Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

Question: Cleaning an old violin.


Kallie
 Share

Recommended Posts

Hi there,

What is the proper polish/cleaning substance to use for cleaning old violins? Many violins that Ive seen has built up rosin, built up dirt, etc. that would never come off without using some sort of liquid. Ive read some people say using linseed oil, others say your own spit. I also know there are a few violin polishes on the market, but from what Ive read people say that should be avoided mostly. What Ive mostly come across is people saying the best polish is the one that you don't use. (Not that that is at all helpful, in such a case as this.)

 

I know to clean the rosin dust off the violin after each practice session, but what I'm specifically referring to here is cleaning an old violin that hasn't been used for a long time. 

 

So what do you use to clean such a violin?

 

Also, I'm mostly referring to a violin that has oil varnish, but would like to know what is used on a violin that has spirit varnish as well.

 

Thank You.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I tell my clients not to use anything other than a damp cloth. If you want further cleaning for an old fiddle, I would suggest taking it to a good luthier. He/she will know how to properly clean the old rosin and dirt off without harming the instrument. There aren't really any stronger products that I would recommend for the casual user.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not that I've tried it on a violin...but would a very well wrung out cloth...in water with some Murphy's Oil Soap be useful for a really dirty vioin?  As long as the cloth stays fairly dry I can't see that it would hurt...and it would help break down some of the oil stuff that builds up over time.

 

It just might take some time - don't rush.  I have cleaned various wooden antiques this way with no ill results.

 

If I ever get bored, I have a really old violin carcass I could experiement with...:lol:.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 (Not that that is at all helpful, in such a case as this.)

 

 

Also, I'm mostly referring to a violin that has oil varnish

Kallie, it's not so simple-especially on an old violin with oil varnish.  Some oil varnishes are even sensitive to water (more than you would think, all to a degree).  I have observed very experienced luthiers at workshops spending days and days taking small q tips with varying combinations of solvents,cleaners, surfacants etc, trying to figure out what works without removing the varnish.  You really need a lot of experience in seeing the original varnish under a black light, and then watching what comes off on your cleaning implement (dirt,varnish,touchup etc).  This is WAY more complex than most give it.  Those who give it less credence are usually not too concerned about being conservative with the varnish.  The "tool box" for cleaning spirit varnishes is more simple.  Bear in mind that what breaks down (in simple terms)the rosin, also breaks down most oil varnishes(I know, a vast generalization).   I've been doing this for years and am still afraid of the heavier oil varnish cleaning tasks.  Years ago (when I knew everything), it was no big deal.....that should tell you everything right there.    jeff

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I tell my clients not to use anything other than a damp cloth. If you want further cleaning for an old fiddle, I would suggest taking it to a good luthier. He/she will know how to properly clean the old rosin and dirt off without harming the instrument. There aren't really any stronger products that I would recommend for the casual user.

 

Thank You, but I myself want a career in violin making and restoration, and is trying to learn as much by myself as I can, so taking it to someone to have it done for me wont do me much good.

 

 

Kallie, it's not so simple-especially on an old violin with oil varnish.  Some oil varnishes are even sensitive to water (more than you would think, all to a degree).  I have observed very experienced luthiers at workshops spending days and days taking small q tips with varying combinations of solvents,cleaners, surfacants etc, trying to figure out what works without removing the varnish.  You really need a lot of experience in seeing the original varnish under a black light, and then watching what comes off on your cleaning implement (dirt,varnish,touchup etc).  This is WAY more complex than most give it.  Those who give it less credence are usually not too concerned about being conservative with the varnish.  The "tool box" for cleaning spirit varnishes is more simple.  Bear in mind that what breaks down (in simple terms)the rosin, also breaks down most oil varnishes(I know, a vast generalization).   I've been doing this for years and am still afraid of the heavier oil varnish cleaning tasks.  Years ago (when I knew everything), it was no big deal.....that should tell you everything right there.    jeff

 

Thank you for the reply. I would never (well, not somewhere in the close future) attempt anything too drastic on a violin that really has too great of a value. Its nice to know a lot depends on the different oil varnishes that was used, and how different products will react to it.  

 

 

If I ever get bored, I have a really old violin carcass I could experiement with... :lol:.

 

Poor defenseless old violin carcasses..... :P

 

 

 

As I mentioned above, I read somewhere that linseed oil can be used for the polishing/cleaning. Does anyone have any experience with this? I cant see it doing much harm as long as you don't use too much of it?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As I mentioned above, I read somewhere that linseed oil can be used for the polishing/cleaning. Does anyone have any experience with this? I cant see it doing much harm as long as you don't use too much of it?

 

Absolutely not, IMHO.  Linseed oil is not a solvent or cleaner, nor does it evaporate.  If  there are cracks or worn spots in the varnish, it will soak into the wood and can have a significant damping effect. Additionally, it is soft (gummy) even when cured, acts like a dirt magnet throughout its life, and darkens with age.

 

If you want to learn as much as you can on your own, buy "Furniture Conservation" by Rivers and Umney for basic science and background information, and "The Art of Violin Making" by Courtnall and Johnson, and Weisshaar's book on violin repair, and read them often and repeatedly..  That will give you a much better start than listening to what "people say", especially ones who lack knowledge or experience.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Thank You, but I myself want a career in violin making and restoration, and is trying to learn as much by myself as I can, so taking it to someone to have it done for me wont do me much good."

 

Some of the materials that can be used for "professional" cleaning, can be toxic, or hazardous, if used incorrectly. If I tell you to use XYZ on you violin, and you don't use it correctly, it can be a problem for both you, and your instrument. If you want a career in violin making, consider getting the books mentioned above, and either start taking classes, or work with a luthier. Keep in mind that violin restoration is way different than violin building, and that violins are not furniture.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kallie, didn't know you were interested in working on violins.  Just though you were wanting to clean something you had.  FiddleDoug and Micheal are steering you in the right direction.  There is sooo much though that is needed beyond those books (though I whole heartedly agree that you should start with them).  There are workshops in the summer in the Berkshires (North Adams)by Hans Nebel and one of the courses is for people starting out.  Great basics course.  Usually in early June for one week and is about $700.  Beautiful town too.  There isn't much else other than finding someone competent for you to work with.    jeff

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Thank You, but I myself want a career in violin making and restoration, and is trying to learn as much by myself as I can, so taking it to someone to have it done for me wont do me much good."

 

Some of the materials that can be used for "professional" cleaning, can be toxic, or hazardous, if used incorrectly. If I tell you to use XYZ on you violin, and you don't use it correctly, it can be a problem for both you, and your instrument. If you want a career in violin making, consider getting the books mentioned above, and either start taking classes, or work with a luthier. Keep in mind that violin restoration is way different than violin building, and that violins are not furniture.

Thanx. I do realize its much different from furniture, and that restoration and building is also completely different. If I had the opportunity to take classes, I'd take it as soon as possible, but unfortunately I live too far away from any places where it is being held. I will try to get the books mentioned. Thank you for the help. :)

 

 

Kallie, didn't know you were interested in working on violins.  Just though you were wanting to clean something you had.  FiddleDoug and Micheal are steering you in the right direction.  There is sooo much though that is needed beyond those books (though I whole heartedly agree that you should start with them).  There are workshops in the summer in the Berkshires (North Adams)by Hans Nebel and one of the courses is for people starting out.  Great basics course.  Usually in early June for one week and is about $700.  Beautiful town too.  There isn't much else other than finding someone competent for you to work with.    jeff

 

Thank you Jeff. What I'm doing currently is buying old, less valuable violins on eBay and antique shops, and then fixing them up. Some of the things Ive done so far, is, resetting the neck, button graft, rib graft, crack repairs (Front, back and ribs), gluing/carving new bass bar, and thinning the top plate on one of those old factory Czech unfinished violins. Something good that comes from learning all this on your own, is that you learn everything that you shouldn't do. :P (Again, I wouldn't do any repairs in the near future on any violin which is too valuable)

 

As I said, I wish taking classes could be possible, but I'm in South-Africa so traveling so far isn't an option. Trying to learn as much as I can by myself, on the internet and from books. This site does have some very useful information. Oh and I tried finding someone who would be willing to teach, but none of those people were able to teach on a regular basis.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanx. I do realize its much different from furniture, and that restoration and building is also completely different. If I had the opportunity to take classes, I'd take it as soon as possible, but unfortunately I live too far away from any places where it is being held. I will try to get the books mentioned. Thank you for the help. :)

 

 

 

Thank you Jeff. What I'm doing currently is buying old, less valuable violins on eBay and antique shops, and then fixing them up. Some of the things Ive done so far, is, resetting the neck, button graft, rib graft, crack repairs (Front, back and ribs), gluing/carving new bass bar, and thinning the top plate on one of those old factory Czech unfinished violins. Something good that comes from learning all this on your own, is that you learn everything that you shouldn't do. :P (Again, I wouldn't do any repairs in the near future on any violin which is too valuable)

 

As I said, I wish taking classes could be possible, but I'm in South-Africa so traveling so far isn't an option. Trying to learn as much as I can by myself, on the internet and from books. This site does have some very useful information. Oh and I tried finding someone who would be willing to teach, but none of those people were able to teach on a regular basis.

Sounds like you are doing much the same things that I have been.  One thing I've found, rosin and varnish have a lot in common. Effective removal of the one can lead you directly into retouching of the other :blink::wub::lol:.

 

Some things are better left as signs of the instrument's age in most cases.  Another consideration, "rosin" darkening has been used as an antiquing technique, particularly in France.  Be sure what you are removing isn't intentional.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank You, but I myself want a career in violin making and restoration, and is trying to learn as much by myself as I can, so taking it to someone to have it done for me wont do me much good.

 

 

  If I had the opportunity to take classes, I'd take it as soon as possible, but unfortunately I live too far away from any places where it is being held.

 

 

Few high-level makers and restorers have had the luxury of completely local training. They went where the learning was. ;)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sounds like you are doing much the same things that I have been.  One thing I've found, rosin and varnish have a lot in common. Effective removal of the one can lead you directly into retouching of the other :blink::wub::lol:.

 

Some things are better left as signs of the instrument's age in most cases.  Another consideration, "rosin" darkening has been used as an antiquing technique, particularly in France.  Be sure what you are removing isn't intentional.

 

Thank You for the advice. Will definitely make sure of that. Also good to know you learned the same way as I am currently learning. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.


×
×
  • Create New...