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Nyckelharpa Bows & Rosin

If you’re looking to buy a nyckelharpa bow- check our purchase guide.

And here’s a really interesting article on the physics of bowing (written for the violin, but equally applicable to the nyckelharpa!)

A Basic Description

Nyckelharpa bows are about half as long as violin bows, about 16 inches (40 cm) long. They use the same mechanism to tighten the hair as a violin bow, although many makers will use wooden frogs rather than vinyl frogs as on many violin bows. They say it’s ridiculously easy to make a new frog each time you re-hair your bow, but I’ve found it difficult to convince American luthiers to do so when re-hairing my bows. I therefore recommend switching to a traditional violin frog the next time you re-hair you bow.

Bow Mechanics

Most good players in Sweden prefer bows with some "height" to them — concavely-curved sticks rather than the convexly-curved stick of a violin bow. That is, the violin bow achieves tension on the string by having the stick start out bent away from the hair (convex). But nyckelharpa bows are bent the other way, toward the hair (concave) and it’s simply the desire of the stick to return to its previous shape that produces the tension.

Historical Bow Trends

Back in the 1970s, it was popular for a while to cut a violin bow in half, attach a curved piece of wood to the tip, and made a nyckelharpa bow. These were straight like a violin bow, and are generally frowned upon and seen as inferior by most of the better nyckelharpa players in Sweden today. If you have one of these, you should seriously consider acquiring a better one.

The Current Trend of Bows

In recent years, the some from the younger generation of harpa players have contacted professional violin bow makers and had them make bows for them. The hair on them comes out much flatter (as on a voilin) compared with the traditional nyckelharpa bow (I’ve heard the optimal situation described as "a rope of hair"). The tension method is also as on a violin bow, and the wood used is the same as a violin bow rather than the simple common woods used by most nyckelharpa makers. Olov Johansson and Johan Hedin are two examples, and perhaps not coincidentally are two players who have deviated from the pure tradition in their playing, and applied the nyckelharpa to musics never before played on the harpa. However, they both still play traditional tunes, and several pure-tradition younger players have also acquired similar bows.