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How to disassemble a violin?

Instruments: What chemicals, processes, or techniques do Luthiers use to take a violin apart?

From Timothy James Dimacali
Posted March 1, 2005 at 06:10 AM

How do you disassemble a violin? What chemical is used to strip away the glue that holds it together?

I know it sounds horrible, but the reason I'm asking these questions is that I'm interested in making an electric violin by myself and I'm thinking of using the parts from a cheap student violin (I'm going to need at least the scroll, neck, and fingerboard).

I dunno if anyone here remembers, but a while back I mentioned that a friend of mine was building an e-violin. I liked the outcome of his project, but now I'd like to venture into making one myself.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on March 1, 2005 at 06:12 AM
Greetings,
hate to be low tech but...

hot water and a brush, a knife and chutzpah.
Cheers,
Buri

From James Lapihuska
Posted on March 1, 2005 at 06:26 AM
Yes, please pass the chutzpah! Most wooden instruments are held together by water-soluable hide glue. But what holds a violinist together?
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on March 1, 2005 at 06:36 AM
Prune juice.
Did you have to ask?
From Nick Bleisch
Posted on March 1, 2005 at 07:16 AM
I think disassembling a violin should be pretty easy. Pasting it back together again seems like the hard part.
From Michael Darnton
Posted on March 1, 2005 at 12:42 PM
If you can not get it all over the varnish, which it will dissolve, use alcohol. Water just makes glue stickier; alcohol dries it completely, so that it becomes brittle and breaks easily. Take an old (antique store old) very thin table knife, find a weak spot, and start prying, while dripping alcohol into the joint.

However, on most old junk violins the parts are junk, too, so the best thing to do would be to start over with new pieces.

From Michael Molnar
Posted on March 1, 2005 at 08:47 PM
Michael, doesn't alcohol remove varnish? If so, I imagine he would have to do a major refinishing.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on March 1, 2005 at 08:54 PM
Stewmac.com has a violin kit that's 90% done for $150. Might be a good source of parts.

After it's apart what do you do? I'd like to know how you guys are going about it.

From Daniel Shih
Posted on March 1, 2005 at 10:59 PM
Word of advice to violinists: if your violin is going to get worked on and needs to be taken apart, don't be in the room when the luthier starts going at it.

Oh the horror! The horror!

One time, my violin top became slightly detached from the rest of the violin because I hit the corner of my C-bout with my bow while playing (bad, bad move). I took my violin into see the violin doctor, Michael Darnton, and before I knew it, there was a knife in my fiddle and he was just sawing away. The sound of the glue breaking apart haunts me to this day.

Shudder.

From Michael Darnton
Posted on March 1, 2005 at 10:01 PM
Yes, alcohol will remove varnish. So don't get it on the varnish: someone who's taking a top off should be at least clever enough to accomplish that. :-)
From Reed Bernstein
Posted on March 1, 2005 at 11:16 PM
Hyde glue when used properly to glue a top on at half strength will release easily by inserting a sharp, thin blade into a soft spot in the seam. The problem with cheap instruments, and shoddy repairwork is that sometimes tops are glued on full strength, and other times with white or yellow glue, both of which will not release when the knife is inserted. Tops are supposed to be glued on lightly so that when humidity changes and the top expands or contracts the seam will open instead of the top cracking, but as noted that is not always the case. If you are dealing with white glue sometimes vinegar will soften it.
From Timothy James Dimacali
Posted on March 2, 2005 at 05:32 AM
Whoa! I didn't expect so many replies to my question! But thanks, y'all!

:-)

What I'm planning to do is get rid of the original violin body entirely and replace it with a solid wood body fitted with the appropriate electronics. In short, all I'm really interested in is everything from the neck up; I'm not worried about the varnish.

I agree that watching a luthier at work on a beloved instrument can be gut-wrenching, kind of like being in an operating room: you know it's for the better good, but you can't help feeling queasy anyway.

So does that mean I'm doing the luthier's equivalent of making a Frankenstein Monster? Cool... Can't wait to scream, "It's alive! It's ALIIIIIVVEEE!" (organ music here)

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on March 2, 2005 at 10:58 AM
Can you get a stout enough structure using a solid body without adding a lot of weight? If I needed to kill the resonance of a regular body I'd just squirt it full of carpenter's foam :)

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