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jezzupe

Responsible buiding practices

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So,... often in the world of repair we hear "less is more" we hear lots of talk about "responsible" work ethics about the historical importance of not doing harm to fiddles, while repairing them, even if its not a Strad, or even close, And in certain conversations about bows we heard about not making tip breaks invisible based on ethics.

A large part of much of this revolves around the varnish. Not refinishing it, cleaning it without destroying it, when doing repairs matching the varnish well,or in the case of a bow, not too well. And well a lot of on and on about the varnish

And lets not forget our age old qaundry, the "What did Strad put on his violin" and all the "what if's" this has lead to.

So it seems to me,if one wants to be "responsible" about their building, with the hopes that at some point in the future, most likely after your dead, someone may care, or need to know. Does it not makes sence to document either inside the instrument or at least to make a builders journal that has the specific varnishes and in what order they were applied.

Basically trying to help with future "responsibility" for the people of the future that may need to repair your violin or simply so they can know what it is you did.

???

Would this be a stupid idea to try to get this to be "standard" practice?. Some of you may do it now

I suppose a log is good in that it can remain "private" until your dead, on the downside it could get lost or "distant" from the violins and end up not "usable"

while writting it , say on the inside of a fiddle may make it so your "secret" is out if someone were to work on it, on the other hand, if written well, it would always be with the fiddle.

I'm not suggesting detailed recipes, as much as what and in what order. Or for example if you use Hammerel or Joe Robson brand products

I think you get the gist.... Is this "stupid" or is it a good idea that should be promoted???

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It would be great to know exactly what Stradivari used in his varnish, but in the end having his exact varnish recipe isn't enough. Perfect Stradivari varnish applied by any man alive today will never be as valuable as original varnish applied by the master's own hand - therefore conservative restoration techniques will and should always be practiced with these instruments.

Since modern restorers will never truly be able to replace original varnish, and since they are competent enough to match varnish in both the visible light spectrum and under UV light (although I don't necessarily agree with this practice) I think that the current methods do the job that is asked of them pretty well. After all, it might not be best solution to retouch Strads with original Stradivari varnish - for one thing the area that is retouched has to blend with 300 yr old Strad varnish, and the newly applied original varnish formula might stick out like a sore thumb.

However I promise here and now that when I become concerned that the Bruce Carlsons, Roger Hargraves, and Jeffery Holmeses of the world don't have the know-how to do my instruments justice when they service them, I will leave a few hints in a notebook to help them out.

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Begs the question or potential of a scannable microchip with the instrument's history. As with humans, it is only a matter of time until technology gets small enough and when the convenience of such is overwhelming. Of course, confidence that the system will be used benevolently must exist as well.

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While T Ford makes a good suggestion, it also begs the assumption that whatever technology exists 20 years, or a century or more, from now, can still read what chips are in use today! Might sound like a non-problem to some, but even old style LP's (which were still in common use less then 20 years ago) are a chore to listen to today. When did you last try to buy a turntable? While I'd never do this myself, I'd suggest a small, shallow groove carved into the flat fingerboard surface with a small note about the instrument's construction inserted, before the fingerboard is glued on, Would still be readable a century from now (if not lost at some point), and would probably please the traditionalsts more.

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Basically, yes it's a good idea and that's generally what the schools are there to teach.

Advantage of learning at a school is the collective intelligence found therein, 'wisdom of the crowd' is what drives humanity.

This manifests itself in everything from working hours, and social life through to reversible repairs and workshop safety.

Keeping notes / journal at college is time well spent.

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Besides instrument builders I hope varnish makers don't take it with them when they go. It would be nice if we knew what the Cremona guys used as a ground more so than just the varnish. Did Koen Padding pass on his forumulas? Will Joe? Or will there be a builder someday 300 years from now wishing he knew what was in that stuff that they made? :)

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:) Good point, the recipe is 'worth' something in itself.

Not just the good (or excellent) but the bad as well: when some of those experimental grounds and antique finishes start disintegrating 50 years from now, it would be nice to know what not to do. :unsure:

Let’s not forget the sealer and veneering craze of 100 years ago, and all of those regraduation “improvements” that make us shudder, when experimenting today. :huh:

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Documenting what has been done to an object/record is a standard part of conservation (I'm an archivist). The records of the conservation work are then retained for a least as long as the object/record itself. That's all very well if you are running an archives or museum collection. The problem for violins that are individually owned and may change hands many times over centuries will be where and how to preserve the record of what was done. One way of keeping information available over very long periods of time is to have many copies of it (think of books). The other is to have the information held in a repository which is likely to have a very long existence - think of the great libraries/museums/archives of the world. However, none of these are immune from change at a macro level - the fall of empires, war, climate change, natural disaster etc. If information is to be held in a format that depends on complex tecchnology you pretty well have to rely on an institution whose mission includes the preservation of information over time, and who has the funding and other resources to carry out the task. However, the great danger is that funding gets cut one day, a migration ot the new standard is missed and the information is gone. Speaking to the future is not easy stuff.

Regards,

Tim

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Besides instrument builders I hope varnish makers don't take it with them when they go. It would be nice if we knew what the Cremona guys used as a ground more so than just the varnish. Did Koen Padding pass on his forumulas? Will Joe? Or will there be a builder someday 300 years from now wishing he knew what was in that stuff that they made? :)

To play the devil's advocate here for a moment, would violin making really be as interesting if everyone knew exactly how the old guys built em? :)

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There has been a clear trend over recorded history of humans. In the beginning little information was recorded but it lasted forever-stone tablets, cuneiform writing, words chiseled in stone. This was followed by papyrus, paper, printing.... If you think about it, the volume of information has been increasing and becoming more fragile at the same time.

If you are a maker concerned with this issue, then one possibility is to print the information on the certificate you issue with the instrument. It is a document that is likely to get carried forward, along with the instrument.

I agree that having multiple sources is more likely to survive, so having a couple of copies of your notes, letters and emails archived at the National Library would be handy ;-)

Of course it is vanity of vanities to think that anyone would give a fig about what we did, and if they did, by that time it would be a cinch to figure it out with some future form of analytic chemistry.

Oded

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While T Ford makes a good suggestion, it also begs the assumption that whatever technology exists 20 years, or a century or more, from now, can still read what chips are in use today! Might sound like a non-problem to some, but even old style LP's (which were still in common use less then 20 years ago) are a chore to listen to today. When did you last try to buy a turntable? While I'd never do this myself, I'd suggest a small, shallow groove carved into the flat fingerboard surface with a small note about the instrument's construction inserted, before the fingerboard is glued on, Would still be readable a century from now (if not lost at some point), and would probably please the traditionalsts more.

You may want to head down to your local 'club' ;) Modern music is still published on LP's if only for the convenience of disk jockies!

I have been thinking of this as I carve up the wood for my next violins... I don't think it would have a great effect on varnish (changes over time anyway), but what about repair wood for doing future repairs? On the first ribstock I ripped I got four good pieces down to size and one slightly larger one. On the last (I did four totally... by the end it was more veneering than ripping!) I have four pieces and can make another two easily out of what is remaining. Considering without mistakes I may only use three pieces, it may be worth keeping the other sealed as an 'extra', in case one day the owner decides to put it in a racksack and ride around town on a horse with it swung over the back?

And what about the tops, back and ribs? A lot of that wood is cut away. Why not keep some in case one day an edge is chipped or a corner is broken?

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good repair work speaks for itself, signing your name and or telling what you did isnt going to make your work any better,

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The point isn't to have delusions of granduer about ones work. After observing this pony show for awhile I have come to the conclusion that ALL work, regardless if it is built by a factory, shop or by an individual will eventually be destin for the "antique" market and that irregardless of make, anyone worth 2 shakes seems to strive for proper restoration and repair. It seems logical that the more that is known about the ORDER AND TYPES of varnish layers used, the easier critical path may be followed to achieve a positve outcome.

Tm brings up a good point about trying to archieve such things. It seems to me that we have all these catalogs of all the "known" makers that exist in book form. It seems a shame that these makers didn't have logs or actual inscriptions of their instruments varnish schemes. We often have visual discriptions, but no actual real information about type and order in many cases.

Some of it may be important for future historians and makers, for whoever becomes the next "Stradavarus" but in general it seems that it would just be helpful for repair work for future repair guys to have an idea what they are dealing with.

I don't do repair work, but I could imagine that it would be nice to drop a light and mirror in and be able to read the V/O/T {varinsh order type} inscription on the side of the rib stock....."Let's see, a 2012 model, Glue,Shellac,Shellac, Oil,Oil, {g/s/s/o/o} hmm' with a repair addition dated 2078 "french polish" {fp}" Seeing how it's 2112, its nice to know.

At some point things that are easy become established rutine simply for the fact that they are a good idea on several levels, like dive logs, but somehow I don't think ot would be that easy to establish this as an expectaion of builders, but do think its a good idea or at least helpful perhaps to future conservationist's

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Speaking from a restorers point of view:

The way I see varnish restoration (conservation) is the minimal use of medium to mimic the existing finish in the condition it was presented (present state), not to reproduce it (as it was with the original materials). I use spirit based touchup varnishes in most cases, and pigments/dyes that I find stable and reliable. Reversibility (ability to remove touchup and leave the original finish intact) is a very important consideration.

I suppose it would be interesting to "know" what a particular maker used, but especially when dealing with older instruments, that would most often just satisfy my curiosity, not "improve" the restoration.

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Thanks for commenting Jeffrey, I was starting to 2nd guess myself and wonder if my comment was naive. I also totally forgot about the importance of reversibility.

From what I understand these are pictures of the 1739 Del Gesu 'Beare, Steinhardt' before and after undergoing restoration. I don't envy the decisions the restorer had to make, but I do envy his skillz.

http://postimage.org/image/b2vwypcq3/

http://postimage.org/image/g3lcd009r/

A decision I would have an incredibly difficult time making concerning this restoration is essentially, 'How far do you turn back the clock?'. This instrument has re-emerged with the appearance of new heartiness, resilience, and vigor, yet I am sure great care was taken to preserve the elements of natural wear and elegant aging that the instrument has earned during its 275 year history. Which dents should be lifted out of the wood, and which should be left behind? How much varnish crackle is healthy/tolerable, and how much is a sign of instability that forewarns of problems to come?

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Thanks for commenting Jeffrey, I was starting to 2nd guess myself and wonder if my comment was naive. I also totally forgot about the importance of reversibility.

From what I understand these are pictures of the 1739 Del Gesu 'Beare, Steinhardt' before and after undergoing restoration. I don't envy the decisions the restorer had to make, but I do envy his skillz.

http://postimage.org/image/b2vwypcq3/

http://postimage.org/image/g3lcd009r/

A decision I would have an incredibly difficult time making concerning this restoration is essentially, 'How far do you turn back the clock?'. This instrument has re-emerged with the appearance of new heartiness, resilience, and vigor, yet I am sure great care was taken to preserve the elements of natural wear and elegant aging that the instrument has earned during its 275 year history. Which dents should be lifted out of the wood, and which should be left behind? How much varnish crackle is healthy/tolerable, and how much is a sign of instability that forewarns of problems to come?

From a quick look at the before and after photos, it mostly looks like some judicious cleaning has been done, along with re-doing some prior poorly-done repairs, most obviously some prior edge and corner replacements.

There's probably a lot more, but this is what can be easily seen from the photos.

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Funnily the "before restauration" picture is more appealing to me. More personality maybe. (wouldn't you say the saddle was changed with the new one going a little bit further into the top plate?)

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Kind of looks like half the varnish has disappeared from the lower bouts. Also the purfling is thinner in the after shot in places in the top bouts. Edges were redone really well, but I'm agreeing with robert. The before shot has more 'character', which I like. Also not sure what was wrong with the rosewood fittings..

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In the art restoration world, it’s called scalping. Big no-no. But it’s also easier to tell dirt from pigment layers than it is to tell dirt from varnish when cleaning.

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The 'before' picture, at least what comes up on my computer, has a very odd lighting/texture. It looks like it's had photoshop effects applied, which makes the varnish look very shiny and bright, almost cartoony. So I can't really compare varnish before and after, just see the reduced damage on the edges and corners. The rest -- I can't tell what's cleaning, what's retouch, and what's just photographic effect.

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I have a strong feeling that what is no longer present (what has been noted as missing) on the lower bout was touchup, not original varnish. Viewing the before photo, I had the impression that the patina (dirt, rosin, old touchup) was to the point of overtaking the fiddle.

It is a balancing act, however. Go too far, the fiddle looks "sterilized". Not far enough, the fiddle looks "covered".

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It is a balancing act, however. Go too far, the fiddle looks "sterilized". Not far enough, the fiddle looks "covered".

That reminds me of what (one of the things) John Becker said at Oberlin "you're probably not the first smart guy to work on this violin" - referring to what to keep and what not to keep. Good words to work by.

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I haven't been able to view the photos before now. My question is why was the work done? Was the instrument structurally unsound or at risk of serious damage from the obvious wear?

I stress I don't question the skill of the person who did the work for a second. I would like to know the reasons the work was commissioned.

Regards,

Tim

PS - What I mean is is this an example of conservation or restoration?

Edited by TimRobinson

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I have a strong feeling that what is no longer present (what has been noted as missing) on the lower bout was touchup, not original varnish. Viewing the before photo, I had the impression that the patina (dirt, rosin, old touchup) was to the point of overtaking the fiddle.

It is a balancing act, however. Go too far, the fiddle looks "sterilized". Not far enough, the fiddle looks "covered".

That reminds me of what (one of the things) John Becker said at Oberlin "you're probably not the first smart guy to work on this violin" - referring to what to keep and what not to keep. Good words to work by.

Good thoughts, guys. A few people have a bit of exposure to the really pristine stuff, but it seems more common to take cues from the more hammered and worn stuff.

If it was a contest, I'd weigh in on the side of the snobs, who take a lot of their cues from the instruments most people never go out of their way to see.

Tim, this is only a guess, but it looks like most of the work which shows up in the photos was to undo, or do a better job of prior repair work. To me, sealing dirt in with French polish or varnish, as opposed to cleaning it, is poor restoration practice. Occasionally, as on the Paganini Guarneri, dirt and rosin accumlation might have greater historical value than the way the fiddle left the maker's hands. Lots of things to weigh.

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