Using of fingerboard oil

September 28, 2015 at 07:04 PM · Hi I am have a question regarding using fingerboard oil please. Is it a good thing to use oil and what does it do? (The likes of LaPella Fingerboard Oil is said to "preserve" the look and feel of fingerboard)


September 28, 2015 at 09:09 PM · I actually wondered about that too!

*awaits patiently for other people's answers*

September 28, 2015 at 10:20 PM · Snake Oil...

September 29, 2015 at 01:24 AM · I've heard in the older days of using some kind of oil on bare gut strings to preserve them. I don't know re the fb as such.

September 29, 2015 at 01:49 AM · The best fingerboard oil costs $40 for one milliliter and there's a two-year waiting list ...

September 29, 2015 at 02:57 AM · Raphael,

A cellist fiend of mine uses pure gut strings and for stability of tuning, he soaks them for a couple of days in olive oil.

I've watched him play a full concerto (Haydn) on U-tube with a set of those treated gut strings and he didn't even re-tune once during the whole performance.

As for fingerboard oil the older hands used to rub the fingerboard and the underside of the neck of the violin with linseed oil. This gets rid of the dirt and gives it a nice shine, Be careful though as one has to rub it off completely which will take some time.

September 29, 2015 at 07:16 PM · The Lapella oil indicates it needs to dry overnight before being wiped off to achieved the desired result. Probably made largely from Linseed oil :3

September 29, 2015 at 07:39 PM · To anyone using linseed oil - let's be careful out there; it is a fire hazard well-known in the trade. If you throw away a cloth or rag that has been used with linseed oil it will very likely spontaneously combust in the trash bin or wherever.

As to oiling plain gut strings, I occasionally give mine a wipe with a cloth lightly dampened with sweet almond oil (not almond essence). Olive oil can be used, but it is a little thicker.

September 29, 2015 at 09:30 PM · Also consider that much of the Linseed Oil that you find has driers in-usually metals such as Lead, Cobalt, Tin-that really aren't meant to be in touch with your skin.

October 12, 2015 at 05:45 PM · Inspired by this, I tried oiling up my fingerboard with very pure olive oil(expensive cooking grade, so there is no drying agent, I'm certain).

I did it with the strings on, shifting became much easier, and strings felt smoother to touch. Also, in a way the strings sounded better.

I then used olive oil to wipe the neck and my chinrest, both became very smooth. I got carried away and ended up cleaning the whole instrument with a few drops of olive oil.

October 12, 2015 at 08:06 PM · And what will you do when the Olive Oil turns rancid?

October 12, 2015 at 09:13 PM · I think snake oil, as mentioned before, works best.

October 12, 2015 at 10:22 PM · That is exactly the kind of things that I should've thought about... I don't spend enough time in the kitchen.

October 12, 2015 at 11:22 PM · The olive oil can go rancid, or it can be fine, depends on a lot of factors. It's relatively safe for bare wood. It's a relatively popular 'green' furniture polish. I would be more worried about it reacting with the varnish on the violin (some antique furniture varnishes are notorious for hazing in reaction to the oil), or soaking into the maple or spruce and affecting the sound.

October 12, 2015 at 11:28 PM · Green furniture polish, eh? Ask the folks at the Smithsonian Institution whether they use it on their Chippendale chairs.

October 13, 2015 at 12:08 AM · The only polish I would use on a fingerboard is the old wood ebony polish. But why polish? A properly planed fingerboard doesn't really need anything.

October 13, 2015 at 01:55 AM · "The olive oil can go rancid, or it can be fine, depends on a lot of factors."

True. It might be fine for bare wood, but try to get glue or varnish to stick to it! Olive oil, or other oils, don't really belong on the body of the violin. A loose edge or a open crack-old or one that you can't really see yet-with oil in it becomes very, very difficult to glue.

I don't sell violin polish or fingerboard oil in my shop. It could be very profitable in a retail sense, but I don't want to have to deal with the mess long term.

October 13, 2015 at 02:42 AM · I think I'm going to oil the violin once a year, and oil the fingerboard and neck lightly once a few months.

October 13, 2015 at 11:25 AM · Before putting any sort of oil on your instrument, it is helpful to ask what you are trying to achieve. If it is to make it shinier, I would say use a little bit of Renaissance wax on the body (not the fingerboard). If it is to make the neck less sticky, try to refinish the neck with something else instead. If it is to make the fingerboard smoother, just make sure it's planed properly. Unless one is doing repair, I see no reason to put any sort of oil on the instrument.

October 13, 2015 at 12:44 PM · I've always wondered about these cleaner-polish concoctions. To wipe away fingerprints, if they will not come up with a soft cloth alone, I sometimes just dampen the cloth slightly with water. Didn't Heifetz say that he sometimes used "good old-fashioned spit" to clean his violin? I suspect "cleaner-polish" mixtures contain water.

The other ingredient that you can detect in these polish concoctions, by its characteristic odor, is turpentine. Turpentine is a mixture of hydrocarbon compounds (mainly terpenes) that probably do not interact strongly with most cured varnishes but are structurally somewhat similar to abietic acid (the primary constituent in rosin. The ostensible purpose of the turpentine is to soften/loosen bits of rosin that may be starting to embed themselves into the surface of your violin.

Water and turpentine are not miscible, so a third component is added to form some kind of emulsion, hence the creamy consistency of the polish. The emulsifier is the constituent that I would imagine most potentially harmful to varnish. Often it is chemically similar to a detergent. I surmise that other possible ingredients may include abrasives and waxes.

One thing I've always noticed about these kinds of discussions is that people always tell you not to put oil or polish compound or water or alcohol or *anything* on your violin. But then you take it to the luthier, and you have it cleaned, and THEY put something on it. What's the something? How come they won't say? Perhaps because it's just Hill Polish-Cleaner most of the time?

And about finger prints, the key there is to only touch your violin by the neck or by the accessory parts (button, chin rest, pegs), never grab it by the bouts. That's just rude.

October 13, 2015 at 03:38 PM · "Would there ever be a situation where oil of any type would be beneficial to any variation of cured varnish or shellac finish?"


October 13, 2015 at 03:58 PM · "But then you take it to the luthier, and you have it cleaned, and THEY put something on it. What's the something?"

The "something" I know some use is ethyl alcohol. It dissolves build-up rosin and oils and removes grime, but it takes care and expertise on how much to use and how hard to rub because it could harm some varnishes too.

None of the luthiers I've dealt with ever put anything like oils or waxes, and re-finishing a violin or repairing damaged varnish was in fact a completely different (and considerably more expensive) job.

October 13, 2015 at 05:56 PM · Yes I've seen my luthier using alcohol on a rug, but he also dipped the rug in some kind of oil.

Don't try this at home. For home use I use the super Nikco from Bear and son in the U.K. This is an excellent product if somewhat abrasive, but if one wants an even softer cleaner they can use the Bear and sons own cleaner.

October 13, 2015 at 06:31 PM · Super Nikco is a cleaner. It is abrasive, and although useful, it's not the best to use on a regular basis or on fragile varnish.

ETOH, eh? Well, if you attempt to clean your violin with this, remember, you got the suggestion from the internet. If your violin maker has a boat payment, he/she will be happy to assist you with the aftermath.

I've go a 200 ml renissance wax on the bench. It's getting low, but I've used it for a decade. It can be cleaned off easily, but please don't put it on bare wood, except for the fingerboard. A little goes a long way.

Guitars are not violins. Lemon oils don't belong on the body.

All Y'all don't seem to be getting it. I'll say it one last time: Oils don't belong on the body of the violin. Oil the board, if you must. Oil the chinrest, if you must. Hell, oil the neck, if you must.

Not on the body of the violin. Once you contaminate a loose edge or a crack, it becomes a problem. Just let your friendly violin maker clean and polish your violin when it needs it. Just wipe it clean with a dry or slightly damp cloth after you play. Wipe the rosin off after you are done playing, but toss the oil into the trash.

P.S. No need to feed the wood. It is dead.

October 13, 2015 at 09:21 PM · If you have a fine violin, you do need to pay someone with specialized knowledge to clean it. Not doing so will expose your instrument to the great possibility of irreparable damage. I've had my own shop for the past 12 years, and have been in the trade for 20. The damage that I have seen from self repairs and well meaning attempts to clean instruments has been sad and expensive. I've even learned the hard way by taking advice on a new cleaning technique and had to repair the mess that I had made.

Nope. I'm not wrong. Wood is dead. We seal and varnish the outside to protect from such things, and some even seal the inside. As for the fingerboard, it gets planed and/or dressed when the strings groove the wood and the fingers wear divots. A sharp block plane removes the surface and exposes fresh wood. It is dressed and polished. You might fill some open-pored ebony or rosewood, you might not. Any oil or sealing of pores that you might have accomplished in your years of oiling will be removed with a few strokes of a sharp plane. You don't usually plane the guitar fretboard, and you would avoid dressing it if you can.

October 13, 2015 at 10:40 PM · Some necks are sticky because someone decided to put some sticky varnish on them. Even with the best shifting technique, on a humid day you can still get stuck. The cure is to strip the crap on the neck and seal it with something that is your favourite luthier's secret formula.

October 14, 2015 at 07:44 AM · Jenny, I think baby powder is marginally better than lemon oil. :D

October 14, 2015 at 10:49 AM · The wood of a violin is not a living structure; it started to die long ago when the tree was cut down because it was no longer receiving nutrients, and was certainly dead years later when the seasoning process was complete. Like many inanimate structures, wood from a tree is subject to natural changes such as thermal expansion and contraction, absorption of moisture in humid conditions, drying out in arid conditions, attack by living organisms such insects and fungi - and possible structural damage or decay if such attacks are not dealt with. Such changes are not evidence per se that the wood is living. I would be concerned if the wood of either of my violins showed evidence of being alive if it started to regrow and perhaps sprout leaves!

Btw, I do not care to see the word "lying" being used pejoratively in the course of a discussion. If it being used as a synonym for "mistaken", "a different point of view", or a similar concept, then that should be used instead.

October 14, 2015 at 11:05 AM · I agree with Trevor about "lying" as well as the tone of several of the posts here.

Ultimately, each reader can decide whether to accept advice from those who have professional experience as players, makers, repairers, and/or teachers, or those who may not even be using their real identities and thus don't disclose their level of knowledge or experience, except, sometimes, in the tone of their posts.

October 14, 2015 at 12:35 PM · So I understand that some violin varnish will hold up just fine being rubbed down with Hill Cleaner-Polish every few months, and other violin varnish will come right off down to bare wood.

But now, if you take your violin to the luthier and have it cleaned, then presumably the luthier is doing to use *some* kind of chemicals, not just a dry cloth, so after they cleaned it you should be able to ask them, "What did you use to clean my violin and how did you do it." And they should give you an actual answer, correct? The answer should not be "I won't tell you because then you'll be tempted to try cleaning your own violin and then I won't get a fee for rubbing it down every few months with Hill Polish." I'm not really trying to sound disrespectful toward the luthier trade, but I'm kind of in Hunter's camp that I don't really understand why it has to be so mysterious, especially when we are talking about a violin that is only worth about $10000. Everyone understands that priceless antiques have to be cared for differently.

I don't want to put lemon oil on my fingerboard. I like my fingerboard the way it is. Frankly I'm just more fearful that I won't like the way it feels or looks, and then I'll be stuck with no way to undo it. On the other hand I don't see how it would really be harmful either. In 400 years when my fingerboard can no longer stand another planing, I'll have a new one put on.

October 14, 2015 at 01:05 PM · You've never asked him what he uses? If I took my child to the doctor and they wanted to give her a shot, I can't imagine not asking what's in it.

October 14, 2015 at 01:44 PM · "It's good because it "feeds" the wood and don't let it dry in a bad way..."

A violin fingerboard needs neither "feeding" nor "hydration." And it doesn't need to be walked, read to at night, or given a trophy for effort.

Actually, it needs very little: every few years, it needs to be planed, and occasionally you can clean with alcohol to get the dirt off.

I've never had a fingerboard crack or split. Putting oil on a fingerboard is simply a big waste of time.

October 14, 2015 at 02:16 PM · wow, this really turned into a heated discussion.

I'll say that I put olive oil on the fingerboard and string, because I do have a bumpy fingerboard, which is going to get planed very soon, and I was curious of the effects of the oil applied to the strings. There is a groove on an E string which turns my up shift get stuck at 4th position. I've been kind of using it as a reference point really.

I oiled the body as well(with 2 or 3 drops for the whole body), because it gave a smooth texture to unvarnished surfaces, I don't think I'll have parts of my violin re-varnished, possibly ever, which directs me to seeking something to protect the wood. I doubt I'll be doing that frequently, the idea is that I oil it once a year or so, then wipe it dry throughout the year. I did not apply the oil on the unvarnished wood right under the bridge, because I would imagine how sensitive that area must be to anything.

October 14, 2015 at 02:19 PM · "A violin fingerboard needs neither "feeding" nor "hydration." And it doesn't need to be walked, read to at night, or given a trophy for effort."

I agree.

Re soft cotton cleaning cloths:

Keep two or more. That way you have one to use while the other is in the wash. They should be washed regularly. The idea is to remove rosin, dirt and perspiration, not redistribute it.

Lemon oil:

We have no idea what is actually in most of those commercial preparation products. Could be just about anything, including linseed oil, waxes, silicone, mineral spirits, naptha, diesel fuel, with a lemon scent.

That includes "Dunlop 65", unless someone knows of a Material Safety Data Sheet which lists ingredients for the stuff.

Steven, oil isn't generally recommended for use on violin varnish, or on conventional strings. Some varnishes are semi-porous, allowing oil to eventually penetrate all the way through to the wood. Not to mention the issue already brought up about potentially interfering with future repairs.

Strings can absorb oils and debris too. It's one of the reasons they go false. Normal contamination from skin oils is bad enough, without adding to the problem. Oils etc. absorbed by the string will change the mass from what the manufacturer intended, and will usually change the mass unevenly, resulting in a "false" string.

This is also one of the reasons why I'm reluctant to recommend the use of solvents for cleaning strings. A thin solution of dissolved rosin can migrate to internal spaces within the string. Also, solvents can leach out some of the semi-liquid damping compounds which some manufacturers use in their strings.

October 14, 2015 at 02:50 PM · Is it remotely possible that some people here know more? Maybe even more than your dealer? (wink)

Duane and Kevin, would you be willing to fill out your "profiles"?

October 14, 2015 at 04:23 PM · David, you know who I am...

October 14, 2015 at 04:45 PM · LOL.

Not for me, but for the benefit of other readers and posters. Might help people who assume that you're someone who just took their fist Suzuki lesson.

October 14, 2015 at 04:47 PM · "LOL.

Not for me, but for the benefit of other readers and posters. Might help people who assume that you're someone who just took their fist Suzuki lesson." [Flag?]

I don't give fist lessons...:-)

October 14, 2015 at 05:09 PM · "I don't give fist lessons...:-)"

Must be married. The skill fades over time. :-)

October 14, 2015 at 05:28 PM · Rambo Hunter, it's your violin, and if you're careful not to pour lemon oil all over your violin and into the f-holes and such, then I really don't see what harm will come to your fingerboard. But one request -- before you do, look inside at the label and make sure it doesn't say "Stradivarius."

October 14, 2015 at 05:31 PM · "fist Suzuki lesson"? This is actually real. I have seen a few very young kids learning Twinkle Twinkle from Suzuki Book 1 holding the bow with a fist!

David, I'll fill out my profile once I have set up my violin business.

October 14, 2015 at 07:27 PM · Okay, I'll listen to them. David and Duane, what are the chemicals that you most commonly use to clean ordinary modern violins that are brought to you for routine cleaning? Is there something that you use, say, more than 2/3 of the time?

October 14, 2015 at 07:55 PM · "I myself test it on one violin, one electric guitar and one classical guitar, and all the results are awesome, then yeah, it's kind of logical that it doesn't matter what an internet user says about Dunlop 65."

Well, I will say this: he's persistent...

And sorry David Burgess, I don't care what your reputation is. You cannot argue against " awesome"...

October 14, 2015 at 07:56 PM · Paul, on more expensive instruments, it's more of a "case by case".

A first experiment might be with deionized water. This has better better solvent properties than tap water. If that won't do the job (not that plain-ol' water won't remove some varnishes), then you start to experiment carefully with other solvents and "conservation" detergents, some of which are highly hazardous to health, without the right precautions.

If one has some kind of background with what works on whose fiddles, some of this can be abbreviated.

There is very little which crosses over seamlessly between the contemporary guitar world, and the classical violin world. We had already started diverging in major ways about 300 years ago.

October 14, 2015 at 09:21 PM · David, well, at least it's high grade cooking olive oil, I'll use it to cook. What would you suggest as a primitive method to protect parts of the violin which isn't covered by varnish(anymore)? I'm missing some where the old chinrest used to be, and other odd places.

I think the oil dampened a little bit of the brightness of the strings, but not enough to make the violin any quieter.

I think with strings, I think I will experiment with old strings at least for a while since I was debating what to do with them, aside from taking x-ray diffracted pictures of it out of curiosity and to test my x-ray source.

October 14, 2015 at 09:29 PM · If string makers intended oil to be used on their strings, then I can absolutely guarantee you that they would have already branded some and told us to buy and use it.

October 14, 2015 at 09:33 PM · pirastro has one

October 14, 2015 at 09:34 PM · I wouldn't list any of the things that I use to clean violins as a suggestion of what to use.

Even water can be dangerous. A Mittenwald violin from the late 18th/early 19th c might be stripped with plain ole water. Xylexe/Benzene/Kerosene are dangerous to the user, and to some varnishes. Artificial saliva is useful, but if it is soluble in water, it's soluble in spit.

I can't say, "Use This", because anything could be harmful to the finish. Even water. Experience and a careful evaluation of the instrument is what is needed.

Consider the ramifications of cleaning with soap and water where there is a break in the surface of the "varnish". Water gets under the finish, at the edge or the shoulder where your hand has worn down to bare wood.

Some particular makers used very fragile varnishes that will simply wipe off even if you are using a "traditional" french polish technique (that is/was overused and should be used sparing today)with full strength ETOH.

You learn that some maker's instruments should just be left slightly dirty rather than risk further damage to the finish.

I can't find a MSDS for the Dunlop Lemon Oil, but I did find references to the company stating that it was about 5% silicone. Silicone on your finish is another one of culprits that changes the future repairability of the wood and the finish.

October 14, 2015 at 09:43 PM · Scott, I use plain gut (A, D and sometimes E) by Savarez that are branded as "Oiled Gut". Lovely and smooth to play on, resistant to fraying, and long lasting - even the E in comparison with another famous European string maker. My Gs are Savarez gut wound with copper, but I don't know if the gut core is oiled gut (could be, I suppose, if the label is anything to go by).

October 14, 2015 at 09:59 PM · "pirastro has one"

Lots of people have had commercial cleaning or polishing products, even the famous Hill shop. I particularly wouldn't recommend the Hill polish.

Things have come a long way since the time that product was originally formulated, in the high-level restoration and preservation community.

Kinda funny, I heard my first warning from a musician, not from a fiddle fixer. The musician was Ray Davis, former principle cellist of the Seattle Symphony. I was probably around 14 years old, and had just barely started working in a violin shop. He said something like,

"Put a coat of oil onto your instrument, and basically, you're turning it into a giant air filter. It will do a really good job of trapping dirt from the air."

Many years later, the Charles Beare shop became the most prominent advocate of not screwing things up, and became really good an unscrewing things. Some of their unscrewing was initially a little shocking, not unlike some initial reactions to the freshly-cleaned paintings in the Sistine Chapel.

October 14, 2015 at 11:13 PM · Some years ago I saw an Indian violinist playing (they slide all over the place) and he would occasionally dip his fingers into some oil. Since then I have use oil on and off for my jazz playing especially when my strings are at the end of my life. I have found certain strings don't need it so much but long ago I used pirastro eudoxas that seemed to tarnish very quickly. I have used a number of guitar products - Funk Drops, Boogie Juice, Fast Fret, Finger Ease and now I too have the Dunlop 65 - both the lemon oil and the string cleaner. Of course I'm careful not to get it anywhere near the bowed section and I have no had any accidental spills or harm occur due to the use of these products over the years. I for one have a use for these products though more for the string than the fingerboard however, I do like the feel of an oiled fingerboard. For the record, I hardly use any pressure so it's not an issue of bad technique more that I play a different style.

October 14, 2015 at 11:56 PM · So far the "listening" that Jenny recommended isn't going so well.

Duane said that he didn't want to list any of the things that he uses to clean violins as a recommendation for what to use.

I wasn't asking for a recommendation for what I should use, I merely am curious to know what he most commonly uses. That's quite different.

David said that if (deionized) water won't do the job, he would experiment carefully with other solvents.

Okay... what are they? What would he reach for next?

Please don't worry that I might not know how to handle solvents safely. I dare say I've handled more solvents than the average luthier, by a comfortable margin.

October 15, 2015 at 12:00 AM · Rambo Hunter, I'm the one who said I didn't see any harm in you putting Dunlop lemon oil on your fingerboard. (I also said I didn't think I wanted to put it on mine, because I didn't think it would be easy to undo if I didn't like how it looked or felt. I think that's fair too.) And as for dumping it in the f-holes, the joke was on everyone else who implied you couldn't oil your fingerboard carefully. Sorry I didn't make that more clear.

October 15, 2015 at 01:29 AM · Rambo. What do I call an oiled fingerboard? Well, I'm feeling the lack of friction after the residue has been removed. However, for the strings sometimes just a touch of oily residue is good. How much am I talking about? I remember somebody once saying all you need to do is rub your forehead on the fingerboard!! The amount of oil from a forehead varies but maybe that gives you some idea of the amount needed to make a difference, i.e. very little. Human oil might be more pure than Dunlop 65, I don't know, but it doesn't look too good to apply on stage!!!

October 15, 2015 at 08:51 AM · It seems like some people here have gotten a little carried away, and much could be sorted out by simply re-reading the thread.

Duane and I did not say that using some oil product on the fingerboard was necessarily harmful. Although it could be, if for instance, any part of the fingerboard/neck joint isn't completely secure, allowing components like oils or waxes or silicones to seep into the joint. They are excellent adhesion inhibitors (good enough that we will sometimes use them where we DON'T want glue to stick), and could turn a simple and inexpensive gluing job into a nightmare. Our main point was that on violin family instruments, it isn't necessary, and isn't considered a part of needed or useful maintenance. That's kind of what the OP was asking about, right?

"Rambo Hunter", I'm thoroughly aware that you weren't advocating the use of the "fingerboard oil" on the rest of the instrument. But other people did ask about using oils and polishes and cleaners on other parts of the instrument. You aren't the only person here, you know. ;-)

If one washes one's hands before playing, and does a wipedown with a clean cloth each time after playing, little additional cleaning should be required. So the advice to do this, and avoid solvents and commercial cleaners and polishes, isn't just a conspiracy hatched by devious luthiers so your fiddle will get really dirty, and you'll need to bring it in to have it professionally cleaned so they can suck away all your money. Instead, it is advice intended to keep your fiddle safe and minimize your expenses, and is currently considered to be the "best-practice" scenario by people who have the best training in our business. I'm a little mystified that passing this on would induce some people to be resentful or combative.

I don't know what is appropriate for guitars, nor have I tried to say. This is a violin forum. Guitars often use completely different finishes and adhesives, and structural and repair issues can be quite different from those on violins.

October 15, 2015 at 10:46 AM · Granted, if you have a "disposable" fiddle, it really doesn't matter what you do to it. ;-)

October 15, 2015 at 01:17 PM · This comment section is now closed.

October 17, 2015 at 02:34 AM · No it isnt. LOL

So what comes after distilled water?

October 17, 2015 at 09:39 AM · Well, Scott's declaration worked for a couple of days anyway. LOL

Paul, I'm very reluctant to list solvents and chemicals that professionals may use for cleaning violins, on a public forum. None of them is safe for every one of the wide variety of finishes used on violins. Not even water, as Duane already mentioned.

While you might not try them yourself, SOMEBODY will, and will get themselves in trouble, and I'd rather not be connected with that. I can understand how warnings against people working on their own violins might not seem credible to some, but they also don't have the exposure to the downsides which those of us in the trade do. We see stuff that has been screwed-up this way all the time!

By the way, one of our most challenging cleaning nightmares is removing accumulations of "violin polish" which have trapped dirt, and eventually hardened into a varnish-like film.

Another note: I am a full-time violin maker now, and no longer derive any significant income from repairs (no time for that, three-year waiting list), so hopefully that will put to rest any attempts to claim that my maintenance advice has a profit motive.

October 17, 2015 at 03:19 PM · Beats me, I didn't write the label. Better ask the manufacturer. ;-)

If I used the term "unfinished wood", it would describe wood which has had no surface treatment applied. Raw wood.

Since they seem to be saying that the product shouldn't be used on either varnished OR unfinished wood, I don't know what's left to use it on. Maybe previously oiled wood, since some people don't consider an oil to be a varnish?

A little more on the various things that can be called "oils": (it's a rather nebulous term)

Some will evaporate completely, leaving little or no residue.

Some will harden into a resinous or varnish-like substance (most types of linseed oil, for instance).

Some will remain liquid for a very long time, such as many mineral oils.

There are also substances and mixtures which will do some of each.

And there are "oils" which have a resin or film-forming component added, often intended to be absorbed into the wood, and then harden into a varnish internally, with little remaining on the surface.

October 17, 2015 at 06:32 PM · I don't know about other places, but I found the Hill "varnish cleaner" seems to work very well on the neck and chinrest to remove old dead skins of previous owners. I also use very tiny bit of it, maybe once a month on a heavy rosin build up.

October 17, 2015 at 11:47 PM · I wrote several paragraphs on Hill cleaner/polish, and then removed them, deciding to say this instead:

A rather famous luthier, who worked in the Hill shop before they closed, doesn't recommend it.

It's probably fine on a chinrest though, provided that you don't have much sensitivity to turpentine, and if the chinrest doesn't eventually get sticky enough to bother you.

October 18, 2015 at 12:29 AM · I've been sampling the cleaner on the varnish adjacent to the scroll by the neck of every violin I've owned. I never dared to put that on ones that I borrowed. It seems at least on my violins, doesn't wear down the varnish. I do agree that it does leave a sticky residue(or tacky), without a good wiping afterwards, which is why my cleaning/polishing cloths get dirty so quickly. I kind of use that to my advantage to pick up things that accumulate on my violin, especially dead skin.

October 18, 2015 at 02:41 AM · Steven, it's very good you never put anything on a violin you have borrowed. Stick to that.

October 18, 2015 at 12:27 PM · I use Hill Cleaner/Polish every few months. You can use as much as you want, but you have to rub it off very thoroughly until you cannot feel *anything* under your fingers, and then take a fresh microfiber cloth and rub it all down again. I have also had my violin professionally cleaned by a reputable shop, and I asked them to tell me if they thought I wasn't caring for it properly, but they told me I was doing fine. They didn't say anything about buildup, but I didn't tell them I was using cleaner/polish because I knew what their answer would be then. I noticed also that the instrument came back to me only marginally cleaner, but I did determine that I needed to do a little better around the bridge feet and under the fingerboard.

October 18, 2015 at 04:35 PM · Please don't use "as much as you want".

A little too much on a rag, and some will be squeegeed off by the edges of the ff holes, working its way to the (usually) unsealed interior of the instrument, where it will soak into the wood. Seen it many times.

This all gets a little weird at times. We have people in the violin-fixing trade with probably a combined thousand years of experience with Hill polish, who share their experiences with each other and musicians, and yet we have a few people who feel a need to second-guess that.

Oh well, that's human nature, I guess. :-)

October 18, 2015 at 04:46 PM · Well to be fair David, without questioning the nature and experiences, we would still know earth is flat, and heaven is in the skies, and North America doesn't exist and Earth is the center of the universe.

I get your point and concern though. I'd like to be as careful with my instruments as possible, but I often found dampened(or clean dry cloth) to don't do very much for rosin build up just under the strings, in fact, it spread rosin around and scratched the top varnish. I take pride in doing a lot of things myself that are "supposed" to be done by professionals, that ranges from disassembling my car engine and cleaning, and re-assembling to shoe repair. I do understand how much more delicate my violin is, which is why I am always hesitant on touching anything up myself even while I feel somewhat comfortable working on some parts on cheaper violins(I'm pretty sure my extreme slow peg fitting would work. I hand roll pegs to sandpaper. It would take over a week to fit one peg right, but I'll keep the original pegs until it becomes impossible to use). Cleaning, is something that I'd like to do everyday.

I have been resorting to solutions that doesn't eat away the varnish, visibly. So far, I use Hill cleaner lightly.

October 18, 2015 at 04:49 PM · I only use the Nikco cleaner very very sparingly and only in small areas, never the whole violin.

When it eventually needs cleaning I take it to my luthier who does the whole violin. Also when the violin is in the shop for any reason he will give it the once over if it needs it.

October 18, 2015 at 05:33 PM · Steven, I am also quite well versed in engine disassembly, failure diagnosis, repair, and reassembly.

But when it really matters, I still go to the professional engine builders. They have the latest information and experience with things I can't possibly stay current on, like what brand of roller lifters or wristpin retainers might be having a current quality control issue. As you know, failure of seemingly small parts like this can turn entire engines into junk. Yes, some amount of satisfaction was lost, versus doing everything myself. Perhaps that's an ego problem?

In the fiddle world, there doesn't seem to be anything revolutionary going on with discoveries, approaching the level of the discovery that the earth is round rather than flat. It has been more along the lines of slow accumulations of knowledge, since the violin, in the mind of most major players, was largely "perfected" in the 17th century. We can push things around a little, but take it too far, and it is no longer that accepted traditional violin sound. Numerous deviations have been tried over the last 200 years, with none so far being much embraced (aside from setup changes). Not that there aren't many people with excellent technical credentials who are looking hard for more major breakthroughs. ;-)

The biggest advances, actually, have probably been in the areas of preservation and restoration.

October 18, 2015 at 06:26 PM · Interestingly, we have gone from fingerboard oil to violin cleaning. There seems to be at least one topic about it already at :)

My violins I keep them clean simply by wiping them with a dry cloth after playing them (used to be cotton, now it's microfiber). Never had build-ups, never had problems. When I took them to be cleaned once by my luthier here she used two different products: Some clear liquid that she explained was basically diluted ethyl alcohol on the Romanian one, and something from a metal can with a golden label that I can't remember what it was called on the German one. And she used barely any of it. Which takes us back to the point that if you need to do more cleaning than just wiping some dust off it, take it to the luthier, at least to hear from them what they recommend you use to clean it. Violins aren't all made the same and neither is their varnish.

On the fingerboard oil matter, I was curious to know if there was any practical benefit - who knows, ebony is a phenomenally durable wood, but violins are some strange finicky beasts aren't they? - but seems it is really just a matter of aesthetics with more potential downsides than it is worth.

October 18, 2015 at 06:50 PM · Mr. McLellan, yes, the metal streak is metal deposited from the strings. I wouldn't worry about it. Leaving it there doesn't seem to do any harm. The metal deposits don't seem to wear the string any faster than the natural abrasive deposits in the ebony.

Heavy rosin deposits should be removed from the strings (unless you prefer the sound, response, and altered intonation with them there, LOL). If they won't wipe off easily with a dry cleaning rag, I like the idea of scraping them off with a wine cork.

My favorite cleaning rag is plain-ol' worn and washed cotton. It is rather inert, and cotton gloves are still among the favorites in the museum community for handling irreplaceable art objects. Cotton is popular for cleaning them too.

I don't see anything wrong with the microfiber cloths, except that some are treated with who-knows-what, and they don't seem to hold up well to washing. I'd suggest that whatever you use be washed regularly. As I mentioned many posts ago, the object is to transfer contamination from the instrument to the rag, and minimize transfer in the other direction.

October 18, 2015 at 07:12 PM · Well, that was my bad sarcastic attempt to extend David's comment on human nature.

I'm not claiming that DIY is good in any way, I'm just stating that it is just really hard to fight the temptations and I experiment with instruments that I own once a while.

October 18, 2015 at 07:44 PM · Whew, I'm exhausted!

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