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Cleaning Bass Bow Hair

In most cases, if you somehow ruin your bow hair or you have too much built up rosin on it, it's best to just go and get the bow re-haired by a qualified professional.  My first professional job out of college was with the Hong Kong Philharmonic (this was 1985!)  At the time, nowhere in HK was there a bow expert or even a qualified violin shop of which to take my bass or bow into if I ever had an issue.  Still, it was my first job and I had only one decent bow to use.  It was a new bow and   I was so happy, only to get some really bad rosin on it that completely coated the hair and quite frankly, ruined it!  What was I to do now???  Originally from the Chicago area, I called my very reliable friend and luthier, Scott Henrie (Scott still does good bass repairs and rehairs in Chicago.) 

There was no time to ship my bass bow back to the states for a rehair.  I asked Scott if he had any ideas. Scott said to try and find some Naptha there and use it to dissolve the waxy substance that got into my hair.  At the time, I didn't know that it pretty much was the same stuff used in lighter fluid.  Where in the world was I going to find "Naptha" in Hong Kong and what did the Chinese there call it??  Frustrated, I just wanted to play with my new bow!!  I called Shell Oil Hong Kong.  I got their vice president on the phone (Lord knows how that ever happened).  He was an 'expat' like me and took mercy on my predicament.  An hour later, downstairs my buzzer rang and it was a special delivery man (on a motorcycle) with a plastic container of....Naptha!  2 hours later, I was playing my new bow, very happily, with new rosin and had a new friend at Shell.  Anyhow, you can buy Naptha just about anywhere these days.  Look in the paint section of any home improvement store.  If you are in some far off place, find a can of lighter fluid (for cigarette lighters).

How I cleaned the bow hair

Somehow, someway, I got a hold of bad rosin and I put way too much of it on my bow. (I am only human and was 25 at the time!)  I got this terrible waxy, (glossy) slick coating on the hair that would not grab the string.  Just wiping the hair with a towel or rag soaked with Naptha wouldn't work because that wax was well into the whole hank of hair.

First, I took this all out doors. I took an old bowl which was about 2-3 inches high and about 4" in diameter and I filled it with the Naptha.   Only do this out doors with some air current to take away the fumes.  I wrapped my new bow (the stick part) in plastic wrap so that if I accidentally splashed any chemical on it, would not effect or get on the finish.  This preparation, I was very careful with:  I first unscrewed the frog, then carefully wrapped the stick in plastic wrap and then even used some aluminum foil around that. 

I carefully immersed the bow hair into that bowl and with my fingers (I had rubber gloves on) I worked and rubbed that hair in the Naptha.  ** I only put the hair into the bowl and didn't try to get all of the hair keep the last 1" dry on each end.  I kept  the frog and the tip elevated so that the chemical won't get the wooden wedges in the tip or frog wet.

It probably only took a minute.  Then, I took a clean towel to pat dry the hair.  When I got most of the moisture out of the hair, I took a an old toothbrush and brushed through the hair which nicely untangled it and helped get any deposits still in the hair out.  Done!  It probably took 3 minutes in all.

I carefully took off the wrapping, put the frog back on it and let it dry for a couple of hours (it was really humid there).  It was really as good as new.  I got that 'crap' out of my hair and because the hair was still new, it worked fine the rest of the season.

Lessons learned: I learned the importance of using good, fresh rosin.  In hindsight, I think the rosin somehow broke down or there was too much waxy stuff on the surface of the rosin.  I put too much on the new hair, more than it can handle.

On new hair, always go slow with the rosin and don't try and make it work 100% the first couple of days.  Break the hair in slowly.   I also bought a 2nd bow that year so that I never had to again worry about being without.