Live from China: Coverage of the Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition
December 8, 2006 at 05:51 AM · Best violin polish/cleaner
December 8, 2006 at 10:34 PM · I think it is best not to use violin cleaners or polishers. They tend to leave a residue of silicon or oil on the violin which can combine with the rosin dust and over time cause a sticky mess. This is according to Rene Morel. The best thing to do is to wipe rosin off after playing and have your violin cleaned every so often by your luthier.
December 9, 2006 at 02:36 AM · I've had great success cleaning antique attic grunge off violins using (really) saliva, and a soft cloth. The enzymes in it help break up old grit, and the proteins keep it from running all ober the instrument - it stays where you put it.
Of course, a little bit at a time is the way to go, unless you're a virtual canine, with drool to spare.
It's free, it's organic, and it won't mess up the finish. Doesn't work too well on old rosin, though.
December 9, 2006 at 11:16 PM · water!
December 10, 2006 at 04:46 AM · I've also used the organic cleaner (saliva) for built up rosin. It does work pretty well.
December 10, 2006 at 05:25 AM · Walnut oil.
December 10, 2006 at 08:17 AM · If it's a valuable violin, the best thing is to keep the violin from getting dirty in the first place.
Wash your hands before playing. Wipe off rosin after playing. Perspiration and light dirt can usually be removed (as Geoff said) with a clean cloth SLIGHTLY moistened with water. If the violin needs serious cleaning, it's best to leave that to a professional.
I'm not aware of any commercial cleaner which won't attack some varnishes.
Polishes usually contain some kind of oil. Oil can penetrate small fissures in the varnish and end up in the wood, damping the sound, or making future gluing and repair more difficult. Some oil will remain on the surface and catch dirt, essentially turning your violin into an air filter. If the oil is a vegetable base, it may harden over time, forming a new "varnish" layer incorporating dirt from the air, perspiration and rosin. Yuck! This can be very difficult to remove, even by a pro!
Some people have a perspiration chemistry which degrades varnishes. The old Cremonese varnishes were particularly susceptible to this. Hand washing helps, and some luthiers are starting to use a wax developed by museum conservators. It can help isolate varnish from moisture, reduce wear if regularly applied, and has a molecule size large enough that it won't penetrate varnish or wood easily.
It used to be OK to slather on anything which made the violin look nice and shiny, but those of us in the trade are learning to think more and more like conservators, and are avoiding contaminating original finishes with foreign substances.
If it's a cheap violin, don't worry about any of the above.
December 10, 2006 at 10:51 AM · David,
How about using distilled water? Distilled has better penetrating power than tap, no contaminants, and surely wouldn't hurt varnish.
Yes / No ?
December 10, 2006 at 09:04 PM · I'm not sure water, distilled, deionized or straight from the tap, is all that good for varnish. Unless used very sparingly on a slightly damp cloth, it tends to be pretty mobile as well, getting into places you may not want it, and causing unprotected wood to swell. I've had varnished instruments (guitars, mandolins) that showed clouding of the finish wher an arm had rested during playing; admittedly, perspiration contains dissolved electrolytes, but even so, it was the fluid in which they were dissolved that affected the varnish.
As has been said, cleaning the instrument after playing will take care of 95% or more of any grunge buildup. Beyond that, a little polish once a year or so is about as far as I'm inclined to go.
December 10, 2006 at 10:47 PM · Like others, I agree that cleaning is a job best left to the professionals, especially for a valuable instrument.
With that said, though, a month ago I cleaned my fiddle for the first time in about twelve years using the spit technique (use mouthwash first), and I must say, it worked rather well...every so often I wonder what that unfamiliar shiny thing is doing under my chin...
December 11, 2006 at 12:38 AM · I just tried the "Ole Saliva" brand myself, and it didn't do spit.
(pardon the pun)
I wonder if some brands of rosin are immune to the enzymes? I use Tartini red & brown.
-Or perhaps some types of varnish have a greater tendancy to hold onto rosin dust. I doubt many luthiers would choose a finshing schedule based on that.
December 11, 2006 at 01:27 AM · Allan, if the spit didn't work, there must not have been a sufficient concentration of mouthwash. :-)
Mouthwash usually contains alcohol, and will do a much better job of removing rosin as well as varnish!
Many luthiers are now using deionized water when they can, but it doesn't remove rosin very well. Excessive amounts can render the varnish more porous, leaving a white mark like Bob described, much the same as a "water ring" from placing a wet glass on varnished furniture. Water must be used very sparingly.
I don't know exactly what chemicals and digestive enzymes spit contains, but it's not something I'd use to keep my Strad happy (if I owned one). Works great on my car and mah cowboy boots though. ;-)
December 11, 2006 at 03:30 AM · Greetings,
it`s also useful for checking the temperature of cooking oil before that great fry up.
December 11, 2006 at 03:53 AM · Oh, I can think of way more pleasurable (and potent) ways of getting alcohol in your spit. Of course, you want to get rid of the residual alcohol in your mouth; I was just suggesting that maybe you don't want your violin to smell like a burrito.
I certainly wouldn't recommend spitting on anyone's Montagnana. :^)
It's true that saliva doesn't really dissolve rosin well, but that's part of what's good about it -- it removes sweat and dust easily but is pretty gentle on both varnish and rosin.
December 12, 2006 at 05:30 PM · my personal favorite: a rag. It is smooth, white, and has a nice yellow, pink, and blue plaid pattern on it. I get it washed every few years. When I see more dust on it than rosin, that's usually a sign it needs cleaned.
December 13, 2006 at 09:21 AM · Being the clean freak and obsessive organizer-cleaner that I am...
I have fallen into the hole of one who uses cleaners and polishes too often and now have a sticky violin top to show for it.
I still like to clean my bow off whenever it gets white instead of wood-coloured. I know I play with a tilted bow, and I like my bow fairly loose. This is the price I pay, rosin on the bow.
I don't worry so much about the cleaning of the bow as I do scratching it up with the string. I have wondered and pondered if this is a technical problem in my playing. I have tried other bow grips and angles and amounts of pronation and have come to the conclusion that it is a choice, and aesthetically best for me. It suites my body and my strenghts best. Not all the time, of course. Sometimes a flatter bow is called for. But I do a lot of orchestral playing, and in order to blend well and be precise, but not too bold...my bow gets pretty gungky.
On the other hand, the violin? I'm not sure how to keep it clean without using cleaner, but I'd rather have my violin dirty than sticky :( in Hindsight.
It bothers me that violin cleaners and polishes do not have the ingredients listed on the bottle. That makes it pretty suspect in my opinion.
Still, I can't help myself sometimes....I feel so good after cleaning both insturments and bows and polishing them and cleaning the bow hair...
I am thinking about getting a protective layer of coating on my violin just because I think the varnish is coming off anyway, due to sweat and other variables.
December 13, 2006 at 09:43 AM · I saw a violin once, with rosin that looked like someone had taken a box of powder and just poured on it.
I've heard everything from keep everything off the instrument, to just get whatever is at the music store, so that too seems variable.
December 13, 2006 at 03:07 PM · Despite all of the cautions I think a polish like Hill cleaner polish is quite useful in SMALL amounts--there is no shortcut for the hard work of thinking, judicious amounts of polish are certainly relatively harmless when dealing with the fiddles most of us have. Would I use is on a Gadda maybe not--but I do use it on my Mozzani.
As for my bow I put a small amount on my fingrt tip apply it to the worst part of the rosined area and then use a cloth--I've been using the same cloth for 30 years. It probably has several bottles of different polishes in it by now--lol.
December 13, 2006 at 03:17 PM · Hill cleaner contains abrasive and can cause damage to oil varnish...the best way to clean a violin is to use a very small amount of mineral oil and gently apply it all over...than, with another clean cloth, to remove gently the excess of oil...
December 13, 2006 at 03:53 PM · Thanks Marc--
My fiddle is a spirit varnish which is why I'm not so concerned--plus of course, there is such a deposit of polish on my cloth that I'm not sure what's working since i use so little of the Hill.
December 13, 2006 at 03:57 PM · it works with spirit varnish too! A trick given to me by a famous french luthier...I read about it to later in violin-makers litterature...
Have a nice day...
December 13, 2006 at 06:14 PM · I have a number of luthier friends who maintain that one should not use a polish or cleaner more than a couple of times a year, and instead wipe the violin down gently and thouroughly after each time you play. This is going to sound weird, but the favored polish among some I have asked is Super-Sensitive - it is supposed to be the most mild, least abrasive.
December 13, 2006 at 06:18 PM · As for bows and strings - I have been told to use 99% isopropyl alcohol (70% which is what you commonly find at the pharmacy has mineral oil on it and will ruin your bow hair) on the hair and on the strings (while holding the violin upside down, and applying with a q-tip so none drips on the varnish).
January 16, 2007 at 11:57 PM · I prefer wiping it down with a dry cloth before and after playing and leave the cleaning to the professionals. As for the saliva, I'd rather that be kept oraly contained.
January 17, 2007 at 12:10 PM · the general rule is that dont use this and that or the varnish will be compromised, so better let the profs do it. no problem with that, except the profs will still need to use SOMETHING:)
January 19, 2007 at 07:38 AM · Yes Al, although hopfully the ingredients are not similar to the cleaner Bob uses, otherwise I think I just stick to my own methods.
January 19, 2007 at 04:17 PM · I've always been afraid of using any polish on my violin. I just use a cloth to wipe off the rosin.
January 19, 2007 at 04:32 PM · I'm always polishing my violin,my violin shines like glass.A word of caution before you start polishing, make sure you try a small section on the varnish before you apply to the whole area of the violin surface,some polish cleaners can soften the varnish surface which will smear badly...Last year I bought some Cromonese Polish formulated by Stefano Conia the well known Italian violin maker.Just take a look at the professional string sections in orchestras ,their instruments shine like their lives depend on it!
January 19, 2007 at 05:25 PM · i don't have much experience, but i would treat a newer violin differently from a very old one where the varnish can be fragile and thin. in the latter case, be very careful because not many here are qualified to reverse a chemical reaction, or many chemical reactions whatever the case may be. just because it shines for the time being can be misleading...
February 11, 2012 at 02:54 AM · David Burgess said (in this resurrected conversation)"Many luthiers are now using deionized water when they can, but it doesn't remove rosin very well. Excessive amounts can render the varnish more porous, leaving a white mark like Bob described, much the same as a "water ring" from placing a wet glass on varnished furniture. Water must be used very sparingly."
My question is: Is it dangerous for the untrained to use this in small quantities? Also, if so is it best to get the product from scientific suppliers? I am thinking mostly in relation to student level violins.
February 11, 2012 at 03:26 AM · The problem with polish is that a lot of it is oil based, and if it gets into any cracks, it makes it VERY difficult to fix. I would try to stick with a soft cloth.
February 11, 2012 at 04:15 PM · I am aware of the danger of using oil or silicon based cleaners. My question was "what about deionized water."
February 11, 2012 at 07:44 PM · I can only remember having cleaned a violin twice, once many years ago and once a year and a half ago. On both occasions, having wiped away any excess rosin, I used linseed oil applied very sparingly and with a very soft cloth. I've forgotten where I got this idea from, possibly the luthier I used to go to about 1970.
Nowadays, however, I leave it to the professionals, as Bruce Berg and Peter Ouyang have noted above. My current luthier did a superb job of cleaning a violin for me recently. Even so, it's not something I would have a professional do at all often; instead, I just wipe away with a soft cloth any excess rosin (I never leave much) after each playing.
February 11, 2012 at 08:12 PM · I tend to use urine but I have been warned that if you do yourintrouble ...
February 12, 2012 at 12:19 PM · Peter, if it works, what the heck, yourinluck!
Some years ago I had an incident involving a small child and a peanut butter sandwich, which resulted in small oily paw marks all over my 1864 German violin (it happened in my absence). I had a lesson the next day and showed my instrument to my teacher, who took out a small bottle of 'Viol' instrument cleaner and gave it a once over. She showed me it was also useful for removing rosin from the strings, which it seemed to do rather well. It is a German product which looks oily, smells like sandalwood and pine, and has a reddish tint. My violin (which had old rather worn varnish) seemed clean after that and didn't suffer any ill effects that I could discern. Like one of the posts above, there are no ingredients listed so I don't know if it really is oil or what, but it did the job from what I can tell. Although I've never bought any I've seen it listed on the occasional website for strings, under accessories. I tend to just wipe my instruments with a clean dry cloth and it keeps them looking nice enough.
February 12, 2012 at 01:38 PM · Millie, I have an even better method. ALL small children are automatically electricuted as they they enter the front door - so I never have a problem! (I'm not joking either ...)
I have it programmed to do the same for religious nuts who press my doorbell as well, so they give me a wide berth. (Again, I'm not joking ...)
But apart from that I'm a peace loving decent person who can clear a big space when I start playing.
February 12, 2012 at 05:10 PM · Peter, I don't even have to start playing my violin in the pub -- the very act of opening my fiddle case is enough to trigger an exodus.
February 12, 2012 at 05:15 PM · There is a school of thought (at which I've never been educated, but I know some folk fiddlers who have) which says that your street cred in the business is proportional to the thickness of rosin between bridge and fingerboard, and to the angle of departure of the bridge from the vertical.
February 12, 2012 at 05:35 PM · The best violin cleaner/polish is that one the player NEVER USES!!!!
February 12, 2012 at 06:08 PM · The best thing is good daily hygiene, involving wiping the strings with one cloth and the violin and fingerboard and bow with another cloth. For the strings only, I use some kind of man-made "cotton" that has a bit of edge to it. For the violin and bow, I use soft flannel.
Once or twice a year I use a formula made by Ed Maday, the maker of 3 of my violins and who also makes his varnishes from scratch, so I think he knows how to make a safe polish. It can be used more often safely, but I find that with my good habit of simple daily wiping, I don't need to. I could tell y'all what's in it - but then Ed and I would both have to kill you! ;-)
February 12, 2012 at 09:11 PM · "My question is: Is it dangerous for the untrained to use this (deionized water) in small quantities?"
There is nothing which is completely safe. Some varnishes can be softened by water when new, so water combined with some rubbing will take a little off. Others are more robust when new, but degradation with time and exposure to perspiration makes them more vulnerable.
One of the advantages of professional cleaning is that hopefully, the pro knows the difference between when dirt and rosin are being removed, and when original varnish starts to be removed. It can be a fine line, because some of the solvents which remove rosin also remove various kinds of varnishes, or leach out some of their components. Pine resin (one form is rosin) is a component in some varnishes.
There are no cleaners, polishes, or cleaner/polishes on the market which I could recommend as being safe for all instruments.
February 12, 2012 at 10:18 PM · I always wipe the violin over with a cloth after playing, but both the new instruments have developed some varnish 'pitting' on the treble side of the big bout. My teacher says its from breathing while playing - ugh, I have good oral hygiene, i promise - what can be done short of having a little spray jacket made up (that would look cute, though).
February 12, 2012 at 10:48 PM · Every experienced restorer can tell many disaster stories about cleaning instruments envolving alchool, parfum, violin cleaners, polishers, water, etc.
Paganini's "Cannone" made by Del Gesù have a dark rosin deposit in the bridge area , it seems that restorers and specialists decided to leave it there.
February 13, 2012 at 06:30 AM · Lol Peter, that'd be a handy force field idea for my room, which is what I needed at the time. Visitors, of course, with the little one's mum on the phone oblivious at the time. Lucky the violin was ok. The bow fared worse, with peanut butter AND red cordial on the hair, EW! My only bow. So panic stations and internet advice on alcohol and dishwashing liquid and it was ok but never quite the same. 6 months later I opened the case one day to find half the hair had broken just at the problem area, so a rehair it finally was. Now I have a lock on my wardrobe door, for intrusive and unexpected visitors. Maybe if I just add electricity.........!
February 19, 2012 at 09:05 PM · any advice would be greatly appreciated. bought a violin on ebay and got it in the mail yesterday, and it looks like this! anyone know what it is and how i can fix it?
February 19, 2012 at 09:06 PM · here is one more pic...
February 19, 2012 at 10:23 PM · Yikes! It looks like it was spray-painted with purple paint. Did you see pics of it before you bought it? It's a pity, because what I can see of the wood looks pretty nice. Does it sound pretty good, at least?
Clearly this is a job for a pro. Maybe you could also get back to the seller and ask what it is.
February 19, 2012 at 11:55 PM · LOL, i guess the pic makes it look purple! It's a waxy like film on the violin. There was some white powder in the corners of it too.
I asked the seller, who speaks virtually no english, and they said it's the "antique varnish" which i don't think they knew what I asked!
March 1, 2012 at 02:45 PM · I wanted to share with the discussion that I use a wax for polishing violins that has a good reputation for not damaging the instrument, short term or long term. It is called Renaissance wax. I have included a link to a pdf file that describes the wax. This wax does not leave fingerprints and can be used repeatedly.
There are many places to get the wax. Just look for the best price. Here is another description:
March 1, 2012 at 03:16 PM · I use a tiny amount of 'Nickoclair' about once a year on the body of my instruments. Even then I don't go anywhere near the joints/seams with it. It works very very well. I also like that it doesn't smell as strongly as some other cleaners/polishes.
I do use rubbing alcohol on strings/fingerboard and (being a makeup wearing female) on my chinrest every couple of weeks.
June 5, 2012 at 05:42 PM · Jamie it looks as though you have exactly what you've described there, a waxy build up, my guess would be some kind of hard wax that has no business being on a violin such as (heaven forfend) candle wax.
That being the case, I'd probably use a bit of the old elbow grease, buff it and see if you can't wear it down over time to reveal the gorgeous finsh you have on the middle of the belly, or has been suggested, take it to a pro.
I play an inexpensive student violin, one of the benefits of doing so is I can tinker with this and that to see what works and what is just horrid.
It's an oil based finish, spirit based I have no idea about.
I HATE rosin build up on my violin, I'm obsessive about removing it, usually with a daily dusting with a clean soft cotton cloth.
Every month or so I'll clean the strings down with some isopropyl swabs (yes,yes, my violin teacher has the same horrified reaction but I have yet to notice any adverse effects of doing so). I should point out my strings are synthetic, I don't know I'd be brave enough to do it on gut.
Obviously isopropyl and oil varnish are poor bedfellows, but I've cleaned the stick of my bow (admittedly carbon fibre) like this many times, no adverse reactions to date.
In my wicked and sinful manner I have been known to give the fingerboard of my violin a wipe down with the old isopropyl swab as well, it disolves rosin instantly on contact, it dries almost instantly too.
I have a particular high end furniture oil that has a wonderful orange scent (that is usually accompanied with the obligatory tut tut and head shake from my long suffering tutor) I buff the oil in, (avoiding contact with strings of course) leave it sit for a while then buff it off so none remains.
It SEEMS to soak into the oil varnish, which in turn seems to have dried out and solidified over the life of the violin.
I'd do that maybe twice a year.
I also have a spray on Dunlop orchestral polish that I use, I've had the same bottle for maybe two years, I don't like it near as much.
Maybe I'm biased, or deluded, or just plain wrong but I think treating my violin like this has meant that I have an instument today that looks (and I think sounds, I use a humidifier in it) better than it did the day I bought it.
It may just be the constant buffing, but the less lustrous oil varnish I had when I bought it is now decidedly more brilliant.
I think what might have happened is exposure to the oil has slowed the curing time of the oil varnish meaning it has been buffed many more times in a more maleable state than might have been the case resulting in a more lustrous finish.
It's most obvious when I go back to the store in which I bought it and see new models of the same violin stacked up with an almost matt finish compared to what I have at home.
I'm happy with my current regimen and let's face it, I'll never be the custodian of a truly valuable instrument anyway.
June 7, 2012 at 07:36 PM · The best polish cleaner around here is Dubrowski on main street
October 27, 2012 at 12:14 PM · After reading this thread, I came up with my own idea- I used a white toothpaste and saliva. Seriously. It worked fantastic!
Toothpaste is a very mild polish, and worked very well on my 18th century violin (copy from China :^) )
I'll see if I can upload before and after pics.
October 27, 2012 at 07:49 PM · I've tried that toothpaste method too and seriously, it cleaned the violin well and did nothing to the varnish. This discussion is so useful. I often polish my violins with an oil based polish made in China. It does make it look shiny but I did not know it will eventually cause damage. So far I have noticed nothing from my other four violins. I have not noticed any changes in tone or the varnish.
Recently I used this product ,"Aureol".
It was proposed this product by the seller at a violin shop. I did exactly as instructed in German on the website. At first I thought my violin looked better. At least this Aureol product on my under 2,000 dollars violins. Then I wiped off the polish after leaving it overnight, and I saw right before my eyes the uppermost layer coating on the varnish no longer looked as "shiny" as it used to. This polish is definitely for a professional Luthier to use. I recently bought a Master German Violin at more than 10,000 dollars, I think I'll try that saliva method. Upon seeing this thread, I immediately wiped off the Chinese polish I just applied on it. Has anyone here ever used this product Aureol? Maybe I applied too much of it.
October 27, 2012 at 08:18 PM · In my opinion, the best polish is the easiest to find. Gibson guitar polish, used sparingly on a soft guitar polishing cloth works wonders. Apply to the cloth, not the violin. My violin is 13 years old, I play it 3-4 hours a day and it looks like the day I bought it. Use it sparingly, and it does smear a bit at first, so I just keep buffing lightly until it is mirrorlike. Avoid getting it on the strings and fingerboard, and all should be well. Takes rosin off nicely too. I use as needed and have had no problems. My 1976 Gibson looks like new too, same polish...so whatever is in it, works on all fine instruments. Just my thoughts.
October 28, 2012 at 02:50 AM · Why do some people want their violins to be shiny and reflective? They're not mirrors or sports cars..
October 29, 2012 at 05:28 AM · Why do people like their sports cars shiny?
Perhaps the two are related: something valuable that provides you joy and is aesthetically pleasing deserves to be well cared for.
October 21, 2015 at 01:06 PM · Don`t put any oils or solvents on your violin!!!--My violin is very old and has many cracks. It never looked shiny, so i used various cleaners and oils over 7 yrs. Recently i became aware that the violin was a little dead and couldn`t do what it did before and was rattling , so i brought it to a very good luthier and left it with him to discover the problems and do some much needed restoration.
Three days latter. i was informed that past repaired cracks were open, many seams were loose and that the violin was too oily to repair for 2 months. Then the very little remaining varnish could not be repaired until the oil had dried from the exposed wood. I never drenched my violin in oil or cleaner, just wiped and polished it once a week. So this is a warning to all DON`T PUT ANYTHING ON YOUR VIOLIN!!!!! (maybe spit is ok?). It will now cost thousands to restore my violin, mainly due to the years i cleaned it and made it look shiny :( T_T.
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