About Violin Scratches

December 22, 2017, 6:48 AM · Recently, I have noticed that my violin actually has quite a lot of white marks or scratches which are highly visible. The violin just seems so vulnerable and delicate in a way that basically every piece of metal or hard surface it touches, it leaves a small scratch. The surprising part is, I hardly see any scratches on any of my school orchestra's violin players' violins. So I was just wondering what you guys do with scratches, whether you just leave them, or take them to the luthier to cover them up. Also, what is the process involved in covering up the marks and do the scratches have any effect on the sound of the violin?

Replies (13)

Edited: December 22, 2017, 7:49 AM · Considering you cleaned your violin with baby wipes that left a white residue, that is the culprit of your violin's white mark problem.

And it goes without saying that metal or hard surfaces should not come in contact with your violin. It is a very delicate piece of equipment, and should be treated as such.

Edited: December 22, 2017, 8:27 AM · I have the same problem with my 18th c violin. The top plate varnish is very thin, and even a careless fingernail can expose the white underlay (perhaps that is what the OP is experiencing). So I keep my finger nails short and take care when handling the violin, protecting the front with a cloth when changing a string. On the other hand, the back and sides of the violin are virtually free of scratches - clearly a different varnish was used.

The chances are that the OP's school orchestra violins are less expensive modern instruments finished with a modern bullet-proof varnish.


December 22, 2017, 8:27 AM · Yeah, the back of my violin has almost no scratches, whereas I can easily get a scratch on the top plate just by messing up a pizzicato.
December 22, 2017, 8:55 AM · It's pizzicato that does it for me too. I've never caught myself in the act but I think when I make a sudden lunge for the string with my index finger the frog is liable to collide with the top plate. I guess to make the movement more controlled one should ensure that any quick change to pizz is preceded by an up-bow.
December 22, 2017, 10:29 AM · If my violin had scratches, I'd just leave them because violins are meant to be played and heard, not oramental and looked at.
Edited: December 22, 2017, 11:44 AM · Most people leave the scratches alone. Unless you have an expensive instrument or care so much about its look, it is not worth it to revarnish or touch up just for this.

As far as sound I'd think the impact on sound is negligible unless the damage is severe, which a scratch isn't. In fact, there is a process some luthiers undergo called antiquing, where they purposefully accelerate normal wear and tear on the instrument to make it look old. If this process impacted sound so much, I doubt they would do this. (Some might argue it makes it sound better!)

But, you wouldn't want scratches that occur because of improper playing, handling and/or storage rather than normal wear and tear. Whether that's the case or because of the baby wipes, or improper varnish, well that's another story. Too many scratches, which seems to appear to be the case for you, indicates an underlying problem beyond normal wear and tear and you should find the cause. My two cents.

Edited: December 22, 2017, 12:35 PM · If you have a "student-grade" or other low-priced violin you might consider a product called "Scratch-Coat" that was introduced in 1978 by Fast Chemical Products Corp. (that may now be "Fast Industries"). It may be difficult to actually find this stuff nowadays, it may now be nothing more than a trademark: https://www.trademarkia.com/scratch-coat-72246547.html .

The stuff came in a 15ml plastic tube with a small brush attached to the cap. It is intended to remove (or hide) scratches on any color wood finish. I think it works optically by refraction that "ducts the color" on both sides of the scratch to the observer because the liquid is actually clear/colorless. It does work on thin scratches. There are also felt-tip applicators of wood dyes that may closely match your finish readily available in hardware stores and Amazon.

I would never use it on an expensive instrument, but I never paid more that $1,400 for any of my violins or violas (only for one cello) - bought them long, long ago! I don't think any of these products, used as intended, would affect the sound of an instrument.

December 22, 2017, 3:20 PM · I don't get too paranoid about minor scratches, but may discuss them sometime with the luthier if there is important work to be otherwise done on the instrument.
December 22, 2017, 8:06 PM · Any tips for avoiding scratches though? Because I really don't often notice the scratches happening in action, so it just seems that the scratches spontaneously appear every week or so.
December 22, 2017, 10:35 PM · There are many variables - where are the scratches? Are they localized in one area or spread out? Without knowing, it is hard to say. I suspect they are coming from the bow particularly the frog as you bow and the way you play but I could be very well wrong.

Violins do incur scratches but they are occasional and rare especially those played by veterans, who have the right technique and is also cognizant of these issues and avoid them.

You're going to have to sleuth around. Watch for metal and hard points; it could even be wearing a sweatshirt with a metal zipper or buttons.

December 23, 2017, 12:18 AM · What about during an orchestra rehearsal? (our school orchestra is very crowded), should I buy a violin pouch and cover my violin when I am not using it?
December 23, 2017, 5:02 AM · During orchestral rehearsal breaks I always, without exception, put my violin and bow back in the case and close it. Interestingly, in the several orchestras I play in I'm one of the few violinists/violists who follow this elementary safety procedure - the rest park their unprotected instruments on chairs, tables, and even the floor!

Yes Brian, at the very least use a violin pouch, but the violin case is always better.

Edited: December 23, 2017, 8:36 AM · The finish on some instruments seems more prone to scratching or other disfigurement than others - more delicate, perhaps. I know my Jay-Haide cello seems to be one such. And of course many student violins sold these days seem to have very hard and easily scratched surface finish.

The first Stradivarius violin I ever played on (one of only two - so far) was owned and displayed by a visiting Dow Chemical chemist lecturing about modern varnishes and such, who was also a violin collector. By pressing a fingerprint into the violin surface, that gradually vanished, he demonstrated how his (then) more than 250 year old Stradivarius's finish was still flexible and soft. The violin had previously been owned and played by the world-famous virtuoso, Ole Bull.It was still gorgeous in all respects after all those years.

I've been playing in school and community orchestras since 1948. As best I can recall virtually all violinists and violists have returned their instruments to their cases during breaks. In one masterclass we were not even allowed to place our cases on the floor, chairs or couches for concern that someone might sit, step or fall on them.

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