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Digital Subscriptions > The Strad > June 2019 > Unbridled possibility

Unbridled possibility

Just as developers have discovered numerous alternatives to wood products for stringed instruments, a small number of pioneers are seeking non-biological alternatives to horsehair for bows. But, say a number of experts, there is still some way to go before a comparable product can be found. Peter Somerford investigates
MAIN PHOTO CORUSS/DIGITAL GATE. INSET PHOTO CORUSS/CARDIFF VIOLINS/MAGDALENA CIESLAK

Say the words ‘synthetic bow hair’ to many string players and their first reaction might be, ‘What?’ and then, ‘Why?’ Musicians who haven’t heard of synthetic hair before may be surprised to know that there are multiple brands on the market. Some, such as Hervex and Maatzhaare, have been around for decades. Others, such as Zarelon from the US, and Coruss, developed in France, are more recent innovations. But why would players consider synthetic hair?

Maybe they don’t want their bows to contain any animal parts. Vegans who cannot avoid animal hide glue in their instruments can ‘veganise’ their bow by choosing synthetic alternatives to the ivory tip, the leather lapping, the mother-of- pearl eye and the horsehair. Players may be frustrated by the consistency, quality, affordability, reliability and durability of their natural hair. They might not like the cost of frequent rehairs and instead want hair that lasts longer than just a few months. Maybe they often play outdoors in humid conditions, and would like something more stable than horsehair, which is sensitive to moisture in the air and can stretch and become less responsive in a highly humid environment.

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About The Strad

We conclude our investigation of Stradivari’s moulds and examine some radical teaching methods. Vadim Gluzman, Philip Dukes and Matthew Barley are interviewed and there’s our annual Accessories supplement, featuring carbon fibre bows, wolf eliminators, mutes and lots more.