How to look after your fiddle bow
Adjusting the bow for playing
Before you play your fiddle, you’ll need to tighten the bow. At the frog end of the bow is a screw end. Turn the screw to clockwise to tighten the bow. As you do this you’ll see the hairs begin to become tense, and as the tension on the stick of the bow increases, you’ll see the curvature of the bow begins to decrease. It’s important not to over-tighten your bow, as it will damage it. The curvature of the stick is important for the function of the bow – it gives it a certain ‘springiness’ to the bowing action.
As a rule of thumb, aim to tighten the bow so that at the centre of the bow the gap between the hair and the stick is about the thickness of a pencil. If you’re playing in particularly damp or dry conditions this will affect the bow hair, so it’s worth checking the tension once you’ve been playing for a short while.
It’s important to loosen the screw on the bow whenever you stop playing. leaving the bow tightened will affect the curvature of the stick of the bow over time.
For a bow to create a note from a fiddle, the bow hairs need to have rosin rubbed into them. The rosin makes the hairs slightly sticky, so that when the bow is pulled across the string, the bow hairs ‘stick’ to the string and pull it sideways as the bow stroke is made. Eventually the tension of the string overcomes this stickiness, and the string moves in the opposite direction, setting up an oscillation of the string, which creates the note. If there is no rosin on the bow, the fiddle is totally silent!
Over time as you play, the rosin is knocked off the bow – you’ll probably see the fine dust start to build up on the body of the fiddle underneath the area of the string where the bow sits. So at intervals it will be necessary to re-rosin your bow. this is a simple process – tighten the bow hairs, take your block of rosin in one hand, and use the other hand to run the bow firmly over it. Work right from end to end of the bow a couple of times. If you over do it, excess rosin will fall off as soon as you play, creating a fine dust.
It’s fairly common for fiddle players to develop allergies to rosin dust, so I’d recommend erring on the side of caution with rosining the bow. You can give the bow stick a gentle tap to knock any loose excess rosin off the hairs before you play. If you haven’t got enough rosin on your bow, you’ll notice that it doesn’t ‘connect’ well with the strings when you play, and has a tendency to skid accross the string.
A new bow, or a newly re-haired bow, will require much more rosin initially to set it up. Spend a few minutes working the rosin into the hairs, making sure you include right up to both ends.
Storing your bow
Whenever you’re not playing, return your bow to its case for safe storage. Bows are surprisingly fragile and easily broken or damaged if they’re dropped. They’re also easily overlooked if left lying on a surface, and can easily be inadvertently knocked to the floor, or sat on if left on a chair.
Check that the fixings in your fiddle case don’t have any rough edges, as these can wear the frog of the bow.
Broken bow hairs
Over time you’re likely to find that bow hairs will occasionally break. This is quite normal. If a hair breaks, grasp the loose hair firmly and break it as close to each end of the bow as possible. There’s no need to do anything else, unless your bow has lost a large proportion of the hairs, in which case it’s time to book your bow in to be re-haired.
Cleaning your bow
Rosin from your bow will accumulate on the underside of the stick over time. Give it a gentle wipe with a soft cloth from time to time to clean it.
Rehairing your bow
From time to time bows need to be rehaired. The hair on the bow has tiny scales along it’s length. When you apply rosin, little flakes of rosin stick under the scales on the bow hair. Over time, the scales begin to crack and break off, and eventually the bow hair is unable to retain the rosin, and starts to loose it’s ability to stay ‘connected’ with the fiddle strings. At this point, the bow will need to be re-haired. How often this needs done will depend on a number of factors including how regularly you play and how heavy your bow is on the strings.
It’s worth getting your bow checked over whenever you have it re-haired. Any reputable bow restorer will do this routinely, checking for any damage that might worsen if not attended to. Find a bow restorer near you