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Violin repairs/modifications for practice

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I was given a inexpensive/low-quality student fiddle as a practice piece for repair work. I'm soliciting input on the following:

1) Neck joint: Most obvious need is the the neck joint has separated from the body. It appears a nice clean break the button is in tact, and I've removed the hide glue residue. The seam between the back plate and ribs near the joint has started to separate slightly.  The neck seats well back into the joint, with the exception that there is ~2mm gap between the heel and the top plate (tried uploading additional pics of gap but having technical issues). Otherwise it APPEARS that this is a relatively straightforward fix. I've seen little shims placed in these gaps before. Anything in particular to keep in mind when filling this gap?

2) Varnish: There is a weird blemish on top plate above the bridge feet and below where fingerboard would end. Also, the general varnish is pretty awful and ugly. I'm fully aware of the sacred commandment THOU SHALT NOT REVARNISH,  but wondering if there would be any educational benefit to attempting to strip off existing varnish and revarnish it (aside from maybe trying my patience and fully accepting it could not go well, etc etc). If I do this, it sounds like the compound to use will depend on whether it is oil-based, spirit-based, polyurethane (ick). How to tell what is on this violin now? Are there stripping compounds/methods that would work for either?

3) Purfling: It's painted on. A mandolin maker friend suggested, if I do strip it down, to perhaps have a hand at doing the purfling. Is this a terrible idea? Other than a learning exercise for me, is purfling ever added to a violin later? I'm guessing not, as it seems its mostly absent from low-quality violins thus not worth the bother, and for older/historic instruments you wouldn't to do something so intrusive. If I do choose to have a go at the purfling, is there anything in particular to be advised of as it would relate to an already intact instrument? I'm assuming it'd be good to just go ahead and separate front and back plates. 

Thank you, I'm ready to be slogged now :)




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If you are talking about the gap next to the neck at the top, fill that with spruce that will match what is missing as much as possible.  

Regarding the varnish. Get some Behlen's violin varnish and a couple of varnish colortone stains from These are mixed in the varnish, NOT on the wood. You might be able to just get by with amber, but you might have to spin the color a bit. It's expensive to do trial and error. If someone knows a cheaper source of varnish stains, maybe they will speak up. 

DO NOT strip the violin. Coloring in the missing part is more honest and will come out better, done right. Also, it's a lot faster. Take a small brush and dab on tiny specks of the tinted varnish, gradually, building very slowly. Don't rush, don't work on wet areas, and work as dry as possible. If you feel like nothing is happening as you work, that's the right speed. Don't worry about building color or thickness quickly; work on making it as even-colored as possible. 

Setting the neck is a separate problem. It came out because it was poorly fit. Gluing it back, it will still be poorly fit. Some people would put a veneer shim on one side and see if that made it tight enough to glue it back in. There's more to it than that, but it's a big process.

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