My violin is developing white spots

April 2, 2013 at 02:54 PM · I've been in China for the past week and a half and just noticed white spots forming on my violin this morning. I tried to wipe them with a damp cloth, but it seems the spots are underneath the varnish. Does anyone know what it is and whether I should be concerned?

Replies (47)

April 2, 2013 at 04:03 PM · I have never seen anything like that.

Until you hear from an expert on varnish, try to keep the humidity @ 50% or between 40 and 60%.

No matter how scary or frustrating this is, do not try to remove it on your own.

Good luck.

April 2, 2013 at 06:33 PM · Yikes Smiley!

One of the BSO members told me (last year) that can happen when moisture builds up under the varnish of your violin. He said the fix is to wrap your violin in silk before putting it in your case. The silk will "wick" the moisture away from your instrument and your strings. While you are playing, spread your silk out to "air dry". DO NOT attempt to remove the spots yourself. You will have to take it to a luthier when you return to the states. Getting a swath of silk should not be hard to do in China.

---Ann Marie

April 2, 2013 at 09:24 PM · I live in the tropics (Cairns, Australia) and the humidity is much higher than that during our summer. I have never seen a violin do that here.

April 2, 2013 at 11:13 PM · I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure the varnish bubbling. The ilk wrapping is something I have seen and heard of musicians doing so that should help. That is quite terrorfying and I hope the silk helps! Maybe a different case??

April 3, 2013 at 02:24 AM · Smiley: I get the impression that something is seeping out of the wood to accumulate underneath the varnish... Is it hot there too?

April 3, 2013 at 02:33 AM · A shot of penicillin will clear that right up.

April 3, 2013 at 06:00 AM · Smiley, don't touch the varnish, but one can clean accumulated rosin from the fingerboard with very fine wire wool....

April 4, 2013 at 01:14 PM · Moisture trapped under a topcoat

looks more like a white cloud. Its called blushing. This doesn't look like that. Also, i think blushing occurs just after finishing. This looks more like some type of particle contamination or reaction, given the well defined borders. Is the surface still smooth, or did it raise up?

April 4, 2013 at 06:16 PM · Hi Arnie,

The surface is raised slightly. You can feel the spots ever so slightly. I am back in the US now, and I will take the violin to a luthier tomorrow and see what he says. I will report back.

On a side note, the violin sounds as gorgeous as ever, so thankfully the sound has not been impacted.

April 4, 2013 at 10:27 PM · By any chance are you in Beijing? From what they've said about the recent air quality there, could it be some sort of chemical corrosion?

April 5, 2013 at 01:54 AM · No, I was in Hangzhou. The air quality is better than other big cities but still very bad. The air in Beijing is so bad that I will not go there, even for one day. The one good thing China has going for it is the communist system. When they really set their mind to it, they will fix the pollution problems, or at least greatly improve it. In the US we have gridlock. We can't even get rid of assault rifles. It is really very sad.

But to answer your question, I don't think it was caused by pollution. My violin was indoors most all the time.

April 6, 2013 at 01:35 PM · Let us know what you find out, please, Smiley.

April 6, 2013 at 02:10 PM · I will. I have been busy catching up so haven't had a chance to get my fiddle looked at. I think the spots have gotten a little less noticeable since my return to the US.

April 6, 2013 at 02:31 PM · ...I hope your violin didn't have bird flu...

April 6, 2013 at 04:40 PM · Maybe he's been playing the Haydn Bird Quartet ...

April 6, 2013 at 06:23 PM · Ann Marie,

I forgot to mention, after I read your post, I immediately put my violin into a silk sack which came with my case. I think it might have helped.

I did send an email to Michael Weller along with a photo. He is one of the most respected luthiers / restorers in the area. He does a lot of work on Strads and such. He said it is probably not a big concern, but he needs to have a close up look. I just need to find the time to get it over to him.

April 7, 2013 at 04:09 PM · Hi Smiley,

It may be that the higher levels of varnish are cleveing away from either the ground or the wood itself while still presenting an unbroken surface of varnish. This creates an appearance of almost a look of shiny air pocket being trapped under the varnish.

Kelvin

April 7, 2013 at 07:57 PM ·

April 7, 2013 at 09:21 PM · So Scott, have I got this right, you're saying that in china there are significant spots under the varnish?

April 7, 2013 at 11:35 PM · Smiley, have you examined the white spots under good lighting with a high-powered hand lens? Doing so may indicate whether comments such as those of Kelvin are pointing in the right direction.

April 8, 2013 at 01:35 AM · Yes to what you said Scott. China has incredible progress at the expense of human rights. And yes corruption is bad, but there are also dark things going on in Washington DC. I never said US should emulate China -- just pointing out differences

April 8, 2013 at 05:22 AM · At least in a capitalist democracy the officials are accountable and have our best interests at heart and we all have a level "playing field"

Oops, er, perhaps not....

April 8, 2013 at 08:04 AM · It's hard to tell exactly what's going on from the picture, but sometimes varnish will absorb a little moisture and swell slightly. When the moisture dries, it leaves the varnish with microscopic air pockets where the moisture once was, giving a whitish haze.

It's the same thing which causes "water rings" from putting a moist glass on a varnished table.

Analogy:

When you beat egg whites into a foam, they start out clear, and become white and opaque. The liquid the froth is made from is still clear, but it's the entrained air which makes it white and opaque.

It can probably be fixed without too much trouble, but I'd rather not go into possible methods, because I don't want give ideas to some of the home handymen who read here (not directed at you, Smiley).

April 8, 2013 at 08:36 AM ·

April 8, 2013 at 01:07 PM · So David, based on what you are saying, you are maybe thinking that some moisture or liquid was on the violin in those spots? this is using your analogy of a wet glass on a varnished surface.

April 8, 2013 at 01:55 PM · ...or a side-effects of the artificial ageing?

April 8, 2013 at 10:16 PM · It may be also something that was in the ground and wet (such as pumice or other mineral) and once it dried it turned white. Never seen that before and humidity here can be as high as 95%.

April 8, 2013 at 10:48 PM · ...scale.

April 8, 2013 at 10:51 PM · "So David, based on what you are saying, you are maybe thinking that some moisture or liquid was on the violin in those spots? this is using your analogy of a wet glass on a varnished surface."

Kindof. Understand that 70% daytime humidity can easily become 100% when the temperature drops at night. That's what has happened when you see dew on your windshield, or on the grass. Moisture can condense on violins too.

Add to that the environment a violin is in when being played, where the player exhales on the violin. You can get some condensation, like when exhaling on a mirror.

This won't be a problem for most violin varnishes, but for a few it will.

I'm not saying that's what happened with this violin, but it's a candidate.

April 9, 2013 at 03:09 AM · What's the possibility that it's a mildew or fungus or some such?

April 9, 2013 at 03:43 AM · Perhaps it is time to give Ms. Vigato a phone call.

Where is Smiley? It seems that all of us are more itching to find out what is the problem....

April 9, 2013 at 11:28 AM · The spots are not as noticeable as before. I would call Ms Vigato, but I don't speak Italian. But maybe not a bad idea to send her a photo. I will try to take it to Bill Weaver today. Michael Weller is clear across town, so harder to find the time to get over there.

April 9, 2013 at 04:12 PM · Well, I think I solved the mystery. This morning I took two pictures of my violin in different lighting conditions. Can you see a difference?

The first one was taken in my practice room, where I normally keep my violin. The second was taken next to a window. When I was in China, I was standing close to a very bright window when I noticed the spots. I think when the light hits the instrument at just the right angle, the spots are more noticeable -- illuminated so to speak. So the spots were always there, I just never noticed them until I was in China.

At any rate, I took the violin to Bill Weaver this morning and he said it was no big deal; maybe just some small nicks. He touched up the spots for me and now you wouldn't even notice them.

April 9, 2013 at 04:48 PM · Oh, were you talking about the tiny white spots, and not the sort of milky looking patches?

April 9, 2013 at 05:01 PM · It still does not look good to me, but if you are content, so am I.

April 9, 2013 at 07:12 PM · Hi David,

Yes, I was talking about the tiny white spots.

April 10, 2013 at 10:36 AM · Then strike everything I said before. LOL

We were talking about two different things.

April 10, 2013 at 11:50 AM · Thank goodness I haven't done any permanent damage by setting my drinks on my fiddle :-)

April 10, 2013 at 01:13 PM · I guess the light in China is different than maryland.....

April 10, 2013 at 07:51 PM · Yes, the sun in China is brighter; otherwise, Chinese people would not be able to see with their tiny eyes.

April 11, 2013 at 01:14 AM · Smiley, putting drinks on your violin, LOL. But seriously, doesn't YOUR shoulder rest have a cup holder?

April 11, 2013 at 02:38 AM · Smiley, I think you really should stop smoking cigars while playing. You're obviously ashing all over your fiddle!

April 11, 2013 at 09:24 AM · "Thank goodness I haven't done any permanent damage by setting my drinks on my fiddle :-) "

Then you haven't been drinking enough ;-)

April 17, 2013 at 04:11 PM · Commercial treatments for your fishy White Spot, (Ichthiophthirius Multifilis) include Hydra Chloramine-T and Acriflavine.

April 17, 2013 at 08:51 PM · David,

You might be on to something. I noticed the white spots just a few days after I caught this fish.

April 18, 2013 at 07:26 AM · I own some fishy violins.

Lucci = Pike and Trotta = Trout.

It seems I had better monitor them closely for white-spot.

April 18, 2013 at 11:16 AM · Hi Smiley! As far as I remember you have a contemporary violin. If so, why don't you contact the maker about the white spots?

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