Posted by StringOvation Team on Nov 18, 2016
Many beginner string instrument players wonder about rosin, and are curious about which kind is the best for their bow. Unlike fretted or plucked instruments, rosin is a key element in making your violin, viola, cello, or double bass ring out its rich sounds. However, before you can choose the best rosin for your bow, you need to understand what it is, and which factors will positively influence your particular needs. The following information can guide your choice and help you recognize the best rosin for your situation.
What is Rosin and Why Do I Need It?
Rosin is a compound mixture that is primarily made with pine sap. Essentially, it is resin (sap) that is treated with special heating techniques (for purification), and then combined with other ingredients to create a specific blend. Because it is highly sticky, it is used to increase the friction of surfaces (like your bow hairs or your hands in baseball) to improve grip. The sticky residue adheres to the hairs of your bow, which allows them to grip the strings to produce the vibration. Without it, the bow would simply slide right off the strings, and no sound would be produced.
Here’s what happens: The hairs on your bow grab the string, pulling it in the direction of your bow stroke. But, the string can’t go far, and it moves back to the point where it was before the bow was drawn. Then the string is “caught” again, and the process repeats, creating the vibration. When the string moves, it displaces the air around it and these repeating movements happen very fast… in the case of the A-string, 440 times per second, which generates the specific note.
Pine sap is collected similar to how maple sap is gathered, but the season during which it is harvested influences its color and its properties. Basically, resin that is drawn during winter and spring will produce a product that is lighter and harder than sap that is drawn during the summer and autumn. During the production process, various ingredients are combined with the purified resin, such as wax, chemicals, or metal particles to improve the gripping qualities of the final product. Each manufacturer has their own unique recipe, which is usually a guarded secret.
The mixture is cooled and any remaining air bubbles are removed. The rosin is then placed in containers for use, usually circles or rectangular containers. You can watch a short video on the production of Kolstein Rosin here.
Choosing the Best Rosin for Bows
Essentially, the rosin you choose depends a lot on personal preference. However, there are certain aspects that can help you choose the best rosin for your bow. The following characteristics and suggestions can help you decide which brands to try, but you should know that it will take some trial and error before you find the perfect fit.
A number of factors influence how the rosin “grips” your strings. Just like certain qualities of your instrument (like craftsmanship and materials) effect the sound you can create, the type of strings you use, how old your bow is, and other variables influence the abilities of the rosin you choose.
- Select a rosin recommended by the type of strings on your instrument. While this isn’t always the best rosin for your bow, it can point you in the right direction if you’re a new student.
- Darker and softer rosins are typically stickier. However, with too much grip you’ll hear gritty sounds, since it won’t allow the bow to move smoothly over the strings.
- Harder, lighter versions (those that are more powdery) are good for initially loading your bow with rosin, but they often lack some grip. So once your bow hair has been 'played in,' you may need something stickier. Also, don’t forget to always wipe your instrument down with a soft cloth after playing in order to remove the rosin dust that accumulates.
- Different instruments need different rosins. Don’t think that the rosin that is perfect for violin strings will work for a double bass.
- Dark amber works well for most beginners.
- Don’t automatically assume that your rosin doesn’t work for your bow. Applying the rosin correctly is an important part of its performance.
- Don’t skimp on price. Paying $15-$20 for a good rosin cake is completely worth it, and it should last for quite a while.
Remember, there’s no one way to pick the best rosin for your bow right off the bat. Take your time and keep trying different brands until you find a perfect match. The right rosin for your bow and strings will make all the difference to your sound projection and playability.