I recently got an email from double bassist Aaron inquiring about how humidity levels relate to string response. This is one of the most challenging and beguiling aspects of warm weather bass playing, as any bassist who plays outdoor gigs can attest.
I am trying to find out information about string response and humidity. I have been having problems for the last few weeks with my bow not wanting to grab the string and produce a sound. I have changed strings, gotten the bow rehaired twice, put a wolf eliminator on and am still having problems. I live in Kentucky and keep my bass in my basement. I started running a dehumidifier a week ago but have had no change in the response. I took the bass up to the bass cellar and it played great there. When I got it home the next day it was back to acting funny. It is mostly on the G and D strings. The bow just skates across it making like an overtone harmonicy kinda sound and the sound over all is quiter and sickly. I need to practice, not fight this weird battle for a month. Any ideas? Thank you, Aaron
Fortunately, I’ve got a couple (but only a couple) of tricks for dealing with excessive humidity and the “glass bow” syndrome Aaron describes. My response:
Thanks for the email! Humidity is a real challenge in terms of arco playing in my opinion. The best solution I’ve found is to try a less sticky rosin (Pops instead of Oak/Carlsson/Kolstein works for me, but a harder Kolstein or Oak rosin may work better depending on the climate). I’ve also, for the last decade or so, kept a small black cheapo comb in my bass case, and I use it to comb my bow out periodically during the sticky months of the summer. This actually works wonders for me–I think that it breaks up the rosin and keeps the bow grabbing without the skating like you were describing.
Warm-Weather Rosin Choices
For me, any soft, sticky, dark rosin such as soft grade Oak or Kolstein is problematic in very warm and/or humid conditions. If I’m playing exclusively at home during the summer in an air-conditioned environment and not taking my bass out of the house at all, I find that pretty much any gauge of rosin works for me, even an extremely sticky one like the soft Kolstein or Oak. If I’m taking my bass in the car or playing outdoors at all or in any non-air-conditioned environment (all of which are common for me in the summer), then I’ve got to be a lot more careful with my rosin selection.
The bane of my summer double bass existence is the “glassy bow” syndrome that Aaron described. I’ve actually totally torpedoed a perfectly good rehair by putting a bunch of particularly sticky soft gauge Kolstein on my bow in warm weather. No matter what I did, I could get that hair working… and I tried everything! This rosin was awesome for me during January and February here in Chicago, but it wasn’t a good fit for the summer months.
My current bass and bow are quite responsive, and I therefore am able to get away with using significantly less rosin than I used to use on my old Lowendall bass. I typically use Pops’ Rosin in the summer with my Dolling bow, Jakstadt bass, and Pirastro Permanent strings, applying it sparingly and adding more only when I feel the grip start to give.
Getting a good grip on my previous gear was significantly more challenging. I used Original Flexocor strings with my Lowendall bass and previous bow, and in the summer I would often use either a medium or hard gauge Kolstei rosin or even a combination of violin rosin and standard bass rosin (Carlsson, Pops’, Kolstein, or Oak).
The Almighty Comb
The other trick I use in the summer (and I can’t for the life of me remember where I originally picked this habit up) is to use a plain old black comb and comb through the bow hair just like I do with my own hair. This breaks up the rosin chunks, helps to stave off that terrible “glassy” feeling on the hair, and refreshes the “grippiness” of the rosin already applied to the bow hair. Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do without my trusty black comb in the warm summer months!
Do you have a method of dealing with humid conditions and arco playing? Let us know in the comments!