There are three basic kinds of bow rosin for violins and other stringed instruments. Light, amber, and dark. Each serve a broad purpose in the grand scheme of violin rosins. Beyond that there are myriad types of violin rosin that lie within, over and under the three basic categories.
Typically light rosin should be used for your violin. Light rosin is harder, more dense and less sticky than amber or dark rosin. These properties make it ideal for the smaller gauge strings of a violin because the bow doesn’t need as much grip. There are cases though, where a dark or amber rosin may be better.
Light rosin will give the violin bow the required friction to vibrate the lighter gauge strings of a violin. What you want from your violin rosin is one that grabs the strings sufficiently and creates the tone you are seeking. You also want one that is durable and within your budget.
Why Violin Bows Need Rosin
Rosin is an important component in violin playing. Believe it or not, it would be impossible to defeat the devil in a fiddle contest for a golden violin without it. Or so I’ve heard.
Violins have to have rosin or they will not make much sound at all. Just a wimpy little squeak, like a well-worn dog toy. It’s so important that we can all name a song or two that speaks to applying rosin before playing. Off the top of my head:
By adding rosin to your violin bow hair, it causes the hair to build up tiny bits of friction that tug and release the strings thousands of times with each stroke of the bow. It’s similar to rubbing a dry finger on the rim of a wine glass vs. a slightly wetted finger.
Rosin is the solid form of pine tree pitch. It is refined by heating and removing the terpenes. It has many uses including medicinal, industrial, and even a food additive. And of course, for making your violin sing.
The color of rosin is determined by the time of year it is extracted from the tree. Dark resins are extracted when the trees are warm and active and light resins are extracted during the shorter, colder winter days. The resulting rosin is also lighter, more dense, and harder than the dark, stickier summer rosin.
Violin rosin is often more than just refined resin or pitch. It can contain different ingredients that result in different performance and different tones. Rosin is often mixed with chemicals and precious or semi-precious metals to provide a variety of harmonic tones. There are loads of unique rosins on the market and trying different types will help you find the one that performs the best for your climate and gets you the tone you are seeking.
When it comes to violin rosin, the adage “you get what you pay for” is apt. Violin rosin can be as cheap as a couple of bucks or cost you a solid Benji. And if you’re going to throw down a hundo for an oh-zee of the good pitch you really want to be assured that it’s going to perform as expected. Know what I’m sayin’?
What Is The Best Rosin For Violin Bows?
So which is the better rosin for violin bows? Light rosin will be the choice in most cases but, as with most questions there really isn’t a black or white answer. Or in this case a light, amber or dark answer.
Dark rosin, or winter rosin, is softer and stickier. It doesn’t typically perform well for violins and especially not in hot and humid weather. It is better suited to cool, dry climates and for instruments with larger strings like the cello and double bass. Light rosin, or summer rosin, is harder, more dense and less sticky and performs best for instruments with smaller strings and in warmer, drier weather.
You might choose to use different rosins at different times of the year depending on your climate. If you live in a place like Kailua-Kona or San Diego that are 85 degrees and humid year around it is likely you can stick to one kind of violin rosin all year. But then there are places like Boise, Idaho which has four very distinct seasons. It can be wicked cold and dry as a bone in the winter and blistering hot in the summer. Here you might want to use a softer, darker rosin in the winter and the lightest rosin in the summer.
In general, as rosins get darker they tend to also be less dense, softer and stickier. Amber rosins fall somewhere in the middle between the light and dark rosins. If your light rosin is not performing well for you in cold, wet conditions, something a bit darker may be more suitable for the weather.
What Is The Best Type Of Rosin?
The best type of rosin is the rosin that gives you the tone and performance you are seeking. When it comes to light vs. dark rosin, light is generally a better fit for violins with the dark rosins a better fit for the larger strings of the cello and bass. Dark rosins are generally too sticky for the smaller violin and viola strings and are especially unsuitable in hot, humid weather.
There are a vast number of different rosins with an equally vast number of ingredients that vary the way they each perform. The likelihood is extremely good that one exists that will be a good fit for your combination of instrument, strings, climate, and style.
Avoid poorly made rosins that aren’t appropriate for your climate or old rosin that’s been sitting around in a warehouse for years because rosin can dry out and crack.
The simplest way to figure out which rosin to use is to go with what the string manufacturer recommends. However, that may not be the best fit for your climate or style. Further, many violin players mix string sets to achieve their perfect sound. There are many inexpensive rosin brands that will allow you to try different colors and ingredients in search of the rosin that you prefer. Keep in mind, your preferences will likely change as you grow as a violinist. Your style will evolve, you will likely upgrade instruments and bows, and your string preferences might change as well. Each of these changes will also likely change your rosin preferences.
Is Dark Rosin Bad?
No, dark rosin isn’t bad but it may not be the most appropriate for playing the violin. Dark rosin is better suited for cellos and bass. It’s stickier and will make a mess on your strings that will need to be cleaned off of your strings frequently. That said, if you are playing outside in a cold climate, or it gives you the tone you are trying to achieve, then yeah, it’s appropriate. I don’t imagine you will find anyone that uses light rosin for the violin except for very specific circumstances.
How Do I Know If My Bow Needs Rosin?
This is a much easier answer. You need more rosin when you are no longer getting the tone you want or you have to press harder to get the same volume to achieve your sound. As the rosin wears off of your bow, you will create less friction and in response will have to press down harder on the strings to achieve the same sound and tone. When you recognize this happening it is time to rosin up your bow so you don’t have to play so hard. Much to Charlie’s chagrin.
Where To Buy Violin Rosin
Now that you know which rosin is best for your instrument, you can find rosin at your local music store or online through either Target or Amazon. A natural light rosin will typically run around $6 and premium dark rosin around $9.
While You’re Here…
Make sure to also visit or Violin Gear page for recommended supplies.