Protective plastic tape

September 27, 2016 at 05:10 PM · Hi all,

I recently brought my violin into a luthier for a valuation, however, when he saw the wear on the top of the right rib (just the general wear on the varnish that the left hand causes), he suggested that he put a thin plastic tape over the area to protect it. I've never heard of these tapes and obviously have no experience with them. Do they affect the instrument in any way or are they worth getting? Obviously I trust the luthier entirely, I wouldn't use him otherwise, but I'm just wondering has anybody any experience with these tapes?

Thank you

Replies (16)

September 27, 2016 at 05:58 PM · How valuable is this violin, and how often are you touching the bout? i.e., are you getting a tiny bit of varnish wear, or are you totally destroying the varnish?

September 27, 2016 at 06:22 PM · If your sweat is caustic, or you choose to hold the violin at the shoulder, or perhaps the varnish is soft and tender, we'll put these on the shoulder to minimize wear and further damage.

Some people don't like them, I have some players who request them, and I can think of a few makers who put them on their new instruments.

They do not alter the instrument or it's value, although I always look more closely at that area if the violin has one in place.

My only caution is that you not try to apply one yourself (not just you, anyone), nor try to remove one. They come off cleanly if you know what you are doing, but if you try to pull it off yourself you will lose varnish (which isn't orig. anyway!) and you might lose wood fibers.

September 27, 2016 at 07:32 PM · I've heard of this and seen it. My impression is that it is a procedure that was more popular in the past - and with more expensive instruments.

I wonder if this is a type of cure that is worse than the original ailment - or at least a cure with side effects. Varnish wear is a natural thing which, depending on the pattern and the eye of the beholder, can be charming and is often artificially pre-done in antiqued instruments.

My question is - what happens when you take off the plastic tape? Does it take off more varnish with it? If so, is the answer to leave it on forever? Is that really a better solution, aesthetically? I'm reminded of the approach that many people used to have, to encase a couch in plastic, to preserve it. It worked, but it never looked good or felt good, which leads me to another question: how would the plastic feel to the hand?

I used to have a beautiful copy of the Hellier Strad, with the ornamentation painted on and in that case I thought to go the plastic route. But I decided to let nature take its course. I didn't keep it long enough to notice much wear.

September 27, 2016 at 09:20 PM · Thank you for all the advice. My instrument is an early 20th-century violin which I am very fond of. My luthier is also very fond of the instrument and wanted to protect it from my hand. While I don't mind the look of the varnish being worn away, my previous two violins also had this, my luthier mentioned that over time, the sweat can get into the wood and cause mold to grow inside the instrument. Again, I've never heard of this happening, however, if this tape isn't intrusive and doesn't affect the instrument in any way, I guess it's better to be safe than sorry. And no I definitely would not be doing this myself.

September 27, 2016 at 10:16 PM · One reason to use the tape on the shoulder is moisture and dirt getting into the wood once you have worn through the varnish. It's more common than you might think. Once I clean off the upper rib, you would be surprised at how often it is just wood and ground, no varnish. If the rib gets damp and warps or cracks, it can get expensive to repair. I've never had a problem with mold, but the rib can turn a hideous blackish-green that could very well be a mold.

I clean the area and coat it with a few layers of varnish to protect any orig. varnish left or to seal the wood if it is already worn away, then apply the tape.

If your luthier wants to do it, it isn't invasive, and if they are fond of it, as you mention, they probably want to conserve it. I do hate it when violins that I enjoy looking at show up with preventable damage.

September 27, 2016 at 11:21 PM · Could the tape be PATCO 5560, Amazon sells it.

SHAR sells the "AcoustaGrip" tape-like--attaching foam shoulder rest that attaches to the back of a violin this way and is removed every time.

My experience with sweat wear on the right lower bout and hand wear on the right upper bout are: My father bought be a new violin 65 years ago. It was one of 5 the maker had just finished and they all appeared to be about identical, but I picked the one I thought played the best. It was a Strad copy and it was apparently "antiqued" (but I didn't know that concept at the time). I thought it was clever, though, because the varnishing looked a little thinner at wear positions I mention above. The one piece "tiger back" was magnificent, it shimmered when rotated in the light and appeared holographic (not a word or concept in those days) in that the back seemed to be at least an inch deep. It was only years later (looking through a big beautiful book of famous violins) that I realized it was a dead-ringer copy of the 1715 Emperor Strad - especially the back.

However, what I did notice about 20 years after I got it was the wear points I mention at the start of the past paragraph. That was 45 years ago. I suppose the maker intended that about 20 years in this instrument would look 250 years old - and it still does (maybe 301 by now). And I have gotten comments about its appearance from horn players 'way back there,' audience members, and even conductors standing right over the top of it. Good comments about the sound too!

Wear or not, it's not wearing as fast as I am!

September 28, 2016 at 02:24 AM · "Wear or not, it's not wearing as fast as I am!"

Too bad there's no magic tape that we can put on ourselves!

January 1, 2017 at 11:45 AM · I had a protective strip fitted to my violin in 1994. I remember how the instrument sounded prior to this, and afterwards, and could detect no difference at all. Certainly there is not the difference which is noticeable from every mute I've ever tried, and every fine tuning adjuster (except the titanium one-piece type). If fitted well, these strips will remain indefinitely on the instrument. Mine looks as good as it did in 1994. Having said that, it is barely visible except on close inspection or under strong lights. I should imagine that the surface of the varnish underneath must be perfectly even, and without gaps, because this could allow perspiration to collect underneath. The varnish on my instrument is oil-based, and without such a protective strip, I found it to be uncomfortable against the skin, especially during the summer. The protective strip has been a god send, and I thoroughly recommend them, personally. There is no doubt that the varnish has remained in pristine condition all these years. On previous instruments, that area of the instrument normally wears very quickly from my playing. I reiterate and emphasize that the sound - at least on an instrument with oil-based varnish - will not be affected in any way that is noticeable to a healthy musician's acute ears. If you do happen to notice a difference, then I recommend changing from violin playing to playing drums! I am still waiting for the definitive mute to be invented. I have a collection of 31 mutes in every imaginable material or substance known, two mutes of which almost succeed in satisfying my fussy demands, but if I don't need to use one, I prefer to take it off the instrument, rather than leave it attached in the "Off" position.

January 1, 2017 at 02:02 PM · I have never heard of nor seen such a product. Can somebody post a photo of a violin thus treated please ? I have done a Google search and I am getting nothing.

January 1, 2017 at 02:16 PM · I have done this quite often. It does not harm the original varnish IF it is correctly removed by someone who knows how. The trick is to put the tape beyond where any wear will occur, otherwise when it's removed there will be a line between the protected and unprotected. I refresh the tape occasionally, stopping it at a different spot each time. I use a special product for this, but matte clear Contact Paper (shelf covering) from the hardware store has a long and successful history being used for this as well. In such cases, one can do a nice retouch on that area to find it completely gone in a couple of months, so tape it is.

On my own instruments, with particularly destructive bodies, I have found that overcoating the affected areas with orange shellac protects the violin perfectly without altering the sound at all, but since orange shellac ozidizes to an untouchable skin that cannoe be removed by restorers(which is why it works) I would never do this on someone else's violin or on a good instrument of any kind!

I appreciate concerns about doing this, but there are some cases where it's absolutely necessary. In particular, I have had quite a few younger male players (from about 15 to 30, usually) who have something going on in their chemistry which is destructive (and goes away with time) who could eat through varnish and wood quite rapidly, and this has helped preserve their instruments.

Brian, I don't have a photo, but what it amounts to is a strip of clear tape that goes over the rib from the neck heel down the side about five inches. Then, if needed, narrow strips can be stretched over the each edge, top and back, following that same path. These won't last and need to be regularly replaced, and sometimes the type of wear Raphael worries about will occur, but usually, in fact, by the time the violin gets to me all the varnish there is gone, and we're working to keep the wood from rotting away, too.

And rot is the exact word--if you haven't seen this, you probably can't imagine it!

January 3, 2017 at 10:03 PM · I have skin that will turn silver black (no silver jewelry for me) as I know this, when I first started lessons I developed the habit to wipe down my violin with a clean dry cloth after each-and-every time I play. Once a month I do a light lemon oil polish. I've been faithful to that regimen for 40 years and my acidic sweat hasn't damaged the varnish at all.

January 3, 2017 at 11:31 PM · We modern makers have choices, from using varnishes which are pretty much "bullet proof", to using varnishes which are much more fragile, as the vanishes from the golden era of violin making appear to be.

Which would most of you prefer, and why?

January 4, 2017 at 06:26 AM · David, don't the "bullet proof" varnishes tend to dampen the tone? Personally, I prefer a varnish that ages, wears, scratches and acquires patina over time.... but I'm a romantic.

January 4, 2017 at 06:32 AM · I have s protective strip of tape on the Strad that I play, and I haven't thought about it in years! Of course it should only be applied by a luthier.

January 8, 2017 at 12:19 PM · On my viola's sensitive oil-varnish I have put myself that plastic wrap (cling film) used for the food. It works fine and does not leave any marks. I can change it with new one whenever I want, especially when it breaks.

Unfortunately it is more noticeable than the professional film applied by a luthier but you get used to it!

January 8, 2017 at 12:19 PM ·

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