They may not be welcome inside your instrument case, but these creatures aren’t known to wait for an invitation. Even string musicians who are diligent in taking care of their violin, viola or cello, their instrument’s respective bow, and case, may one day wind up facing a formidable opponent: the dreaded bow bug.
Even if you encounter this small, yet intimidating enemy, rest easy knowing not all is lost. We have tips that will help you to stop bow bugs, and recover your bow so that you will soon be able to give your best performance — again.
What Are Bow Bugs and How Do You Get Them?
Bow bugs are dermestids, a type of skin beetle that’s known to climb into neglected music cases to feast on bow hairs. These unwelcome guests typically prefer abandoned, dark spots, so they are prone to enjoy instrument cases that have not been opened in quite some time — especially ones found in attics, basements, and dark closets.
You can quickly tell when bow bugs have struck, whether they are still in your case or not, by seeing broken or damaged bow hairs attached or fraying from your bow stick. If any bow bugs remain in your case, they tend to be 1 to 2 millimeters in length, and a red-brown color.
As awful as bow bugs may seem, the problem is simple to resolve by following the steps outlined below.
Steps to Stopping Bow Bugs
In the event of spotting bow bugs in your instrument case, you should do the following:
- Pull your bow and other items, including bow rosin and sheet music, from your case.
- While your instrument case is empty, give the interior a thorough vacuuming and be sure to get those hard-to-reach spots.
- Once vacuumed out, leave your case open in a spot that receives good natural or artificial light for an extended period, but don’t leave it in direct sunlight for long (this could damage your case interior).
Once done cleaning after a bow bug invasion, it’s common for some musicians to use pesticides or other aggressive cleaning agents in their case, but it’s usually not necessary to use these products to keep unwanted visitors away.
One technique that’s popular, and many luthiers recommend this option following bow bug removal, is to lightly spray or wipe your empty instrument case with cedar oil. From cedarwood, cedar oil — when used as an essential oil in small quantities — can help keep unwanted bow bugs far from your violin case. All you need to do is lightly spray or rub a few drops across the inside of your empty case. You can also put a small cedar chip inside your violin case after cleaning it out as a deterrent for avoiding future bow bug attacks. When using cedar oil, avoid a heavy touch inside your case, since it is potent.
We do not recommend storing mothballs in your instrument case. They will leave a gross, filmy residue on everything in your case, including your instrument and bow. This film has poison in it, and it will damage your prized instrument and bow.
Though evidence of bow bugs feasting on your violin, viola or cello bow hairs was found, these attackers are usually keen to ignore the bowstick and other bow components. However, they sometimes go after the frog, too. This means that once your case has been cleaned out, the next step is to inspect your bow for damage, and rehair it.
Combined, cleaning of the case and rehairing a bow is usually enough to address the problem, though sometimes string musicians use bow bugs as an excuse to swap out instrument cases. If you have been eyeing an upgrade, or perhaps your old case is banged up or has a crack in it, you may want to use your recent intrusion as a catalyst to purchase a new instrument case.
To help prevent bow bugs in the future you should play regularly! The more active you are — opening and closing your case and pulling out your instrument to play — the less likely you are to face more bow bugs. If you are not practicing or rehearsing on a regular basis, and are unable to play more often, try storing your case in an airtight container to keep bugs from invading.
Give Your Best Performance with a Well-Maintained CodaBow
Even if you are not facing bow bugs, we recommend changing your bow hair every 6 to 12 months. It’s important to keep up with this routine maintenance, as sound quality will suffer if your bow hairs are in poor shape. You also risk damaging your bow and instrument further if you continue playing with insufficient equipment.
If your CodaBow is in need of rehairing, submit a service request. We rehair carbon fiber violin, viola and cello bows for $69. For bass bows we charge $79, and for discontinued models the fee is $89. Return shipping is $24.