If a viola needs storage for a length of time without being played, should the bow hairs and strings be loosened prior to storage or kept taught?
Posted 06 January 2021 - 19:09
In general with string instruments, you slacken bow hair after use. You shouldn't slacken the strings as that risks the sound post moving
Posted 07 January 2021 - 09:45
ALL string instrument bows should be slackened each and every time you finish playing. You only tension it each time you want to play. This is essential for the following reason.
Bows are initially made out of a straight piece of wood. The curve, or camber as it is correctly called is put into each stick ( the name for the wooden part of the bow ) after it has been carved and shaved to the correct thickness by the maker, a luthier or archetier by trade. This is done by heating, usually over a small but hot flame like a little spirit burner. The stick is dampened slightly and then moved continually back and forth through the flame - so it doesn't start to burn ( ! ) - until it is quite hot, at the same time as it heats pressure is applied to curve the wood. The bow is curved by hand, a very fine art as the stick must not have a curve 'side to side' only towards the bow hair, and it must be done with exactitude in different areas of the length or it will not behave correctly when playing. Considerable pressure is applied to create this curve, and it must be maintained for a few moments until the bow cools, at which point the wooden stick's 'memory' will hold that shape. This is the same technique used in many wood working applications, from furniture making and boat building, archery bows and instrument bows. In bow making it is a very skilled job.
By leaving a bow in tension, you risk the bow losing that curve, and retaining a different 'memory' - gradually, or quickly if it gets warm like in the summer or if left close to a radiator. Once the camber has changed and the bow stick is too straight, even only slightly, it will behave very differently, particularly for off string playing where the bounce will become unpredictable.
Then you have no option but to visit a luthier who can re-camber the bow, if the value of the bow warrants the cost of such work.
That is why you loosen bow hair. Never, unless you have a baroque bow, tension the bow beyond about a finger's width at the narrowest point between hair and stick.
Hope that helps.
You can slacken strings a bit but not fully. A correctly fitted soundpost should not fall over when strings are removed, but many do, again temperature and humidity variations will change how tight the soundpost is. Most instruments seem to happily slacken their own strings when left...