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Bow hair question?

Discussion in 'Bows and Rosin [DB]' started by gerry grable, Dec 9, 2018.

  1. gerry grable

    gerry grable Supporting Member

    Nov 9, 2010
    Is there an official width measurement for French bass bow hair?
    It may be an optical illusion, but the ribbons on the various bass tutorials and videos on the net always look much wider than the ribbon on my bow. My hair measures 5/8 inch at the frog and 9/16 at the tip. It's length is 23 3/16 inches.
    Is this within the average standards?
  2. gerry grable

    gerry grable Supporting Member

    Nov 9, 2010
    No answers on ribbon width?
    Do widths vary from bow to bow?
  3. bengreen


    Jan 26, 2016
    San Diego
    Hi Gerry,

    If it's a french bow, it's probably a little narrow, and quite a bit long...if your measure's correct which I suspect may not be. Hair length is the playing length, the bit suspended between head and frog. It doesn't include the portion traveling along the base of the head before dipping into the mortise.

    Two points:

    1.) Bass bows, like basses in general, are all over the map in their weights and dimensions. If I had to be pinned down, typical hair length for french about 21", for german 22". For head and frog width (sorry, have to switch to metric) french about 20mm wide at the frog, the same or slightly less at the head, german maybe 17mm (sometimes less) at the head. The sides of the ferrule are usually 0.8 to 1mm thick so take twice that away from the frog width and you have the hair width. At the head you need to leave about 1.5 to 2mm of wood thickness either side of the front of the mortise for strength issues so the hair width at that end is twice that taken from the width of the head, so it's narrower than at the frog.

    Reid Hudson shows some dimensions for his bows on his web site:

    Bass Bow Measurements

    They're all pretty typical (if there is typical).

    2.) It doesn't matter what your bow measurements are. If you like the bow and it works well for you, then the measurements are right. Maybe I should have said this in the first place and left off the rest, but you asked.
  4. gerry grable

    gerry grable Supporting Member

    Nov 9, 2010
    Thank you for your excellent response. You are right. When measured correctly, my bow hair at playing tension is 22 1/2 inches. This is still "quite a bit long." I wonder if this could be the result of the loss of camber in this old bow?
    I bought it in 1961. When I had my last rehair, the luthier remarked on its lack of camber. I wonder if I should try to get it recambered (curved)?
    As for the width question. The width of the metal frog ferrule is 20mm and the hair is 15mm. The tip measures 14mm. Maybe it's just time for another rehair?
    Thank you again for the information.
  5. wathaet


    May 27, 2007
    You are way overdue for a rehair.
    gerry grable likes this.
  6. bengreen


    Jan 26, 2016
    San Diego
    My sister tells me I'm anal...well, here I go proving her right!

    You would measure hair length with the frog dialed full forward, otherwise you're chasing a moving target and can't make repeatable comparisons to other bows. Same thing for measuring balance.

    Oddly enough, when you add camber, the hair length increases, when you remove it the length reduces. I know it's counterintuitive, but you need to think of head and frog as rotating levers rather than objects moving closer or farther apart. Forgive this awful drawing but it'll give you a sense of what happens as the camber increases.


    Sorry, drawn on my lap in the car! While the top of head and frog move closer together when adding camber, the bottoms (where the hair attaches) rotate away from each other. This relation holds within the geometry of a functional bow. Obviously if you continue bending it into a pretzel the relationship breaks down.

    As far as too much or too little camber, you can't always trust your eyeball. I was taught to fit a frog and put hair on pretty early in the game when making a bow, basically right after initial bending so you could see how it plays to guide the remainder of the carving and bending. There have been several occasions when my eyeballs told me "it looks too shallow". I added camber with the result that a bow which up to that point had been playing ok, wasn't anymore. I removed the camber and the sound came back. BTW, I don't hair quite so early anymore. Found out there's such a thing as too much information, too many choices, too many decisions which can be paralyzing. Nowadays I usually wait until I'm within about a half millimeter of my final grads.

    You can evaluate the optimal distribution of camber, but it's one of those "kids, don't try this at home!" deals. I can talk about it if you want but it's a little lengthy.

    So again the advice is: if the bow's working for you as it is, maybe don't be in a big hurry to change it. Any time you bend a bow, there is a very real risk of breaking it (worst case), introducing twist or kinks, or simply not ending up with the improvement you sought. If you do go there, go to someone who does it a lot, has insurance, and you each have a clear understanding of where you stand if things don't go as you hope.

    If the bow's not working for you, I'd be more inclined to look at other bows (which is fun) rather than sink money into your existing one... unless you have a specific reason to keep it.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2018
    Lee Moses and gerry grable like this.
  7. gerry grable

    gerry grable Supporting Member

    Nov 9, 2010
    Thanks again. I feel guilty for having had you spend so much time on my questions, but that is one of the beauties of TalkBass. Possibly--probably, several other people will benefit from your words and wisdom.
    You've certainly given me a lot to think about.
  8. T_Bone_TL


    Jan 10, 2013
    NW Mass/SW VT
    Cheap and cheerful china carbon french bass bow - 21-3/4" playing length, 5/8" wide both ends.
    gerry grable likes this.

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