When examining a violin, you likely notice a classic design that evokes centuries of tradition. Perhaps you see beautiful wood species, such as maple or spruce, that have been varnished to perfection. Or maybe you see your bridge and E, A, D and G strings. But other than all the wood, have you given much thought to what other materials make up a violin? How about the glue used to assemble the violin? Is the glue vegan?
If you aim to be a strict vegan — someone who avoids using animal-based products — you may need to take a closer look at your violin setup. For example, most luthiers use hide glue to make their stringed instruments. Hide glue, made from gelatin, protein residues and animal skin (usually from pigs, cattle or horses), has been the common glue choice for decades.
Hide glue is popular because it forms a stiff bond, is water soluble and it’s reversible, meaning it’s easy to undo. The rise of synthetic glue dates to the 1930s, but luthiers have chosen to stick with hide glue for its outstanding performance. However, that’s not to say there aren’t vegan options available.
To truly know what materials were used in making your violin, the luthier who crafted it is your best source for information, assuming they are alive and you have the ability to speak with them. If you’re unable to connect with your violin’s maker, you can always visit a reputable luthier in your community who can provide you with insights.
Are There Vegan Violin Bow Strings?
Are your strings made from nylon, steel or catgut? If you have catgut, which is actually sheep or horse intestines, your violin is not vegan. If your strings are made from nylon or steel, those are not animal-based products, making them safe for vegans.
The First Certified Vegan Violin
Vegan violin bows and strings have been around a while now, but an actual vegan violin is another matter.
The world’s first vegan-certified violin came about in Malvern Hills, England, and costs about $9,650 U.S. dollars. Padraig O’Dubhlaoidh, who has over 40 years of violin-making experience, made the first vegan violin at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, using innovative materials such as pears and wild berries to create a vegan alternative to using hide glue.
Are vegan violins going to become widespread? Now that O’Dubhlaoidh has created a vegan glue that’s suitable for violin making, it’s a matter of time before more luthiers start producing vegan violins of their own. However, they are likely to remain a pricey novelty for some time.
Bows and Bowhair
The part of a violin bow that’s often not vegan is the bowhair, although some bows may include other animal-based parts such as leather.
Many bow-makers, including CodaBow, use Mongolian horsehair as their preferred bowhair choice. This is because cold-climate horses have thicker and stronger hair than horses from other regions. However, to make your bow vegan it’s easy to rehair a bow using synthetic material. Whether you choose Mongolian horsehair or a synthetic alternative, you should rehair your violin bow every 6 to 12 months.
Sustainable Violin Bows
CodaBow takes sustainability seriously. All our award-winning carbon fiber bows are made in Minnesota and carry the GlobalBow® designation, which guarantees each bow contains no endangered, monitored or regulated species.
Though we use three grades — student, performance and master-level — of ethically-sourced Mongolian horsehair for our bows, we respect those who choose to play with synthetic bowhair instead. Note that while there are quality synthetic alternatives available, they generally don’t hold rosin as effectively as horsehair, which gives them less “bite.”
Visit your local CodaBow dealer to give one of our carbon fiber bows a try, and be sure to speak with a luthier about synthetic bowhair recommendations if you’re vegan.