How Long Can A Bow Be Left Tightened?

How long is safe to leave a bow tightened? That’s the question I posed to several luthiers around the United States. My schedule allows me for several shorter practice sessions throughout the day and I was curious if I should loosen it every time or if it could be left for the day. Here’s the info I received.

I received responses from:

Anton Krutz, KC Strings
Barrie Kolstein, Kolstein’s
Michael Spadaro, A440 Violin Shop
Andy Stetson, Cincinnati Bass Cellar

How long is safe to leave a bass bow tightened?

Andy Stetson: There is no hard rule on length of time, just always untighten if you’re not playing.

Barrie Kolstein: The bow should always be detensioned slightly after playing, it leaving it for prolonged periods tensioned, can create the potential for warpage to the stick of the bow, and also can stretch the hair an a more expedited basis than normal. It should be noted that when loosening the bow tension the hair should be just slightly loosened , as to loosen the hair too much can create problems as well.

Michael Spadaro: Regarding your questions about bows and bow hair, we TRY to loosen every bow when it is not being played.  We typically include Glasser bows with our rental instruments (unless the teacher specifies a wood bow) because young players don’t always remember to loosen the bow.  If we can get them in the habit of loosening their student level bows, which are quite strong, they will be ahead of the game if and when they own a relatively more fragile bow of pernambuco/snakewood/ipe, etc.  We also sell high-quality carbon fiber bows from CodaBow, Carbow, etc.  These are strong and responsive sticks, but they don’t work well with every instrument.  They can sometimes tone down an instrument that’s overly bright, or help focus the sound of an instrument that has broad and diffuse characteristics.  I tell our customers to play as many different instruments as they can, before they make a purchase.  And I also show them instruments above and below their price range, so they gain some perspective.  If they already own a bow, but are shopping for a new instrument, I recommend that they use the bow that they already own for auditioning instruments.  It’s one less variable to deal with, and a new bow can be purchased later, if desired.

MostlyBass to Anton Krutz: Let me clarify the reason for the survey. I’m a bassist and public school orchestra teacher. I keep my bass at school to practice during random free moments that arise. I kept loosening my bow each time but I wondered if – A) Is it ok to leave it tightened from 6am – 3pm and B) is the tightening / loosening process doing more harm than good if I do it 6 or so times a day. I have a nice pernambuco German stick by H. Cirilo.

Anton Krutz: That only harms the bow. Being under stress that long without a break. Bows and instruments are like people. They can be stressed for a certain time but then they need to relax.

There is no harm to tightening or loosening a bow. Just don’t over tight

What effect does the bow material have?

Barrie Kolstein: You would need to clarify this question more. Are you asking what the stick, frog and mounting materials have an effect upon the quality of the bow. There are many options of bow wood…Pernambuco being the standard quality wood used, but such woods are ironwood, brazilwood, carbon fiber material all have been used with differential in the playing quality and sound drawn by each individual bow.

Andy Stetson: Denser wood will keep a camber better. Softer wood will always straighten eventually.

MostlyBass to Anton Krutz: As far as materials I’m curious if length of tension would vary with these stick materials:

 Anton Krutz:

Brazilwood – moderate
Carbon Composite – mostly unfazed by tension.
Carbon Fiber – mostly unfazed by tension.
Pernambuco – can take more tension than brazilwood
Snakewood  – same as pernambuco

What other concerns are there such as the stretching of bow hair?

Barrie Kolstein: Bows like instrument are affected by climatic condition. Thus, a less than stable environmental conditions can certain have adverse affects on an instrument and the bow, causing damages to both. In the case of a bow, this can can cause the uniformity of the tension of the hair to alter,  the camber or bend of a bow to distort, and even hair coming loose from the mortise in the head or frog of the bow.

Michael Spadaro: We use only unbleached hair of the highest quality, which has gone way up in price the past few years.  The higher quality hair actually lasts longer than cheaper hair.

Andy Stetson: Bass bows do have enough strength to stretch the hair, especially in the summer.

What about violin, viola, and cello bows?

Michael Spadaro: Bass bow sticks are of course thicker than those for violins, so we see relatively few damaged bass bows, but lots of damaged violin bows.

Andy Stetson: Easy to break.

Anton Krutz: The bigger the bow the more hair on it. The more hair the more pressure it takes to put it at the same tension. So tension times are the same for each type of instrument bow due to the hair factor.

Any other thoughts, concerns, or comments?

Barrie Kolstein: As far as proper tensioning  or detensioning of a bow… I firmly believe that a bow should be tension to the point of being able to properly play it. You never want to over tension a bow, that would likely remove the bend or camber in a bow, as this will definitely have an adverse affect upon the responsiveness of the playing qualities of that bow and will eventually improperly affect the camber of the bow When loosening a bow, i advise that a player simply loosen the turnbutton a few turns…Just enough that the bow does not have enough tension to properly play the bow. To over loosen a bow, particularly when the hair has been on that bow for a bit will have result in the hairs dangling that can catch on the bow case of bow pocket of the cover… Not advised.

Andy StetsonThe hair needs to be equally distributed and even to make sure the bow head does not get pulled to one side and twist the stick. Good rehairs have the hair length to the front of the mortise, this will compensate for and hair stretching, plus the bow is balanced to play in that position. Bows with the hair too long and at the back of the mortise won’t play as well and may damage the bow from running against the back while tightened.

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