Source: Violin for dummies According to Violin for Dummies, we should loosen the horsehair before put violin back in the case.

However, I always give myself about an hour break after I play violin for 1 to 2 hours.

Should I leave the horsehair tight for an hour or loosen it and tighten it back after the break? Will it damage the bow if I leave it tight?

  • A carbon fiber or fiberglass bow will not react to being left tightened the same way that a wooden bow will. The fiber bows are manufactured with the curve built in, and will not distort under constant pressure as quickly as a wooden bow will, so it is less important to slacken the tension, especially for short periods of time. That being said, it is better to stay in the habit of slackening when you aren't using the bow... Commented May 25, 2017 at 19:54
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    And, slightly off the topic of the question, but most of the damage I see to violin bows come from badly designed cases that put pressure on the side of the bow when they are clipped into the bow holder inside the case. The cheap thermoplastic cases seem to have the worst problem with this. Commented May 25, 2017 at 19:56
  • @AlphonsoBalvenie- yes, badly designed clips can damage bows. I'm afraid that a fair amount of damage also comes from badly done hair jobs. It happens rarely, but many bows come to me with wedges that have split the head, or wedges glued in with SuperGlue (those are fun), or the frog slide mangled by someone having removed the eyelet using the screw as a wrench, and so forth. If you have a good bow, go to a good shop with it. Commented May 28, 2017 at 20:20

3 Answers 3


As a bowmaker, I would like to temper these answers a bit. Yes, if you leave a bow under tension too long, it will lose its camber (bend) faster. So that's true: one should get in the habit of loosening the bow.

But- one, all bows lose camber eventually, even if they are loosened religiously, unless they meet some other untimely end beforehand, because they are under tension when being played. This happens very slowly, and is usually correctable, at least with wooden bows: the stick can be reheated and rebent (by a luthier, or you can try it yourself on a cheap bow), and this can be done several times with no noticeable loss of stiffness. I've rebent original baroque bows over two hundred years old, and they work fine.

So I wouldn't necessarily panic about having left the bow for an hour- or even a day- under tension, if it's not at extreme temperatures. It's not going to damage the bow more than playing does anyway.

And second- the screw, eyelet, frog, and especially the stick where these parts touch it, does wear every time the bow is tightened or loosened. Not much, but a bow which is worn out at the frog end is substantially harder to repair than merely rebending the stick. So I would say don't be neurotic about loosening the bow every time you take a short break.

If you are really serious about reducing the wear and tear of tightening and loosening the bow, you can do what I do: take the tension off the hair by straightening the stick a bit- say, by pushing it against your knee with one hand- and turning the screw with the other. This way there is no pressure on the mating surfaces while adjusting, and everything will last much longer. Again, you might want to practice on a cheap bow.

As long as I'm on bow maintainance: you can extend the lifetime of the eyelet, that is the nut in the frog the screw goes into, by about a factor of ten if you take the screw out and put a drop of oil or grease on its tip about once a year or two. This should be done by whoever hairs your bow, but it very often is not.


I'd add to Dr. Mayhem's list:

You never know when something will interrupt your plans. You might be 20 mins into a planned 1-hour break, and then the doorbell rings, you welcome a friend, ... next thing you know you're going out for lunch and completely forgetting the tensioned bow. By making a habit of loosening the bow every time you get up, you'll never forget to do so at the end of a practice or peformance session.

  • Flip it around. In what scenario will loosening the bow cause you problems? One scenario gives you zero chance of damaging your bow. The other gives you more than zero.
    – Nelson
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 21:48
  • Zero chance of damaging your bow is not quite correct. As I pointed out in my answer above, every time you tighten or loosen the bow, you add wear to the screw, the eyelet, and most importantly, to the stick. This is what kills or severely damages bows eventually, if they don't get dropped first. Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 15:46
  • @ScottWallace any references for that? As with compound archery bows, detensioning when not in use has always been considered less damaging to the elastic parts (the stick in our case) than the act of applying tension. Screw and eyelet are pretty much indestructible, not to mention easily replaced. Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 16:05
  • @CarlWitthoft- all I can say is that I've been making and repairing bows for nearly fifty years, and I've repaired hundreds of them. Yes, screws last a very long time. Eyelets don't last that long- perhaps ten to twenty years. This is assuming they are lubricated- they can go much faster if left dry. And the hole the screw goes in gets bigger with time, also on the order of decades, but eventually it will make the bow unplayable. Compound bows, as far as I know, don't have screws that turn in the wood, so they are not really comparable to musical bows. Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 21:16
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    Also, it's easy to overestimate the "damage" caused by leaving the bow under tension. I've seen quite a few historical bass bows with clip-in frogs, where someone got tired of them popping out all the time, and simply screwed them to the stick. These bows are always under tension, except when they get rehaired, and they keep their camber amazingly well for many years. Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 21:20

I would always loosen it off for that one hour break, for two reasons:

  1. Over time, tension will eventually damage the bow. Keeping tension on when you don't need to will just shorten the lifespan of the bow. Maybe not by much, but:
  2. It is so easy to slacken and then re-tension the bow, that you might as well just get used to doing it.

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