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How I got a 90 year old violin for $15

October 29, 2011 at 2:37 AM

I had went to the Nashville Flea Market on my constant search for some miracle to pair me with an antique playable violin. I already have a violin from Atlantic Violins in Orlando, Fl that is just fine but it's only $120 because my dad didn't want to spend too much money on instruments. Anyways, I go into a building and the, after seeing numerous battered and beaten, dismembered, small sized violins (and even a $50 cello with big holes in it that shouldn't even be there), I see a painted violin. A PAINTED violin. I have to admit that it did make me smile with the cute antique primitives painting of some plants. Fingerboard and the part where the tail piece cord goes over missing, I still was tempted to investigate. Other than being converted into a decoration piece, it seemed very nice. What really intrigued me was the word Paganini stamped where the Maker's label should be. I know Paganini never made any violins, I had to get it. I talked him down to a whole $15 :O We figured it would be cool to try and restore it.

90 year old violin

I was headed to Nashville Violins afterwards to get Carl Flesch's scale system. My dad mentioned the violin for me because I was afraid of insulting their intelligence by bringing in a crappy violin. The man did laugh at the strange way the old strings were tied to the endpin with wire. Other than that, he said it was worth trying to restore. He even estimated it to be 90 years old. That excited me greatly. Now, between violin practices, I'm trying to restore it. My dad doesn't want to go through the trouble of creating a real violin varnish and slap some shellac on it, but i'm trying to convince him it'll be worth our while to actually make the varnish. I was thinking the second link for the recipe. What do you think?

Click here for pictures of the pre and post stripping of the violin

 Click here for the varnish recipe.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 29, 2011 at 7:46 AM
So are you restoring it yourself, then? Do you have some help from a violin maker? What a neat thing to do!
From al ku
Posted on October 29, 2011 at 1:29 PM
wow, nice work!

curious to know that if someone painted over the violin (with paint) which has its original varnish, is there a way to remove only the paint and not damage the original varnish?

From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 29, 2011 at 2:44 PM
So a number of violinmakers have been e-mailing me with free advice for you, concerned for your safety, making varnish! It can be dangerous, and a reader was worried that your combination of chemicals might put you at risk. It's not too hard to just buy violin varnish...for example, Joe Robson at
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on October 29, 2011 at 10:38 PM
I actually thought the painting was rather nice--looked like stenciling not primitive at all. But if you want a violin that people will take seriously, I can understand wanting to refinish it. Was the back simply varnished?
From Javier Rivera
Posted on October 30, 2011 at 12:45 AM
Thanks for the link, Laurie. I wouldn't want to have my playing cut so short in my life.

My dad insisted that stripping was the best possible way. I wanted to sand down the paint to the varnish carefully but we just went ahead with the stripping. Before you know it, parts that shouldn't have been stripped were stripped and so we just stripped it all.

The reason for restoring one is so I can have a spiritual connection with my instrument and this one somehow just drew me to it. Have you ever felt that about an instrument?

From Javier Rivera
Posted on October 30, 2011 at 1:03 AM
And to Miss Rizzardi, yes, the violin was only varnished and painted over. I was actually surprised how it looked for a flea market violin. I felt so lucky! :D
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on October 30, 2011 at 10:52 AM
One of my friends bought a cheap violin which had been painted black. He scraped off the paint and instead of using varnish, he used walnut oil, which was used in colonial America. It looks really funky and sounds pretty good. You can read about it and see photos at

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