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PhilipKT

Regarding varnish...

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I constantly admit that I know nothing about violins. I am trying to learn, and the best way to learn is to talk to knowledgeable people who can explain things, and to look at lots and lots and lots of instruments. Even if one is completely ignorant, seeing a large number of instruments and learning which are better quality, helps develope a sense of that quality, even if it is  difficult to describe it.

The post earlier today asking whether the three-quarter size violin might be a genuine Vuillaume, and subsequent discussion, Made me want to ask a very specific question, and I hope for some indulgence from those “in the know”

Here are some pictures of my own cello, a 2005 David Caron.  Although a representative of a large violin shop has told me that David’s varnish is not the best part of his work, I think it is beautiful. To my eyes it looks very deep, 3-dimensional, with lots of layers, lots of reflections in the light as you change the angle, without hiding the wood.

the 3/4 violin had varnish that, to my eyes, had none of those qualities, but rather looked like countless German factory instruments I’ve seen. So I said I thought it looked German. Not necessarily a bad violin, but German. The crowd thinks it is Mirecourt, so I’m asking why? When I look at varnish like this, what am I missing? 

These are Top, Ribs and Back.

B2870B2B-8311-49EE-99EE-7A17EF8BB8B0.jpeg

99FB8683-3C5B-44EC-BA4F-8BA8EF561DFE.jpeg

ACF19AB4-08AA-4F33-88FC-ED4ADA2C66F5.jpeg

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37 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

 the best way to learn is to talk to knowledgeable people who can explain things, and to look at lots and lots and lots of instruments. Even if one is completely ignorant, seeing a large number of instruments and learning which are better quality, helps develope a sense of that quality, even if it is  difficult to describe it.

What you wrote here is what it's about.  Remember now, you have to see and possibly hold thousands not just hundreds.  

I was in your shoes a few years ago - I used to call everything "Tyrolean'.  Didn't even know what the word meant but I could recognize the region, I guess.  I may of guessed right one out of five during a years time, if even that.

There are times when one can catch Jacob and gang off guard or snoozing though.  I remember one that the member here named Rocco presented here one year - Jacob called it German, shame on him.  I said English or was hinting that - from his old man's school of all places.  How'd he miss that one?  No need to comment J., it must of been early in the morning that day.  

  Another fiddle a few years later showed up that most here decided on one region or something like that.  I determined/guessed this particular fiddle was from the hand of Mayr or a Mayr school, if there was one.  I didn't get chastized for that comment but wasn't told I was right either.    

About the 3/4 Vuilluame.  That back plate looks like something you'd find on a Vuilluame fiddle but as soon as I see the crisscross pattern on the chinrest along with the German made tailpiece I can see how most will say no to a genuine Vuillaume.  I think most genuine ones are signed and numbered inside somewheres.  The pros here know that already so now you know now too.

Hang around and you'll see and get to learn more about fiddle i.d. - it just takes time.  

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I can see where people get the notion that his varnish is lacking, regarding the Caron. It makes the instrument look milky in a way. It also looks Chinese to me. But I still like it. 

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9 hours ago, Nick Allen said:

I can see where people get the notion that his varnish is lacking, regarding the Caron. It makes the instrument look milky in a way. It also looks Chinese to me. But I still like it. 

Can you explain what you mean by “milky”? I think the varnish looks great and I’ve never seen a Chinese instrument with such deep varnish.

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5 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

Can you explain what you mean by “milky”? I think the varnish looks great and I’ve never seen a Chinese instrument with such deep varnish.

If this was a shellac based varnish the look would be referred to as blushing.  I'm not saying it's a shellac or any other spirit varnish just describing what I and Nick are seeing.  If you take a clear glass of water and put a tiny bit of milk in it (maybe only a drop or two?) you will see the difference that's being referred to as "milky".

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May be just lightning and poor camera... It's hard to evaluate varnish from pictures taken at unknown light and reflections.

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52 minutes ago, Rue said:

Whitish, hazy...not quite clear...

I think I understand what you’re saying but I don’t see that as any kind of a flaw. I think the varnish is beautiful. Can you show a picture of a varnish that is excellent quality and does not have that characteristic? I’d love to be able to compare.

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It's easy to see in real life, dunno if it's going to show up in photos, unless they were professionally lit and taken to show the differences...

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11 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

I think I understand what you’re saying but I don’t see that as any kind of a flaw. I think the varnish is beautiful. Can you show a picture of a varnish that is excellent quality and does not have that characteristic? I’d love to be able to compare.

Here is the bench mark I'm working towards.  It's relatively easy to make a back look good.  A really great top is is harder to achieve.

IMG_2107.thumb.JPG.7b95915b7d098842949f0471f9577d26.JPG

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3 minutes ago, Jim Bress said:

Here is the bench mark I'm working towards.  It's relatively easy to make a back look good.  A really great top is is harder to achieve.

IMG_2107.thumb.JPG.7b95915b7d098842949f0471f9577d26.JPG

Your varnish looks quite nice, and I can see the difference between yours and mine. But I wouldn’t describe the Caron as less attractive, they just seem like difference approaches. 

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Phillip,  I've never called your instruments varnish unattractive.  I was only trying to help describe a characteristic of the varnish.  Also this is neither my violin or my varnish.  I wish both were.  :)

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Just now, Jim Bress said:

Phillip,  I've never called your instruments varnish unattractive.  I was only trying to help describe a characteristic of the varnish.  Also this is neither my violin or my varnish.  I wish both were.  :)

Im not in the least offended, but the milky quality was implied to be negative, and I asked because to me it looks beautiful and I can’t see anything negative at all.

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3 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

Im not in the least offended, but the milky quality was implied to be negative, and I asked because to me it looks beautiful and I can’t see anything negative at all.

The milky might be considered a negative aspect. Like some frosting on a window glass, it might look great and protect effectively the objects behind the glass, but if you want the see the objects, or in this case, the beautiful detail of the wood itself, any milkiness might be undesirable since it doesn't add anything except opacity. The varnish goal, as I see it, besides offering protection, is to enhance the natural aesthetics of the wood. Most, if not all coloring agents, turn the varnish opaque to some degree, and the challenge is to keep it as transparent and possible, and as blended as possible with the wood as if it was naturally part of it. I've seen a few excellent examples of this but the best way is by holding the instrument in various positions in daylight and pay close attention the refraction and reflection and how they combine to enhance the texture of the wood.... It's like any gemstone, there are colored but still transparent, and colored but not so transparent... 

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18 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Philip, most of the better makers today, as in the past, do not produce a surface on the top which looks as if it has been sanded smooth.

I remember the first time I ever saw a Becker. The varnish was a full brick red, and I didn’t care for it at all. Since then I’ve seen and heard four other Beckers, and played a Becker Jr. with the same varnish. Incredible instruments all, but I didn’t like the varnish. I’m not at all saying it was bad varnish, not at all. I don’t have any standing to judge. But it didn’t appeal to me visually.

The varnish on a Caron looks beautiful and doesn’t obscure the wood, which, at least in person, remains visible and attractive.

Luis Martins offered a splendid analogy, which I understood instantly, but if a varnish is beautiful in itself and doesn’t cover the wood, that seems like a win-win.

I can understand the difference in approach and in desired outcome, but I still fail to see why one way is viewed negatively. And just because most modern makers don’t do a thing doesn’t mean that thing is itself incorrect.

if you don’t mind, could you offer some more insight?

PS David never used sandpaper. He used scrapers.

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41 minutes ago, Luis Martins said:

The milky might be considered a negative aspect. Like some frosting on a window glass, it might look great and protect effectively the objects behind the glass, but if you want the see the objects, or in this case, the beautiful detail of the wood itself, any milkiness might be undesirable since it doesn't add anything except opacity. The varnish goal, as I see it, besides offering protection, is to enhance the natural aesthetics of the wood. Most, if not all coloring agents, turn the varnish opaque to some degree, and the challenge is to keep it as transparent and possible, and as blended as possible with the wood as if it was naturally part of it. I've seen a few excellent examples of this but the best way is by holding the instrument in various positions in daylight and pay close attention the refraction and reflection and how they combine to enhance the texture of the wood.... It's like any gemstone, there are colored but still transparent, and colored but not so transparent... 

That’s an excellent comment and I appreciate the clarity.It sounds as if you’re saying that the problem with this approach is that the varnish obscures the word, so that someone looking at it sees only the varnish and not the wood. If that’s correct, there must’ve been a flaw in the photography, Because I can see the wood fine, especially on the top.

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28 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

That’s an excellent comment and I appreciate the clarity.It sounds as if you’re saying that the problem with this approach is that the varnish obscures the word, so that someone looking at it sees only the varnish and not the wood. If that’s correct, there must’ve been a flaw in the photography, Because I can see the wood fine, especially on the top.

It's extremely difficult to photograph  instruments, specially when the surface of the varnish is mirror finished, a large percentage of the light reflects on the surface of the varnish and obscures the wood.

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58 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Philip, most of the better makers today, as in the past, do not produce a surface on the top which looks as if it has been sanded smooth.

That's my opinion too.

I do prefer when there are not two obvious layers but some sort of blending between the varnish and the wood. When looking at your photo, Philip,  I see two clearly defined regions of different reflection/refraction index. This gets more obvious when varnishing an extremely smooth surface, like applying varnish to glass if the refraction index isn't close you get a milky or cloudy result.  When I compare to @Jim Bress  photo, the varnish goes with the wood texture, instead of sitting on top of it, as when you apply some varnish in a frosted glass it suddenly becomes almost clear and more interesting than before... This is really hard to put into words!:huh:

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19 hours ago, Jim Bress said:

Here is the bench mark I'm working towards.  It's relatively easy to make a back look good.  A really great top is is harder to achieve.

IMG_2107.thumb.JPG.7b95915b7d098842949f0471f9577d26.JPG

Your varnish looks very nice, like Chardon pochette!

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14 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

1. PS David (C.) never used sandpaper. He used scrapers.

2.if you don’t mind, could you offer some more insight?

 

1. If it is true that he never used sandpaper, I think it's a shame that he somehow ended up with a surface which appears as if he did.

2. Unlike many instruments, the violin is generally considered to have reached something close to its zenith in the 17th and 18th centuries, so emulation of that period is prioritized. Rightly or wrongly, most large departures from that sound, style and appearance haven't had major acceptance by consumers, and even less so by the fiddle snobs who have easier access to the best-preserved examples, and study them carefully.

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1 hour ago, David Burgess said:

2. Unlike many instruments, the violin is generally considered to have reached something close to its zenith in the 17th and 18th centuries, so emulation of that period is prioritized. Rightly or wrongly, most large departures from that sound, style and appearance haven't had major acceptance by consumers, and even less so by the fiddle snobs who have easier access to the best-preserved examples, and study them carefully.

That is dependent on target market which today is very wide. Above applies for top tier players and soloists the lower you go from there the further away the ideal goes... In Strads times, his fiddles were one of the nicest and fanciest being built, most other contemporaries had coarser work or finish.

If you make violins today for casual players or lower level musicians or other than top level classical musicians, they will often expect smooth and shiny varnish and even the nicest Messiah style varnish will look crude to them and they may even comment that they look ugly etc... and will open their wallet to buy the shiny one (if it plays nice of course). Then there are old time of gypsy folk fiddlers and their preferences...

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16 hours ago, David Burgess said:

Philip, most of the better makers today, as in the past, do not produce a surface on the top which looks as if it has been sanded smooth.

While I agree and apparently PhilipKT also does - I believe, this was not his point.   B.t.w. my personal taste is, that all surfaces have to be totally even ( look like sanded, but naturally must not be sanded ). Varnish - profile(texture)-building  is allowed only by slight differences of sinking into the pores ( which anyways has to be very limited [by ground] ) - just my personal taste.

 

21 hours ago, Jim Bress said:

Here is the bench mark I'm working towards.  It's relatively easy to make a back look good.  A really great top is is harder to achieve.

IMG_2107.thumb.JPG.7b95915b7d098842949f0471f9577d26.JPG

This looks really great, although texture i.m.o.is a little bit exaggerated. However transparency, liveliness, colour and woodchoice all looks great !

 

To the original point : milkiness ( I really see it only in the first picture with f-hole ) also can be a phenomenon made by UV-radiation falling on varnishes, which contain considerable amounts of drying oils or may be even conifer-resins like colophon or pine-resin. Provided such a varnish, UV-containing lateral -light (e.g. daylight)  in my experience can cause milkiness. I believe, it is the same effect, which causes in some (old-italian ) grounds or colourless varnishes the well-known "yellow-whitish flourescence ".

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24 minutes ago, HoGo said:

That is dependent on target market which today is very wide.

True. But when I visited a violin factory in China, even they said that the vast majority of their sales are of "conventional" style violins, even though they don't have a "period-accurate" finish.

I think that this plethora of factory instruments is partly what's responsible for a preference for smooth varnishes and surfaces, with another element being the many historic instruments on which the original topography has disappeared from wear, repair and varnish retouching, and centuries of "french polishing".

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2 hours ago, christian bayon said:

Your varnish looks very nice, like Chardon pochette!

Thank you for the undeserved compliment.  This is not my varnish.  I took this picture at a VSA conference.  The question was asked what a good varnish looks like.  I showed this picture as an example.  It is also the target I am aiming for.  I'm not there yet, but I believe I am headed in the right direction. 

 

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