Don Reinfeld, Bow Maker
Q Why does the length of
the hair on my bow seem to change?|
A The hair is organic material: it stretches and shrinks in response to changes of humidity and temperature. Loosen the bow when you're not using it, so that the unnecessary tension won't stretch the hair or lessen the bow's camber (see below).
Q How often should my bow be rehaired?
A It depends on how much you play. For a beginning student, once a year is probably sufficient. If you're playing an hour a day or more, twice a year, in mid- or late spring and in the fall, is fine. If you're more advanced and can afford it, rehair the bow whenever the hair gets worn out and doesn't grab the string (typically you'll feel you have to use rosin constantly), if you've lost a lot of hairs, if the hair has gotten very long, or if you have an important concert or audition coming up in the next few weeks. The hair is at its best when you break it in with several hours of playing after rehairing; from then on, it deteriorates slowly, so you must decide when you're having to work too hard to get the results you need.
Q What should I look out for when I need to get my bow rehaired?
A Ask to see a bow the repair person you are considering has just rehaired: Is the bow properly cleaned and polished? Is the ribbon of hair straight, or are there obvious crossover hairs? Is the tension equal on both sides of the ribbon (good) or slightly more on the playing edge (even better)? When you look through the hair toward a light, does the hair look evenly distributed across the ribbon (good) or slightly thicker at the playing edge (better)? Does the wedge at the frog spread the ribbon of hair to the edges of the ferrule? If the hair is whiter at one end, that end should be at the frog (these hairs are thicker, heavier, stronger).When the whiter hairs are set at the tip end of the bow, the balance point of the bow moves noticeably toward the tip - for violin and viola bows; also you'll break more hairs at the frog and probably have to rehair the bow sooner.
Q What is camber?
A Camber is the curve the maker puts into the stick by heating it and bending it to the necessary shape. The curve is sharper near the tip, where the wood is thinnest, but more gradual toward the frog, where the wood is thickest.
Q Why is it important for a bow to have (almost) full camber?
A The camber makes the bow function as a spring. The less camber there is, the more you have to tighten the hair to get enough vertical resistance when you place the bow on the string. This extra tension makes it harder to mold and sculpt the sound, and it tends to stretch the hair. When the hair gets too long, the bow feels tip-heavy and handles more clumsily. And you tend to rub the stick against the string; a sure way to degrade your sound and devalue a fine bow.
Q How can I tell if my bow has enough camber?
A If the hair always seems mushy and floppy, never really tightens into a flat, compact ribbon, it's a good bet your bow has lost some of its camber. Loosen the hair and push the frog as close to the grip as it will go. Place the bow on a clean, absolutely flat surface with the tip and ferrule firmly against the surface. The lowest point of the stick should be just above the middle of the bow and only a millimeter or two above the flat surface for violin and viola bows, slightly higher for cello. There is considerably more latitude for the amount and distribution of the camber in bass bows.
Q Can a bow lose some of its camber?
A Yes, and it happens very commonly. The wood, after all, is an organic material, and, like the horsehair, responds to changes in temperature and humidity. It may return little by little to the shape it had before the maker cambered it! Bows can be recambered, but you should be extremely careful whom you choose to do this work. First, there is a serious risk of damage to the bow. Second, in the case of valuable, old bows you should be concerned to return the camber to the style favored by the original maker. Consider recambering as an alternative before you run out to buy another, more satisfying, bow. After all, when you first acquired your bow, you probably found in it many pleasing qualities. Note also, that sometimes even composite fiber bows lose some of their camber, even though their camber is molded when the bow is being made!
Q My bow seems very unresponsive. How do I know if I need a new bow?
A Check the stick for warping (leaning out to the right or left when sighted toward the tip) and insufficient camber. Both conditions can seriously affect your bow's playability and usually can be corrected at a reasonable price compared to the cost of a new bow. Check for warping when the hair is even on both sides of the hair ribbon. When you've lost a lot of hair on the playing side, the bow may appear to be warped, but that usually results from the extra tension from the hair remaining on the other side.
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