need to rehair my bow?

It’s important to rehair your bow every so often because the quality of the hair on your bow can influence the sound of your violin. Not only will it affect the sound but it can also affect the quality of your playing too. The horsehair used for violin bows will slowly wear out over time as you continue to play. Climate conditions can also affect the hair in a negative way. Horsehairs will lengthen or shorten depending on the humidity and temperature around you. All of these changes will weaken the hair and lead to lower sound quality. So it’s definitely a good idea to get your bow rehaired as part of proper violin maintenance.

Are there risks if I don’t rehair my bow?

If you don’t rehair your bow when it needs it you could risk damaging the bow or even the violin itself. The sound quality of the instrument can be affected, the bow could be permanently bent or you could cause friction on the stick which will weaken it over time. If you have a bow that was expensive and you don’t want to replace it then you will want to carry out this vital maintenance as it could have an impact on its price and performance.

How can I get broken hair off my bow?

If you notice that there are a few broken or loose hairs on your bow you don’t have to replace the entire thing. It’s simple to remove the hairs causing the issue and continue using that bow. Any loose hairs should be cut at the loose part, making it a broken hair. Then you can pull the loose or broken hair away from the rest of the bow. Cut them very carefully at both ends of the stick, trying to be as close to the frog and tip of the bow as possible.

The last thing you want to do is pull the hair out of the bow. If you do the grip will loosen on the hairs that are left behind, making it easier for more hairs to loosen, become weak or even break. Hairs should always be cut and the ends should remain attached to the tip and frog of the bow.

How do I clean a violin bow?

The best way to take care of your violin bow and the hair is to wipe the rosin off it after every time you play. You can do this with a soft cloth or a microfiber. You want a material that can remove any fresh dust while also polishing the surface of the stick. If you notice clumps of rosin then you can usually comb these out using an old toothbrush. Cleaning the hair may seem like a suitable alternative to rehairing the whole thing but this can be incredibly tricky. You will want to remove all of the hair beforehand so the wood doesn’t get wet. The best thing to do in this case is to send it to a professional to be cleaned.

You should try and avoid touching the horsehair with your fingers as much as possible. There’s also no need to use any sort of chemicals to clean the bow if you choose to do it yourself. Chemicals can strip the varnish off the bow and also damage the hair. Using a dry, soft and clean cloth will be more than sufficient for a basic clean after each time you play.

How do I know my bow is worn?

There are a few ways you can check if the hair on your violin bow has been worn out. Sometimes the hair can look greasy and blackened which is easily noticed against the lighter hair of the bow. This is an accumulation of dirt and rosin that comes with use. Another thing to look out for is if the horsehairs begin to break one after another. This means they are worn out and every time you use the bow, they will continue to break. You may feel that you are increasing the amount of rosin you apply to the hair. This means that the horsehair is wearing out because the rosin will no longer adhere to it from the rubbing. If your hair doesn’t tighten anymore or becomes loose when you are playing then it’s time to rehair the bow.

How do I properly rosin my bow?

If you are playing your violin every day then you will want to be rosining it too. Tighten the hair on the bow and then run your chosen rosin up and down the length of the hair. Contrary to what a lot of people believe it makes no difference which direction you apply the rosin in. What you want to focus on is to evenly distribute the powder throughout the hair and ensure you are using the right quantity of rosin.

What is the right rosin for my bow?

The rosin you choose for your bow is down to your individual taste as well as the characteristics of your bow. You should also take into consideration the ambiance of the room you play in. Many violinists will use a different rosin in the summer than they would do in the winter or even a different rosin for each style of music. The best way to find the right one for you is to try out a few different products and see which one fits you most.

Conclusion

We wish you every success in rehairing your bow. If you get stuck anywhere in the process try taking a look online for tutorial videos which will guide you through rehairing your violin bow. Happy playing!

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