DB neophyte, excessively enthusiastic about the bow but excessively inexperienced!

Discussion in 'Bows and Rosin [DB]' started by Aaron Saunders, Feb 19, 2005.

  1. Aaron Saunders

    Aaron Saunders

    Apr 27, 2002
    I've been playing DB for about a month so far and it's coming pretty naturally to me (good intonation, very comfortable) and I've played BG for 3 years. Something I've always loved was the sound of a bowed instrument, and now I've learned the basics of french and german techniques. Unfortunately, the only bow I have access to is a German one, so French technique seems pretty uncomfortable (although I love German, it feels very natural.)

    Unfortunately, I don't know much about anything about bows. Don't keep 'em tightened, rosin them, and basic technique. That's about it. What I want to know is the basic anatomy of a bow, different materials used in the construction, hair, and rosin. I know what a frog and whatnot is, but what's a camber? Are there different kinds of hairs? What are the advantages of the kinds of rosin? How do I identify what wood the bow I'm using (school's) is made out of?

    PS: Those "newbie" sticky threads in certain forums are a great idea. Very helpful. Bows and Rosin could use one.
  2. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA

    Camber is a reference to the bend of the bow. A bow is not carved into that shape, but rather a straight stick is heated and bent to a certain "camber." This camber sort of "spring loads" the hair.

    Over time, the tension from the hair may cause the camber to begin to relax, so a bow can be reheated and recambered. They may also use the same technique to correct an unwanted warp in the bow.


    Every maker has their own recipe for rosin, but it is basically the resins from various conifers that have been cooked down to remove the liquids. They add a touch of this and/or that and when it cools, it ends up a solid or semi-solid cake of rosin.

    Bass rosins tend to be the softest of all string instrument rosins. Softer rosins apply in a thicker coat and offer more bite on the string, which helps with the large bass strings.

    Typically, the softer the rosin, the easier the bow bites. The downside is that it can produce a much harsher tone. Very soft rosins, like Pops, are also a pain to deal with in warm, humid climates, as they can get pretty sticky when they warm up. If you leave a cake of Pops in a car on a summer day, you can almost pour it out of the can. However, these same properties, make them quite nice in the cold, dry winters.

    Harder rosins produce a smoother tone, but at the cost of less bite. If you have good bow, and more importantly, a good hand, it doesn't matter that much.

    It is really a trial and error thing, but with rosin being one of the few things about DB that is not ridiculously expensive, you can afford to play around a bit.

    For example, I like Pops best on my big heavy pernambuco bow, but prefer Carlsson on my brazilwood bow.

    As your bowing matures, you will probably care less anyway, as you'll tend to need less rosin to get a good sound.


    Hair is similar. White hair is thought to be smoother and sweeter, while black is more harsh, but louder. Some mix the two for "salt and pepper."

    There are other less popular natural colors, but they tend to manifest the properties of either one or the other basics. I've seen silver, and I just had a bow done in red. It's a natural red (just like my wife, which is the main reason I chose it). I have found that it plays mostly like white.


    The best bows are made from pernambuco, a South American wood originally imported to Europe as a source of red dye. Student bows are often made of other "Brazilwoods."

    Each can be finished to a variety of colors, so the easiest way to distinguish between the two is to examine the grain.

    It's tough to explain, but pernambuco has a very tight, perfectly imperfect grain about it. Brazilwoods tend to be wider grained and the overall grain lines are less bold.

    There's no hard fast rule here, but it also seems pernambuco bows are finished with a minimal amount of protectant, while brazilwoods are usually stained and coated more heavily.

    Given the chance to visually compare the two, the differences are obvious.

    You'll also see bowmakers use nicer ornaments with pernambuco. The frog ebony, slides, eyes, wire and whatever else they use to complete the bow will likely be of better quality, as overall you have a better bow.
  3. Aaron Saunders

    Aaron Saunders

    Apr 27, 2002
    Wow! Thanks a bunch.

    How do you know when you're putting too much rosin on the bow? Also, anyone have any opinions of Hindersine rosin?
  4. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    If you get too much on the hair, it will build up on the strings fairly quickly. Make sure you keep a dry rag with your bass and scruff off the rosin on the strings after playing. I nice piece of coarse linen works well.

    The best approach is to use only as much as you need :) The best way to start is to never simply slap it on the hair every time you pick up the bow.

    It really helps if you run a few scales and maybe a familiar etude before you rosin on the bow. The friction warms the existing rosin on the hair and it softens, giving it the tack that you are looking for.

    I will also sometimes lightly drag the bow across the rosin cake one pass. I can sort of tell by the tack against the cake if there is enough on the bow.
  5. Aaron Saunders

    Aaron Saunders

    Apr 27, 2002
    Awesome! Exactly what I needed to know. Thanks!
  6. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Hi all, I'm kinda like Govithoy, a neophyte just starting to arco. Haven't taken any lessons yet, but probably will. My question is, how much rosin should I typically apply to a brand new bow? I've been applying plenty, and it sounds better and better each time, but is there a "breaking in" process I need to go through, or what should I be looking for? Thanks, thanks for your patience with a newb. :)
  7. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    It takes a while for new hair to break in. I am dealing with it for the second time right now.

    Fortunately, my teacher has dealt with it for 50 years, so I have his insight.

    With some new bows (or rehairs), a powered rosin, or primer, has been applied to the hair. There are different schools of thought on the matter. Some say it helps the rosin take to the bow. Others say it is counterproductive. I just spoke with Tom Owen a couple of days ago. He said he uses the primer on violin and cello bows, but not bass bows.

    With the first rehair I had done, the powder was used, and the first thing my teacher did was work as much of it out as possible with a toothbrush.

    In any case, it takes a while for the rosin to work into the hair. The advice I was given was to take a few swipes on the cake, run a few scales and maybe an etude, swipe again and keep going. You'll never be able to just swipe the cake until the rosin is where you want it.

    The most important thing about your bow and its rosin is to learn not to evaluate the bow as soon as it comes out of the case cold. In fact, you shouldn't even rosin the bow at all until you have played it for a few minutes. You need a few minutes for the friction of playing to soften the rosin and allow it to work up a tack.

    IME, for the first 3-4 weeks or so, I rosin the bow everytime I play with 3-4 full swipes and another 2-3 half swipes on the frog end. After that, I may only take 1-2 full swipes each time I play, if at all.

    One of my bows has really well-played in hair (probably about shot actually). In 10 minutes, I can work it up to a really nice tack without applying any rosin at all.

    Don't get too dependent on getting a good sound by slapping on the rosin, it'll come back to bite in the end. Not only is the tone less refined, there are certain things that are almost impossible to do with a heavy coat of rosin on the bow. FWIW, I am learning this the hard way!!! :)
  8. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    I think Chas' work here should join the immortals and be turned into a sticky newbie thread. It wasn't all that long ago that I first beheld The Stick, contemplated Its use, and felt The Pain. There were mysteries...
  9. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Yes, excellent! Thanks for that! :)
  10. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    I do have one more question, about the rosin that ends up on the strings. Is that something I want to leave there, or should that be wiped off? If I'm getting a decent caking on the strings, does that mean I'm using too much rosin on the bow?
  11. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA

    If it is building up you are probably using too much rosin. In any case, you should knock it off with a coarse cloth after you play. I have found those linen napkins like they use at the fancy restaurants to work very well and they don't give up any lint.
  12. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Thanks, I'll give that a shot. :)
  13. 5stringDNA


    Oct 10, 2002
    Englewood, CO
    Thanks for the info Chas'!
    I got my first bow just yesterday and this is all very good information for us green-thumbs. When I see Paul next, I'm sure he'll correct the bad technique I'm bound to have ;).
  14. I agree!! Every time I see a heading on a forum I think....'Well, I better go in there and tell the Newbies what's up...nobody else will.' Lo and Behold, Chas has usually have been there, taking his time and explaining stuff in a clear and well written answer to the Thread question!
    Right on Chas, and Moderators....how about using some of Chas' stuff from this Bow thread ???
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    Primary TB Assistant

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