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Why Oil Base Varnish Is A Good Violin Varnish?

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Hi all,

I have this impression that oil base varnish is soft. After so many year I cannot tell

the difference of all my violins (half dozen of them). Some of them must be

of spirit varnishes because their price differences. Can one Easily tell which is oil?

Is polyurethane considered spirit? Thanks.

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If your violins are factory made violins (even old ones) most probably they are spirit varnished.

Oil varnish may be hard and spirit varnish may be soft, there are good and bad oil and spirit varnishes.

Polyurethane is an "artificial" varnish, a different animal from spirit and oil violin varnishes.

Polyurethane will not allow future varnish repairs, it will appear white when scratched, it may be too hard for a violin varnish, it will now wear well as a violin varnish, it will have a "cracked" appearance in a decade (the varnish in my guitar is cracked, it's not "craquelè", it looks like a cracked glass), and, finally, it will not have the organic, good look we expect in a good violin varnish.

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I can't list recipes but only observe the results: spirits varnishes that had became too dry, oil varnishes that never dries entirely, varnishes that are too hard, etc.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
yuen

Hi all,

I have this impression that oil base varnish is soft. After so many year I cannot tell

the difference of all my violins (half dozen of them). Some of them must be

of spirit varnishes because their price differences. Can one Easily tell which is oil?

Is polyurethane considered spirit? Thanks.

Textft>

I think 'easily' on violins that are older becomes a problem. Even some oil varnishes become alcohol soluble over time according to literature.

Mike

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Here's a bad spirit varnish: Rosin (colophony) dissolved in alcohol. It was used on a lot of really cheap trade instruments. Straight shellac would certainly be in the "not so good" category.

A bad oil varnish would be most any short-oil varnish with hard resins. Violin varnish should be thin and supple.

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Except that the chemists have found linseed and walnut oil in the old varnishes. You can't base what good varnish is made from based on what some factory concocted for a piano. By the way how do you know that the varnish on these pianos was made with linseed oil and not something else? What do you use to test whether they used linseed or tung oil or no oil?

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There are some well known makers who believe that any oil is bad in a violin varnish. Carl Becker is someone who comes to mind.

As for linseed oil it is one of the oldest, most respected, most studied ingredient in paint and varnish. I'm with Andres on this, violins probably are not made of wood

Oded

;-)

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quote:


Originally posted by:
fingerbord

Look at alot of the old pianos the varnish is very chippy and cracked. This is the linseed oil after a short time. It was never used as some would like to think on the good old violins.

Linseed oil doesn't chip. It never even hardens at room temperatures, even when fully cured. It has to be cooked with resins to make a hard surface. Most oil varnishes are "long" om oil to keep the varnish flexible. Pure linseed oil isn't a very good wood finish, IMO, because it darkens very much with age, and since its glass transition point is above room temperature, it constantly absorbs dirt. I've seen 300 year old church furniture that is literally quite black, with linseed oil as the only finish used.

If linseed oil is cooked appropriate resins, at the right temperature, and for the right length of time, it makes a very good varnish that will literally last for hundreds of years, if cared for.

Old pianos were finished with shellac based varnishes (including French polish) up until just after WWI, when nitrocellulose lacquer largely took over, then synthetic resins starting somewhere around 1970. Lots of polyester these days.

Cheap shellac can alligator, especially when exposed to sunlight a lot. Good shellac finishes can, again, probably last for centuries if properly taken care of. Hard to tell, because shellac only came into widespread use in the 19th Century, but I have worked on mid-19th Century shellac finishes that were just fine - often on old square pianos.

Nitrocellulose lacquers, especially early ones, were really bad about crazing and breaking down. I have replaced NC finishes that were only a few years old because the coating broke down. It also yellows really badly. People have tried adding different plasticizers and resins to it, but I stay away from it for anything I want to last.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Nonado

A bad oil varnish would be most any short-oil varnish with hard resins. Violin varnish should be thin and supple.

I had to barge in here. "Supple" means what? Herron-Allen or some other old writer said that a hard varnish would "hold the violin as with clamps of iron."

There is a problem here... There is no relation between "hard" and viscoelastic damping. Why are tuning forks made of spring steel and not supple polyethylene ? Also, glass has low damping; run your damp finger around the rim of a wine glass. Everybody knows these things, but they still insist that their intuition says "soft varnish."

Can anyone explain to me how to judge a soft or hard varnish ? I throw down the gauntlet ........

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Oded Kishony

There are some well known makers who believe that any oil is bad in a violin varnish. Carl Becker is someone who comes to mind.

Mr. Becker himself told me in a conversation, "Well I suppose any varnish has SOME kind of oil."

I assume he is bright enough to have not included essential oils. ("essential" = will evaporate eventually)

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Johnmasters
quote:


"Supple"

means what? Herron-Allen or some other old writer said that a hard

varnish would "hold the violin as with clamps of iron." There is a

problem here... There is no relation between "hard" and

viscoelastic damping. Why are tuning forks made of spring steel and

not supple polyethylene ? Also, glass has low damping; run your

damp finger around the rim of a wine glass. Everybody knows these

things, but they still insist that their intuition says "soft

varnish." Can anyone explain to me how to judge a soft or hard

varnish ? I throw down the gauntlet ........

I'll pick up that gauntlet, John.

Although I have no empirical opinion on violin varnish, I can

easily decimate your (specific argument examples:

The "hard" examples you give both have one thing in common:

 They resonate at a single frequency.  A violin must

resonate at all frequencies within its range.  It's similar to

a snare drum (a false argument my guitar-luthier friend made many

years ago) He surmised that a guitar top could have

tension at its edges & still function well, because, well, a

snare drum has tension.  - Same false logic, though an

admirable attempt.

Realize that I am simply finding fault with your specific examples,

not necessarily your main stance on the subject.

As far as violin varnish, I suspect that a certain amount of HF

damping is actually beneficial, but I could not possibly guess

further than that.

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I'll pick up that gauntlet, John.

Although I have no empirical opinion on violin varnish, I can easily decimate your (specific argument examples:

The "hard" examples you give both have one thing in common: They resonate at a single frequency.

No they don't. They have an infinite number of overtones in principal. Just like any other continuous shape of matter.

A violin must resonate at all frequencies within its range. It's similar to a snare drum (a false argument my guitar-luthier friend made many years ago) He surmised that a guitar top could have tension at its edges & still function well, because, well, a snare drum has tension. - Same false logic, though an admirable attempt.

Substances don't have resonant frequencies, only objects made of substances do. The drum head has resonant frequencies, but they are not harmonic. (They are Bessel functions) The snare of course adds an odd component with damping to the head.) "Same logic" ? As mine? Decimation Denied.

Realize that I am simply finding fault with your specific examples, not necessarily your main stance on the subject.

And you are all wet. The idea is that the substance making up the resonant system may be extreamly hard and still have low damping. In fact, that is the more usual situation.

As far as violin varnish, I suspect that a certain amount of HF damping is actually beneficial, but I could not possibly guess further than that.

I think you may be right here. But it is not related to hardness or "suppleness" in any obvious manner.

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I think a good varnish should be soft and flexible but none too

thick as this could damp vibrations, the sound of an unvarnished

violin is brighter but raw and unrefined by character compared to a

well varnished instrument, i agree with Allan, the purpose of a

good oil varnish is to dampen the extreme high harmonics, but help

the middle harmonics have a warmer more pleasant tone, linseed oil

is great for keeping a varnish flexible, shellac and seedlac

products are just the opposite hard and brittle accentuating the

high frequencies the good oil varnish gets rid of that's why i

don't think any shellac is a good idea, sincerely Lyndon

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Taylor's Fine Violins

.... the purpose of agood oil varnish is to dampen the extreme high harmonics, but help the middle harmonics have a warmer more pleasant tone, linseed oilis great for keeping a varnish flexible, shellac and seedlac products are just the opposite hard and brittle accentuating the high frequencies the good oil varnish gets rid of that's why i don't think any shellac is a good idea, sincerely Lyndon

A couple of interesting things here. Rene Morel apparently (from a good source I once knew) tended to reject varnish ideas that had linseed oil. Walnut oil was used a lot by oil painters. It has almost no linoleic acid which is the fatty acid with THREE double bonds. Linseed has a lot. It can over-polymerize and perhaps never complete cross-bonding as it becomes too viscous. It stays in a meta-stable state. Perhaps this is the source for so much problem of alligatoring in Michelman and Fulton varnishes (with some experimenters.)

I am still interested in the role of internal stresses in films. And by the way, different spirit varnishes may be better or worse according to solvent release rates as much as actual resin content. If Becker uses a totally spirit varnish with essential oils, the solvent-release may mean more than the resins. Think about it.

I agree that selective damping of overtones is a good place to look for effects. But it is still not obvious why a hard or soft varnish should be used. Thick varnish may be bad for the reason you say, but the ground may be more important than the thickness of the upper layers. If the upper layers had the same mechanical properties as wood, then perhaps it would not matter if it was very thick... (OK, it is not orthotropic; I meant viscoelastic properties.)

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Johnmasters

quote:


Originally posted by:
Nonado

A bad oil varnish would be most any short-oil varnish with hard resins. Violin varnish should be thin and supple.

There is a problem here... There is no relation between "hard" and viscoelastic damping. Why are tuning forks made of spring steel and not supple polyethylene ? Also, glass has low damping; run your damp finger around the rim of a wine glass. Everybody knows these things, but they still insist that their intuition says "soft varnish."

I had to barge in here. "Supple" means what? Herron-Allen or some other old writer said that a hard varnish would "hold the violin as with clamps of iron."

There is a problem here... There is no relation between "hard" and viscoelastic damping. Why are tuning forks made of spring steel and not supple polyethylene ? Also, glass has low damping; run your damp finger around the rim of a wine glass. Everybody knows these things, but they still insist that their intuition says "soft varnish."

Can anyone explain to me how to judge a soft or hard varnish ? I throw down the gauntlet ........


It's not just instinct or intuition; it's empirical observation based on many years of combined experience and fifteen years of careful experimentation, resulting in some very consistent and satisfactory instruments. I can't comment much on theory; players don't pay for theory, but rather what works. Our approach toward making really good instruments has been directed to discovering what works, largely by trial and error, and systematic, incremental improvements.

It would seem that the varnish itself mostly provides a damping effect, reducing some harshness and mellowing out the sound a little bit. Too much will stifle a violin, as I learned to my chagrin quite a few years ago. Our current varnish looks very deep but is extremely thin in reality, and very flexible.

The ground is a lot more important in developing sound. I've mentioned before that our master luthier settled on his basic model (Outline, arching, graduation pattern) around fifteen years ago, and almost all subsequent improvement in his instruments have been due to incremental improvements in ground and varnish - primarily ground. The results speak for themselves. The instruments went from being very good modern instruments to outstanding ones, at least according to the people who buy them.

quote:


Can anyone explain to me how to judge a soft or hard varnish ? I throw down the gauntlet ........

How about collective experience and observation? On what experience and testing with actual instruments (not theory) do you base your contention that hard varnish improves the sound of an instrument? If you do, I'd love to hear about it. I'm always eager to learn (no sarcasm intended).

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