A Violinist’s Guide to Choosing Rosin For the Bow

First, what is rosin, and how does it work? Rosin is a resin collected from one of about a hundred different types of pine tree throughout Europe, Asia, North America, and New Zealand. Rosin comes from from living trees by tapping — just like maple syrup. After the resin is collected, it is sometimes mixed with other tree saps from different species of trees to create a unique formula. This formula is then purified by straining and heating it in large vats until the resins are completely melted. Once cooked, the concoction is poured into molds. After the mixture sets, the rosin is polished and placed in cloth or another type of housing. The color of rosin is determined by when in the year it is collected. If the resin is tapped in late winter or early spring, it will be gold or amber in color and hard when set up. As the seasons change to summer and fall, the color of the resin darkens and the consistency softens. Rosin works by keeping the bow hair stuck to the string. The bow pulls the string in the direction of the bow motion until the adhesion breaks. Then, the string snaps to its original position and vibrates, to create sound.

With rosin, many brands to choose from. But how do we evaluate which one sounds the best? This is a very difficult question to answer, because players have different preferences for how their rosin functions, and what sound or feel they are looking to derive from it. But one thing is very clear: cheap rosin (usually in the rectangular shape inside a wood housing and costing a couple of dollars) is not a good choice for any player, except for perhaps a beginner. Why? Because this rosin tends to stick to the strings like glue and feel and sound grainy.

For some reason, most of the finer rosin is circular and often encased in cloth or wood. When it is darker, it tends to be stickier. When lighter, it tends to glide more readily over the instrument. If you are a player who likes to “dig in,” or you have a violin that responds well to pressure, a dark rosin may be your choice. You might even opt for cello rosin (such as the Hidersine), for its extra grab.

For those of you who like the feel of a lighter, smoother rosin (or you tend to under-rosin your bow to avoid the feel of excessive grain, grit, or stick, a lighter rosin might be your choice. Often, some of the finest rosin brands will offer different formulations to suit the tastes of both those who prefer a darker rosin and those who tend to opt for the lighter versions.

Below is a list of rosins and descriptions. Although you may find this list helpful, experimentation and trying different brands is the best way to choose your preferred rosin.

One top choice of the pros is Andrea Rosin (formerly Tartini Rosin). This Rosin is relatively expensive (priced at around $30.00) and comes in several varieties from the lightest version (termed “Paganinni”) to the darkest, which is designed for cello but is often used by violinists searching for that rich, dark sound.

Pirastro (of string-making fame) sells a large line of rosins, largely named after its string brands. There is Pirastro Gold, Tonica, Eudoxa, and Oliv, among others. How much difference there is between these is questionable but they are an affordable alternative to “the block” cheap rosiin.

Jade Rosin is another popular and reasonably-priced option that seems to work well for a wide variety of bows and players. It is considered to produce a smooth yet firm grip.

Liebenzeller rosin is a particular favorite of mine. In fact, I have carried this rosin around for almost 20 years. Unfortunately, it is temporarily discontinued, but if you can find yourself this rosin, you will find that it comes infused with various metals from gold to nickel to copper, that lend the rosin different characteristics and grips.

In the end, most of the rosins priced above $8.00 or so are reasonable choices, and the biggest factor as to which one you prefer is whether you want more grip and grit (softer, darker rosin) or a lighter and smoother feel (lighter, harder, rosin). You might even be surprised at which option you prefer in the end — after all, your particular bow and violin may have preferences of their own!