Why we use horsehair for our bows
We are often asked about horsehair here at P&H, so here are a few notes on the subject:
The use of horsehair on bows dates back centuries; its unique properties have yet to be replicated by any man-made alternative. When viewed under a microscope it is possible to see the tiny barbs on the surface of each hair (see pic). This scaly surface grips and releases the strings on the instrument causing them to vibrate as the bow hair is drawn across the surface of the strings.
Unbleached horsehair is preferred for instrument bows as bleaching weakens and damages the hair. However it can be difficult to source unbleached horsehair. The best quality comes from Mongolia and colder regions of China together with parts of Canada. Most of the hair used today is processed and supplied by China. White horsehair is used for violin, viola and cello bows and some bass bows use black horsehair as it is often believed to be coarser.
The quality and texture of the hair is determined by the breed of the horse, its diet and the conditions where it lives. In general a horse living in a cold climate produces much thicker, stronger hair. The hair is dressed, cleaned and sorted into lengths which are normally supplied in ½ kilo ‘tails’.
We sort the strands of horsehair on your bow into a ‘hank’. The hank contains a specific amount of horsehair that is held in tension by the bow stick and frog mechanism.
Horsehair absorbs water quickly and this can affect your bow considerably. In different temperature and humidity conditions the hair can react in different ways.
At P&H we always use high quality unbleached horsehair to ensure the best sound for our bows.
(Below: Tails of dressed and cleaned horsehair ready to be made into bow hanks)