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Human sweat and varnish


lily b.
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My friend has VERY agressive sweat and on mandolin I built for him it completely dissolved French polish from the neck in few months of use leaving bare oil varnish base. His strings go black within half hour of playing and completely dead after one gig.

So answer is YES, it is possible.

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This would be one for the members who have examined old inst's- I have an inst that I think is old, and under the chin rest it looks like nasal breathing has left a discoloring in the varnish if you hold the inst in playing. Didn't chin rest come into vogue aroung 1850's?

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Yes, some people seem to strip the varnish from French Polished guitars in a matter of months. We know that even mild alkaline solutions can damage shellac (not sure about oil varnishes). The theory is that some folk have sweat that is mildly alkaline. I don't know if that is true. I've read that the skin/sweat is very slightly acidic (acid mantle layer), a part of the skins defence mechanism.

I never seem to wear shellac but I have first hand experience of others who go through to bare wood in months. Not many but they do exist. I did start to think that it might be caused by modern washing powders (they are alkaline) but you would think a good rinse in a modern washing machine would solve that. I don't know what the cause is, I just know that it happens.

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 His strings go black within half hour of playing and completely dead after one gig.

 

I can still recall vividly the horror and disbelief i experienced years ago when I lent my (freshly re-strung) guitar to an acquaintance to play one  song, and when he handed it back, the two plain treble strings were totally black for the first few inches, and sounded absolutely  dead.  

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Yes, some people seem to strip the varnish from French Polished guitars in a matter of months. We know that even mild alkaline solutions can damage shellac (not sure about oil varnishes). The theory is that some folk have sweat that is mildly alkaline. I don't know if that is true. I've read that the skin/sweat is very slightly acidic (acid mantle layer), a part of the skins defence mechanism.

I never seem to wear shellac but I have first hand experience of others who go through to bare wood in months. Not many but they do exist. I did start to think that it might be caused by modern washing powders (they are alkaline) but you would think a good rinse in a modern washing machine would solve that. I don't know what the cause is, I just know that it happens.

Would Renaissance Wax help if you knew a fiddle was going to a known toxic sweater?

 

-Jim

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I think that some people's sweat will eat through anything. 

 

The best protection is plastic tape on the rib, and I've seen tape fitted to the back and belly too, although I don't think I've ever done it. The belly edge is very exposed, and can become a mushy grey-brown mess. I clean it our as best I can, retouch it, and cover it with several coats of  Deft. If the player will come for regular retouch, rather than waiting till it all goes to pot again, he'll save himself money in the long run.

 

I think it's very important to fit a much larger tape than the area of damage, so that the area at the very edge of the tape is well clear of the wear area, and won't cause a step.

 

I have clients who will dissolve all the shell out of a bow in a year. I have fitted solid ebony slides with no shell, so that the fine dovetail edges don't become exposed. A tape could also be used here, and a leather covering the handle.

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Would Renaissance Wax help if you knew a fiddle was going to a known toxic sweater?

 

-Jim

 

It might. You can do test strips with straight varnish and varnish with a wax coating. Then try some alkaline substances (if it's alkaline sweat that is the cause). Bleach is a fairly strong alkaline, shellac reacts pretty quickly to bleach on it's surface.

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It might. You can do test strips with straight varnish and varnish with a wax coating. Then try some alkaline substances (if it's alkaline sweat that is the cause). Bleach is a fairly strong alkaline, shellac reacts pretty quickly to bleach on it's surface.

My violin instructor (playing not making) has varnish eating sweat.  Just a thought.  For an authentic antique vanish, varnish the violin straight then give to a player with strong alkaline sweat, and ask him/her to play in the violin in a warm room. :)

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It's a very common problem, the extent of which varies with the person, and also the type of varnish on the instrument. Once the varnish has been attacked by perspiration, it can start to break down pretty badly.

It can be cleaned up and retouched successfully, and in the high contact areas, a tougher varnish can help prevent future problems, for a while at least.

 

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post-29770-0-01371400-1458424438_thumb.jpg

 

post-29770-0-22912700-1458424448_thumb.jpg

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For an authentic antique vanish, varnish the violin straight then give to a player with strong alkaline sweat, and ask him/her to play in the violin in a warm room.  :)

This sounds like one of the best jobs a fella could have.  The only better one was Li'l Abner who had a job as a mattress tester.  Before that he cut crescent-moon holes in doors of outhouses for the Little Wonder Privy Company...which sounds like he'd make a heck of an F-hole cutter.   :)

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  • 1 month later...

The young man who plays this instrument has truly toxic sweat.  We are planning to change his body wash, cologne, and any other skin treatment he uses.  This is the second time in 3 years the instrument has been back for this problem.  The first retouch was done with shellac.  We will now retouch and add amber oil varnish on the surface and change the chin rest....no optimism on this one.

on we go,

Joe

post-6284-0-94374700-1461885732_thumb.jpg

post-6284-0-70814700-1461885748_thumb.jpg

post-6284-0-01193800-1461885764_thumb.jpg

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The young man who plays this instrument has truly toxic sweat.  We are planning to change his body wash, cologne, and any other skin treatment he uses.  This is the second time in 3 years the instrument has been back for this problem.  The first retouch was done with shellac.  We will now retouch and add amber oil varnish on the surface and change the chin rest....no optimism on this one.

on we go,

Joe

geez, dudes the alien, small drops of blood from cuts burn through the floor????

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Few people seam to realise, but it is normally quite easy to tell when one is presented with a violin from a violin-teacher, since there are invariably no end of spit marks on the violin, caused by screaming at pupils whilst either playing, or holding the violin beneath the chin. It can be a fairly delicate question of judgement, to just whom one may point out that one should keep ones trap shut whilst playing :unsure:.

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