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Urban Luthier

The allure of a fine 'straight' varnished instrument

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In my limited experience, I observed that using differently colored coats may also add interest to the varnish - starting from a golden ground, and then evolving progressively to stronger/darker colors (maybe two or three of them may suffice). Depending on the angle under which the light strikes the violin, it penetrates more or less deeply into the coats and reflects a different color. This may lead to nice effects at some places, I like it for example on the ribs. But I also find it tricky and dangerous because, at some places, it may look like a poor varnishing job, for example a non-uniform varnish thickness. OK, I'm still trying to improve my skills, but I would be interested to hear what you think about it: source of richness and appeal, or risky quest for unnecessary complexity?

Quite right. A single color coat often produces a "candied apple" appearance. But there are some varnish materials that have a dichroic or dichromatic effect swinging, say, from orange to red as the tramsitted light path passes through more varnish. I will talk about this at the next VSA.

Stay Tuned.

Mike

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Having just returned from Cremona a few days ago, a city that is overflowing with attractive "pristine" finishes at this time of year, this subject is one that I can chime in on.

As a maker, I do both antiqued and pristine finishes. This decision has been market-realistic, driven by my personal aesthetic preferences, and a by product of my own particular path of training as a maker. More recently I and many of my clients seem to be gravitating towards pristine finishes, and this is something I welcome, because despite my love of the sexy, in-your-face complexity of antiqued violins, the craftsman and individual in me really likes the idea of making and finishing a violin that encapsulates who I am as a craftsman, a craftsman who has all kinds of ideas, good and probably not so good, on varnish, wood, texture, gloss, etc. It just strikes me that the pristinely-varnished instrument is a better platform for me to express this individualism.

That said, making a great pristine finish is a big challenge. It may lack some of the fiddly technique and trickery of great antiqueing, but to achieve a violin varnish that is warm, natural, complicated, and interesting is, again, a real challenge. One of the great things about pristine fiddles is that they say so much about what a maker values in a varnish, or what he is endeavoring to value...antqiued violins generally obscure the original message of the maker's intent because the incorporate other elements such as the semblance of age, distress, time, dirt, over polish, wood wear, etc.

So, some details. I believe that one's wood selection can aid the effort of making a successful unantiqued fiddle. Wood that is dramatic or visually complicated is important. How we leave the surface of the wood is also going to contribute to a more interesting final product. David Burgess so successfully has show us how good contrast in the head grain of the maple combined with a very even washboard ripple makes for a lovely surface on a pristine fiddle. Also, it is very important to watch how your varnish process, particularly if it incorporates water washes or stains, effects the sharpness of your toolwork. For example, edges can loose their crispness. On the other hand, water-based washes can also enhance very desirable complexity by raising the summer growth on the tops and lifting up grain and pore and tool patterns on the back. Obviously, you need to be in close control of your varnish sequence and materials. You need to know things like exactly how many coats you are going to use and how that total film thickness communicates the texture of the wood or, in excess, reduces it to next to nothing. Varnish color is also very important. I feel one can get away with very saturated colors and even opaqueness on an antiqued fiddle whereas the same color varnish will look garish or dull on a pristine instrument. The well worn subjects of transparency and liveliness of light in the flame add to make a pristine violin more appealing. Also, I think very carefully about how my final varnish surface will be left. I prefer a semi-gloss surface finished that lays over some wood texture and after several months of drying develops a little micro-texture (hard to explain this). Finally, I typically blacken the chamfers of my pristine fiddles, blacken the f hole walls, and blacken the pegbox interior. I also sometimes blacken the edge miter of the ribs. I just feel this trim work looks good with my style of workmanship and it adds visual interest to the violin.

All in all I feel pristine violins are hard to execute really really well because the tolerance for error is less than in antqiued violins, which by their nature incorporate all kinds of simulated errors...time, bow dents, incessant abrasiion, etc. The pristine finish is also a challenge they because you have to manipulate subtle materials in order to achieve subtle results, but when things come together in a straight fiddle, it is beautiful thing, and if you want an example of such, I would point you to look at Silvio Levaggi's Triennale Gold Cello from three years ago.

congratulations Kelvin! thanks for your insights

Chris

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Lots of great thoughts and insights. Spent quite a bit of time last couple nights at my bench going back over some things and replanning a bit. Thanks Kelvin for the notes. btw (Silvio Levaggi's Grofriller inspired cello from 2008 is simply breathtaking as well)

Congratulations Kelvin on the Triennale!

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But there are some varnish materials that have a dichroic or dichromatic effect swinging, say, from orange to red as the tramsitted light path passes through more varnish.

It's also possible to take varnish colors that don't exhibit this property and mix them in the correct proportions in order to acheive the effect. This is what I do now. I have a set of artist's colors that by themselves would look boring on a violin but I mix them in order to obtain a dichromatic varnish.

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Having just returned from Cremona a few days ago, a city that is overflowing with attractive "pristine" finishes at this time of year, this subject is one that I can chime in on.

Early on, the VSA competition rules required pristine or straight varnishes. Maybe they ought to return to this, or else at least have two categories.

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Quite right. A single color coat often produces a "candied apple" appearance. But there are some varnish materials that have a dichroic or dichromatic effect swinging, say, from orange to red as the tramsitted light path passes through more varnish. I will talk about this at the next VSA.

Stay Tuned.

Mike

Can a dichromatic affect be achieved with a single coloured pigment over a good ground? My limited tests with my own lakes derived from madder root, the colour starts of orange and develops to a warm red then on to a red/brown brick colour as successive coats are added. Same pigment but the colour changes. I've only had to add the tiniest (and i mean tiny amount of bone black to soften the madder lake. I expect with a good ground the dichromatic affect would be enhanced -- or could it be part of the source itself?

Chris

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.I can only speak for myself but I feel I have learned a lot from working in both styles ....I don't think the approaches need to be mutually exclusive...I think there is no quick route if you do not first try to understand what you see on the classic old stuff.

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Chris,

From what you describe....The color change you observe is a result of layers of varnish creating a more densely packed pigment....same color...just observed differently due to the intensity.

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.I can only speak for myself but I feel I have learned a lot from working in both styles ....I don't think the approaches need to be mutually exclusive...I think there is no quick route if you do not first try to understand what you see on the classic old stuff.

Couldn't agree more about, especially the way you approached your Gofriller viola -- getting inside the head of the maker and understanding how they used their tools from the marks they left behind, and trying to replicate that makes a ton of sense to me

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From what you describe....The color change you observe is a result of layers of varnish creating a more densely packed pigment....same color...just observed differently due to the intensity.

the color change may not lead to the dichromatic affect but I suspect your comment about varnish not have to be the same throughout its thickness or surface area may have something to do with the affect

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I observed that using differently colored coats may also add interest to the varnish...

Sure it does look interesting if you do that, but it's more likely to develop an unwanted halo effect once the varnish starts to wear off. A little bit of "halo" is OK, but if it's too much it doesn't look nice.

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New to the site so I would like to say hello to all! I'm just a beginner to the violin but really love the instrument so wish me luck with me learning...Lol.

I am just in the midst of restoring an old violin from my grampa who passed recently. The varnish was very bad, cracked up all over the front and sides so I decided to redo the whole thing. Getting my varnish from Heinl out of Ontario. http://www.georgeheinl.com/products/shop/category:410 Do you think the oil varnish is the thing to use or the spirit varnish? Just curious but I've ordered the oil so we'll see how it turns out :lol:

See ya all later <_<

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Hans,

Beautiful work as usual. [i have had the chance to meet Hans and see his [/b]work first hand...stunning varnish and ground.]

It is my impression that pristine instruments are more common in the European market than in the US and Canada. Do you find this to be true?

Joe

Thanks, Joe and all the others for your positive feedback!

I am not sure if pristine instruments are more common in Europe than America....(?)...

Best regards, Hans

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I think a maker who has a very interesting style is Hans Johannson

http://www.centrum.is/hansi/pics.html

He is what I call somewhere in between. His stuff is kinda "pristine" and kinda antique. He seems to have stuck to his guns related to over all color shades and in my opinion has developed a style that is somewhat individual in its apperance.

If you look at one of his older instruments for sale that he made in 88' you see how they appear to age "naturally" To me there is some concern of instruments made to look old now looking like crap 50 years from now.

Does any one have any examples of instrumets made in the early 1900's that were heavily antiqued when they were new? It would be interesting to see how they age

I suppose lots has to do with how much use they get and who is using them.

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The Voller Bros work seems to have aged ok.

Great photos and work by Hans.Johannsson, excellent, and such a wide repetoire including basses etc. :)

The line up of makers from 1977 photo on his site is worth a look, inspiring stuff.

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I'm all new here and I'm really thankfull to all of you who share your experiences!

About the subject I was thinking, where do we draw the line? For example is viping off varnish from the edges antiqueing? I wonder if that is accepted in the Cremona competition?

Both theese Hanses does very impressive work I think! Thanks for showing and thanks for the link!

/Lars

Sorry about the lousy english

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This is a really great thread. I'm enjoying reading and learning from so many talented masters here! Thanks and hope one day I can give back something to the community as you all have. I am impressed with this site as well:)

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Ben,

I agree...But I do see in the American market a shift away from radically antiqued instruments. It will be interesting to see how this plays out at the VSA competition.

I think the pendulum will swing back to new looking instruments over the next few years. Just a hunch.

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If you look at one of his older instruments for sale that he made in 88' you see how they appear to age "naturally" To me there is some concern of instruments made to look old now looking like crap 50 years from now.

Does any one have any examples of instrumets made in the early 1900's that were heavily antiqued when they were new? It would be interesting to see how they age

If a violin made today is antiqued to look like a typical beat up Strad, since that is the standard for what an old violin should look like, then after 50 or 100 years of additonal use won't they have both received about the same extra wear and tear? If that's the case then they should both be equally beat up. Since Strads have tended to be the standard for how an old violin should look, they will both be judged as looking good.

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