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Violin Varnish Workshop


Michael_Molnar

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I am still not sure to understand what is going on there. Was the violin you are showing varnished with spirit varnish? Is it really a Guarneri? Was there a rather common or most prefered colour for Guarneri violin (asssuming that the varnishes we can see are original ones, which people seem to doubt)?

If I was to have a first guess I would say there is a very yellow base (weld lake?) and a second layer of madder root lake.

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I am still not sure to understand what is going on there. Was the violin you are showing varnished with spirit varnish? Is it really a Guarneri? Was there a rather common or most prefered colour for Guarneri violin (asssuming that the varnishes we can see are original ones, which people seem to doubt)?

If I was to have a first guess I would say there is a very yellow base (weld lake?) and a second layer of madder root lake.

roberto,

Although weld or weld lake is a color that modern makers use to reproduce a certain color under the varnish, it is unlikely that the color you are seeing is weld. One of the colors that wood turns under the varnish [with age] has a gold tone. A caution though: The color of old instruments is often described as yellow and the color of photographs of these instruments comes across as "yellow"...but it is not really yellow. Many contemporary instruments have an exaggerated yellow under the varnish which comes from looking at pictures rather than instruments.

on we go,

Joe

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"Accurate pinning is one of the earmarks of a Stradivari violin, viola, or cello, and this is one of the first things a violin expert looks for when authenticating his instruments." Stewart Pollens from his book "Stradivari" page 261

Is this also true for Guarneri Del Gesu?

It's one of the things I noticed missing on the jmannsback instrument. The pinning is not always completely accurate even on Stradivari or any of the other cremonese makers for that matter but because Stradivari was one of the more accurate makers his pin positions are usually fairly predictable. The presence of pins wouldn't necessarily make an instrument authentic but if it didn't have them it could be a cause of concern.

I don't really think that getting into a detailed discussion about what should and what should not be there on an authentic violin is going to get us very far but the presence of locating pins is one of the features I would expect to see in the photograph. Nonetheless, to confirm a positive identification of a maker only with photographs is, to say the least, a hazardous situation full of pitfalls.

Bruce

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Is it really a Guarneri? No, not even close!

please enlighten us. your post are always stellar !

I'm a complete novice to the violin world ...6yrs of half a&&ed study including one seymester of schooling and now working working on #8&9 .... It makes sence to me, at this point, that many Strads must have been "aggresivly Overpollished" ..IN their day say up to circa 1850 or so. They were in getting tuned up/ repaired/ pollished every ...how often ? two? six months? twelve?

WHAT ARE THE DEFINING POINTS YOU SEE THAT SAY "NOT EVEN CLOSE?"SORRY ABOUT THE CAPS there ,that better...

Also what would a trip to the luthier for maitanance and repair scedual be for a highley played violin be ? how manny trips to the "repair"shop might have Ol 'bull or the Rode seen?

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Also what would a trip to the luthier for maitanance and repair scedual be for a highley played violin be ? how manny trips to the "repair"shop might have Ol 'bull or the Rode seen?

Unfortunately these violins can't tell us their individual stories but I would say that a maintenance schedule could be a couple of times a year, sometimes more if there are certain problems like unglued seams etc. Here in Italy it is mostly a winter / summer type schedule due to the climate change. In the States with all the varied climate situations it has to be even worse.

I know of one instance where three neck grafts were done on the same instrument within a year because the musician wasn't satisfied with the shape; convinced that the problem with the instrument was the neck!!!

Bruce

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Bruce .. thanks for the reply ...It is an honor to be able to have this kind of discution with yourself and so many others here on MN ... so ...maybe 600 trip to a luthier ..give or take ... thats a lot of room for error, given the fact that only in the last perhaps fifty years or so has the veil of secrecy been lifted on the trade. I can only imadgine how many diffrent approches there must have been to solve the many diffrent problems encountered .... compounded by the ethos of "the customer is allways right " culture that led to the regraduation and alteration of the vast majority of clasical period violins. thanks for the input.

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regraduations..? does that mean the great sound of these old instruments is due to later unknown repairers rather than the original builders like Strad?

I don't know about "due to later repairers" but the alterations are legion,

many have undergone this treatment - DGU -apparently a lot. "tonal adjustments". new longer bars/ diffrent strings/ neck set angles/ lowered sides/raised sides/ taller bridges/ Pollishing /longer necks -mensure /weight changes

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compounded by the ethos of "the customer is allways right " culture that led to the regraduation and alteration of the vast majority of clasical period violins. thanks for the input.

Not quite that simple... many reasons instruments were altered... but not willing to commit the time to write the "novel" that would be required to clarify. :)

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Jeffery I appreacate your intrest in my statement. I'm honored by you as well.Am I in the ball park? 600 trips to the luthier does leave a lot of room for error does it not? I understand the nuance is convoluted and complex. A novel is a good way to describe the situation.please note that I said the "many problems encountered" and a lack of unifide knowladge base as causes for the many changes to the historicle works/ not simply the desires of customers.

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One big problem is that most of the Cremonese instruments have lost their original varnish, at least according to Dai-Ting Chung, the violin curator of Chi-Mei Museum. As far as I can tell, he and his collaborators have used UV lamp and portable X-ray spectrophotometer to analyze many Italian violin varnishes. I was not involved in such research, and I do not know the details of such studies. But I think Mr. Chung's observations are highly valuable because he has better access to Cremonese instruments than probably anyone else in the world.

This brings up the question of how much we can really trust the scientific analysis of Cremonese varnishes. Or, should we really be using scientific analysis to identify unauthentic Cremonese varnishes? When I asked Mr. Chung which Cremonese instrument should have the most original varnish, he pointed to the "ex Pawle" Strad cello on the floor (I was in the museum's instrument vault). This happens to be the varnish sample analyzed by Nagyvary, and the results have been discussed in great detail in my review article in VSA Papers (this is the sample with 10+ varnish layers and many mineral particles). But let's not assume that cellos and violins are varnished the same way. Anyhow, it is no surprise that there are so many contradictory results in the chemical analysis of Cremoese varnishes. So far no one has established objective criteria for authenticating Cremonese varnishes before conducting chemical analysis.

What do we know for sure? Mr. Chung believes in mineral particles used by Stradivari. I don't know the details of his observations but I believe X-ray spectrometry (for elemental analysis) plays a role here. Perhaps it is appropriate to mention here that the violin collection at Chi-Mei is beyond my wildest expectation. Almost every reputed Old Master Maker from Italy can be found in Chi-Mei's collection now. It also extends to other European countries. Chi-Mei's goal is not to own many ultra-expensive instruments but to preserve the legacy of violin-making history. As such, Chi-Mei's curator has privileged access to violin dealer inventories around the world.

Based on my review of available literature and my interaction with Chi-Mei Museum, I still believe that mineral particle is an interesting feature of Cremonese varnishes, though not necessarily a constant feature.

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Or, should we really be using scientific analysis to identify unauthentic Cremonese varnishes?

Bruce,

We need to use what we have. The latest work on the Stradivari varnish has used carefully chosen samples. It is true that we cannot rely solely on the scientific analysis. Elemental analysis is a clue. Historical analysis is a clue. Controlled production of materials using these clues provides further insight. Observing the [few] undisturbed original surfaces is a clue. Comparing these to original but disturbed surfaces is a clue. Listening to the commentary of the experts is a clue. All are interesting and challenging from an intellectual point of view. None can stand alone as an "answer". Ultimately the real clue comes when we varnish.

How do we use this information to judge the results of our efforts?

IMHO...avoid voodoo

The goal is to understand and use the information that has come down to us.

This leaves an interesting and narrow path of work leading towards some murky notion of "authenticity".

Can we take what we know and use this well enough to make a modern instrument that has the warmth and appeal of the masters while being forthright as a "modern" instrument? [and I include all levels of clean vs antiqued varnishes in this quest]. My reading of David Burgess' work, among others, is a longstanding example of this effort.

The result of this collective effort to is clear to me: This period of violin making is creating instruments which will historically outstrip those instruments we so carefully study, so it compels us to honest and careful work in support of that making.

on we go,

Joe

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As I explained in my VSA Papers review, it is much easier to identify the inorganic components than the organic components of the varnish. If there is so much confusion about the presence or absence of mineral-rich coatings on Stradivari violins, it is even more difficult to say if our analytical conclusions about the organic components of Strad varnishes are valid. While there is little doubt that drying oil was definitely used by Cremonese (linseed or walnut), the kind of resin added and the existence of proteins and gums are still very much unclear.

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As I explained in my VSA Papers review, it is much easier to identify the inorganic components than the organic components of the varnish. If there is so much confusion about the presence or absence of mineral-rich coatings on Stradivari violins, it is even more difficult to say if our analytical conclusions about the organic components of Strad varnishes are valid. While there is little doubt that drying oil was definitely used by Cremonese (linseed or walnut), the kind of resin added and the existence of proteins and gums are still very much unclear.

Bruce,

The analytical method used by M.Echard is used in a variety of areas of both organic and inorganic chemistry. It is very precise for identifying particulate material. Echard ran redundant test to verify his findings.

on we go,

Joe

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Bruce,

The analytical method used by M.Echard is used in a variety of areas of both organic and inorganic chemistry. It is very precise for identifying particulate material. Echard ran redundant test to verify his findings.

on we go,

Joe

enice turpentine

In my own mind I am questioning the validity of my review article when it comes to the organic components. How do I know Stradivari really used pine resin and Venice turpentine? Is there enough objective evidence to make such claims? This is a challenge before we can come up with some generally-accepted, practical, and objective method to know what is original and what is not.

I need to be educated on this. How much trust can we put into Stradivari instruments that suddenly emerged in 19th century France? Is it possible that some French could have re-varnished them completely to facilitate the sales of their copies/fakes? From what I read in Hill's Stradivari book, they can reliably tell by eye the distinct character of Stradivari's varnish. Is that rally true?

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Hi Bruce,

I would certainly recommend reading Brigitte Brandmair's recent book 'Stradivari Varnish' Their detailed magnified images under natural and UV light show the same features in all the Strad varnishes the book features including the French museum examples as well as many others..these features include a similar system of distinct layers and a very coherant surface texture. They also find spruce and Larch resin.

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Bruce Tai, I thought I detected in an earlier post that you were having some second thoughts about the provenance of the French instruments used in Echard's study, and now you say it again. I think you are on to something.

What really shook my thinking was the saga of Stewart Pollens when he suggested that the Messiah Strad might be a fake. He raised a number of valid issues and the professionals really closed ranks to snuff him out. Secondly, there have been a number of recent scandals in the violin business perpetrated by the professionals which indicate a closed society that is bent.

My experience is that there are builders out there that are so good that they can make a perfect fake that will trick the professionals (including using old wood). If you go back and look at the way Pollens was treated (see VSA journal), you will see that Bein categorically stated that only a professional can determine whether a Strad is real or not. This is made to order for deception.

Bruce, you need to make an instrument--this will clarify the varnish process in real terms. Simplicity or utility of thought could be usefully applied: for instance, it is unlikely that Strad made his own varnish because it is dangerous to do--you need experience and Strad would probably have avoided doing this--he was building instruments--do you think he made his own hide glue?--so he would have used what was available--look for old recipes for insight. Adding particles to the initial varnish layer (probably rubbed on) would help act as a filler to cover up imperfections--something useful to do. Sealing the spruce top with some local agent would help prevent color going into the wood--what would he use?--well the glue pot is close to his bench. You see how this thinking works? By using simple, utilitarian thinking, is it possible to get a plausible recreation of this varnish? There are a number of good builders that inhabit this site, make good looking instruments, and refrain from telling us what they do--nonetheless, they figured out how to make a reasonable recreation without any input from Echard and others.

In practical terms, aren't we looking for this varnish for our instruments?

Mike D

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