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Question for luthiers and violin repair experts


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Many times at violin group playings, I see other students rather

harshly rubbing the area between the f-holes in efforts to remove the rosin.

Someone told me that this will wear away the varnish, and I have

also lightened up on my own rosin-wiping.

My question is: if one were to rub enough to wear off a small area of the varnish,

is it possible to have the area re-varnished by itself? Or does the whole violin have to be

stripped and re-finished and re-varnished and re-everything?

Also, a friend of mine accidentally dripped alcohol on his violin while cleaning strings and didn't notice it.

Now there's just plain wood without varnish or finish or anything on that little spot.

Is it possible to re-finish and re-varnish that one little spot by itself?

Thanks.

-Michael L.

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Dear Michael,

Yes, varnish touch-up to small areas is certainly possible, but should be attempted only by one skilled in the technique. I've seen horrible botched jobs done by those who are not! Warning: It's not cheap.

Your friend's experience with alcohol is a great example of why I don't endorse the practice of cleaning strings, or anything else on the violin with it.

As far as the rubbing off of the varnish between the ff holes: I'd suggest not rubbing the instrument quite that hard! The friction tends to take it'stoll. Better to wipe gently and often, use less rosin, and have a luthier clean your instrument periodically.

Best of luck,

Jeffrey

: Many times at violin group playings, I see other students rather

: harshly rubbing the area between the f-holes in efforts to remove the rosin.

: Someone told me that this will wear away the varnish, and I have

: also lightened up on my own rosin-wiping.

: My question is: if one were to rub enough to wear off a small area of the varnish,

: is it possible to have the area re-varnished by itself? Or does the whole violin have to be

: stripped and re-finished and re-varnished and re-everything?

: Also, a friend of mine accidentally dripped alcohol on his violin while cleaning strings and didn't notice it.

: Now there's just plain wood without varnish or finish or anything on that little spot.

: Is it possible to re-finish and re-varnish that one little spot by itself?

: Thanks.

: -Michael L.

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I'm afraid I can't get on board the alcohol thing. I've just seen too many slip-ups, no matter what the method. A good friend (DSO) player has been doing what you describe for over 25 years, but we had to touch up a good size spot on his fiddle last year..... The alcohol splattered.... I don't expect "converts", I just don't recommend the practice.

Best to all,

Jeffrey

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Total agreement with Jeffrey...but, I have two customers who swear by those alcohol prep swabs sold in drug stores...a little packet with a gauze lightly soaked in isopropyl alcohol. They clean strings and fingerboards, with no troubles yet...I can see a swab actually falling on the fiddle some day...iso. alc. is not as active as methyl or denatured, but can still cause damage.

Al

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I've been wondering if one of the new hand sanitizers would work - I've even tried it, still putting a small amount on a cloth first. It won't drip. The main problem is all the brands include things other than alcohol - like lanolin - which you surely wouldn't want on your strings. I've been searching for one that is just alcohol or alcohol and water.

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I don't see the point of cleaning strings with alcohol at all. I have never cleaned my strings with anything other than a clean handkerchief (God, it makes an awful squeaking) and have never had a problem with harshness. Beyond that, I find super-clean, new strings to have a really slow attack and they seem to need a patina of rosin on them to play well.

Seeing as alcohol is so nasty for fiddle finishes, why bother at all?

PC

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:I've never had a problem this way.

Actually, the problem you seem to have is a lack of originality. Well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

I don't see a need to clean strings with alchohol. A clean, dry cloth works fine. Too much alchohol can sink in between the windings and cause problems. I do use alchohol for cleaning the fingerboard, but only the "prep pads" referred to below.

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If reading this board was not enough to get me to quit an alcohol habit in cleaning strings and fingerboard, the instrument of someone I know who just today spilled alcohol all over it is! The damage to the varnish is heart wrenching! I'm checking into AA for instrument cleaners and changing my ways!

So Jeff, having joined your side of this debate, what then is the most effective way to clean crud off a fingerboard? Non-alcoholic....

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Glad to hear that we'll have one more sober violin on the board! ;-) Sorry to hear about your friend....

To answer your question about cleaning; If regular wiping and using less rosin doesn't quite stretch the need for a cleaning long enough for your yearly check up at the luthier's, there is a relatively safe method to employ. The careful use of a very small piece (about the size of a quarter) of #0000 (that 4 of those zeros!) steel wool on the trouble spot will remove plenty of crud. I know some who use a very small amount of oil (mineral or lemon) on the steel wool during this process, but keep the oil away from the strings, varnish, etc. and wipe ALL the residue away. This works best while changing strings, as it's easiest to get to the board. I use linseed oil when dressing a board. IMPORTANT! It's best to cover the violin with a paper towel or cloth when doing this, as you want to avoid small particles of steel wool from adhering to the varnish or falling in the ff holes. Also, please, those who read this, only use the method when you really have to.

I don't recommend using the steel wool on the strings, but do know some who do. I guess the only harm it could really cause is an early demise of the set..... Come to think of it, this might be good our catalog division! :-)

Hope this helps.

Jeffrey

: If reading this board was not enough to get me to quit an alcohol habit in cleaning strings and fingerboard, the instrument of someone I know who just today spilled alcohol all over it is! The damage to the varnish is heart wrenching! I'm checking into AA for instrument cleaners and changing my ways!

: So Jeff, having joined your side of this debate, what then is the most effective way to clean crud off a fingerboard? Non-alcoholic....

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Synthetic "steel wool" isn't ferrous and doesn't flake nearly as much. Check at a woodworker supply store.

: Glad to hear that we'll have one more sober violin on the board! ;-) Sorry to hear about your friend....

: To answer your question about cleaning; If regular wiping and using less rosin doesn't quite stretch the need for a cleaning long enough for your yearly check up at the luthier's, there is a relatively safe method to employ. The careful use of a very small piece (about the size of a quarter) of #0000 (that 4 of those zeros!) steel wool on the trouble spot will remove plenty of crud. I know some who use a very small amount of oil (mineral or lemon) on the steel wool during this process, but keep the oil away from the strings, varnish, etc. and wipe ALL the residue away. This works best while changing strings, as it's easiest to get to the board. I use linseed oil when dressing a board. IMPORTANT! It's best to cover the violin with a paper towel or cloth when doing this, as you want to avoid small particles of steel wool from adhering to the varnish or falling in the ff holes. Also, please, those who read this, only use the method when you really have to.

: I don't recommend using the steel wool on the strings, but do know some who do. I guess the only harm it could really cause is an early demise of the set..... Come to think of it, this might be good our catalog division! :-)

: Hope this helps.

: Jeffrey

: : If reading this board was not enough to get me to quit an alcohol habit in cleaning strings and fingerboard, the instrument of someone I know who just today spilled alcohol all over it is! The damage to the varnish is heart wrenching! I'm checking into AA for instrument cleaners and changing my ways!

: : So Jeff, having joined your side of this debate, what then is the most effective way to clean crud off a fingerboard? Non-alcoholic....

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I taught orchestra in public school for 18 years...when we were getting ready to go to festivals, I always cleaned the kid's instrument strings (they were mostly steel strings) with a cloth and alcohol. I held them upside down and never DROPPED ONE (how does one do that anyway???), much less ever got alcohol anywhere but the

strings. Lemme see: Average of 150 instruments per year times 18 years = 2,700 successful string cleanings and no drops or drips.

: ...the violin could slip and fall onto the cloth full of alcohol.

: Victor

: : Hold the violin upside down....the drips follow Newtons' Law of Gravity and hit the floor.

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