When To Rehair Your Bow

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Rehairing a bow is not something that you think you need to do. However, as you continue studying your instrument, you may notice some hairs snap and soon you may feel like your bow needs a little attention. Not all bows need rehairing, and if they do, it really depends on how much they are used.

Some musicians need their bow rehaired every two months, some do it every 6 months, and if you’re not a professional musician, you might need to rehair your bow only every 2 years. If you’re anything like 2CELLOS or Apocalyptica, you might need to buy a new bow after every use!

In fact, most of our readers have either never rehaired their bow or haven’t in a really long time:

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How to know your bow needs rehairing

1. If the hairs are broken on one side

If the hairs of the bow are breaking particularly on one side, it may cause an uneven tension in the stick. The problem with this is that to straighten the stick, the luthier requires heat, and that can sometimes damage the bow. If you notice this is happening, it’s best to have it rehaired.

2. If the hairs break from the middle

If the hairs break from the middle part of your bow, it may be that you’re creating too much tension against the strings and the bow is chewing the hairs everytime you pass the bow. Not all bows are created equal, and not all players need the same type of bow. If the hairs start breaking from the middle, it may be time to shop for some new bow hair and a new bow.

3. If there are changes in climate

The weather can really affect your instrument. Not just the wood, but also the strings and hairs of the bow. For musicians who live in places where seasons exist, it’s very common to have problems during spring and fall because of the humidity.

If the hairs are at a good length during the dry months, they can be felt as too loose during the rainy months, no matter how much you try to tighten them.

If the hair is so short that, even when you loosen the bow as much as you can, tension can still be felt, you need to have it fixed right away. This tension can cause the head of the bow to come off and then you’ll have a more expensive problem.

4. If the hairs become smelly

Yup, the hairs of the bow can begin to smell. If this happens, or you see them dirty or smudgy, you might need to rehair the bow. Some people wash the hairs with shampoo or soap, but it’s very hard to keep the wood from getting wet, so if this is something you want to do instead of rehairing it, seek a professional.

You can also tell just by feeling it. If the bow doesn’t engage as it used to or you need to keep on adding rosin, it could be an indication that your bow is due for a rehair.

5. If the hairs become very discolored

If bow hair hasn’t been replaced in a while, the end of the horsehair will become very discolored due to the oils from your skin dripping on to the hair as well as old rosin that has been built up. If your bow hair begins to look discolored like in the image below, it’s time to replace your bow hair.

old violin bow hair
Old bow hair (top) and new bow hair (bottom)

Rehairing your bow is a normal and very common thing to do as part of instrument maintenance. If you don’t know where to take it, ask teachers or musicians what luthiers or shops they like for this task. Sometimes, depending on where you live, you might not find a place. If that’s the case, there are mail-order rehair services that you can use. If this is the option for you, just make sure you speak to someone on the phone and ask about their experience and service, instead of just ordering it online.

Once your bow has been rehaired, it may feel different at first. Don’t stress out, or think that it has been rehaired incorrectly. The pressure you used may not be the same as before and you need to adjust and get used to it. And make sure to rosin it well before you use it for the first time!

Now tell us, have you had to rehair your bow? Tell us about your experience!


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