Cleaning Your Double Bass Bow: The Ultimate Guide

closeup of double bass being played

Double bass bows collect gunk from our hands and rosin from the hairs. As you play you sweat, secrete sebum, and the bow rosin gets to floating in the air and sticking to your bow. Over time this begins to build up and will need to be removed before it affects performance or causes damage to your bow.

Clean your double bass bow by taking a clean microfiber cloth and dip it in warm, slightly soapy water. Wipe the stick, tip, and frog thoroughly. Frequently rewet a new, clean area of the cloth and continue wiping until all the grime and rosin has been removed. Rosin is tougher to remove and will require extra elbow grease to remove. 

It is imperative you do not leave any water on the bow and be extra careful not to touch or damage the bow hair. Use a clean dry towel or microfiber cloth to dry the bow once you are done cleaning it.

How to remove rosin from a double bass bow

rosin for violins or cellosRosin is a hard but sticky substance that can be difficult to remove. It is refined tree sap after all. And if you’ve ever gotten tree sap in your arm hair you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Being that rosin is only a few steps from being tree sap, the process for removing it is quite similar. The caveat being, never, ever use alcohol on the finish of your double bass bow. Alcohol is the easiest way to remove rosin, but it is also the easiest way to remove varnish.

To clean your double bass bow you will need:

  • A clean, soft cloth
  • 1 cup warm water with a couple drops of dish soap

Any clean and soft cloth like microfiber, flannel, cotton, or even an old t-shirt will do the job perfectly fine.

  1. Begin by wetting a corner of the clean cloth in the water/soap mix.
  2. Squeeze out any excess water.
  3. Thoroughly wipe the double bass bow’s stick, frog and tip. Give extra attention to the areas where your hand touches the bow and frog. This is where dirt and grime (I like to call this “gack”) from your hands will build up.
  4. If some persistent rosin or gack remains on the finish use a varnish cleaner to remove the offending areas of rosin. I recommend Hill & Sons varnish cleaner.

To reiterate, under no circumstances should you use an alcohol based cleaner on the bow. It can remove or damage the varnish. If you are unable to get all of the rosin off of your bow take it to a luthier to have it examined and cleaned.

Or Purchase A New Double Bass Bow

double bass bowSome musicians don’t even worry about cleaning their bows and instead opt to simply purchase a new bow when it’s time. I recommend instead taking care of your current bow so it’ll last longer and look better during its life. With that being said, a good double bass/upright bass bow will run about $65 – $100.

How often should you change double bass strings?

upright bass fingerboardAnother question that many double bass players have is how long do double bass strings last and where they can buy replacement strings.

As with any stringed instrument this depends a great deal on how often and long you play your instrument as well as the quality of the strings that are on it. The good news is that double bass players do not need to change their strings nearly as often as their other stringed instrument counterparts. And it’s a good thing, as you’ll see when we discuss the cost of a good set of double bass strings below.

Someone who is a daily player who practices at least an hour a day will likely need to change their strings in roughly 12 – 24 months. Again, roughly. If you are more of a casual player that plays a little bit a few times a week or picks your bass up for a few weeks and then puts it down for long spans at a time you might get away with changing your strings every five years or more.

The component that is the most important in determining when to change your strings is how your strings currently sound and the condition they are in. If you are still happy with the tone of your double bass strings, you can keep playing on them. When they start to lose the tone you love or you begin to notice a lack of volume, it may be time to consider replacing your strings. And if you notice corrosion or can see significant wear or damage to the strings it is definitely time for a new set.

What double bass string should I buy?

black and white photo of musician with double bassThere are a wide variety of double bass strings available and the differences in them are myriad. From gauge size to the materials used, each set of strings is minutely different. What type you should buy depends on several factors. Primarily, personal preference.

The most important of these factors is your skill level. If you are a beginner there is little sense in purchasing the expensive, high-end strings intended for a professional bassist. These strings offer benefits that can not be realized by a beginner. Conversely if you are a professional you will not likely want to purchase strings intended for a beginner as the range of tones and playability is too limiting for a professional caliber player.

Style is another important factor. Different double bass strings can impart different tones and some tones are more desirable for specific styles. Do you play more arco? More pizzicato? For instance, if you are playing jazz bass in a quartet you will likely want different strings than someone who plays for the city philharmonic.

A third factor to consider is the quality of your instrument. If you own an inexpensive, poorly made double bass, it does not matter how good of a player you are – that instrument has limits to the tone it can create. The quality of the wood and even the finish is not good enough to impart the wide range of tones, levels of sustain, or volume that a high-end quality set of strings can. On the other hand, however, putting inexpensive, bottom of the line strings on a “top of the line” double bass limits the instrument itself. Cheap strings are not capable of generating a wide variety of tones or sustain, whereas a high-end double bass is designed to accentuate and amplify those attributes. Think of in the same way as putting regular gas in a sports car that is designed to perform optimally on premium.

Another factor to weigh is cost. Double bass strings can be expensive. And I don’t mean choosing between getting the 20 piece nuggets and buying new bass strings, expensive. We’re talking about missing a few car payments, expensive. Retailers literally offer financing to purchase some sets of double bass strings! To be frank, if you are considering high-end double bass strings you had better have enough knowledge about double bass strings that you do not need this blog to help you make your choice.

Unfortunately, a quality set of reasonably priced double bass strings is still going to set you back $150 – $250. There are cheaper strings for beginners and you can get into a set of those for as little as $75. If you purchase a set of these because it’s what you can afford at the time, start setting aside $10 each month so you can get a quality set in about two years.

If you’re looking for a bluegrass or country/western tone (versus the classic tone), a synthetic gut set of strings may be perfect for you and these can run for under $45 on Amazon.

At the end of the day, it’s pretty difficult to play good music without good strings.


The best way to keep your double bass bow clean is to wipe the stick, frog and tip thoroughly with a dry cloth after every session. This will prevent rosin and other grime from building up on your bow and will greatly extend the time between the more detailed cleaning described above.

Check out our violin and cello supplies page since most of the gear will be the same for the double bass.


An ardant fan of acoustic music, I played the clarinet in high school band and even competed in Disneyland. As the son of a music teacher, I know firsthand the importance of keeping instruments clean and maintained. I now enjoy sharing information with others and providing answers where I can.

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