While some bows are made with synthetic bow hair, the majority of bows use genuine horsehair. Because horsehair is similar to human hair, it can have different consistencies and is affected by the humidity in the room. While it is possible to have master technicians hand select the finest hairs of any color, it is most common for musicians to select a color based on the natural qualities attributed to that color of horsehair.
The most common color used for bows is white. This hair is naturally white and should never be bleached as the bleach will weaken the hairs and cause them to break quickly under normal bow tension. You can also find variations that are more tan or silver in color, but will generally act the same as white hair.
The second most common color is black. Black horsehair is typically more coarse and will pull the strings more aggressively than the finer white hair. Bassists are the most likely orchestral musician to select black horsehair, but some cellists and violists also opt for bows with black hair.
If a musician wants a consistency somewhere between a white bow or a black bow, they may ask to hair their bow rehairs with 'salt and pepper'. This is a mix of white and black hair, giving the bow more grip than pure white bow hair but without the aggression of a pure black bow. Some shops may also carry 'cinnamon' or brown hair, which also gives this medium consistency.
There are a few other types of hair that are different based on color and where the horses are raised, but you would either need to special order this hair or work with what your local shop has available. If you are looking to change things up or are looking for a different sound and your bow is in need of rehair, it would be worthwhile to talk to your local shop and see what bow hair they would recommend for you.
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