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joerobson

Just curious...a varnish question

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Over the past couple years this question arises more often....usually in Workshops where there are a lot of makers of varied backgrounds.

The choice to antique the varnish / instrument is a personal and artistic one and there are great reasons and examples throughout the trade.

The question is this: If you design and make a personal model should you even consider an antiqued varnish?  In these days of classic design fed by Francois

Denis, Harry Mairson, and Kevin Kelly many makers are involved in personal models.

on we go,

Joe

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17 minutes ago, joerobson said:

The question is this: If you design and make a personal model should you even consider an antiqued varnish?

The key word here is "should"... which implies some external objective rule.  There ain't none... it's all about what you want to do.

If you want to please a specific judge with known opinions, then you should do what they prefer.  The only judges I really care about are players that want to buy instruments, and my own tastes. 

I'm fine with antiqued, shaded, or even straight... although personally I put straight at the bottom of the list.  And although I am now making a "personal model", it's pretty much like gDg style, and I think it would look more appropriately dressed in worn clothing rather than a new suit.  Perhaps if the model was obviously out of the mainstream, antiquing might look out of place.

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I suppose you are thinking that since the model is contemporary it shouldn't look "old".   But some buyers (maybe most?) want their instruments to look old.  Since the issue is appearance, why not antique a personal model if that's what the buyer wants?  The general shape of most personal model instruments, excepting such as David Rivinus's and the like, very much resemble old instruments even though they don't follow any design of old makers.

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To my eye any kind of antiqueing beyond a bit of shading looks cheap (and seems completely illogical), but buyers of new violins clearly don't share my world view!

Pristine varnish seems to be more acceptable to a European buyer than to an American one (mercifully).

The idea of antiqueing one's own model is deeply paradoxical and a perverse exercise in anachronism.

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1 hour ago, martin swan said:

To my eye any kind of antiqueing beyond a bit of shading looks cheap (and seems completely illogical)

I agree that most antiqued varnish is poorly done and doesn't look very convincing but to antique is the logical next step

when the initial attempt at straight varnishing goes awry.

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Funny thing--IMHO, many of the top end antiques don't look very old (until you look inside, anyway), while heavily antiqued trade fiddles are very common.  Could less be more here?  :)

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As a consumer, I do like the ‘practicality’ of slight antiquing so that future touchups don’t seem devastating.  Plus, the areas where hands might naturally wear down the varnish, I like those areas when I can see the ground. But when it’s excessive with all the little purposed scratches and nicks, I don’t like that much.  

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My thoughts,

i’m fine with pretty much anything, so long as it looks good. 

A good varnish looks good before and after it is antiqued,

antiquing can add some texture and character if well done,

a straight finish has a bold visual impact 

both need to be carried out really well, whatever the case,

that was my neutral opinion explained, so varnish how you like

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9 hours ago, martin swan said:

To my eye any kind of antiqueing beyond a bit of shading looks cheap (and seems completely illogical), but buyers of new violins clearly don't share my world view!

Pristine varnish seems to be more acceptable to a European buyer than to an American one (mercifully).

The idea of antiqueing one's own model is deeply paradoxical and a perverse exercise in anachronism.

Likes the way you think. Straight varnished instruments are beautiful when they are done right, and they show off the luthier's skills fully. Antiquing a personal model is very head-scratching stuff. Any antiquing is kind of tragic. Make a perfect corner, wear it down to a nub, repeat 7 times?

However, one thing... great antiquing is great antiquing. I don't think Nedelec or Phillips make cheap-looking instruments, do you?

Unfortunately a lot of folks are antiquing, but are not great at it. Almost all antiquing could be compared with new Chinese cheap product, and sometimes (too often), unfavorably. Antiquing should not be used mostly to hide errors in making...that doesn't work.

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9 hours ago, martin swan said:

To my eye any kind of antiqueing beyond a bit of shading looks cheap (and seems completely illogical), but buyers of new violins clearly don't share my world view!

Pristine varnish seems to be more acceptable to a European buyer than to an American one (mercifully).

The idea of antiqueing one's own model is deeply paradoxical and a perverse exercise in anachronism.

To my eyes a bit of shading is the worst you can do to a violin. A.D. for example shows us how to antique in a convincing way. Shading without changing varnish texture and rubbing dust into the varnish looks usually very Chinese to my eyes. In that case I would always prefer a pristine varnish.

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A key revelation for me was the idea that antiquing really isn't about making an instrument look old. It's about taking the attractive features of old instruments and incorporating them into a new one. I'm not quite sure how to explain why that distinction is important. As someone who makes my own models, I don't find the idea of antiquing them strange at all. All I'm doing is taking the visual features of beautiful instruments and creating a technique out of those features. I am under no delusions of convincing consumers my instruments are old. For me, incorporating a bit of distressing into a varnish job let's me add another layer of texture and color which I personally find more attractive than a straight varnish. It's all a balancing act however as I've seen some antiquing work that's really off putting. I also see plenty of straight varnishes where the instrument just looks like a piece of candy.

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Personally my opinion is that antiquing should be done when trying to make a 1 to 1 copy of an existing instrument. As time has gone by I tend to like it less and less. Personally I feel the genesis for lots of the antique work we see is the fact that is is very hard to keep a new instrument blemish free during and up to the point of varnish and that what much of what we see is simply someone trying to "cover" "realities" that can not be hidden if a "straight" varnish were to be done.

Particularly when we factor in UV light and it's effects on the base color of wood and how any "correction" with a scraper or sandpaper will yield discoloration.

So when I see a piece of work that is just about to be varnished that has no dent,ding, scratch, light/dark spot, no glue ghosts, no nits no nothing, I see work that is at another level that takes awhile to achieve "naturally" based on a real understanding of the entire process and just what it takes to keep something "perfect" up to the point of the varnish hitting it. 

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I’m working on a personal model currently, and I have been debating wether to antique or not, I think I will, but not to try try and fool anyone, just to try to incorporate some of the textures. I also find it accentuates some of the more dynamic aspects of my making, shows the tool marks in a beautiful way. 

 

But do whatever pleases you! This is your art!  

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On 7/3/2019 at 4:12 AM, martin swan said:

The idea of antiqueing one's own model is deeply paradoxical and a perverse exercise in anachronism.

Very provocative statement.

How would you call customers who buy a 'perverse exercise in anachronism'?

 

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On 7/2/2019 at 10:50 PM, joerobson said:

The question is this: If you design and make a personal model should you even consider an antiqued varnish?  In these days of classic design fed by Francois Denis, Harry Mairson, and Kevin Kelly many makers are involved in personal models.

'Should'? Certainly not. 

BUT

Makers who started with replicas and created later their own model most of the time just continued the antiqued varnish. It is just an evolutionary process.  

OR

If not so, you do what you can sell.

AND

Why do personal models stick with traditional varnish colors? (What about blue, green violet, silver, gold or flourescent colors?)

 

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A lot of the magic of old varnishes comes from how they gather patina. It can be a false chase seeking this with a new look. 

I make most of my work 'antiqued' . This is because I want to take risks with my making and am prepared to re work and take apart my instruments to get the playing qualities I want... It is not so easy to do this with a new looking instrument.I will re work an instrument several times and get played by top players before releasing to the customer..It's a bit similar to what happens with an old freshly restored instrument....

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50 minutes ago, Melvin Goldsmith said:

A lot of the magic of old varnishes comes from how they gather patina. It can be a false chase seeking this with a new look. 

I make most of my work 'antiqued' . This is because I want to take risks with my making and am prepared to re work and take apart my instruments to get the playing qualities I want... It is not so easy to do this with a new looking instrument.I will re work an instrument several times and get played by top players before releasing to the customer..It's a bit similar to what happens with an old freshly restored instrument....

I have heard you mention this a number of times on here,

 

what kind of techniques are you using for graduations/ plate tuning after taking them apart? 

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Generally I think it would be hard to get this lively varnish we see on old Italian instruments from 'plain varnish'. What makes the coats and ground interesting is often dust, sweat and other particles worked heavy into the varnish. That’s what i observe in my own making and what Padding claimed in one of his articles.

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On the majority of old Italians, there is very little original varnish to be seen. Generally you are looking at many coats of over-varnish, retouch and polish.

When you get to see a violin in its original state, it can be very distressing to discover how unpleasant it looks. I recently saw a Gennaro Gagliano which was pretty much unused since the day it was made. It was rather matt, a bit grey, no refractiveness, generally quite featureless.

 

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I have made instruments which were fully varnished, and had crisp edges  black picking on the chamfers and real ebony purfling. They looked really good until the first player tried it for a few weeks. After that they looked really scratched. I am sure those instruments will look great in about 30 years but in the meantime all any one sees are the scratches and dings even though toned down with the retouching brush. I also make instruments with lots of tool marks, a few deliberate dings and scratches and varnish wear in the places one expects to see it. No attempt to make it look old yet players seem to find them friendlier looking and the unavoidable edge wear and scratches blend right in and can be retouched in a few minutes and look fine.

I would say that a personal model with full varnish which shows off the design abilities and technical skills of the maker for better or worse is really the most challenging and "artistic" expression of the craft. However unless the instrument is made on commission for some one who appreciates that  I think you find it harder to sell. If you are selling through dealers or any situation where someone is auditioning many instruments looking for the one they feel most comfortable with shading and a few freckles are the way to go.

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