Cello rosin is a clear resin that is applied to a cello bow in order to create enough friction between the cello bow and the cello string.
How Rosin is Made
Rosin is tapped directly from living trees in a similar process used to draw maple syrup. First, a small area of the outer bark of the tree is removed. The tree is then fitted with a drip channel as well as a collection container. Lastly, the tree is cut with V-shaped grooves of approximately 0.39 inches wide slightly above the drip channel. These marks are meant to induce the flow of resin into the collection container. In order to ensure the continuous flow of the tree resin, the cuts must be renewed after every 5 days.
After collection, the resin is often mixed with other tree saps including spruces, larches or firs to come up with a specialized recipe, which is usually the secret of the rosin makers. Other rosin makers even add beeswax, silver, copper flecks, gold or lead in order to enhance the rosin’s ability to grip the strings properly. The secret formula is then purified by heating and straining in large vats until the resins are completely melted. Once adequately cooked, the concoction is poured into molds. After resting for about 30 minutes, the rosin is smoothed down before being polished. The rosin is finally fitted into tight fitting containers or packed into swath cloths.
The color of the cello rosin is determined by the time of the year when the resin is collected. If the resin is collected during fall and summer, the color of the rosin is usually dark and the consistency softens. On the other hand, if the resin was gathered in early spring or late winter, the rosin will be amber or gold in color and hard when set up.
Types of Cello Rosins and Their Functions
- Cake versus Boxed: Generally, rosins come as either cake or boxed. The boxed rosin comes in clear amber colors and is cheaply priced than its cake counterpart.
- Darker Rosins: The darker the rosin, the softer it is. Softer rosins are not only stickier but also produce greater grip and grittier sound. The only disadvantage of softer rosins is that they produce more powder.
- Lighter Rosins: Lighter rosins are hard. As a result, they might not be adequately sticky to produce the desired sound.
- Hypoallergenic Rosins: This powder-free rosin is ideal for people who are allergic to rosin powder.
- Gold, Silver, Lead, and Copper Rosins: The silver rosin produces a concentrated bright tone and is ideal for performance in higher positions. The gold rosin, on the other hand, is said to produce a clear, warm tone and is perfect for all instruments. Last but not least, lead rosins are known to enhance clarity and warmth by producing a fresh playing tone while copper rosins produce an almost velvety-soft and warm tone.
Why Do You Need Rosin?
New cello bows or recently rehaired cello bows do not produce any sound because they need cello rosin to create friction between the bow and strings. Rosin is required because it provides the bow hair with an adequate grip needed to produce suitable sound when the bow is pulled across the cello strings. Without applying rosin, the bow will just slide across the cello strings, producing a whispery sound or no sound at all.
Additionally, cello rosin needs to be applied every so often to the cello bow because the existing rosin wears off. We recommend re-rosining the bow every 3-4 playing sessions.
How to Use Rosin
Even though there are many rosining techniques, using long slow strokes along the length of the bow is highly recommended. Here are the steps to follow.
- Before rosining, turn the tension screw to tighten the bow hairs.
- Place the bow hairs flat on the rosin at the bow’s frog and rub the hairs of the bow gently up and down a few number of times.
*Pro Tip*: To get the best rosining experience, we recommend scratching the surface of the rosin with sandpaper or metal to make it powdery on top. This will let the rosin stick better to the bow hair.
- Draw the hairs of the bow straight across the rosin until you reach the tip of the bow. Repeat the gentle scrubbing motion from the tip of the bow back to the bottom near the location of the tension screw.
- Repeat this process across the entire length of the bow for several times.
- After every playing session, remove rosin dust using a soft, dry cloth.
Here is a great video explaining in great detail how to rosin your bow:
- If you apply too little rosin, you will not get the adequate amount of friction so you won’t be playing at your full potential.
- Application of too much rosin leads to the production of too much rosin powder.
- Excessive rosining can lead to the production of a scratchy, raspy sound.
The most famous cellists are the following:
- Pablo Casals
- Yo-Yo Ma
- Julian Lloyd Webber
- Paul Tortelier
- Arthur Russell
- Luigi Boccherini
- Jacques Offenbach
- Pierre Fournier
- Emanuel Feuermann
- Alfred Wallenstein
All of these cellists were legends in their own time. To read more about these cello players, read our article on these ten famous cello players.
Are you struggling with what string instrument to choose? If you’re like many beginners, choosing the right instrument is a challenge. Years ago I was lucky when I chose my first instrument, the viola, because our teacher played the Star Wars theme on it in a fourth-grade assembly. But I’m probably the exception. Many students start out on one instrument and switch to another instrument shortly thereafter and there’s nothing wrong with that!
Like in Harry Potter where the “wand chooses the wizard,” the instrument chooses the player. When you’re first starting out, your instrument selection may seem innocuous, but over time you’ll realize whether that instrument is right for you.
You can read our guide to figure out if cello is the right instrument for you.
Cellos come in different levels for players at different stages in their learning journey and each level has a different cost. How much a cello costs is often associated with the quality of sound the instrument produces and the craftsmanship that went into building the instrument. Student cellos are the lowest-cost, averaging around $300-$400, while the highest-cost cellos, professional level, can be well over $10,000. To learn more about the differences between the types of cellos, read our guide on buying a cello.
Many students start out by renting cellos for practice until they are ready to own one. Essentially, cellos fall under three categories for pricing:
- Student Cellos: These are for beginners. Young students or players at the early stage of learning the cello are constantly working on the basics of playing, tone production, fingering, bowing etc. Hence, maple (dyed black to resemble ebony) is sometimes used for the pegs and fingerboards, areas that are exposed to more friction. Student cellos are mostly machine-made to keep costs low while maintaining tone consistency. Quite affordable. Prices range from $200 – $2,500.
- Intermediate to Advanced Cellos: With higher workmanship, the sound of an intermediate cello is also much better. There are more dynamics and stronger projection. The pegs and fingerboards are crafted with ebony and most of the instrument is handcrafted. Prices range from $500 – $10,000.
- Professional Cellos: Pure craftsmanship using the finest quality of wood, professional cellos exude a rich tone and wide dynamics. Masterpieces like these are expensive. Prices go from $10,000 onwards.
Typically, how much one pays for a cello is how much one can expect from the quality. A cello priced at the extreme low hundreds tends to be “unplayable” while the more expensive ones can balance both playability and sound production better.
Of course, the price is not always merely an indication of product quality. Sometimes, it also incorporates the name of the cello maker. As a cello maker’s fame increases, so does the value of the instruments he crafts. The question of how much is a cello worth often depends on a variety of characteristics of that cello.
To learn more about what you should consider when buying a cello, read our “How to Buy a Cello” guide.