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Rubber Tubing for French Bass Bows

Some French bass bow players use a rubber tube over their frog and bow.  The reason simply is to alleviate soreness and/or to help keep the bow from slipping. Sometimes soreness can arise from having a bow with too sharp of a corner on the frog where the thumb sits on or near, playing hard or for long periods and/or the combined weight of the bow being too light.  A player will often compensate by pushing into the bass (not advised!)  Special note: sometimes the corner of that bow frog can be very abrupt (too sharp).  Even the best makers have done and still do this.  You can ask your expert bow repairman to round it a bit by using a fine file or sandpaper.  See the exact spot I am referring to here:  upright bass bow frog

Be careful though, because too many repairman go too far with this and it is much more difficult to add wood back on than it is to take off!  Sometimes  though (with soreness) it has nothing to do with the sharpness.  Also, going too far and taking too much off that corner will have an opposite effect causing too much of an angle on your thumb joint and wrist.  Some French bow makers thinking that they were doing players a favor started to file this away to impress us that "they were aware".  For our bows that we sell here, we never allow them to do this.   This should always be done carefully, per the individual player's comfort and requirements. 

For most, another common reason to use any kind of rubber tubing is simply because we tend to sweat and nothing is more embarrassing than having your bow fall or shoot in front of you during a rehearsal or concert.  It's happened...and to some of the best players as well!  In most cases the bow will slip a little and we have to re-adjust it while playing. 

I play French bow.  For years I never used any kind of tubing on my bow, but when I developed some  soreness in my right thumb joint I noticed that it was a combination of my grip: I wasn't putting my thumb on top of the corner of the frog, but deeper into the nook part which added more of an angle on the joint.  It never really bothered me before....but, I am older now and makes sense to be more aware of these ergonomics.  Maybe I was playing too hard, gripping too hard or more than likely, a combination of all the above.  One standout though was and still is, that French bows can be slippery at times and having the rubber tube on the stick helps the player hold on to it, without working too hard on the gripping.  It's hard enough playing a bass, any time you can make anything easier for you without sacrificing the playing or tone, the better you are.

Years ago I remember a company making these black rubber molded tubes with a round pad that would end up right over the sharp corner of the frog.  Back then, I thought it was a life saver.  Then in the coming years, when I improved my bow technique I realized that the tube and pad actually cut down my ability to 'feel' the bass, the string and also I think it took away that last 5% of playing technique.  It was too bulky as well, but at the time for me, it worked.

Then a couple of things happened:  First, I got a new bow.  My old (and first bow I ever had) was too light.  It  was somewhere in the vicinity of around 122 grams. (The average is around 135!)  This new bow was the first decent professional level bow and it was much more balanced then the old stick.  I played it for a couple of weeks without the tube and started to really enjoy how it played and how it allowed me to play as well. At the same time, I noticed that I had no index finger or thumb soreness.  Looking back, I remember my index finger had this huge callous on it from pushing the stick into the string when I played.  My old bow was super light and I compensated by using too much torque with my top index finger.  (Many good players and teachers now gasping!)  Hey, I was young and that's all I had!

Recently I developed a bit of soreness in my right wrist and thumb joint. I started to try a simple rubber tube.  The first one I tried was a surgical type tubing and I put it on my bow.  How to get these things on????  Well, I used liquid soap from the kitchen soap dispenser.  It went on super easily.  After a day, it dries and will cause no issue to the finish of the bow.  I could tell instantly that the rubber was just too thick.  It was 1/8" of an inch thick and after not using one for years, I thought it way too thick.  It made me feel like I was playing with construction gloves on.

Most don't realize that we must feel the vibration of the stick while we are playing.  It has everything to do with tone and actually helps us control and adjust the tone.  It's a small part of the equation, but still, very important.  So....I took that one off after only a day.  I needed another kind of tube that was thin, but would be substantial enough to remain on the stick and help me 'keep a grip'.

Taking these things off!  To be honest, it was much easier putting this thing on than it was to take off.  I tried to slide it off, hoping that it would slide off as it originally slid on (with the help of the soap.)  Well, I was mistaken.  The soap was dry after only a day, (probably less) and I was afraid that pulling too hard would also pull my leather grip off of the bow by breaking the glue seal on it or mess up the metal wiring around the stick.  I carefully pinched the edge of the rubber tube upward at its end and slid the tip of some good scissors under the tube and cut about 1/8" of length per cut:  Pinch up, slide the scissor tip in and snip the rubber tube, then repeat carefully until I cut the whole tube.  It got easier after I cut 1/4" because then I had more to grab a hold of.   You have to be careful so that you don't stick the scissors into the bow, scratching it or make a mark on the leather wrap.  It was actually pretty easy, just take your time.  On the thinner tubing that I later used I was able to pinch up the tube, and squeeze the liquid soap nozzle in which helps me slide it back off again.  Even if you cannot do this, just carefully cut as I mentioned before.

Now, I found a thinner walled tube. This one was half as thick (1/16") and feels much better to use.  It brings my hand much closer to the actual stick and is not so big or bulky.  This one works much better!  We offer these on our bass accessories page.  They come two in bag and long enough completely extend outward from your frog and cover most or all of the bow leather and metal wrapping.  You can cut the tube to cover as much (or little) that you require on your bow.

It's not uncommon to see at least one French bow player in a bass section have a rubber tube on his/her bow.  Sometimes they are used to alleviate pain from gripping too hard for too many hours of playing.  When you are playing a concert, with the lights on, wearing a "monkey suit" as my wife likes to call it, your hands can get a little sweaty and that rubber helps keep your bow in place.   Anytime you can play with a looser feel and with less tension, it's a win win situation.