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Jeffrey Holmes

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It is possible to enjoy a textured/weathered/worn varnish, without campaining against straight new varnish.

AND visa versa.

Where does the mandatory either/or attitude enter in at all?

Isn't this about done?

Craig, I can see that people enjoy textures like this. I do too.

It seems to me that people have two views, maker vs enthusiast. Some makers look down the road, some like the immediate present. I am one of the latter. I have no particular feelings about immortality. If my own "scientistic" practices can help make a better tone, I am content. I will use a varnish that gives a clear film with nice color. Hopefully, I will never see these violins again.

I am just trying to determine if this is and artist-to-artist kind of aesthetic, and the buyers/owners have a different one. If you want to sell to artists, do what they like. If you want to sell to art buyers, do what they want. I don't think artists buy as much art, though. (No, I am not talking about making shiny violins for $49.95 to sell a zillion of them. I'm interested in what professional musicians want in a varnish.)

I also like your last postings on this topic.

My experience is that a player decides go or no-go on looks in a matter of seconds. If they like it and the varnish is pristine, they will come back for a touchup the minute the upper shoulder starts to wear. They will also do it with shaded varnish when the surface has a little start toward getting dull.

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I think your attitude is extremely incorrect. Would you sell a painting to a pbuyer who intended to strip it and use the canvas as a handbag, simply because he would be the owner, and what the owner wants is right? Would you help him do it after he owned it? There's always someone around the corner who will do anything you want for a buck, but that's not the way I run my life, and I suspect that it's not the way you run yours, either.

:) I like that... and "extremely incorrect attitude! :) Maestronet would be a duller place without Strado.

Anyway, I have not stated my attitude or what I would and would not do; merely by questioning a value does not mean I am inclined the other way. One can still be a devout somethingorother and still raise questions, although often the policy is to silence the questioner rather than provide answers.

At the risk of being excommunicated, I'll re-state the remaining questions and add another:

1 - Is the aesthetic of aged varnish widespread among professional musicans and other owners of valuable instruements, or just among the luthier community?

2 - Has non-aged varnish diminished the appeal and/or value of some older instruments?

2 - (the new one) Is it acceptable for a soloist or member of a well-regarded orchestra to appear on stage with a dull or worn-looking instrument, or do they feel that they need some shine on it?

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I was messing around with varnish ingredients today and came up with this interesting effect in 10 minutes.It sort of reminds me of the effect ive seen in watercolour when using manganese? blue and salt. This is an oil varnish though.Ignore the scratches the wood was the nearest piece of maple lying about and it hasnt been sanded or sealed in anyway,just one coat straight on the wood.The madder lake sort of semi seperated into a sort of craquelure look with the lines being more concentrated in colour.Ive seen this in old varnish ,where the pigment ends up sometimes in Islands.


Heres two photos taken using a usb microscope ,which shows the pigment distribution.



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The majority opinion of MN'ers in this thread seems to favor wear and the trappings of age, as long as it is similar to what the Old Guys did. And there is a similar chorus of agony regarding the widespread practice of polishing, which removes those badges of age.

Don, I've had the feeling recently that you're feeling somewhat constrained by traditional viewpoints. :) Do what you want.

I don't try to tell people how the fiddles they make should be. If they express interest in characteristics of classic instruments, I have some experience there. If they're interested in building concepts or techniques which work well and quickly, versus those which are unnecessarily difficult or tend to give problems down the road, I have quite a bit of experience there. I build new looking violins, inspired by classical designs, targeted to behave somewhat like they do. That's just my shtick. What others do is up to them. You won't hear me telling Jezzupe that he needs to put corners on his instruments.

One area of taste where I'll speak up is when someone wants to go to the trouble to hand-make a violin, and employs something which gives the strong impression of either a factory fiddle, or an amateur fiddle. My assumption is that nobody wants to do either. :) One area where this can easily happen is with varnish.

What people do in the conservation of valuable antique instruments is another matter entirely. We are grateful to those who have gone out of their way to preserve the original character of these instruments (sometimes contrary to prevailing methods and taste), and most of us feel some duty to do the same for people in the future. A musician may come in wanting their Strad revarnished or whatever, but educating musicians is part of this responsibility. It's really working out pretty well, but it's taken some time and effort.

What has not been visited is WHO is doing the widespread polishing and WHY.

Musicians often follow the advice of their luthier, or they may have thought their violin should resemble their mid-priced dining room table. Education is working. A lot of us in the trade know who the big smoothers were, who were some of the first to speak out against this, and who has come around as conservation has gained a stronger footing. What can be learned about the original outline of a cello which has been cut down? Sure, it made it more salable to a musician, and this sort of thing was common at one time, but it would have been cool to find a collector who appreciated it as it was, as happened with the violin pictured by Stradofear.

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I really like how this varnish is aging [Post#1 photo].

Look how the flames below the fine craquelure almost disappear when looking left-to-right:


I can understand how the small islands would increase opacity, but I'm wonderin' if the appearance of varnish color-fade

is "real", or is this just an illusion from bright photography lighting ???



Hi Jim;

Actually, there is little varnish color fade on the instrument. It's the light (my bench light). In order to get the texture to show up clearly, I placed the source to one side, and the result was a bit of a wash-out exposure in one particular area.

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'Cuz somebody didn't read the previous quotes carefully enough. :-)

"In this particular case, I am pretty sure that body chemistry does have something to do with the texture, or at least how quickly it's developed. You see, I've actually known this viola for the 22 years it's been around. The varnish did develop some texture while owned by the first owner (a pro who owned it for 20 years)... but it was very subtle... Since being purchased by the second owner, the texture I've illustrated has developed rather quickly... in the areas that come in contact, or come close to contacting, the body."

The one who owned it and played it for 20 years hardly produced any reaction-- the youngster who has had it for two years stepped up the pace of varnish deterioration significantly, according to the thread, here. The pro was not the culprit, though SOME deterioration had begun after 20 years.

I've seen guitars owned by sweaty-palmed players who completely wore the finish off the back of the neck in first position-- you could literally see their palm-print where the finish was gone right down to the wood. The fret-board had deep grooves in firsrt position chords, too. They played a lot, but 1st position only. I do pretty much the same thing, but there is no noticeable wear in the finish, after thirty years with the same instrument...maybe their lacquer was at fault-- maybe their metabolism. Dunno. My fret board is deeply gouged, just like theirs, though.


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I don't mean to imply that I have any expertise or wisdom in this area so don't shoot!

I've seen furniture that has had varnish "gather up" like this in the extreme, and what then happens is the little islands of varnish become brittle and crumble away easily.

So are those wonderfully preserved cremonese examples with so much texture at risk of proceeding to this stage too? In other words can this attractive quality evolve to a point where it's neither attractive or protective?

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I'm going to try and take another more direct stab at some of these questions, because I ran off onto some tangents before. It's an attempt at doing a better job than I did before, 'cause that's just me. B)

First of all, shame on you Don for your "extremely incorrect attitude". :)

.. And there is a similar chorus of agony regarding the widespread practice of polishing, which removes those badges of age.

I don't think the objection is to removing the badges of age specifically. A polished instrument can still look old. The objection is to altering what is original. The more things are altered (including repair to some natural wear), the less information we have about the maker, and the less "characteristic" it becomes of the maker's work. It's a basic principle with all collectibles. My wife was even advised against polishing the factory matte finish on one of her Taylor guitars, because this would devalue it.

OK, we polished it anyway, because we don't give a rat's arse what the market thinks about a $1500 "collectible" cheap guitar. We'll just say that the work was done by some violin maker guy, and ask even more for it. :)

Similarly incorrect attitudes from the rest of you are not allowed. :)

1 - Is the aesthetic of aged varnish widespread among professional musicans and other owners of valuable instruements, or just among the luthier community?

It has a following among some musicians. Some have formed a strong link between "good" and "old looking", and can't seem to get free from that. If they buy something modern, it will be antiqued.

When it comes to true antiques: Luthier snob types, and collectors who will listen to them, and have the money, generally prefer something as close to original as possible. This could be a pristine instrument, or barring that, it could be one with some wear which hasn't been overly messed with. The emphasis again is on originality, all other things being equal, as with most things in the "collectibles" category.

2 - Has non-aged varnish diminished the appeal and/or value of some older instruments?

It may diminish the appeal to some, but I don't think it diminishes the value. In the case of a somewhat older instrument which doesn't wear as gracefully and "interestingly" as the old Cremonese, it may though. I haven't thought through every possible scenario. For instance, a Voller Strad fake probably wouldn't have the value if the varnish hadn't been "aged".

2 - Is it acceptable for a soloist or member of a well-regarded orchestra to appear on stage with a dull or worn-looking instrument, or do they feel that they need some shine on it?

It's OK, as far as I know. As long as it says "Del Gesu" in the program notes, I don't think anybody will mess with it. (wink). Should anyone (including the performer) have any compunctions about it, I think a brief lecture from the right person would take care of it.


When it comes to classical music performance, and characteristics of the instruments used, I think a lot of things will pevail until something demonstrably better comes along, and additionally, overcomes the inertia of some past "set points" in the field. I'm not saying that this is the way things should be..... it's just an observation about the way things are.

Personally, I thing the old-fashioned conductor's baton should give way to a laser pointer. It could be used to highlight offending players to the audience, and also provide an interesting light show. B)

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I'm going to try and take another more direct stab at some of these questions, because I ran off onto some tangents before. It's an attempt at doing a better job than I did before, 'cause that's just me. :)

Sorry for the off topic question, but how do you make these "multiqote" postings David?

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Open a second browser. Hit "reply" on the quote you want to use, then copy and paste the quote into the first browser's reply window. Editing of the quote can be done in either window.

If you break up one quote to respond to individual points, you need to "copy" the html beginning and ending tags, and apply them to each section.

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I agree very much with what David writes above.

Some of my work has involved making antiqued copies of specific old Italians that have been very over polished. In a recent case the player particularly liked the very French polished look of the original they had been using and wanted it replicated. I was quite happy to replicate it. ...On the other hand I do not approve of this French polishing to the original, would never contemplate doing it to the original myself and believe and practice that all original varnished should be conserved in the most original condition possible.... to museum standards.

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Charles Beare advises against the use of french polishing in old instruments, specially in America (Dartington Conference, 1995):

"It`s not uncommon these days to see fine instruments with layer upon layer of grey/green discolouring French polish built up year after year as part of their regular overhaul, which far exceeds in thickness and hardness the original varnish which may still be seen underneath with the aid of a strong light. Most of the Stradivaris and Guarneris in the USA have this - and I once asked a leading American restorer, a good friend from the old Wurlitzer days, why he and his companions were giving the violins that were enstruted to them this patent leather look, "If I don`t do it, the customer won`t accept the job" was his reply. "They want it to shine all over; if there is a dull spot they bring it back and complain". Surely this is a case for re-educating these customers. I fear there are many in our trade, as well as the customers, who are unaware of the beauty of unplished Italian varnish, who don`t recognise it when they see it. It`s like fine wine, the taste comes with experience and is none the less valuable for that.


Obviously the purer (the varnish) it is the better, and I would say that French polishing, which is still a habit of one or two of the bigger institutions in the USA has actually almost irretrievably damaged perhaps to a ninor extent a large number of instruments. It is being fought against by many of the younger makers. "

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Thank you, David, for your extensive answers to my questions. Seems like everyone wants to psychoanalyze me for asking them, though.

My goal is to build violins that professional musicians would want to own and play, so they will have to sound and look good. I just wanted to know if I HAD to use a varnish that wore and aged in a certain way, or if I could still meet my goal using something that aged less rapidly. The answer I gather is no... I don't have to make it wear and age just like the Cremonese; less wear and slower aging is OK.

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Guest erich_zann
...While different varnish formulas I've used exhibit slightly different aging characteristics, whether or not the craquele develops, and what pattern it takes, depends almost entirely on environmental factors surrounding the instrument's use. I can say this with some confidence, because I frequently varnish instruments in pairs. Two instruments varnished with the same batch of varnish, dried under precisely the same conditions, will behave differently depending on who owns them. I believe this variability in behavior has some historical validation, because I've seen what happens when some Strads have changed owners....

(Since this is a specific reply to a lengthy post, I took the liberty of shortening the quote).

Thank you Mr. B for this post. I was very curious if all of your varnishes, (and methods), had a consistent effect as in the photo Jeffrey first posted.

This has been a most interesting topic, with some exceptional comments. (And some great pics, also !!!).

Really creates a mystery about what happens to an instrument once it is interacted with....on all levels, I suspect, not just varnish.


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