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Jeffrey Holmes

Look what I found under the French polish...

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This instrument suffered some polishing in the past, but the texture was trying to "come back" from behind it so I thought I'd try and help it along... and I also thought some might be interested to see it's cleaning "in progress".

I'm working my way down out of the C bout, so in the photos that include the lower corner, you can see where I haven't been yet (the old polish is hazy greenish black and hiding what's left of the texture under it). That will have to wait 'till tomorrow. My eyes have had it tonight. :)

Hope this subject isn't too repetitive... but I thought it might be interesting to see what sometimes remains under a shined up surface, and that it's often possible to bring it out. The lighting on the third shot is set so it would penetrate the coating a bit more than the first two.

post-17-1267593900.jpgpost-17-1267593916.jpgpost-17-1267593934.jpg

This last one is for Bruce. Another double scribe line.

post-17-1267593952.jpg

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Jeffrey,

I've been under the impression, obviously mistaken, that French polishing not only adds a layer of polish (shellac, or something similar) on top of the surface it's applied to, but also somewhat re-liquifies, homogenizes, smooths out that underlying surface, effectively destroying any texture that it had. That hasn't happened here. Can you offer a reason why the texture was not destroyed?

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Hi Jeffrey

This is never too repetitive, thanks for posting the pictures!

Could you describe the cleaning process?

Martina

Thanks for the fascinating photos Jeff. I was also wondering about the technique you use to "bring it out". I realise you probably can't give too many details and will need to include suitable "don't try this at home" disclaimers.

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Very nice! I would be interested in a few words about the process too!

Thanks for this post! What is the basic approach you use to remove the over-polish? I must say that the effect is quite dramatic. It looks a lot better without so much stuff obscuring the view.

Does this technique only work with french polish?

Thanks again Jeffrey

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Very nice Jeffrey! Pulling it off with an erasor?

Wow! Glad there's interest in this... it's a passion of mine.

Let's see if I can cover it all...

First, H.L., my compliments for paying attention. I think I only mentioned it once on this board... a good while ago. Yes, a soft artist's eraser is part of the process.

Skiingfiddler; Yes, polishing often does bond to the surface below and remain as part of the varnish. In this case, the varnish itself is less alcohol soluble than some (so it didn't "combine" with the original varnish the way it could have), and although I assume at least some of the texture was stunted by the polishing, I believe it "grew" back with time. Also, it appears the polish went over a bit of crud, which may actually have helped it's removal in the end (less bite into the original varnish). In other words, the fiddle and I were lucky.

Martina, Alan, and Magnus: I'll place the disclaimer "don't try this at home" as suggested, and I won't get too specific about the solvents (because on a different instrument, the solvents would vary), but I will say that it's mostly distilled water with two other mild solvents added to help slightly soften the polish coat, which is then "rolled" off with the eraser (being used gently). Wouldn't suggest trying this on an instrument with varnish that's easily soluble in alcohol, because the depth of removal would be too difficult to control (the polish might not roll off as easily in that case). If that was the case, I'd search for another solution and try to weigh the benefits. The method is time consuming, but I think worth it... and I haven't figured a better way to get the stuff out of the crevices manually.

Dand; Same technique with a different instrument might create a horror story (remove everything)... and the technique can be used to remove some types of touchup.

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Jeffrey,

Nikon wins! Bruce uses the coolpix and you used the D80. I used to be a Canonite for like...forever until the last couple of years. You and Bruce are taking wonderful photos that have inherent value as an art image and teaching image. Thanks.

Your restoration techniques are somewhat similar to what an art restorationist does with an old painting. When you think of it, there is a major difference in solvents (It's almost always a dirty varnish layer-not shellac that is being removed) but the approach should be similar.

It must be fulfilling to do such a high level restoration. Tedious and exhausting but satisfying... I guess?

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Jeffrey,

Nikon wins! Bruce uses the coolpix and you used the D80. I used to be a Canonite for like...forever until the last couple of tears. You and Bruce are taking wonderful photos that have inherent value as an art image and teaching image. Thanks.

Your restoration techniques are somewhat similar to what an art restorationist does with an old painting. When you think of it, there is a major difference in solvents (It's almost always a dirty varnish layer-not shellac that is being removed) but the approach should be similar.

It must be fulfilling to do such a high level restoration. Tedious and exhausting but satisfying... I guess?

Thanks Dean. I do love it... though it is time consuming, I rarely look at the clock (and do this kind of work either very early in the AM, or late at night; when it's quiet).

Nikon... Yes, I made the switch from Pentax (film) to Canon (digital), and then from Canon to Nikon a few years ago. The camera is easy to operate, and since I'm not an accomplished photographer, that's a very good thing. I've been very pleased with the Nikon optics. Love my Macro/Micro lens. :-)

If I'm not mistaken, Strado is a Nikon user too.

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Thanks Dean. I do love it... though it is time consuming, I rarely look at the clock (and do this kind of work either very early in the AM, or late at night; when it's quiet).

Nikon... Yes, I made the switch from Pentax (film) to Canon (digital), and then from Canon to Nikon a few years ago. The camera is easy to operate, and since I'm not an accomplished photographer, that's a very good thing. I've been very pleased with the Nikon optics. Love my Macro/Micro lens. :-)

If I'm not mistaken, Strado is a Nikon user too.

Jeffrey,

How do you answer those who say that a working, antique instrument needs a coat of French polish to protect the original varnish?

It's a tricky one. I recently saw what purported to be an original Goffriller and was sure it was a copy because it looked too young. It took a little while to see beyond the sparkling shellac to realize that it was, in fact, old.

Glenn

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Jeffrey,

How do you answer those who say that a working, antique instrument needs a coat of French polish to protect the original varnish?

It's a tricky one. I recently saw what purported to be an original Goffriller and was sure it was a copy because it looked too young. It took a little while to see beyond the sparkling shellac to realize that it was, in fact, old.

Glenn

Hi Glenn;

I'd disagree with the argument, of course. I think the recent photos of the Lupot 'cello I put up (which has an extensive history of use) is a good example of what can be achieved by careful treatment and conservative intervention. Pretty much the whole 'cello looks like what's illustrated in the snippets I provided there.

The thread in question

I'd go a step further and say that position (that old instruments need French polish) is rather irresponsible and ill informed, considering what we know/have learned about instrument conservation. There are certainly less invasive ways available to protect varnish than to French polish it.

I may have put the following quote up before... and like many things, I think the trick of the meaning is in how it is read, but the way I read it helps me through some of the rough spots:

John Sinclair Willis wrote, in his paper “Considerations for the Ethical Conservation of Historic Musical Instruments”, that “No historical object should be restored to a state of functional operation unless there is a reasonable prospect that the result will meet with the minimum standard of its original maker, or of a competent historical user, and that it will be properly maintained thereafter.”

"Properly maintained thereafter", to me, means that a combination of responsible maintenance by the luthier, and responsible care by the user is required. When it's required, it's required, but by it's very nature, restoration is somewhat invasive... but a conservative approach is warranted. Even approached that way, in 100 years, the conservators of the future may by referring to the most conservative of us as ill informed or ill informed... or at least out of date. :)

It may well be that some 17th and 18th century instruments that are well preserved, but fragile, are better left with a collector or museum that will properly preserve them... rather than made to look like bowling balls. :)

Then there are the instruments that come already "simonized" to your door... best I can do there is shown above.... but in some cases, not adding to the haze is the only option.

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Macro lenses are great fun, eh.

Anyhow, the quality of work speaks for itself.

Never would have thought of using something so gentle as an eraser, good one.

What's the fiddle ? Looks sort of Italian at a guess.

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...best I can do there is shown above...

Jeffrey,

Your photos are immensely helpful for me, a player, and I suspect for other players who visit Maestronet, and who want some understanding of what the norm should be for old varnish. Your photos reveal what texture is and also that texture is more than ok in old varnish, it brings the added virtue of authenticity to the fiddle.

I can remember the time -- some forty years ago -- when even very well respected violin shops French polished any fine, old violin that was sold, and we as players didn't regard an old violin as "fine" unless it had that shiny gloss that French polishing brings. Forty years ago, if the owner of a fiddle had gotten a fiddle with the texture you're now bringing forth or if the owner had seen that texture start to develop on their fiddle, the owner would have probably regarded the textured state as a deficiency, a varnish failure, and not as a natural process to be left alone. We players of a certain age would have gone running, looking for some fiddle tech to "restore" our fiddle's varnish.

I suspect that even today it wouldn't be that difficult to find a violin tech willing to French polish a heretofore unpolished, centuries old varnish, if that's what the owner wanted.

This effort to find virtue in the natural aging process of varnishes and the effort to educate against polishing reminds me of the efforts against drug abuse. You have to engage against both the supplier (the fiddle tech who would polish) and the user (the owner who thinks polishing is essential), if there's going to be a new mindset. I think your photos reach both audiences.

You have certainly convinced me, who grew up believing polishing is good because all the best performers had highly polished instruments and all the best shops sold polished instruments, that polishing is not only unnecessary but detracts from the authenticity of age that we should value in instruments.

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Jeffery,

Thanks for both the pictures and the technique! The second picture is "it" for me...That surface quality of the varnish which reminds me of well polished saddle leather or shiny skin...and an indication of that minor adhesion "divine failure" between the varnish and ground which accentuates this quality as the varnish film ages.

Thanks again.

Joe

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Jeffrey,

Your photos are immensely helpful for me, a player, and I suspect for other players who visit Maestronet, and who want some understanding of what the norm should be for old varnish. Your photos reveal what texture is and also that texture is more than ok in old varnish, it brings the added virtue of authenticity to the fiddle.

I can remember the time -- some forty years ago -- when even very well respected violin shops French polished any fine, old violin that was sold, and we as players didn't regard an old violin as "fine" unless it had that shiny gloss that French polishing brings. Forty years ago, if the owner of a fiddle had gotten a fiddle with the texture you're now bringing forth or if the owner had seen that texture start to develop on their fiddle, the owner would have probably regarded the textured state as a deficiency, a varnish failure, and not as a natural process to be left alone. We players of a certain age would have gone running, looking for some fiddle tech to "restore" our fiddle's varnish.

I suspect that even today it wouldn't be that difficult to find a violin tech willing to French polish a heretofore unpolished, centuries old varnish, if that's what the owner wanted.

This effort to find virtue in the natural aging process of varnishes and the effort to educate against polishing reminds me of the efforts against drug abuse. You have to engage against both the supplier (the fiddle tech who would polish) and the user (the owner who thinks polishing is essential), if there's going to be a new mindset. I think your photos reach both audiences.

You have certainly convinced me, who grew up believing polishing is good because all the best performers had highly polished instruments and all the best shops sold polished instruments, that polishing is not only unnecessary but detracts from the authenticity of age that we should value in instruments.

It's not only 40 years ago that violins were French polished. It happens every day, especially here in the US.

When I have restoration work carried out on an antique instrument, I'm usually asked if I would like it polished to a shiney finish and then there is a quick follow up 'Of course not. You're European so you like them dull'.

It's not that I like dull, I just don't like mutton dressed as lamb and we should all learn to grow old gracefully. Violins do it wonderfully if they are allowed to.

Glenn

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I just don't like mutton dressed as lamb and we should all learn to grow old gracefully. Violins do it wonderfully if they are allowed to.

Glenn

Perhaps we could say that French polish is the violin version of Botox?

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I really love reading about the restoration of violins and it is fascinating to see the before and after photos. It must be such satisfying work.

Jeffrey - how many hours roughly will it it take you to complete your work on the varnish and I'm guessing that this process will ultimately increase the value of the instrument, am I right?

Is there any evidence that the french polishing process affects sound in some way?

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Lots of the best old instruments are plastered with a very shiney coat of French polish, either from multiple retouches, or blatant and ghastly slathering, so to do a good copy you ned to do oil varnish covered with some French polish.....ah the irony.

It's also funny how many players like that tacky shiney look, compared to the beautiful crackle of oil.

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It's not only 40 years ago that violins were French polished. It happens every day, especially here in the US.

When I have restoration work carried out on an antique instrument, I'm usually asked if I would like it polished to a shiney finish and then there is a quick follow up 'Of course not. You're European so you like them dull'.

It's not that I like dull, I just don't like mutton dressed as lamb and we should all learn to grow old gracefully. Violins do it wonderfully if they are allowed to.

Glenn

You are correct, Glenn. Polishing is still an issue, and you can probably tell I'm a fan of aging gracefully. :)

Perhaps we could say that French polish is the violin version of Botox?

Ha! Never thought of it that way! :)

Jeffrey - how many hours roughly will it it take you to complete your work on the varnish and I'm guessing that this process will ultimately increase the value of the instrument, am I right?

Is there any evidence that the french polishing process affects sound in some way?

It takes many hours... I can only do a section at a time, so the work will be spread over a week or two.

There is a growing number of players/collectors who prefer instruments in original condition. It adds to the appeal in that segment... but how much it actually increases the value is probably arguable. In this case, I can't say "the instrument has never been polished", though I can say the varnish has been restored to as close to original as possible", or "the polish was removed". For me, it's a bit of a reputation thing too. Certain things are better left alone... but if I I'm handling the sale of an instrument, and I can return an instrument to a state close to the original intent, I feel I should make the effort to do so. If the instrument is one on consignment rather than one I own, this can be a tricky dance... but luckily many sellers want to do the right thing, especially if it's any kind of advantage for them (enlightened self interest).

Also, there are an equal (and I'm probably being generous, unfortunately... it may still be a majority) of players who are put off by an instrument that does not bear a smooth coating. As a matter of fact, many mistake French polish for original varnish.

A friend & colleague, who participates on this board, said to me yesterday; "Now you'll have to find an educated buyer." He's right, of course... luckily I know a few. :) Later in the afternoon, I talked with a second friend & colleague (who also participates on this board) who, funny enough, had his shop removing the same stuff on an instrument by the same maker, made a year earlier, that was originally sold by the same shop that sold this one. We compared notes, and his restorer's removal method was very similar to my own, but one of the solvents he was using was different. I'll probably give that a try...and I imagine he'll give my mix a try.

It's interesting, that the crackle many instruments develop is referred to as "failure". I guess it may be technically correct... but my view is that a coating that lasts 200, 300, or 400 years on an object that gets regular use is anything but a failure!

Sound? I think anything done to an instrument has a potential to effect sound... and I imagine significant amounts of polish does effect the instrument's performance... but how much, I don't know. Usually, when I'm doing something like this, I am also resetting necks, replacing bass bars, and putting on a new setup (all of which effect the sound far more than the polish might)... so there's not a reliable before and after comparison.

It's also funny how many players like that tacky shiney look, compared to the beautiful crackle of oil.

I think there's hope. Tastes change.

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