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Spirit Varnish VS Oil Varnish


Dwight Brown
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I really did use the search function and I could not find anything just like this (I probably screwed up and missed it :-(

 

 

I am under the impression (possibly completely wrong) that most modern trained makers use an oil varnish and it is generally considered to be closer to what the classical Cremonese and other Italian makers of the golden age used.

 

 

I am under the impression that the classical makers did not use spirit varnish.

 

 

Sprit varnish did not become the norm until into the 19th century?

 

 

Oil Varnishes are considered superior to spirit varnishes for a number of reasons.

 

Spirit Varnish is used for touch ups in restoration.

 

 

Address any, all, or none of my ravings as you please.  just wanted to talk about varnish and instruments.  I really have no good concrete information that I would depend on, just things I have picked up from books and other people.

 

 

DLB

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Dwight, I think you are right on just about everything you stated,except one. I don't believe oil is better than spirit at all. If I did I wouldn't use spirit. As for what the old masters used during the so called golden age, from what I've read, it was oil. The later Italians nearly all used spirit. They all had their own recipes. Some didn't even have seed lac in it. You can't judge spirit varnish by what was used on early German trade fiddles. Good spirit can look exactly like oil.

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Could it be said that spirit varnish is less flexible, that is to say harder compared to oil varnish being softer. This has always been my impression but as I said it is not based on any real knowledge.

 

DLB

Either can be hard or soft, depending on formulation. It may be more common to encounter a brittle spirit varnish though.

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I would postulate that the wood treatment and ground are much more important to worry about than the varnish over them. Partly because a UV light and an old Cremonese have often revealed to me how little original varnish is left. Some folks touch up and restore with oil, but IME repair varnish is spirit of one kind or another. And if the sound isn't suffering from many different recipes used over the ground, then it is either improved by it, or immune to it...

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Fredrich Meyer in 2006. He found shellac on Stradivari 1726 violin and 1734 cello. In fact, for me around 1726 there is a change (not always but consistently, mainly on cellos) in the Stradivari varnish.

 

Thank Christian! Perhaps the shellac is from later restoration? Though Brandmair's research also points to different pigments being used in Stradivari's later period of work.  

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IIRC, there was a retouched instrument in the B&G book and that spirit varnish was easily identified over the oil based varnish.

Ed Heron-Allen says spirit varnish was put over the oil varnish originally during the golden period.  That's hs conclusion trying to figure out Cremonese or other Italian varnish.

  I was looking over the Castalabarca Del Gesu violin last night on youtube.  The underlying brown/gold is present throughout but the red remains around the bridge/ c bout areas only.  The red appears to have been rubbed away over the years but doesn't prove the red was an oil or spirit originally.  Not much help, sorry.         

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IIRC, there was a retouched instrument in the B&G book and that spirit varnish was easily identified over the oil based varnish.

Yes you are correct. On the other hand my experience with antiquing my own fiddles is that one can heavily French polish an oil varnish that fluoresces like an old Cremonese without changing the way it fluoresces all that much!

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Just speculating.  If spirit varnish is easier, safer, and cheaper (I think) to make, what is the big draw for oil varnishes.  It has already been stated that spirit varnish can be just as good as an oil varnish.  Does it come down to oil varnishes being easier to apply, and a better media for the purposes of antiquing?

 

Thanks,

Jim

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Another thought.  On the furniture side of wood finishes, dewaxed shellac is preferred because it is more water resistant shellac with wax.  Think rings from a glass.  Is water resistance (spit, sweat) an issue between oil and spirit varnishes?

 

Thanks,

Jim

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