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Texture In Finished Instruments


Dwight Brown
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The old guys we love were trying for a smooth finish..... The texture look is entirely accidental

You don't think that the raised summer growth that we see on the tops of so many well-preserved instruments, could have been eliminated, if they wanted to?

 

It seems like getting rid of this is something the makers of many factory violins have been able to accomplish.

 

I think that getting rid of texture for all time is either a time-consuming process if you want to use good ground/varnish, or something that is quick and easy by encasing the wood in thick plastic.

 

In the final steps of shaping the wood surface, some amount of pressure has to be applied to the scraper or sandpaper or whatever.  This will compress the softer wood, which will, over time, tend to expand out and create texture.  Enhance it by higher pressure and then wetting... or do that and scrape lightly again (and repeat) to get rid of texture.  I imagine the old guys were trying to make a living, and working as quickly as possible... meaning plenty of scraping pressure with perhaps not the most carefully sharpened, fresh scraper.  And perhaps fairly fresh wood, more prone to deflection and subsequent rebound.

 

Even so, it seems to me that modern makers trying to get texture are putting in efforts and steps that the old guys wouldn't, and getting excessive texture.  

 

And old factory fiddles can get texture over time, too.

 

Here are two interesting photos for comparison.  On the left is a factory fiddle... a Pfretzchner about 50 years old.  On the right is the 1714 ex-Jackson.  Make of it what you will.

post-25192-0-57241000-1455373231_thumb.jpg

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I think that getting rid of texture for all time is either a time-consuming process if you want to use good ground/varnish, or something that is quick and easy by encasing the wood in thick plastic.

 

It's pretty easy by moistening the heck out of the top, letting it dry, sanding, and repeating. Maybe an hour or less total labor. It's quite likely that any kind of sandpaper they had wasn't as sharp as what we have available today though.

 

So I think the kind of texture we see on the top of better-preserved instruments like the Messiah and the Lady Blunt, while process inherent and an artifact of using a scraper, was left that way by choice, just as the surface texture of an oil painting provides an added level of interest.

 

The highly worn and polished and retouched instruments? I don't think we can tell much about the original texture from these.

 

In the past, Joe and others have put up some photos of instruments on which the varnish hadn't been messed with much, that looked pretty rough. I could put some up too, but I didn't take them and don't know who owns them.

 

It's common for people not to have much exposure to the more pristine instruments. If these instruments were out in circulation, they would no longer be pristine.

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Strongly textured tops which are a result of quick and careless scraping tend to have a variing degree of texture and tool marks as well. There are enough instruments around with absolutely clean and consistent corugation to show it was sometimes done by design. Like wise while some tool marks, tear outs etc. were the result of economic pressures and bad lighting there are clearly other instruments where tooled fluting of scrolls and or light catching tooled edge work were deliberately used for visual effect. It is possible that there are also instruments which were much smoother when new than they are now but no amount of shrinkage could turn a smoothed surface into a gouge finished one.

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Here are two interesting photos for comparison.  On the left is a factory fiddle... a Pfretzchner about 50 years old.  On the right is the 1714 ex-Jackson.  Make of it what you will.

attachicon.gifTexture.jpg

 

Don,

Is that a picture of the "Jackson" or a copy of it?  It has a lot more varnish than I recall.  Perhaps that is the copy by Alkis Rappas or Doug Cox [both are excellent]....not a criticism...just wondering about my old man memory....

 

Photo: Andrea Guaneri 1664 .... undisturbed original varnish

Joe

post-6284-0-48998600-1455485260_thumb.jpeg

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Would that be considered to be a well-preserved. minimal-intervention example, compared to the photo that Joe posted?

 

I am certainly not expert enough to say how much has been done to either one of the instruments... but it looks like Joe's photo has zero varnish and a light polish, or perhaps the original varnish was just a wipe with an oily rag.  In either case, it looks like there's not much on the wood.  The Jackson definitely has some original varnish and some polish of some sort.

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By "lots" I assume you mean area rather than thickness.  It looks to be extremely thin from what I can tell in the photos.

I don't know how thick the varnish is on that instrument (it's nice to be able to see the edge of chipped area to get an idea, because otherwise, impressions of thickness can be quite deceptive) but I know it's possible to get a look like that without the varnish film being thin, using a non-self-leveling varnish.

 

1704 with a high wax content has a tendency to do that.

 

An oil varnish where the oil hasn't been heat-bodied can also do that. The oil expands as it dries (from oxygen absorption?), becoming a little larger than the surface it is covering. This causes it to accentuate the underlying texture, rather than filling and smoothing it. Put on the next coat, and it accentuates it even more.

 

An example of this expansion upon drying can be seen on a thick glob of oil varnish, where the surface dries before what's underneath. As the surface, constrained at the boundaries expands, it forms wrinkles, as it is "bunched up" to fit in the original space. Same type of thing that happens when you moisten the center of a piece of paper. It expands, forming waves or wrinkles.

 

Applied to a fiddle with texture, a film of this nature tends to be to be pushed to the peaks or high spots as it expands, due to the greater physical constraints of it expanding into the low or concave spots, where the wood is a barrier. So whatever texture was underneath is accentuated.

 

Edit:

I didn't see Diaboli's photos before I posted. The varnish doesn't look particularly thin.

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