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Common amongst older violins


Japes

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It may just be me, but I've many times observed a length of vertical wear just to the right of the fingerboard. In photographs, this sometimes appears to be a crack, but it generally isn't. It usually manifests as a strip of varnish wear. In the picture below, this area actually seems to be compressed, but it doesn't go through to the inside surface.

Am I alone in this observation? If not, does anyone know what might be the general cause?

indent.jpg

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Is it possible that this is caused by the same thing, same stresses and torque, that causes the treble f-hole to become unaligned, the outside edge seeming to sink, the inside edge to rise?

It appears that this ridge is approximately aligned with the treble foot of the bridge (therefore the sound post). Almost looks like the entire treble side of the fiddle, right of the sound post, wants to settle.

The bass side might not show this same evidence of strain as it doesn't have the soundpost pushing up and/or the bass bar give some sort of support.

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Interesting theory, but the indentation ends well before the bridge. This also wouldn't explain the usual varnish wear that seems to occur. This indentation isn't the norm, so, in some respects, is a poor example for my query, but it does illustrate the rough area the wear tends to occur.

I'm interested to know if anyone else has taken note of this area of wear, or am I experiencing something entirely coincidental?

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I think this is mentioned in the Biddulph del Gusu book. If I remember correctly, this is thought to be due to the (very) old type of "holster" case. The violin would be slid into the case, scroll first, and the bow would be slid up alongside the fingerboard, causing this wear pattern. It is seen quite prominently on the Cannon I think.

I am sure Michael would be able to either confirm or correct this.

Regards

Rob

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It just came to me a moment ago and I logged on to post my conclusion. Sure enough, Derek, you beat me to it. I've generally only seen this on obviously well-played violins. It's directly in line with the fingerboard and I believe is indeed the result of a trailing finger in the higher positions. In the photo above, it's actually worn a groove into the top. It's just been retouched so well that I wasn't able to detect it. I've always wondered what caused the wood to be compressed there. I was just having a look at another of my old fiddles, and it, too, has a slight groove, but no retouching.

Well, that's very interesting! I've always wondered about that. It now seems so obvious. Michael? Can you confirm this? Gives some insight into my playing ability! I don't get into those upper positions very often. I'm sure the answer was plain to those of you who do. Still and all, I'm surprised it's never been discussed here (that I've noticed).

FC,

I haven't linked the wear to any cracks yet, but it makes sense that the thinned wood would be more susceptible to a fracture. Imagine wearing a groove straight through the top. Huh. That's some serious play, or some seriously sharp fingernails.

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Yes, I believe it comes from playing higher positions. All you have to do it touch a spot regularly for it to become an ulcer. A few weeks ago a player asked me why he was developing a spot of wear on the top right down from the lower E corner of his board. I asked him to show me pizzacato, and sure enough, he was putting his thumb there when he plucked--resting it on the corner of the board, but with his thumbnail only touching the top.

Any spot where the player's body touches can wear very quickly.

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I think it is bow wear from an ill-fitting case. A customer brought in a "family heirloom" violin and bow in an ancient leather holster-style case the other day and I was rather amazed by how much the bow banged around on the top of the instrument in precisely the area shown in the photo. The reason I think that it isn't trailing finger wear is because it would seem logical that the wear caused by the trailing finger would be position-specific (more wear in certain places rather than a perfect trench on the effecitve highest spot of the arch when the violin is lying on its back). Other types of wear patterns are case-related as well--e.g. top corners and the back of the scroll.

--Dick--

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That does sound like a sensible explanation and, perhaps, is indeed the cause for wear in this location on some violins, but I do believe we've solved the mystery with the finger wear theory, at the very least, for this violin. It tapers off nicely in just the right spot and is completely in line with the fingerboard. If I feign the sorts of movement a skilled player might use, my little finger slides very nicely into this groove up and down the board.

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I'd be surprised if any actual players drag their fingers beside the fingerboard. I'd be even more astonished if they wore anything in a single, straight groove like that.

I once put a ding in the varnish from pizzicato with too long a thumbnail. It left a single thumbnail-shaped crescent. It should always be in the same place because the thumb goes at the corner of the fingerboard. There's no sign of that pattern here. This mark doesn't even get up that high, and I can't imagine anyone wearing a straight line almost to the free part of the fingerboard.

I vote for bow damage.

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It's definitely from the hand touching that part in high positions. Sometimes a violinist trying to hit a high note on the e-string will miss and actually hit that part of the violin instead as well.

You don't often see those same marks on a viola, perhaps because violists spend very little time playing in the register that would cause those marks to occur. But I've seen lots of cellos with them.

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I do that to a spot on the treble side of the neck heel on my viola. To play in the upper positions on the A string I need to move my thumb up to the edge of the table, and when I go back down and the thumb is returning to its normal position under the neck, inevitably the back of my thumbnail brushes against that spot and eventually scrapes off the varnish. It doesn't even seem to matter how short I keep the nail. I've had it touched up once but the new varnish didn't last any longer than the old, so I guess I have to live with it (not hard to do considering it's an inexpensive Chinese instrument).

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When playing over that part of the fingerboard, a violinist might try to keep his thumb on the side of the fingerboard, but it's difficult to avoid touching the the top of the violin with the hand up there.

If there is a groove or varnish wear near the side of the fingerboard as a result of extensive playing in high positions, you should also see that the varnish has worn off of the upper rib on the E side.

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I had to look at my violin to see, yes it shows this wear (I'll post a photo when I can).

I recall that in higher positions, the hand tends to rotate so that the fingers are more parallel than perpendicular to the strings, the pinky has a good chance to drag in this position, plus as Mr. Darnton points out, it does not take much to cause a wear pattern.

As for "actual players" draging a finger, I'll watch my teacher today at my lesson - as a retired soloist he's about as actual as they come.

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