violin cleanness?

September 1, 2016 at 02:40 PM · Hello, I should mention first that I compulsively clean my violin, regularly and also just after playing.

I clean under the fingerboard, the fingerboard, strings, under the tailpiece, and the only places I do not clean are the scroll and the pegbox.

I had some share of incoming and outgoing instruments in my life. My current one is often mistaken to be a brand-new one, although it's from 1958. It hurts my soul a little bit everytime even a tiniest fragment of varnish flakes off.

Without exception, every violin and viola that came to me, initially, they have a LOT of brown-black-purple stain coming off of chinrest fingerboard and neck.

Is it that I'm compulsive, I'm just getting mistreated instruments, or is it that most people just don't clean their instrument?

Even with my current violin, after a week of neglecting cleaning, when I wipe the chinrest with a little bit of rubbing alcohol, and I get the brown-ish stain. I have a feeling this stuff that's coming off of instruments are a mixture of dirt, grease, sweat, dead skin. Which makes me cringe.

Replies (53)

September 1, 2016 at 08:31 PM · Steven, you're not alone. I, and many other players I know, always clean their violins - and bows - thoroughly after playing. Those who don't, who tend not to be classical violinists, may be unaware that a build up of rosin dust does the varnish no good, the damage extending ultimately to the wood.

September 1, 2016 at 09:43 PM · I do think you might be a bit obsessive, Steven. ;)

But I clean mine too every time after playing, though I'm not so thorough (and never use alcohol!). A simple wipe to get rid of the rosin dust and where the hand and chin contact with the instrument does the job for me.

But I have seen horror shows with cruded-up instruments that should require a hazmat suit to handle! So far the reasons I have found for such have been 1) people don't care, 2) people were never taught to clean, 3) people think the crud is good for some reason or another. And 4) people forget to clean.

September 1, 2016 at 10:22 PM · I like a clean violin, but I'm not obsessive.

You are in danger of removing the finish if you are.

September 1, 2016 at 10:23 PM · but, especially with the new viola I've acquired, and am trading off for a set of violin strings, I spent literally a full hour wiping the chinrest, and turned one entire cleaning cloth to purple/brown colour.

Sure, it was a child's violin for some time, but what in the love of god's reason would someone not clean something that you make physical contact with, possibly daily!

September 2, 2016 at 12:17 AM · The chinrest can react with your sweat or skin and liberate some colour. But cleaning it for one hour is not a good thing, in psychological terms, I think. It is better spending this hour playing then cleaning the instrument.

September 2, 2016 at 01:10 AM ·

September 2, 2016 at 01:35 AM · Cleaning the chinrest for one hour : you were probably removing some of the natural wood colour. I doubt that the purple/brown colour was dirt.

It is a violin...not a surgical instrument !

September 2, 2016 at 01:56 AM · I should mention that I take pleasure cleaning items I like spending time with. For example, once a year, I clean, lube, service and wax my car for 12+ consecutive hours.

September 2, 2016 at 02:20 AM · I still do not understand how most of violin players do not use clean handkerchief under the chin daily. Too lazy to iron them, are we?

September 2, 2016 at 02:45 AM · "Lord knows the human sweat, cells, etc that are impregnated in the old instruments and yet some how they still sound fine and no one (as far as I know from news stories I've read) got ill from some skin or spores in the wood."

I was just thinking about that the other day! There are some players from the past whom we know had some pretty bad diseases, and yet we put their violins right up to our faces!

I can imagine Steven scrubbing Paganini's 'Il Cannone' while frantically muttering "unclean! UNCLEAN!!". ;)

September 2, 2016 at 12:23 PM · Fox, in case of something that old, I'll probably end up getting new chinrest at the very least.

When I bought a German workshop violin a while back, I cleaned it so much, the neck turned pale from black-ish colour, and even the luthier who sold it to me noticed.

September 2, 2016 at 02:39 PM · Does anyone know how Joshua Bell cleans his violin? ;-)

September 2, 2016 at 06:21 PM · Bo, I happen to know that Joshua uses a steam cleaner on his Strad once a week.

September 2, 2016 at 07:55 PM · I wipe down my violin after playing with an untreated microfiber cloth but constant cleaning can't be good for the varnish. When I feel like my violin truly needs a bath I take him to my luthier. I sometimes feel like some player's cleaning obsession borders on munchausen by proxy LOL.


September 2, 2016 at 08:00 PM · I happen to think that cootie-phobia can be a little bit overdone. It can easily be a barrier to intimacy, whether with a human partner, or a violin.

Despite having played thousands of violins over 40+ years, I haven't yet been able to establish any hard relationship between playing violins with gross amounts of greenish crud on them, and my personal health.

Not that I'm not an advocate of some regular wiping-off regimen, for the health of the violin.

September 2, 2016 at 08:36 PM · We don't have any problem cleaning *ourselves* even though there might be areas that have become sweaty or dirty. Why shouldn't that extend to our violins? It's your own sweat and grime that you're cleaning off, right?

Maybe the purplish stuff that is coming off your chin rest is the dye they used to make some less expensive wood look like ebony?

I'll tell you what I don't like -- when you hand your violin to someone and they've immediately got their mitts (and thereby their greasy fingerprints) all over the bouts. Take someone else's violin always by the neck and support with the other hand by the button to examine it.

@Jeff Jetson, I thought it was a trichloroethylene vapor degreaser.

September 2, 2016 at 08:46 PM · Paul wrote:

"I'll tell you what I don't like -- when you hand your violin to someone and they've immediately got their mitts (and thereby their greasy fingerprints) all over the bouts. Take someone else's violin always by the neck and support with the other hand by the button to examine it."


Paul, yes, that's generally the way we handle high-value instruments these days. And in museums and high-preservation situations, we often handle them after donning cotton gloves.

September 2, 2016 at 11:57 PM · I don't think the purple-ish-brown-ish stuff from chinrest are from dye, because I can see something building up with same colour from cleaning on my own instrument. Except with regular cleaning, I barely get anything on my cleaning cloth.

September 3, 2016 at 12:02 AM · Mr. Burgess, quick question, I did ask my luthier partially this, and I wish to ask you too. Have you seen any violin that is clean under the fingerboard? Also, any violins that needed to have its inside cleaned?

I personally try what I can to clean under the fingerboard, but I'm not sure if rubbing cleaning cloth on it with small pressure has any effect to it. I also read previously that some people had dust bunnies inside their violin.

September 3, 2016 at 02:28 AM · For inside the violin, I used like half cup of uncooked rice and let it roll smoothly for a few times and it will attracts the dirts and dusts. Easy to get rid of from the f hole.

Do make sure it's uncooked lol...

September 3, 2016 at 03:00 AM · Kevin, to my surprise, using your method. I removed a dust bunny inside my violin. I never knew it was there in the first place!

About 4cm x 2cm x 0.5cm in size

September 3, 2016 at 07:33 AM · Yeah I heard of (and used) the uncooked rice method before.

September 3, 2016 at 05:38 PM · In my opinion, old violins should look old. It is not good to "restore" the finish of antique instruments by over cleaning and over polishing. I clean my fiddles and bows by wiping them briefly with a micro-fibre cloth. No liquids or chemicals!

Steven. You are welcome to detail my car any time you are in town :-)

Cheers Carlo

September 4, 2016 at 12:04 AM · Carlo, pleasure comes from pride, from cleaning "MY" car and "MY" violin ;)

September 4, 2016 at 05:11 AM · How about I lend you MY car for a day. Then you can proudly claim ownership and then do what you do well. As my kids have been all over it, better make it two days...

Cheers Carlo

September 4, 2016 at 05:59 AM · As to the constant brownish stain from the chinrest: I am horribly allergic to all chinrests (also to screws with nickel). No matter if it's rosewood, ebony, boxwood or even plastic: After only a short exposure I inevitably get a nasty eczema. I suspect with the plastic chinrests the culprit is phenylenediamine to which I know I am allergic, but also wooden chinrests seem to be treated with a substance that, in my case, causes this nasty reaction or, in your case, might rub off as a brownish stain.

September 4, 2016 at 07:43 AM · Carlo, only if you will be playing my violin for the background music while I am cleaning.

Johanna, I have used Plastic chinrests, in fact, for a long time they were my main-stay. I didn't collect any stains from those.

When I found out that I was allergic to rosewood, I cut several pieces of leather, and glued them on the chinrest, such that it covered all of the contact points.

If you can wear leather clothing, I would recommend it. Mind you, I was very paranoid about having glue on my violin, not only did I glue the pieces while the CR is off, I also boiled it, left it in the oven for a while, boiled it, oven, to check if any adhesive can/could drip on the violin. In my case, the glue specifications were accurate.

September 11, 2016 at 06:30 PM · I wanted to also inquire about antique marketing, and cleanness.

I was cleaning my violin out on a bench outside, on a field across my office, and someone approached me and asked me if I just picked up my violin, and asked me if it is brand-brand new.

I told him it's older than my father(1958), and he seemed thrown off. Someone also asked me that if my 2016 Chinese viola was a 100 years old German violin.

The violins that "appear" old, that is genuinely old, is that due to rosin build up and neglecting varnish touch up?

I mean, without having closer look at all the cracks, under the fingerboard and inside, it does look pretty new. I did have some varnish touched up recently, mainly for protection, but I do want her to look like the day she was made(secretly). It seems that some people at least love the "old" look. I've seen some people purposely getting grafted pegbox to make them look old(he also insisted that his workshop violin was a genuine Vuillaume).

I'm curious, what genuinely old, but well cared for instruments look like, and making references to some pictures of some Strads, they do look pretty "new", and why do people still prefer the "old" looking violins?

September 11, 2016 at 08:26 PM · Must be some psychological aspect, somewhere in there they associate 'old' with 'better'. A lot of people (even great violinists) have it stuck in their heads that all the good violins were made in the 17th century and that after that nothing good came out.

And it's not a new phenomena. I recall reading of some famous luthier from the past (might have been Vuillaume himself?) complaining that he couldn't sell a violin if he didn't make it look like it was 100 years old. Antiquing of violins is a widespread thing!

Personally I don't care if it looks old or new, so long as it sounds good. But I don't like fake antiquing.

September 12, 2016 at 12:13 AM · Steven, if you're in the mood for a panic attack, you should go to a folk session, where you will be scolded for not having enough rosin build-up under your strings. (True story, it's happened to me...just smile and nod.)

September 12, 2016 at 03:02 AM · Sarah, that would probably make me squeal.

September 12, 2016 at 10:09 AM · Part of the appeal of old violins is the patina that builds up over centuries of use. Over-polishing and over-cleaning will actually reduce the value of antique violins.

Cheers Carlo

September 14, 2016 at 02:53 AM · I think for the body of the instrument, I can somewhat understand the appeal. As for the neck, and chinrest!(shudder), I just realized that I have never cleaned the bridge though. I realized it because I kept on getting rosin on the violin, after cleaning everything, and just practicing some pizz.

September 14, 2016 at 04:31 AM · All this talk about cleaning the chin rest and the color coming off has made me wonder, how many of you do preventative measures to keep it clean? On days when I practice I sometimes put a baby sock that has two thirds cut off and fit it snug on the chinrest. From what I can tell doesn't produce any odd noises. It just looks ugly.

September 28, 2016 at 03:06 AM · I should inquire my luthier about this, but I'm curious(Carlo, I'm going to have to ask you to restrain your anti-shoulder-restism for this question).

Around the spots on the rib, where the shoulder-rest is positioned, the varnish has gotten darker, just above where the feet would be touching the edges.

Could these be stress marks?!

September 28, 2016 at 03:12 AM · Where the SR goes on:

 photo IMG_20160927_230742_zpskyn3qm0u.jpg

Darker spots on Bass side

 photo IMG_20160927_230753_zps15huafuk.jpg

Darker spots on Treble side:

 photo IMG_20160927_230810_zpsbwi4ol1z.jpg

September 28, 2016 at 06:58 AM · Steven. Swap the feet for the light coloured ones that Kun sells. These will not leave dark marks.

Of course the the other option would be the invisi...

Cheers Carlo

September 28, 2016 at 07:08 AM · That is a strange thing! Could it be from vapors from the material the feet are made of?

September 28, 2016 at 07:43 AM · Sorry, I didn't look at your pictures clearly. The marks are only the belly. Um... drool? after eating liquorice?

Seriously. Anything in the case? When did they appear?

Cheers Carlo

September 28, 2016 at 09:48 AM · If the shoulder rest clamp is actually touching the ribs (particularly if its placing pressure on the ribs), I'd switch to a different shoulder rest, or see if the feet can be trimmed back so they no longer have contact with the ribs.

September 28, 2016 at 11:40 AM · Fox, I'm not sure, if it's only that, I'm not too worried. Carlo, I am not entirely sure when I started happening, but I certainly started noticing it since I got a new case in August.

David, I will check and possibly trip the feet today.

September 28, 2016 at 12:46 PM · Don't clean your fiddle. Just wipe it, as the actress said to the bishop.

When i was very very young we used to use brown boot polish on our fiddles. That's why we got kicked out of so many orchestras. They said the boot was on the other foot. (Or for Adrian on the other third of a metre, approx)

September 28, 2016 at 03:10 PM · i would say that it is all of those things coming off but also a bit of the finish coming off what grade of alcohol are you using?

September 28, 2016 at 10:40 PM · 99.9% iso-propyl alcohol, tone down to about 80%.

September 28, 2016 at 10:46 PM · Wait, are you using alcohol to clean your violin on a regular basis?

September 28, 2016 at 11:04 PM · That's good wood there where the varnish used to be ;) 

The point is - many people wouldn't know the difference between isopropanol and ethanol. Even so, any alcohol should never be allowed near a violin unless you really know what you're doing.

September 28, 2016 at 11:55 PM · just the chinrest, strings and less frequently the fingerboard Fox.

November 4, 2016 at 02:06 AM · After neglecting this post for a while. It turns out that the shoulder-rest was ill-fitted. Possibly because I did get a new one, and I probably forgot to readjust for my violin. As for the marks, they are there, and they aren't going away.

The rest clamps were touching the ribs. I am going to ask my luthier Tomorrow when I see her, if she noticed these markings before, because I certainly don't remember seeing them before I took these pictures and posted about it.

November 4, 2016 at 08:38 PM · Fox, I just got your reference to Il Cannonne, after reading a bit more about Paganini's health issues. Ha!

November 4, 2016 at 09:09 PM · Hehe, but it's true, everyone in the 19th century had syphilis or tuberculosis, ...and in some cases syphilis AND tuberculosis! And with bathing only an occasional thing, yeah those must be some dirty violins out there! ;)

November 5, 2016 at 12:50 AM · I have posted pictures of my cleaning cloths here before... I wonder if the cloth should be considered as biohazard.

I've been lately making a lot of online orders for personal/school supplies. One of them happens to be MagicFiber. I ordered some for my glasses and they also have larger ones for cleaning larger surfaces. I've been using those to clean my violin. So far, I really like them.

They are higher-grade microfiber, I'm just a bit concerned if they may pick up dried varnish as well as rosin and grease. Considering the cloths are black, and my varnish is bright amber, if something goes wrong, I'll get to see it.

November 6, 2016 at 12:29 AM · i wipe down my violin and bow stick after every usage, i have seen several violins with thick white dust under the strings and on fingerboard, it looks awful and i imagine that it would now be difficult for them to remove? my violin never has white dust, ive been known to wipe down mid practice because i saw a couple specks of dust, i dont use any liquids

November 6, 2016 at 11:00 AM · Melissa, this is the best approach to the problem of cleaning the violin.

Do not forget to clean also the strings, using a different cloth than the one used for the violin, but I think you already do it.

No need to do more, all interventions that require more intensive and vigorous cleaning should be done by experienced people, who are aware of all the possible consequences of what they are doing.

Of course also remove every time the rosin powder is not without risks : the resin crystals trapped in the cloth may scratch the varnish if you are not careful to keep clean the rag and act gently.

For the chinrest, the question is a bit different, especially when different people playing the same violin and contact with skin and any cosmetic products may require a deeper cleaning with solvent (isopropyl alcohol)even for hygienic issues.

No problem with ebony and non-stained woods, but with those stained (boxwood)or with varnished surfaces could be tricky.

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