Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

Defective cello bow?


Recommended Posts

1. Yes. There are bad bows. There are some really bad bows.  I had a $1,000 pernambuco bow that sounded and felt horrible.  My teacher concurred.  I still have it as an example of what not to buy.

2. Cello and violin are not the same. Yes. BUT--and this is a BIG BUTT [insert Sir Mix-a-Lot jokes], the principles of sound are the same.  you draw the bow across the string, it creates friction, the cello resonates.  If the sound quality is really bad, and the cello is otherwise decent, its the bow or you.  If you have decades of string playing experience, its unlikely to be you.  The difference between cello and violin, when it comes down to the basic principles of sound production, are not so vast that a seasoned violinist couldn't make a decent sound playing Mary Had a Little Lamb.

3. I really like the idea of having a colleague try.

4. Watch Ray Chen's YouTube where he tries every cheap violin from Amazon.  Ray Chen can make a $60 violin sound decent.  But even Ray Chen took issues with some of the bows.  If I recall, there was one bow that wouldn't take rosin even after repeated applications.

5. I really like the idea of taking your cello to a shop and playing other cheap bows.  That will definitely narrow the issue down.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have long advocated for cleaning bow hair with alcohol. I use the alcohol pads sold in drug stores for prepping skin for an injection.

I fold a pad over the hair ribbon, do a single swipe and immediately make a similar swipe with a cotton cloth/rag the remove dissolved rosin. Next I fold the pad and do the same thing again with the clean pad surfaces and repeat the cotton cloth swipe. I typically repeat this with up to 4 alcohol pads. This does not remove ALL the old rosin, but enough. I do not re-rosin the hair until it is no longer cool to the touch of the back of my hand.

For years others repudiated cleaning bow hair with alcohol, but recently I learned that British bow maker Andrew Bellis (http://www.andrewbellis.com/)  and even more recently even the CODA bow people have recommended it. If that doesn't work well, you would have gone for a rehair anyway, so you can do it now!


I cannot recall ever using Helicore strings on any of my cellos, but I did see to it that they went on some of my students' instruments- so I have tuned them up and played on them and they definitely should not be the problem.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

No, I don’t think it's the Helicore strings. 

I see lots of cellos strung with Jargar C and Gs and Larsen D and As though. I could try that combo next (like in a year).


It was a somewhat tongue-in-cheek comment. I think the store would look askance if I actually rosined up all their brand new cello bows ^_^; especially if I wasn't buying any of them.

Not to mention listening to me play an out of tune Twinkle Twinkle repeatedly...:ph34r:

I looked at their bows the other week...all inexpensive ones which I don't want to buy if/when I upgrade. I can make do with the viola bow in the interim.

...and...if Ray Chen struggles with cheap bows...at least I'm in good company!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 11/14/2023 at 1:58 PM, Rue said:

In case anyone wanted to see the CF cello bow:

 ( pics )

The fit is good. Looks like a composite bow. The materials used in production are fairly uniform, and without internal voids ( can check nominal weight in a bass bow or weird balance point or weird flex ) this bow stick is likely to behave normally.

As for the fit, it is fairly precise even with the gaps. The hair appears to be fit ok. So loss of energy during activation or general bowing should also not be so much an issue.

When prepping and pairing bows with outgoing rentals, there are generally a crap load of bows and we ( I ) tended to screen out the better looking ones and clean them up. On the truly inexpensive bows, I would tighten very tight to verify that at the limits, the bow would still behave well. On occasion there would be very weird twisting or vibrations and engaging the strings would be strange. It turned out that some returns ( better student bows that were behaving badly ) were just thrown into the heap rather than repaired or decommissioned as staff time can be expensive. Most required a "rehair" or longer hair so the bow had a more usable range of tightening.

These observations are not specifically about your bow, but can understand the frustration as one might expect it to work as expected. The first rehair on these student composite bows can be the most frustrating. I remember a sign in a shop where the student rehairs were more expensive than the professional, and the tech agreed that they can take more time. But the sign was actually put up by the owner to discourage kids from abusing their bows. Yes, some bows require a drill press or a Dremel tool remove a glued in plug or destroying a slide to access the frog. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Alcohol will deal with built up rosin, but Naphtha really gets the hair squeaky clean so you can re rosin the hair.  While both Alcohol and Naphtha are pretty good degreasers, there is the chance of removing the remaining oil from the hair, but the way it is cut and stored, I'm not sure there is a whole lot left in the hair structure, especially if its been bleached.  Naphtha flashes off very quickly and dwells a far shorter time than Alcohol, especially since it is not denatured with water.  It seems to be a better choice than alcohol.  Don't get naphtha anywhere near an instrument or bows varnish as it is quite effective in dissolving varnishes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As I understand it, you are a complete beginner on cello.  A cello does not play the same as a violin or viola.  It takes a bit to get the strings vibrating.  That's why cello bows are heavier.  So you may just be encountering the different feel of a cello.

I almost don't see how the bow can be the problem.  Almost any old piece of lumber will work for the stick, as long as it's approximately the right weight and balance.  I did once see a violin bow that was a real noodle (I don't know where they found wood so flexible), but other than that I don't think I've ever seen a bow that was unplayable, except for those cheap ones with glass instead of hair.  Obviously, some bows are better for fancy bowing (that's mainly why you pay the big bucks), and some may even sound a little better than others, but they're all playable in my opinion.

The hair might be another matter.  I don't know, is there any hair that's not good?  I doubt it as long as it takes rosin, but I don't know.  It's possible to get it too dirty to play (it would have to be VERY dirty).  You can also soap it and it won't play.

Clean it with alcohol and a toothbrush, using a small dish full of alcohol.  Just loosen the frog and comb the hair with an alcohol-soaked toothbrush.  You can dissolve essentially all the grease and all or almost all of the rosin.  Don't use denatured alcohol.  That may have a lot of dissolved solid in it.  I guess Everclear or isopropyl alcohol.

Someone will probably predict disaster.  Don't believe it.  After it's dry, it will have to be rosined like a new bow, either very persistently or with a lot of powdered rosin.  Once you get it rosined again, it will play.  Unless it's glass fiber.  It has to be horse hair.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have owned a cello for 5 whole weeks! :D

That the CF cello bow isn't working didn't make sense to me either...

But...given the viola bow is doing the job...it does make one wonder.

I have the name of a cellist! I plan to book a "how to" lesson and see what they say.

Once I have an idea, I can always go back and try washing the hair. I've washed bow hair before...using warm water and dishsoap. Turned out!

I am guessing it's the hair quality...and my inexperience, combined.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

10 hours ago, Rue said:

Once I have an idea, I can always go back and try washing the hair. I've washed bow hair before...using warm water and dishsoap. Turned out!

I am guessing it's the hair quality...and my inexperience, combined.

Make sure it's soap without lotion added.  If it's clear, it's OK.  If it's cloudy, it contains emulsified oil.  Most dish soap is clear, so it should be fine.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kaplan, D'addario, all fine.

It is 99% certain that it is a problem with the bow hair!! There is definitely some hair that is processed somehow that, no matter how you clean it, it will not take rosin well. Believe me, I had a whole pound of the junk! Horrible. I tried acetone, naphtha, everything. Garbage. 

Get a rehair or a new bow. Even someone who rehairs student bows cheaply and regularly should give you functioning hair. Only some Chinese dare...

Good luck!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think you're right.

I got a new bow today, unrosined, and the hair quality is visibly different. The CF bow hair looks shiny.

I worked in the first round of rosin on the new bow and tried it out, and it is much better! It sounds much better!

I have also found a cellist who has time to give me a session! I will take both bows with me and see what they have to say too!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 11/25/2023 at 12:18 PM, Rue said:

p.s. Getting a bow rehaired around here is not easy...<_<

You're in the right place here to ask for help and not much to lose by learning how to rehair starting with this dud bow and a cheap hank of Chinese bow hair.  That would be better than letting someone else have it. 


Btw an easy way to test for real or plastic hair is to cut off a single strand and hold it over a lighter or candle. If it melts and goes gooey or smells synthetic, plastic. If it smells and shrivells like burning hair, hair. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...