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Tony_Leatham

Tender Varnish

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I have a contemporary violin made by the Wessex Violin Company in England. Actually, I'm on to my third one. All have displayed the same problem which is that after a little while (a few months) the (oil) varnish at the base of the neck where it joins to the body starts to flake off. 

The first time it happened, I assumed it was a manufacturing defect and got in touch with them and they (without hesitation) agreed to change it. The second instrument went the same way, and so again they agreed to replace. They have been very understanding and accommodating and taken responsibility for the issue.

Now the third instrument is quite special to me - it's a better instrument than the first two and to my ears sounds very good and it plays really nicely. However, it has started to go the same way (although nowhere near as bad as the image attached which is of the first instrument). Now, I did a bit of research at this point and discovered that the problem could well be me - or at least my sweaty hands. I am quite careful to clean the instrument after I've finished with it, but I discovered that corrosive perspiration is a thing and having gone through three instruments from a luthier that has a good reputation I have to assume that there's more to this than bad varnishing.

So the point of this post is to ask the experts for options. I read somewhere that sometimes, a coat of shellac can be applied? I am also lead to believe that some instruments have clear contact paper fitted (https://trianglestrings.com/applying-removing-rib-protector/) to protect against this. What are the options?

Thanks in advance

Wessex_Small.jpg

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That would appear to be due to the sealer that was used right there in the end grain area, the varnish is not able to bite anything, and after some expansion cycles it is just sliding off.

Is it only happening at this spot(area)?. are the ribs ok? Certainly don't give up a fiddle that you love over this. Many have all of the varnish worn away here after use anyway .It actually feels better with no varnish here,, only a silky rubbed in finish. This is easily repaired.

Some people do have acid paws that break down the varnish, is it getting sticky or gooey when pressed with the fingernail?

There is a finish called tru oil that goes on super thin, as thin as you can wipe it off, several of these micro thin coats are fairly bullet proof, I've done guitar necks with it and it holds like glass, while violin varnish wears quickly and can get a bit soft as it breaks down, it doesn't like human oils in general, might not be so much acid paws as oily mittens,

Do you eat a lot of spaghetti with olive oil and Garlic???

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It looks like a classic failure of the oil varnish to grip the wood. Oils can sometimes be very fussy when applied to a surface which has been smoothed, and also sealed with a ground. They need to form a mechanical bond with the surface or they can peel off.

Spirit varnishes, like shellac, are able to grip to finer (smoother) surfaces than oil as a general rule. Also, just about any type of varnish or paint will grip shellac.

A light sanding with 600 or 800 grit sandpaper should be rough enough to allow varnish to grip. But you have to make sure all the loose existing varnish is removed. You can then use a french polish technique to apply diluted shellac as a new ground/sealer coat. Dyes can be used to color the shellac to match the color and blend over  the surrounding oil varnish.

 

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All varnish can wear badly at high contact areas, especially if one has corrosive perspiration. Some oil varnishes are especially susceptible when fresh.

These areas on the neck, or the upper rib can be retouched in future, but eventually these too will deteriorate. It is just a consequence of use.
If you look at any well used instrument, the body and scroll ends of the neck always have some varnish loss, but it is not detrimental to the instrument. 

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Thanks for the replies.

In answer to the questions:

this does appear to be the only area affect - the ribs are not showing any sign of this happening at all.

The varnish is a little sticky if I press it with a fingernail.

Being English, my diet is not heavy in either spaghetti or olive oil, but neither is it devoid of either. I eat pasta once or twice a week. My hands are not especially oily, though they do sweat when I'm warm.

I do get that many instruments display signs of wear - I just kind of expected the instrument to be more than a few months old when this happened.

Thanks for your answers.

 

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13 hours ago, Tony_Leatham said:

Thanks for the replies.

In answer to the questions:

this does appear to be the only area affect - the ribs are not showing any sign of this happening at all.

The varnish is a little sticky if I press it with a fingernail.

Being English, my diet is not heavy in either spaghetti or olive oil, but neither is it devoid of either. I eat pasta once or twice a week. My hands are not especially oily, though they do sweat when I'm warm.

I do get that many instruments display signs of wear - I just kind of expected the instrument to be more than a few months old when this happened.

Thanks for your answers.

 

That varnish is not up to the job. I looked at their website and they are claiming that these instrument are made in England. I doubt that very much. But if you like your violin then that varnish is the only real downside for you if it's well made with good wood.

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3 hours ago, sospiri said:

That varnish is not up to the job. I looked at their website and they are claiming that these instrument are made in England. I doubt that very much. But if you like your violin then that varnish is the only real downside for you if it's well made with good wood.

I know it was made in England. 

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Tony,

I see 3 issues here.

The hard polished [my guess a protein] ground of some sort does not provide enough tooth for the varnish to adhere properly.

The too soft varnish is dry to the touch but not through the film.

The heat of your hand softens the varnish.

It is possible,  if this is an oil varnish, that some extended time in a UV box might help a lot.

I would not suggest over coating with anything until the film is dry.

on we go,

Joe

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If you like everything else about the fiddle, I would consider ignoring the varnish separation on the heel for ten years or so. Then, if it seems like it is done,  have the heel retouched.

Apparently, Stradivari and Amati had some varnish separation issues too, yet folks still consider those fiddles to be OK. ;)

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Joe and David

You both make perfect sense - many thanks indeed for your considered opinions.

I will take your advice and leave it for a period of time and then figure out how/if to touch it up

 

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20 hours ago, Tony_Leatham said:

I know it was made in England. 

How do you know that, Tony?

Please don't think I'm being aggressive or confrontational. Just genuinely interested. 

The prices seem incredibly low for instruments fully manufactured in western europe.

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Before 

38 minutes ago, Bodacious Cowboy said:

How do you know that, Tony?

Please don't think I'm being aggressive or confrontational. Just genuinely interested. 

The prices seem incredibly low for instruments fully manufactured in western europe.

Before buying the instrument I spent a great deal of time discussing a number of issues with the owner of the business, Justin.

I actually contacted him to berate him for claiming the instruments were made in the UK when clearly they couldn't have been.

But he explained their process (a copy router for roughs and then hand finished), their in house luthier who is a graduate of the Newark School, and various other things. His main concern seemed to be around claiming the instrument was handmade when a powertool had been used, even though the power tool is not CNC and was guided by hand. That's a discussion I'm definitely not getting into here, BTW.

This was a very long conversation over email and he left me in no doubt that he was a man at pains to tell the truth.

He is very much aware of the criticisms levelled at makers such as his including the "it can't possibly be made in England for that price" one. Most of his business is selling to retailers and he has a good relationship with them.

In short, he convinced me. He agreed his website doesn't necessarily do a great job of telling his story but so far, he hasn't changed it since our discussions.

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50 minutes ago, Wood Butcher said:

England isn’t in Europe.

England is in Europe

It is not in the European Union.

Europe is a continent, and the European Union is a supra-national political construct

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23 hours ago, Tony_Leatham said:

I know it was made in England. 

 

3 hours ago, Tony_Leatham said:

Before 

Before buying the instrument I spent a great deal of time discussing a number of issues with the owner of the business, Justin.

I actually contacted him to berate him for claiming the instruments were made in the UK when clearly they couldn't have been.

But he explained their process (a copy router for roughs and then hand finished), their in house luthier who is a graduate of the Newark School, and various other things. His main concern seemed to be around claiming the instrument was handmade when a powertool had been used, even though the power tool is not CNC and was guided by hand. That's a discussion I'm definitely not getting into here, BTW.

This was a very long conversation over email and he left me in no doubt that he was a man at pains to tell the truth.

He is very much aware of the criticisms levelled at makers such as his including the "it can't possibly be made in England for that price" one. Most of his business is selling to retailers and he has a good relationship with them.

In short, he convinced me. He agreed his website doesn't necessarily do a great job of telling his story but so far, he hasn't changed it since our discussions.

Okay, thanks for that information.

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I had a problem with my early oil varnish work being chippy and separating in this way.  I learned to scuff sand the ground coat before applying varnish to get good mechanical adhesion.  No problem since.

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1 hour ago, Shunyata said:

I had a problem with my early oil varnish work being chippy and separating in this way.  I learned to scuff sand the ground coat before applying varnish to get good mechanical adhesion.  No problem since.

I have to say that it does feel very much like the problem is a localised lack of adhesion - and my hot sweaty hands are making matters worse

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Further commentary on the "is it made in England?" question.....

I scanned the statement relating to its origins from the Certificate of Authenticity provided when I bought the instrument. It would be a breach of UK laws if these statements were subsequently found to be inaccurate, so I believe I can trust them.

 

CofA_origin.jpeg

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