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Fresh Rosin . . .

Posted by bj on Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I can remember when I first bought the Andrea Paganini rosin (for over 20 bucks for the block) I loved it. But after a few months I fell out of love with it. It just didn't work well anymore. I thought it was a seasonal thing, but when I got it out again for the start of this past summer, it was still crappy. What happened?

I can remember when I replaced it with a block of Hidersine Dark and was shocked that a hunk of rosin that cost less than three bucks was so wonderful. But after a few months it just didn't work as well.

I can remember trying that RDM green stuff. In one way it was wonderful, but it was a little too sticky and built up something awful. But the funny thing was, after it had been sitting in a drawer for a number of months, it was a whole lot less sticky. It also didn't work the way I remembered.

One of the guys at the flea market had a block of the Pirastro Gold on his table. It looked like an old block, but it hadn't been used much. I gave him a buck for it, just to see what it was like. It plays wonderfully, produces good tone, but it has no staying power, I have to keep re-rosining often.

I just got a brand new block of the Pirastro Schwarz rosin, since Rick said it was one of the kinds he used, and liked, and I figured it was worth a try. It's fabulous! Great grab, goes on smoothly, pulls great tone! It's also FRESH.

Now, a bunch of people on various fiddle forums have said that they thought that the rosin maker's spiel that you should replace your rosin block periodically was just a marketing gimmick that would get you to buy more rosin. I'm usually skeptical of such claims as well. But after the experience I've had with rosins, I'm wondering if maybe it isn't really a gimmick and maybe there's some truth to it.

And, with the price of this Schwartz rosin being less than five bucks, I figure I can afford to replace it a few times a year. I'm also thinking that the type of rosin is much less important than the age of the rosin, though I'll still stay away from the ultra cheapie stuff that sticks like glue to your strings and makes your bow screetch and scratch even with good technique.


28 comments on “Fresh Rosin . . .”

robinja Says:
Wednesday, December 9, 2009 @12:33:39 PM

Hmmm. This whole rosin thing mystifies me. I've had two blocks of rosin in five years - one cheapie and one Hills' - don't know whether it's dark or light. Would probably be fine with the cheap stuff, but I've misplaced it. I use rosin pretty sparingly, and I usually only notice that I need to re-rosin when I get to a jam and can't hear myself or if I'm playing outside a lot. I've borrowed other folks' rosin when mine was out of reach, and I just don't notice any difference between any of them: new, old, cheap, or expensive.

BC Says:
Wednesday, December 9, 2009 @1:45:22 PM

I also have read quite a few articles about the lifespan of rosin, and they weren't all written by vendors. The way I play now I'm sure it doesn't matter, but maybe one day. I was wondering if it turned acidic, basic, molecular degradation or what? I haven't read anything that states what happens.

bj Says:
Wednesday, December 9, 2009 @2:37:01 PM

My theory (and it is just a theory) is that it dries out, and in the process becomes less effective. It becomes less sticky, more brittle and friable, more likely to crystallize, and fiddles off of the bow more quickly. The sap that is used to make rosin contains abietic and other acids. I imagine these acids are what evaporate out eventually. Makes sense this would work with bowhair, since healthy hair has an acid mantle.

FiddleJammer Says:
Wednesday, December 9, 2009 @2:50:44 PM

I've been using some Pirastro Gold that I got in Tasmania in 2005. It's wearing down nicely and has not gotten all crumbly. It works rather consistently despite season or hemisphere. It does build up on my strings and my bow, however. So, I have to put some energy into that from time to time. Like scrubbing the strings back and forth across my jeans, and brushing out my bow with an old dry toothbrush from time to time. Seems to me that rosin is old when it's new and a few more years isn't going to degrade it all that much more. Just my thinking.

M-D Says:
Wednesday, December 9, 2009 @3:32:30 PM

I know what you mean about rosin seeming to lose it's "grip" over time. I've noticed this with more than one brand. Not at all sure what that's about, but do note some variation owing to the seasons. Last night I rosined first with Oliv, followed by Paganini. Too much Oliv makes things scrunchy, especially on slower tunes, but all worked pretty well for a little while, then began to deteriorate. It was like I needed rosin . . . and did. Now, I've gone for near a week without having to rosin, so why this phenomenon is occurring of late has me mystified.

Mandogryl Says:
Wednesday, December 9, 2009 @3:52:51 PM

If rosin loses its grip after awhile, then it must have a 'shelf-life'.
I first tried a D'Addario light that I had to carry around a single-edge
razor to make filings. Then I tried a Hill dark. Winter, you know.
This whole rosin thing has me mystified anyway. That is why I mostly
use chapstik for rosin. Cheap, and works great. 'Specially the cherry one.
Makes great dust, and when I need to re-rosin in a pinch, I run the bow
under the strings on the belly of the fiddle. Andrea Beaton taught me that trick.

bj Says:
Wednesday, December 9, 2009 @4:03:53 PM

Um, Stephanie . . . chapstick? You better 'splain that one. I'm assuming that you mean you use the chapstick case to rough up the rosin block??? If that's the case I'm wondering what the heck difference it makes what flavor it is. :-)

ChickenMan Says:
Wednesday, December 9, 2009 @6:33:49 PM

I think Mandogyrl just made a funny :-)

FiddleJammer Says:
Wednesday, December 9, 2009 @9:30:54 PM

If it ain't the heat, it's the humidity. :-)

fiddlepogo Says:
Thursday, December 10, 2009 @12:24:19 AM

Well, it CAN make a difference.

I use Becker Dark to add a touch of extra smoothness to the Kaplan Premium Light...
and I thought I should have backup on each kind of rosin.
Well, the newer block of Becker Dark worked so much better it wasn't funny.
But with the Kaplan Premium Light, I like the older block better.

mudbug Says:
Thursday, December 10, 2009 @2:20:02 AM

I've read that one should buy new rosin once a year. I don't know enough to have an opinion yet, but it seems like in a year, that you've barely scratched the surface of the block, so it seems like a waste to chuck it (I AM from New England). Then again, the cost of even the expensive stuff is relatively cheap for a years fiddling. Makes sence about molecular transmografication. I've seen sap ooze out of wood and gradually crystalise to be very brittle.

Mandogryl Says:
Thursday, December 10, 2009 @2:45:14 AM

Not long ago I bought an old fiddle at auction, in a 'coffin' case.
It had left-over string envelopes and left-over rosin. The rosin was just crystals,
so there must be a shelf life of sorts. That might explain why some folks have
found that it loses its performance.

Swing Says:
Thursday, December 10, 2009 @5:51:21 AM

Rosin, as hard as it may seem, does contain oils and some water... they do dry out and change the usable nature of the stuff. I was told that you should replace your rosin about once a year. Sort of like an oil change in your car.

Play Happy

bj Says:
Thursday, December 10, 2009 @6:04:39 AM

Well, my experience has been that it doesn't take a year to lose effectiveness, more like half that.

Swing, I thought the oils and water are what was cooked out to make the sap into rosin.

Swing Says:
Thursday, December 10, 2009 @6:57:31 AM never get rid of it all or the rosin would end up as dust...

Play Happy

mudbug Says:
Thursday, December 10, 2009 @1:06:27 PM

Maybe it's like batteries and you need to buy from someplace that sells a lot of rosin, as opposed to someplace where the rosin might sit awhile before the sale.

bj Says:
Thursday, December 10, 2009 @1:46:26 PM

Well, you'd think the online suppliers would be more "busy" than my local violin shop (which also charges literally twice as much and has a limited selection.)

playmorebluegrass Says:
Thursday, December 10, 2009 @5:51:31 PM

?? hmm. i have only had two block of rosin the whole 6 yrs. i've been playing fiddle. of course. that maybe an indication that should be practicing much more the one or two days a week......;) i was told to alwasy get light rosin. dunno the difference. interesting conversation tho'.

bj Says:
Thursday, December 10, 2009 @6:04:01 PM

Jen, I've tried light, dark and everything in between, including GREEN. I've come to realize that the color doesn't matter. But the age? You betcha.

The only reason now to consider one type of rosin over another is the amount of dust, though the dust doesn't really bother me that much if the rosin works well.

Tennessee Tom Says:
Thursday, December 10, 2009 @7:43:04 PM

I've been using Hill Dark for a while now. I use very sparing amounts, and have no buildup on mah fiddle. I think I'm done searching.


janepaints Says:
Thursday, December 10, 2009 @9:12:38 PM

I got fed-up with both the re-hair and rosin aspects of killed two birds with one stone by replacing the hair on my bows with cut-to-size strips of 120-grit sandpaper. Talk abut grip! When I need to be louder, I use my '40-grit bow'. But suddenly the fiddle strings were wearing-out lickedy-split! Durn things went all kerflooey every twenty minutes, even with the Great Grip and all. So I put the ol' thinking cap on and VOILA!! Bye-bye costly-fragile fiddle strings! My stradivarius now sports 'strings' made of bandsaw blades, from Home Depot. A nice side-effect is that I no longer need tuning pegs or fine-tuners. Just stuck 'em on with Liquid Nails. But now fingering is TOUGH. Dang, pushing them 'strings' down feels like pushing on bandsaw blades or something. So I hiked to Mega LoMart and got me one a them Rock Band electro-fiddle gizmos. All ya gotta do is push the right button when the correct prompt comes on the screen and it's just like being Lead Fiddler in the Beatles! Or Bad Company! Even Guns N' Roses! Plus now I can text and do chat while fiddling, in Blu-Ray Hi-Def! HA! And they said tone was all about some kinda Secret Varnish. Phooey on them so-called 'experts'. P.S. For real quiet stuff ya might wanna give steel wool a try.

Mandogryl Says:
Friday, December 11, 2009 @5:30:25 PM

Jane, I tried steel wool, and even beltsander belts. I still insist that cherry chapstik solves it all.

Tennessee Tom Says:
Saturday, December 12, 2009 @3:00:51 AM

If age is important, then it might matter where you buy your rosin. I wonder how long a cake of rosin might sit in a typical music shop? In any case, I'm with Robinja about using rosin very sparingly. That is working for me.

Mandogryl Says:
Saturday, December 12, 2009 @4:16:18 AM

Seriously, I just bought some Hill Dark. I should check it for an expiration date. There probably should be one.
Thanks for bringing this issue up, BJ.This is a good conversation.

bj Says:
Saturday, December 12, 2009 @4:51:46 AM

I just bought from these guys:

They do a lot of online business, and the rosin was pretty dang fresh, even though it may not have been a type that has high popularity. I suspect if you stick to the types people use a lot you'd be even more assured to get a fresh block.

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Saturday, December 12, 2009 @6:04:59 PM

I'd add something here, but I see little rosin to do so; you've got a gadzillion responses already.

edkarch Says:
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 @5:46:40 AM

I have to add my 1 3/4 cents here. I went to forestry school. Rosin comes from trees, therefore I am an expert. Rosin is not made from sap. It is the exudate from resin ducts found in coniferous species. How am I doing so far? Sap is mostly water and desolved nutrients It really smells bad when boiled down., it can however be ferminted and with the proper equipment processed into a rather more interesting fluid, But I digress.
Rosin does age as volitile oils and water evaporate. It will eventually cristalize. To stop this process one must stop the evaporation. A nice thick coat of swiming pool paint should do it, or wrap in several layers of plastic wrap and store in the fridge next to the weenies. A good coating of cherry chap stik will also slow the natural decomposition or just give up and use cherry chapstik. I use bike grease myself.

bj Says:
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 @6:03:20 AM

I betcha it stinks even more if they cook down the pieces that have bugs in 'em. I can remember finding those, when I was a kid, on the huge fir trees behind gram's house.

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