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 Bow Maintenance 

We are working on bows that were made in the early 19th century. Some bows have survived from periods well before that. A bow must be properly handled and stored and always rehaired and repaired by a professional. Many good bows have been destroyed in the hands of unskilled persons.
     
By the Player      By your Professional Violin Shop
     

Bow Care & Maintenance Performed by the Player


    Q.   Handling a Bow
A.   When handling a bow, one should keep in mind that the tip of a wood bow is particularly fragile. Players should avoid subjecting the bow to any undue stress including dropping, holding by the tip, tapping on the music stand as a form of applause, and that perennial school favorite - sword fighting. It is very important to alway Loosen the Bow Hair after each use. Overtime a stick left under tension will loose it's camber or warp. Even the best bows can loose camber with continual playing and effect the shape and playability of the bow. Only a qualified skilled repairer should recamber a stick.
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    Q.   Cleaning the Stick
A.   The recommended method of cleaning is to use a soft cloth to remove rosin dust, oil, and dirt from the stick immediately after each use before it has a chance to adhere into the finish. Special untreated cloths may be purchased specifically for cleaning instruments and bows. If a treated cloth must be used, one should take great care not to get it near the hair of the bow. Other cloths may also be used provided they are soft, lint-free, and non-abrasive.

There are wide varieties of polishes and cleaners available for stringed instruments which may also be used on bows. However, if a bow is properly maintained, these products will not often be necessary. If using a polish or cleaner, always test for compatibility with the varnish in a small inconspicuous area of the bow and take special care to keep the product well away from the bow hair. On a related note, using commercial or household solvents near an instrument or bow is to be avoided since, in some cases, even the vapors can cause serious damage.

Left unattended, the silver,gold or nickel fittings found on the frog, button, and sometimes the tip will tend to oxidize over a period of time. While a heavy layer of tarnish should be cleaned by a qualified bow repairer, its appearance can easily be prevented by including the frog, button, and tip in the daily cleaning with a clean, untreated cloth. Over the course of time, bow hair near the frog may darken with a buildup of skin oils and rosin. When such a buildup becomes noticeable, the best and safest solution is to have the bow rehaired rather than to attempt to clean the hair by mechanical or chemical means.

Students should have their bows rehaired at least once a year, more frequent for professional players. This task should be left to a qualified bow repairer.

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    Q.   Humidity
A.   Humidity control is of equal importance to bows as it is to instruments. You bow hair can stretch or shrink considerably when travelling from the coast inland. Too much or too little humidity can be the cause of warping, cracking, and improper hair tension.
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    Q.   Temperature
A.   In addition to that caused by drastic humidity changes, bows are also susceptible to similar damage caused by rapid fluctuations in temperature. While in colder climates it is often impossible to avoid subjecting a bow to low temperatures, it is important to make certain that the rate of temperature change is as slow as possible. This may be accomplished by allowing an instrument and bow to warm up to room temperature inside the case.
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    Q.   Rosin
A.   The most common questions about rosin concern stickiness, rosining technique, rosining frequency, and cleaning up excess rosin. A large number of rosins are commercially available varying in shape, packaging, color, grade, special additives, and recommended instrument. Violin, viola, and cello rosins will vary in stickiness with light rosins usually providing less grab than dark rosins. Less grab is usually desirable for violinists or in high heat and humidity climates. More grab is appropriate for cellists or in low temperature and humidity locales.

Rosins for violin, viola and cello can generally be quite similar. Bass rosins are quite soft by comparison giving a substantial amount of grab necessary to move thick, low-pitched strings. While a number of rosining techniques exist, the goal of each is to evenly coat the hair with just the right amount of rosin–just enough to grip the strings properly, but not so much that excess rosin powder quickly coats the instrument and bow. One time-tested method of rosining violin, viola, and cello bows is to use long, slow strokes back and forth along the entire length of the hair. Bow hair which needs more rosin will cut into the rosin cake, while hair which is sufficiently rosined will slide easily over the cake on a layer of powdered rosin. Bass bows are traditionally rosined in quick, long strokes from the frog to the tip as bass rosin is too soft to allow the successful use of up and down bow strokes on the rosin cake.

Rosin which is not mounted in a wood or plastic block should be rotated gradually as it is being used. This rotation will maintain a flat surface allowing for the best rosin-to-hair contact and will also prevent damage to the sides of the bow caused by deeply grooved rosin. Rosining frequency is affected by personal preference, instrument type, rosin brand and grade, temperature, humidity, and the amount of time spent playing. One might expect to rosin a bow anywhere between every few hours to every few days.

As mentioned above, use a dry, clean, lintless cloth each day to wipe rosin dust from the bow stick and the surface of the instrument before it has a chance to sink into the finish. A clean, dry cloth should also be used periodically to wipe rosin build-up from the playing area of the strings. Rosin which is allowed to accumulate too heavily, especially on the undersides of the strings, will adversely affect the tone and playability of the instrument.

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    Q.   Inspecting your Bow
A.   Players should develop the habit of inspecting their bows at least once a week for difficulty in tightening and loosening, improper hair tension, and damage particularly to the tip and frog. Problems such as these should always be referred to a technician for proper repair.
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Bow Maintenance by a Qualified Bow Repairer


I recommend only a qualified
bow specialist be consulted for repairs & adjustments.
    Q.   The Hair...Rehairing your Bow
A.   Bow hair, no matter how good, will require periodic replacement by a qualified bow specialist when it no longer performs well. Extreme ranges of temperature and humidity can make hair change length resulting in difficulties tightening or loosening the bow. It can, over time, become glazed and lose its ability to accept rosin. Hair under tension will eventually lose its resiliency, become brittle, and break—especially in the hands of forceful players. Additionally, hair will break as a result of having been worn thin by the friction of playing. Therefore, players should expect bows to require rehairing at least once a year depending on usage and climate.

Active string players will rehair their bow every three to six months. Rehairs must be performed with local climates in mind - so inform the specialist if you are visiting from another part of the province/country. AVOID touching the hair with you hands - the oils from your hands will soil the hair and make the action on the strings ineffective.

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    Q.   Cleaning & French Polish
A.   Solvents which will dissolve hardened dirt and rosin effectively, unfortunately, can be dangerous either to the finish of the bow or to the health of the casual user. The 'finish' on bows can be either French Polish or coloured varnish; inexpensive bows can be coated with a thin layer of plastic. Therefore, rosin which has hardened in or on the finish should always be referred to a qualified bow repairer for proper, safe cleaning. Most Professional shops will clean and French polish the stick, clean and buff the metal parts and lubricate the eyelet at no charge. A heavily soiled stick with caked rosin and very dirty frogs will need extra time for cleaning, in some cases the slide will be cemented into the frog (due to dirt, sweat and rosin). To avoid unforeseen costs - rehair your bow regularly.
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    Q.   Eyelets
A.   On the bottom side of the frog is a brass eyelet - hidden from view inside the end of the stick. The eyelet holds the frog firmly in place on the bow with the screw that tightens and loosens the bow. Difficulty in turning the bow screw can often result from loose or long hair, a stripped eyelet, or an improperly seated frog or button. Excessive force tighening a bow can cause a butt crack between the button and mortice - repairable but also avoidable. In most cases the threads in eyelets become worn and fail. While an experienced player can often correctly identify the cause of a bow problem, fixing it is best done by a bow specialist who can tap a new eyelet or replace a striped screw. Eyelets vary in size and shaft thickness.
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    Q.   Tips/Face Plates and Cracks
A.   Repair of any crack, split, or other break of the tip/face plate, the head of the bow, the shaft of the bow, the frog, or the button should always be performed by a bow specialist. Well-intentioned but improper amateur repairs can often break again, cause further damage, and/or reduce the value of a bow. The tip/face plate is not for ornamentation, structually it plays a very important role in the integrity of the head through use and rehairing. If a ivory, silver, gold or plasitc face plate tip every develops a crack, have it replaced right away by a qualified bow repairer.

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DBA The Rococo Violin Shop Inc.  2095 McBride Crescent, Prince George, BC, V2M 1Z2  |  Phone: 1-888-858-8811  |  Email: info@violinshop.ca
 

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