I get asked a lot of questions regarding rosin so I put this article together to address some of the most common ones.
Priming the Rosin
If your rosin is brand new or buffed to a near gloss finish, you can scuff it up with a little sandpaper. I use 220 grit or coarser, just whatever I have on hand. Please don’t use the button on the end of your bow, it doesn’t help start the rosin and just causes damage to your bow. I never start my hair with powdered rosin, which is usually a mixture of cheap rosins; I also don’t like to mix rosins. With some rosins, when you mix them, they can actually work against each other, causing a gritty or metallic sound with even less grip.
I start by placing my thumb over the ferrule to protect it and to keep the rosin from chipping. As I apply the rosin in short strokes, approximately 4 inches at a time, I continually rotate the cake of rosin. What this does is keep the rosin very flat so it adheres to the entire width of the hair ribbon evenly. I’m not a fan of woodblock rosin for this very reason; as you dig a groove into the rosin, the hair wraps and clumps together, making it difficult for an even distribution of rosin. I like to start a bow with rosin, hair up, so I can see where the rosin is building up and where I still need to work. I can also tell by the sound and feel but if you’re new to the instrument, it does help to look. As I finish up the rosining, I switch to long smooth strokes the entire length of the hair. One of my tricks is to use a toothbrush to work the rosin into the hair, I wipe down the stick with a clean cloth, and the bow is instantly ready to play!
If your bow already has rosin on it, just a few short strokes towards the frog and head and then finishing with a couple of long strokes, should keep you going for a day or two depending on how much you play.
How Much Rosin
The concept here is, less is more. Too much rosin and you get a gritty sound without helping you grab the strings. As well as an excessive amount of dust will build up on the top of your instrument. Just like a clean car drives better, a clean instrument sounds better. You could try not rosining your bow for a couple of sessions, notice when it’s not gripping and just add enough so you get adequate grip. If you find yourself adding more and more rosin and the hair still isn’t gripping, it’s time to consider a rehair. Check out my article on how often to rehair a bow.
Experimenting with Rosins
If you are going to try out different rosins on the same hair, you can clean the hair with a clean cloth before applying the new rosin. There will still be a little residual rosin, but that should play off in a day or two.
One of the factors of how hard or soft the rosin has to do with proportions of ingredients. Pure rosin on its own if very hard and brittle and rather inexpensive, which makes up the majority of woodblock rosins. They are encased in wood to protect the rosin from flaking and chipping. As you start to add more ingredients, the rosins typically offers more and gets more expensive. Regarding color, due to their ingredients, darker rosins tend to work better in drier conditions and offer more grip. Lighter rosins work better in humid and hotter climates.
If you suspect that you might be allergic to rosin, you don’t necessarily have to switch to a hypoallergenic rosin. Cheap rosins can produce a lot of dust or are less refined causing itchy and watery eyes. A higher quality rosin that produces little dust can reduce or eliminate such reactions. Some hypoallergenic rosins tend to not function well, but a great hypoallergenic rosin would be Jade. Many string players use it without realizing that it is hypoallergenic.
With all the different combinations of strings, hair, and rosin, it could be easy to get overwhelmed; as long as you are using a high quality rosin, it isn’t going to make or break your career. My opinion is that good rosin should give you a good clean attack with a smooth draw producing a minimal amount of dust, given your instrument and bow are in proper adjustment and tip top shape. On some of the instrument discussion websites, it sounds like some people might be compensating for a poor quality instrument, or a nice instrument that has a poor setup, a bow that has a bad rehair, or even trying to makeup for cheap strings. It’s always important to make sure to take care of your equipment and make sure it is in great condition!
My Rosin Top-Picks
P. Guillaume – My all time favorite! Excellent year round rosin for all instruments.
Millant-Deroux – Great for Spring, Summer, and Fall, Good in winter months in Michigan. Great for violin.
Melos – Dark is a solid Winter rosin. Use Light in the Summer months of Michigan. Excellent for viola and cello.
Bernardel – Can be used in hot, humid summer like conditions, not a very good Fall or Winter rosin. Good for all instruments, best for violin.
Avoid using woodblock rosin and rosins containing metal flakes. The metal flakes are inert and don’t help with grip or tone. They will get into your varnish and will be nearly impossible to take out if left on the instrument for too long. Woodblock rosins, just like other cheap rosins tend to very brittle due to their ingredients, or lack of fine ingredients thereof. They tend to be dusty and woodblock rosin eventually collects the hair into a groove making it hard to rosin the hair evenly. However, I have heard good things about Leatherwood rosin, and it would be worth checking it out.