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Is Hill varnish cleaner O.K. for v. fine violins?


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Hi GMM22,

Please understand that the advice " take it to the luthier" is not a bad advice. I spent $30 to have my luthier cleaned a

150 years old German violin. Originally it looked so ugly, I consider it lucky if I can pay $5 to have someone to take a look at it. Leave alone to smooth out all those goose bumps (rosin residues in bridge area),

"alligator skin" and micro cracks of varnish etc.

It was worth every penny.

Luthier is an amazing trade, and you do not know what they can to make your violin so wonderful,until you have them do it for you. Does this make sense?

Look at this way: I own a better violin than the previous owner. True? /yuen/

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Nobody, but nobody, turns a phrase as eloquently and economically as falstaff. You may have mistaken his style for hostility but it usually pays to keep plugging your point.

If at first you don't succeed.........

Yuen, for sure a professional will do a good job but it's clear this poster wants to try his hand. I'm sure he is bright enough to know you don't fool with a celebrated concert violin but those have always been well cared for and don't require more than the occasional wipe.

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I can sympathize with the players and see that there still hasn't been a clear answer given really.

Maybe a better question would be-"How can I prevent build-up of rosin around the bridge area and in the center bouts?"

I had a Russian woman come here yesterday asking how to clean the rosin build-up. I told her to wipe it with a cloth after each playing. She said she of course does this, but after one week it still begins to build up and then gets out of control.

Obviousely she has only 2 choices---either use some sort of cleaner at least in that area, or just let it build up and have it shop cleaned every few months.

The best advice I can give her is to just wipe it with a cloth after each playing and use a very gentle cleaner maybe once a week in order to minimize the build-up.

How would you others here reply to her question specifying the rosin build-up??

By the way, she said in Russia they wrap a bit of crushed walnut in a cloth and use that to remove the rosin build-up.Any opinions on using walnut oil?

In another recent case; a violin came in with the top being very sticky and with alot of case lint stuck to it.

I found it strange it was only on the top, and after asking more about this found that the player had used a cleaner on the top each day after playing!!

I told them to bring in the cleaner next week so I have some better idea of what is happening. Either the cleaner has permanently softened the varnish on the top or hopefully has just built up on the varnish surface and can be removed.

She had no idea that she shouldn't clean it everyday!

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I'll make one more attempt, curbing my curt manner, and go back to the original question. Well, the second restatement of the original question. It contained the following:

"What do they use on the Strad's and Amati's?"

The "they" in this sentence, one can assume, refers to the luthiers who clean priceless instruments.

What is looked for in the answer? The brand name of the solvent? The type of cloth used? The amount of ground walnut wrapped in cheesecloth?

My answer would be simple. Talent.

They apply years of experience and artistry to clean a Strad or an Amati. And the particulars of what tools are controlled by that talent are as various as the members of this fraternity of they. That commodity, the talent, cannot be put in a bottle to be ordered online.

That's why, if the cleaning to be done is significant enough to need a solvent those with more experience than me with violins are saying "take it to a luthier," and why they are saying, if the cleaning isn't significant enough to require a solvent, don't use any. Use spit.

I think some people, myself included once, feel somehow it must be good to polish your violin. And they are looking for which product has been proven, at the very least, to be harmless. I think the consensus I've gathered on this board is no polisher/cleaner has been proven to be without a downside. That perhaps -- perhaps -- the most neutral polish you can apply is Renaissance Wax. But that isn't a cleaner. It may provide some minimal protection from the elements. But won't remove rosin.

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If I appear dismayed at all, it would be at a moderator unnecessarily lifting a quote in order to make a "point" of which I am still uncertain (since clearly my prodding did bring out more relevant information) and having yet another person further dissect nuances of my postings, for which the moderator then expressed his gratitude.

As you are a newcomer, I want to make myself clear.

I lift quotes in an attempt to make it clear what I portion of a post I am replying to. I do it often... and... right or wrong, I do find some types of "prodding" within questions irritating from time to time. If you want to alter a question you asked, please just do so.

With all due respect to those who participated, I don't think your prodding did bring out more relavent answers to your (modified) question. Cleaning of fine instruments is a huge subject with many variables... and most commercial cleaners are not worth using and/or have the potential to cause harm. In the end, we're still back to use a soft cloth and visit a luthier.

I thanked Guy for responding as he seemed to have a bit more patience than I did (and therefore expressed himself better than I).

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Glen- re "Milstein never rosined his bow" - That statement could be taken with a grain of salt, as Milstein was sometimes given to exaggeration, and was a teller of tall tales. As I mentioned on an earlier thread, I went backstage with a friend to see him after a concert in Bern in '69 or 70. When I asked him how he decides when to rehair his bow he said " When I have no hair left". This could hardly be taken literally. He went on to tell me that Mr. Sacconi had a closet at Wurlitzers which he had opened for Milstein's benefit to reveal that it was filled with Ansaldo Poggi violins, top to bottom. The next time I saw Sacconi I asked him about this. Sacconi said "Aaghh, he is always making things up like that!"

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Hello Jeffery,

Given that I asked the question, it is more important to know whether I felt it brought out more information. I think it did, even if only to reinforce more conclusively what Manfio said.

The complexity of any particular subject should never be an impediment to good discussion. Any single aspect of a violin could be expounded upon to incredible depths of detail. I really thought that was the idea here. Some discussions may bare fruit and others may not, but I cannot see why I should be pointed out repeatedly for my choice of wording, or touching on a subject you and some others are saying is too complex to address.

If you refer to my post #266655, I indicated that simple questions often result in broader discussion, and my first post simply had not. If my second post was not worded appropriately, then I will try not to phrase similarly in the future.

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Sorry you feel I rubbed you the wrong way. For the record, I did not point you out repeatedly. I responded to you once, then thanked Guy for his response. My last post was in answer to your own statements. I didn't censor or edit you, I simply responded.

You asked about Strads and Amati's, and I believe I was the only person who responded that has a business dealing with sales, restoration and maintenance of 18th century Italian instruments. Correct me if I'm wrong. Honestly, I do feel that the subject of cleaning is too complicated to bear fruit once we pass general statements about cleaners, cloths and luthiers... although a search of "cleaning" may bring up some information for you from past discussions (I believe distilled and de-ionized water have been discussed in the past).

If you want more insight into my personality, experience and/or approach to discussion on the board, feel free too search my past posts. I think you'll find that I do not require that participants agree with me or like what I write.

Let's move on.

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I cannot see why I should be pointed out repeatedly for my choice of wording

As the one who may be considered guilty of repeatedly quoting your choice of wording, I feel I should respond. I can only know what you mean by looking at what you say. I can only respond, or challenge a change to your question, by looking back at precisely what you asked in any given context.

That you take offense at someone actually taking the time to analyse what it is you have said is beyond me. How else can we, in this faceless format, where there is none of the give and take of conversation, proceed? I for one take what is written seriously. And stand by what I bother to compose.

Whether you were thinking something else or not, your first question was about an over the counter cleaning solution. The answer don't use it is pretty much the answer you are still getting.

Whether you were thinking something else or not, your second question was about what professionals use to clean Strads and Amatis. The answer to that was it depends upon the luthier and the instrument. But it isn't an over the counter polish.

If quoting back your own words to you makes you feel like you are being somehow demeaned or put in your place, I'd suggest the problem lies on your end, not mine.

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I recently had a phone conversation with someone here on this forum, and we shared a similar thought to the one you have just presented, that being the difficulty of adequately conveying information over such a medium, without the inflections that are present in face to face conversation.

It is highly doubtful the disagreement would be at the point it is had I read your short post correctly the first time. I said before that I am quite sorry, and I would say so again. I look forward to exchanging thoughts with you and Jeffery in another thread, and on friendlier terms.

With regards

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Hi Manfio- I just read your post re Sacconi. Sadly, I did not get to talk with him often, and when I did, did not realize what an opportunity it was. For me he was a kindly older gentleman whose love for fine instruments spilled out with every word he said. I do remember his showing me a Storioni violin, not to try to sell it, but to show how great it was. He mentioned something to the effect that that a customer recently had called it ugly, and he had said to the customer "what kind of bestiality are you saying? " Unfortunately I never got into a real discussion on specifics. All best, Larry. P.S. Re Poggi- they did have one Poggi in stock at the time, a stunningly beautiful 1950 example, never played. I bought it for $2500. due to Milsteins recommendation. After two years I got tired of it's "newness" and traded it back to Wurlitzer for something I no longer remember. What can I say, I was young and knew nothing.

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Should have thought to post this before now. Here's good example of what can happen when someone who doesn't know what they are doing cleans rosin off of a fiddle:


I don't know if this was an incompetent luthier, a collector or a player. It happened long before I came into possession of the violin. But it was clearly a case of some sort of abrasive AND a solvent being used to clean beneath the bridge and up the treble side.

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Those are gut strings. Sometimes the knot on gut will slip through the tailpiece (they are smaller than the ball found on synthetic strings (and on the A string here). There is a loop end. You can therefore slide the string through the end loop.

Shortly after this photo was taken, I took the violin in for a setup (including a new tailpiece that was more gut string friendly).

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falstaff: It adds "character" :)

That's acutally a very good illustration for what can happen. I've seen it on many low-end violins where students decide to use furniture wood polish on their insurments. Not a good idea :

I've always just taken my insturment to the shop and have them do it professionally.

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So much for measuring afterlength to the fret on the tailpiece!

This photo was taken shortly after the violin was rescued from 40 years or so in a closet. I put on what was to hand to see if it could produce a tone (it couldn't. Open seams. Collapsed bridge). The tailpiece that is on it now can take gut string knots.

That said, I have seen some pretty high end fiddles strung up this way.

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