Priming a New Bow
Brand new fiddle, brand new bow. Uh, oh - no sound! How do you get sound out of a new bow? How tight should you have the hairs? Good questions. This explains it.
Many times a brand new bow has little or no rosin at all on the hair. It is nigh impossible to get a sound out of a bow on the strings if there is no rosin on the bow. If you found that you got virtually no sound when you bowed the strings, this is probably the case. If you got some sound, then probably the bow was already "primed" before it was shipped.
To prime an unprimed bow you need to take a piece of #100 grit sandpaper to the cake of rosin to roughen and whiten the surface. Shiny, new rosin won't leave any rosin on the hairs. Once the block of rosin is nice and powdery looking, tighten your bow hair just enough so that you can fit your pinky finger between the hair and the stick midway up the bow. Wipe the block up and down the hairs about 20 times. Try it on your strings and see if you get a nice sound and have no feeling of the bow slipping and sliding this way and that. Rosin helps the hairs grip the strings in order to cause them to vibrate and make a sound.
If the bow is brand spanking new and had no rosin at all on it and this first method didn't seem to work you may need to take the tiny block of rosin that you got with your new fiddle and grind it up into a powder. You can buy another block at most music stores. They cost anywhere from $1.50 to $3.50 as a rule. Put a chunk of the tiny block in a plastic baggy and roll over it with a rolling pin till it turns to powder. Then put it in a saucer, loosen your bow hair and apply it to the hairs. Use a cotton ball, your fingers, a tissue - whatever. Work it into the hairs a bit, then lightly tap the bow against your hand to knock off the excess. Tighten the bow and try it again. This always works.
After that a couple of swipes of rosin each time you take your fiddle out to play is fine. You can clean excess rosin off your strings with a piece of tissue, cloth, cotton, - whatever - and a little rubbing alcohol. Letting the rosin build up makes for a scratchy sound. Use a soft rag with no alcohol to clean rosin powder off the surface of your fiddle, though. Alcohol could wreck the finish.
Use the little screw knobber at the fat end of the bow to loosen and tighten the hair. Clockwise tightens the hair. Counter clockwise will loosen it. Loosen your bow hair every time you put your fiddle way.
This article was previously published in the newspaper of The National Oldtime Fiddler's Association
Copyright Beverley Conrad 2001 All Rights Reserved
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