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Thoughts about retouching varnish, or not


milkpowder
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Hi everyone. I've been lurking for a while and have learned a fair bit doing so. Wondering what the general thoughts are about retouching varnish that has either worn away from playing +/- artifically aged.

My violin has wear on the varnish in particularly where the left hand touches the body of the violin to the point where it has lost its shine. I know ultimately this is up to me whether to have it done or not, but as much as I am an owner of this fiddle, I am also a steward of this instrument and my gut feeling is to leave it alone to keep its "originality". However, I can't help but want to restore the shine, and to an extent the colour, in particular on the table. Do others feel the same, or have reservations about revarnishing?

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Edited by milkpowder
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In general, an instrument which is being used should have a layer of clear varnish applied wherever there is bare wood, to protect the wood from moisture and wear. This may need to be done quite regularly. And make sure it's done by someone who knows how to do this carefully and artistically.

Once sealed with varnish, the wear area on the upper rib can also be further protected with clear adhesive plastic, but the top and back edges in that area appear to have a lot of wear too, so those will still probably need to be retouched regularly.

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Light retouching is usually fine, although the larger the area, the greater the chance it’ll be visible. Sealing bare spots is important to keep the wood healthy, but the wood needs to be clean from dirt and oil before anything is put on—otherwise all that debris is trapped in and might go deeper into the pores, which will make the area darker.

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Thank you for the advice. I especially take on board the comments about the protective nature of varnish. Attached is another photo and you can clearly see where the varnish has been completely worn down. I've had this violin for about 16 years and played a lot more over the first ten years - looking back at older photos I'm relieved that I haven't added any wear to the unprotected wood.

I definitely won't be attempting any retouching myself! I anticipated colour matching would be pretty difficult to do well, but never considered the matt/gloss aspect as well. Am I correct in thinking that even clear varnish will darken the wood slightly?

 

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Edited by milkpowder
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I highly recommend at least sealing off areas of bare wood. Especially the upper bout ribs where your hand touches. If you don't, it'll start to go grey/green with dirt and sweat. You'll even deposit salty crystals into the wood that looks bad and clouds up the wood when sealed. 

To be honest I'd just have the areas of egregious and detrimental wear done. The areas on the back and top with nice subtle wear look quite nice to me. 

But that's just my opinion and take it for what you will. 

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1 hour ago, Dwight Brown said:

I am 100% with Maestro Burgess on this. I would seek out a first class restorer. It will be very cheap compared to undoing bad work later. What is the instrument?

DLB

Yup.  Very standard maintenance, accomplished easily by someone who knows what they are doing. It should be carefully cleaned first to remove salts and oils. I usually flatten the varnish used for exposed areas appropriately. It looks more natural than a shiny area where it really shouldn't be shiny.  Flat varnish protects as well as glossy, and if a bit more protection is required, there are some waxes that can be applied over the retouch.  Plastic barrier on the rib will prevent further wear there.  Go to a pro.

 

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Fantastic advice, exactly what I was looking for. When the situation in the UK improves, I'll embark on looking for an experienced restorer.

Dwight, it's unlabelled violin that came with a 1950s receipt from Beares stating it is a BS Fendt circa 1830s. The scroll is by another maker. I've taken it to a local(ish) dealer with quite a bit of experience in British/H&S violins who was supportive of the attribution and dating. I couldn't tell you very much else, only that there were some physical clues (numbered markings/bridge) supporting it having gone through Beares and possibly Hill & Sons over the course of its life. I'm quite fond of it.

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1 hour ago, milkpowder said:

Fantastic advice, exactly what I was looking for. When the situation in the UK improves, I'll embark on looking for an experienced restorer.

Dwight, it's unlabelled violin that came with a 1950s receipt from Beares stating it is a BS Fendt circa 1830s. The scroll is by another maker. I've taken it to a local(ish) dealer with quite a bit of experience in British/H&S violins who was supportive of the attribution and dating. I couldn't tell you very much else, only that there were some physical clues (numbered markings/bridge) supporting it having gone through Beares and possibly Hill & Sons over the course of its life. I'm quite fond of it.

It’s really quite handsome. I’m absolutely sure there are some great restoration folks that can do a sympathetic job for you. You could ask Jeff, I’m sure he knows just the right person.

DLB

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