Not like riding a bicycle

bow2It has been over 20 years since I rehaired a violin bow.  I guess that is really my first ‘retirement,” when I gleefully gave up a profession that demanded perfection beyond my mere mortal skills. Although over 3000 players were satisfied with my work, I always found flaw in each one!

So when a fellow Bulltown Strutter brought me his grandfather’s violin, I found myself offering to restore it and its bow so he could display it proudly on his wall. And because we Southerners have these nasty bugs that eat untended horsehair, I knew his bow would need to be haired with nylon hair. In effect, I came out of retirement to do this work, partly because his grand dad had really good taste in musical instruments, and partly because I could think of nobody else to do the job as I envisioned it – only repair and clean enough to preserve it so future generations can have a crack at playing it.

Talk about being resistant to going back down that path! The work on the violin went well, and I even enjoyed it, trying to imagine whether the music made with it was more fiddle tunes or Classical. But the bow! Unwilling to break open the scab of that wound, I procrastinated even as I re-gathered the tools I needed. As I fully committed to this, the Omega Rehair, I spent hours assembling the tools I needed, clearing a workbench, finding and re-installing the bow holder. And then it seemed another bunch of hours was spent walking around looking for this or that – essential tools for this next step.

Yet the stars were aligned – a supplier sent me a sample hank of the latest improved artificial bow hair, which I unbanded and hung on a nail, just like I first did in 1978 in downtown Chapel Hill. Both the wood and the metal parts of the bow cleaned up nicely, and taking it apart did not present any challenges I didn’t have a trick for! My last fetched item was white glue, good old Elmer’s, and I gently hammered in the spreader wedge and was finished!  Stray hairs were dispatched by knife, since the usual method, an alcohol lamp, melted the hair! Rosin did indeed stick to this shiny hair, and it looked pretty nice.

Official Notice – if any of you out there need rehairing for display, you better contact me soon, while all tools are nearby. Who knows what I would say in another 20 years!


Blaise Kielar received Honorable Mention in the 2022 Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize for an excerpt from his memoir in progress, "Be Heard: The Quiet Kid Who Started the World’s Loudest Violin Shop." He opened Chapel Hill’s first violin shop in 1978 and retired from a music retail career by transitioning Electric Violin Shop into the first worker-owned co-op music store in the United States. He plays jazz violin and clarinet in several bands and leads the Bulltown Strutters, Durham’s community New Orleans brass band.