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String Teacher Workshops

Bow Maker Steve Haas Visits String Academy

Steve Haas

Steve Haas, bow maker

Steven Haas, a bow maker now living in Milwaukee, visited the String Academy on November  16, 1991, to describe to students how bows are made and how they should be cared for.  Mr. Haas also demonstrated how he rehairs a bow.  He studied with Anton Smith in Spokane, Washington and with Bein and Fushi in Chicago. The following is a summary of his remarks.

The bow is a work of art and a tool.  If not properly maintained it will impair your playing. Clean the bow stick after each use. Built-up rosin eats varnish.  You can do two things to extend your bow’s life: loosen your bow hair when not in use and always have your bow rehaired by a reliable violin shop. When you take your bow in for a rehair, notice how the shop keeper handles your bow. If he or she does not carefully check the condition of the headplate (the tip) and the frog parts before accepting your bow, then you should find another bow rehairer. When you pick up your newly-rehaired bow, ask yourself these questions: Is the ivory tip cracked?  Is the frog ferrule bent? Is the hair spread evenly?

It is time to rehair your bow when one of the following is true: the hair begins to fall out, the hair breaks easily, the hair is narrow at the ferrule, or the bow doesn’t hold rosin well.

Virtually all high-quality wood bows are now made of pernambuco, a wood native to Brazil. Pernambuco was first imported to France for use in cloth dying (it produces a burgundy colored dye). An 18th century Frenchman named Tourte, sometimes called the “father of the modern bow,” was among the first to use this wood for bow making. Previous makers had often used snakewood. Pernambuco wood is uniquely suited to bow making because it is dense yet elastic, it can be bent and will retain its bend, and it has a “stopping point” (it can be bent only so far).

It is becoming difficult to find good pernambuco, because the best bow wood is toward the center (just outside the core) of a fairly old tree, where the rings have been compacted. Most of these old trees have been cut down, and no one seems to be replanting pernambuco.

The bow stick is heated in the flame of an alcohol lamp until just the right temperature to prepare it for bending. “Camber” refers to the amount of bend. Too much camber results in a “fly away” bow when playing at the tip. A bow with not enough camber will require that the bow hair be too far off the stick before it will play.

Jim Olsen

About Bow Rehairing

How often should a bow have new hair?

Some players go a year in between rehairing. Some go only two or three months.  The reasons are many.  Some play more than others; some rosin too much; some are super-sensitive to grip phenomena.

Bow hair, being animal matter, decays quickly; strength and grip decrease over a short period of time, like six months.

The bow hair bug attacks bows not exposed to the light of day often enough.  This larva of the carpet beetle will decimate a-new rehair in less than a week. Bows used very often are not subject to this damage. The bug causes long lengths of bow hair to fly in all directions … in the case, not being used!!!

Stale old hair looks fine until used. Then it flies in all directions due to brittleness. Fast and over-rosining wears out bow hair. Rehair often and listen to the comments of the person doing the rehair. It will save you money in the future!

Al Stancel

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