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Urban Luthier

The allure of a fine 'straight' varnished instrument

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So... you do a super clean varnish job...What is your vision for this instrument? Do you hope the instrument remains that way for as long as possible? If so, do you treat the surface in a way that preserves that pristine look? Or do you plan for the emergence of the wear pattern?

Joe

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So... you do a super clean varnish job...What is your vision for this instrument? Do you hope the instrument remains that way for as long as possible? If so, do you treat the surface in a way that preserves that pristine look? Or do you plan for the emergence of the wear pattern?

Joe

I personally love a clean varnish job so when I finish my first instrument I am going to male it look as pristine as possible. I'm not sure what you could add to keep it that way though or whether you would want to.

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I think there's what the market wants and then there's what the maker would like to do. Personally I feel "straight" varnished instruments are more challenging in way in that they must remain "perfect" once the final smooth down has happened and then it is ready for varnish. In antiquing, well small booboo's can be incorparated into the "look" wheras a small scuff, ding unseen bad scraping/sanding etc. can come back and turn it into a do over.Let alone color choices and final rub out look.

In my mind, to try to predict how a straight varnished instrument will age is impossible as it would be impossible to know who will own it and how they will treat it

1. druken brilliant touring soloist who plays 200 shows a year, practices 6 hours a day and is known to pass out with the violin in his hands

2. anal retentive house wife who plays 6 hours a week, and carefully wipes any rosin off prior to storing in a case

The violin will age very dfferenty depending on who the steward is.

I'm sure there were some very nice "clean" violins that remained clean for 150 years, then Little Lord Winthrop got his hands on it cause "daddy" {the king} wanted him to take lessons. He liked to use it as a cricket bat, it was more fun. :o:lol:

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Isn't it true that many of the old instruments have had their finishes "maintained" through French polishing, varnish touch-up, various repairs and reconstructions? I assume that very few Strads in common use were just allowed to age after they were built with no intervention in the aging process. Probably some of these interventions will be done to contemporary-made instruments as they age, including those with a shaded or "antiqued" finish. Certainly it is impossible to know what will happen to an instrument over centuries into the future.

Wm. Johnston wrote, interestingly, that instruments antiqued to look like well aged Strads and the well aged Strads themselves will expereience wear and tear into the future and hence be subject to the same future antiquing process. However, I think these two classes of instruments will not be treated the same going forward. I think the old instruments, because of their rarity and value will be much more protected than the modern antiqued instruments so their future aging experience will be different.

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So... you do a super clean varnish job...What is your vision for this instrument? Do you hope the instrument remains that way for as long as possible? If so, do you treat the surface in a way that preserves that pristine look? Or do you plan for the emergence of the wear pattern?

Joe

Good question Joe.

I think a luthier should have a good handle on how their finish wears and how the various distinct layers they use wear....no difference if they are doing new or antique look....Getting something as fragile as some of the nice old post 1700 Cremonese colour coats can be a problem...I was very impressed with what I bought from you a couple of years ago...Very fine stuff,,,,,I don't get much time to experiment as I would wish these days

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Isn't it true that many of the old instruments have had their finishes "maintained" through French polishing, varnish touch-up, various repairs and reconstructions? I assume that very few Strads in common use were just allowed to age after they were built with no intervention in the aging process. Probably some of these interventions will be done to contemporary-made instruments as they age, including those with a shaded or "antiqued" finish. Certainly it is impossible to know what will happen to an instrument over centuries into the future.

Wm. Johnston wrote, interestingly, that instruments antiqued to look like well aged Strads and the well aged Strads themselves will expereience wear and tear into the future and hence be subject to the same future antiquing process. However, I think these two classes of instruments will not be treated the same going forward. I think the old instruments, because of their rarity and value will be much more protected than the modern antiqued instruments so their future aging experience will be different.

Look at Vuillaume and Lupot who were both doing antiqued copies of Strad et al ....Generally the varnish on the originals has worn more....

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What about a compromise? Antique some and make the others straight? If the straight color is not a garish orange or bright red, perhaps you will finally see that some people buy tone (if it is there.)

I see more and more quasi-antiqued Chinese violins, and it is becoming a cliche. Where is the courage of the artist to take charge and produce what HE thinks should be done?

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I see more and more quasi-antiqued Chinese violins, and it is becoming a cliche. Where is the courage of the artist to take charge and produce what HE thinks should be done?

Some of the antiquing on factory Chinese violins has become half-decent too, so I'm thinking that "pretty-good" antiquing will soon fade as a way of setting one's work apart from factory stuff.

Many of the better US makers, even if they established their repurations with antiqued instruments, have been experimenting with moving away from that for some years now.

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About Joe Robsons question I think the wear marks from a hard working musician can add a lot to the look of the clean varnished instrument so I havent made a big effort to make sure the varnish is very unsensetive. A good constructed opinion when the varnish appeares to be very sensetive anyway: D I really do think that "real" wear is more valuble than antiqued wear because it means that the instrument has been heavely used and probably served as a good working tool.

I have a question to: )

How do you treat the wear marks for example on the upper rib when your pristine violin comes back for a look up? After a year with a little wear and after a few more years when the wear is maybe close to bare wood?

I'v seen instruments with plastic strips beside the neck. Is it common? I dont think it feels right to cover the wood with plastic. A bit immoral i think: )

/Lars

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Good question Joe.

I think a luthier should have a good handle on how their finish wears and how the various distinct layers they use wear....no difference if they are doing new or antique look....Getting something as fragile as some of the nice old post 1700 Cremonese colour coats can be a problem...I was very impressed with what I bought from you a couple of years ago...Very fine stuff,,,,,I don't get much time to experiment as I would wish these days

Melvin,

I appreciate your comments. Thank you.

I agree ...The notion of controlling wearability [or the lack of] gives the maker an added, and I think essential tool, in creating the varnish...immaterial of the varnishing style. Kelvin touched on this earlier and the pictures Antoine shared make this clear. How hard or soft are the layers? What happens to the surface when the varnish wears away? What does the instrument look like a few years down the road if it doesn't wear? If you seek the "controlled failure" of antiquing, the minimal intervention of a shaded varnish, or a pristine instrument, once it leaves your bench life takes over. If your vision for the appearance of the instrument is to survive then you need to understand how the surface is likely to react to being used.

A few extreme examples:

Some instruments wear pieces of every case liner they have ever touched.

Some players have toxic sweat and will strip a varnish better than Zip Strip.

Applying pigments in oil to add patina must be fixed or they soon will be just a stain on someone's clothing.

Lars,

Try applying a very tough varnish...like amber varnish to the area that gets heavy wear. Shellac works for this also...though it is not as durable.

on we go,

Joe

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Some of the antiquing on factory Chinese violins has become half-decent too, so I'm thinking that "pretty-good" antiquing will soon fade as a way of setting one's work apart from factory stuff.

Many of the better US makers, even if they established their repurations with antiqued instruments, have been experimenting with moving away from that for some years now.

I will admit that I do a slight amount of shading, but it is almost an artifact of the way I glaze. I don't make places worn to the wood or put artificial nicks, unless a clot of something has to be removed as a varnish repair. Then I allow myself to make a nice distress mark.

I am happy to hear you say that this is happening. It is more difficult to get a really good appearance when there is not the distraction of faux antiquing.

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Thank you Joe Robson for your advice! I'm all new here on MN and really appreciate all the sharing of knowledge! But are you sugesting a tough varnish on heavy wear areas when the instrument is new or when it has gotten its natural wear and comes back?

/Lars

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'' 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. ''

- Interesting method, thanks Kelvin.

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Some players have toxic sweat and will strip a varnish better than Zip Strip.

I've witnessed this first hand. I saw a prized Annibale Fagnola in pristine condition that belongs to a local collection. The instrument was lent out to an up and coming musician who must have acid sweat. About a year later when I saw the instrument again, the upper bout on the treble side of the back was worn through. Not only was the varnish gone but some of the edge work was worn away as well. The instrument now has some form of plastic over the affected area to prevent further wear - Per Lars' comment in post #86

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I have been told that acidosis is nothing to laugh about. It can be symptomatic of something serious other than just bad hygiene or poor diet.

Anyhow, back to varnish. Question for Robson and others: What do you use to strip varnish off an instrument? Is there something to avoid?

Mike

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Lars,

The decision to over-coat an area with a more durable varnish before or after the wear occurs is a makers' decision.

The alternative is to use a very durable varnish on the whole instrument. If you take this route you need to think about how the instrument will look as it is used. A hard varnish will take a beating...but this beating creates a lot of very fine scratches on the surface of the varnish.

Mike,

I am still working my way through this old gallon of Zip Strip. Marilyn and Roman favor one that foams...but I don't remember the brand. I'll ask and let you know.

on we go,

Joe

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Shoulder tapes do protect the varnish very well, and the vinyl is available matt or gloss, and shouldn't be very noticeable. it's very easily removed.

I think that it's important not to make a shoulder tape too short. It must cover the rib well beyond the area that wears, as further wear will cause a sharp 'tideline' in the varnish.

Conor.

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In the recent thread Philip Dukes plays Archinto, Dukes mentions how beat up his new viola looks after 17 years, compared to the Archinto.

Wonder if he's had it seen to much at all over the last 17 years, players are often the last to care.

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Anyhow, back to varnish. Question for Robson and others: What do you use to strip varnish off an instrument? Is there something to avoid?

Mike

There are movements afoot to get rid of methylene cloride which is the ingrediant in zip-strip that does the real work. Some "green" products use something else. Some use lye, I certainly would avoid these.

Buy one that says "Caution, contains methylene cloride."

Finally clean off whatever makes it a paste, also residual soft varnish clots. Steel wool, 0000, and lacquer thinner work the best for me. Wipe frequently with Bounty paper towels. (These are the best for solvents)

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Thanks Joe Robson for answering my question and thanks Conor for the info on "shoulder tape". Urban, your exampel proves there really is need for a lot of plastics on some instruments! : )

Good night and joy be with you all!

/Lars

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Finally clean off whatever makes it a paste, also residual soft varnish clots. Steel wool, 0000, and lacquer thinner work the best for me. Wipe frequently with Bounty paper towels. (These are the best for solvents)

I would avoid the steel wool.

Joe

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