Worried about varnish wear lines...

December 2, 2016 at 01:53 AM · Good morning fellow violists. Lately I'm concerned about the varnish of my vioIa.

It was made by german luthier Walter Mahr in 2012. It is a nice handmade instrument that has been in my possesion for almost a year now. It's an imitation of an old antiquated viola, it has some beautiful craquelure that were made on purpose by the luthier itself.

The varnish looks delicate and soft and I have noticed some thin almost straight lines on varnish that are visible in certain lighting. They look like scratces, like if somebody scratched the surface with an ultra thin sharp object.

Also there are some semi circular lines right under the strings between the end of the fingerboard and the bridge - I suspect that while wipping rosin off the viola small particles of rosin dust scratched lightly the varnish. Is this possible?

Relative humidity in my room is usually between 50-70% while outside can be 60-90% as it is quite rainy place and an island. ?emperatures in my room are between 17-22 degrees Celsius in winter, 25-31 degrees Celsius in summer.

I attach few pictures. I will appreciate your comments and advise.




P.S. This is the Ebay ad from which I bought the viola. There are also few pictures of the instrument there.


Replies (38)

December 2, 2016 at 02:47 AM · Why don't you ask the maker directly?


Prepare yourself that there is a chance he did not make this instrument.

December 2, 2016 at 07:56 AM · ? have already done so and he said that this is because this is an old imitation instrument. I have the certificate that bears his signature and stamp, I don't think that somebody else made the viola.

December 2, 2016 at 01:38 PM · While it may be a genuine Walter Mahr violin there is not much possibility that a German company could make the violin for 3000EU in Germany with their labour rates, much more likely made in China to his specs, though possibly varnished in Germany.

December 2, 2016 at 02:29 PM · What is it you are worried about? All varnish wears...

December 2, 2016 at 02:29 PM · Ioannis,

Then, this is the result of antiquing the instrument. Even if varnish is oil-based, it should have cured completely in 4 years time. Could be that the varnish is soft and you may expect it to disappear on certain contact spots.

If the sound is good, get used to the looks. Can't stand how it looks? Sell it!


December 2, 2016 at 03:49 PM · Hairline cracks, visible in certain lighting coditions, can also be the effect of the normal vibrations on a stiff spirit varnish

December 2, 2016 at 04:26 PM · I'd say if you like the way it sounds and plays and bought an antiqued viola on purpose, enjoy it - it will probably outlive you and subsequent owners.

My father bought me a new, luthier-made antique-finished Strad model violin in 1952. It was made to wear into the appearance of age and 20 years later the more thinly varnished areas had worn visibly and the violin looked pretty much identical to the (then) 250 year old Emperor Strad it was a copy of. It had been sweated on in the steamy damp of Maryland and suburban Washington, DC summers, and survived 33 years living in the crisp dryness of California's Mojave desert. And is now living its (and my) retirement years in the more benign San Francisco Bay Area climate.

I still enjoy its appearance (added wear, scratches and all) and play it more often than any of my other fiddles. So it was 65 years old this past year and still going strong. Me, I'm a good bit older than that and not going as strong, but still get out to play - it!

December 2, 2016 at 08:32 PM · First of all thank you all for your replies.

@Lyndon Taylor No, I don't think that is a chinese instrument as Walter Mahr is not actually a company but an indepedented luthier based in Bubenreuth (near Nurnberg - a small town known for its luthiers that most of them are descendants of the famous Luby luthiers in german-speaking Bohemia).

@Andrew Victor What a nice story! I would like to see my viola getting antiquated through the years. Antiquated instruments are in fashion I think...for example every hard rock guitarists loves the worn Les Paul that Steve Perry from Aerosmith sold to Slash from Guns N' Roses (the one that appears on "November Rain" video) and there are imitations on this particular instruments by Gibson and Epiphone.

December 2, 2016 at 09:37 PM · You cannot afford to make a violin in Germany and sell it for EU3000 unless you're trying to lose money. And on the off chance that you could somehow make a violin for EU3000 in Germany it would be a cheap, mass produced, not hand made product.

December 2, 2016 at 10:06 PM · Why do you say that you can't sell a violin in EU for 3000€, Lyndon?

Could you explain it with details?

I've read you spend more or less 200h to make a violin, quite less hours if you're a luthier and it's your only job. That's about 1 month of work compared to other regular jobs, so it seems quite a good wage to earn almost 3000€ per month. And also while one violin is drying, you can work on another one, and all that.

December 2, 2016 at 10:38 PM · thats 3000 retail, 1500 wholesale not enough wages for a months work in Germany!!

December 3, 2016 at 04:04 AM · Germany is actually pretty cheap from what I have heard. Similar to Turkey (where I'm from) it is possible to be single and live off about 2 grand quite decently.

The part about Germany I heard from a few people that have lived there while studying/working. :)

December 3, 2016 at 08:35 AM · Hofner's top of the line are all made by violin making school graduate, retailed below 3k Euro, to my knowledge.

December 3, 2016 at 08:58 AM · Some people are just gullible, almost all the production European violins under $5,000 are made in China or Romania, its just not profitable to make them in Europe unless they're getting top dollar, Even a lot of the affordable Cremonese makers are rumoured to be outsourcing to China. Its just the way it is, no matter what the company likes to tell you.

December 3, 2016 at 06:07 PM · "almost all the production European violins under $5,000 are made in China or Romania"

It is true that some of European manufactures outsource their beginner line to China, but you can still find plenty workshops producing sub 5k Euro instruments, besides Romania. Polish and bulgarian makers are quite active in that price range..FYI

December 4, 2016 at 02:11 PM · I don't think that even in Germany a luthier can't make a good master viola within the 3k euros range. If it takes a month to make a viola, it's good money 3,000 euros. I think every luthier can make several instruments a month, depending how many hours they work. Mahr makes student models as well for less than a thousand euros. Most expensive ones are above 10k.

December 4, 2016 at 04:02 PM · Don't forget that a luthier doesn't make 3,000 when he sells for 3,000. There are supply costs, overhead costs, tool costs, etc.

December 4, 2016 at 11:08 PM · Well, that shouldn't cost that much, cause a luthier basically earns all that money due to crafting and creating a violin, not because the wood itself is expensive. A luthier transforms something cheap and not valuable into something incredibly valuable such an instrument, that's the "magic" of its office, that's what costs money. Pretty much all the artisans do this, transform something cheap and regular into something valuable, and that's made by hours of hand work and crafting.

Also, luthiers normally also repair violins, do adjustments, etc...

December 5, 2016 at 12:03 AM · Your comprehension of a Luthier's overhead is severely limited. Roughly half of the cost of building an instrument goes to overhead. Rent Utilities, Insurance, materials, down time, etc etc.

December 5, 2016 at 12:29 AM · A violin (say a Stradivarius if you want), for God's sake, is not expensive because the wood is expensive. How can't you agree with that?

A thin layer of varnish, x2 spruce/maple plates, sticks & glue, some wood for the ribs and sides, a thin plate of ebony, neck and scroll. Of course, that must costs about 1500€. Are you kidding me?

A violin, and as I said, any artisan product, is expensive because of the hours spent by the artisan, not because the materials he needs to create the product are expensive.

Now, a PC is expensive because the materials are expensive: you got to buy the processor, the graphic cards, the display, mouse, keyboard, motherboard, RAM... all those prefabricated "materials" to build a PC are expensive by themselves, and you as a PC builder just need to spend 1-2h building it up.

Artisans transform something cheap and not valuable into something valuable. A paint is expensive because the painter spent hours and hours designing and painting, not because the canvas and color paints are expensive.

A luthier transforms a simple, regular and cheap spruce plate into a violin top, a simple and inexpensive thin plate of ebony into a fingerboard, etc...

The process of transformation is what you pay for, not the plate of wood.

PD: there's one exception, and it's called "doing business", in a dirty way. That is, selling the plate of wood (that one got for $30, and I'm being quite generous) for an exorbitant price (say $500 the top spruce plate, or more), knowing the "poor" luthier is going to pay cause he wants "the best wood", no matter what. Nonetheless, here we discuss with reasoning, and in reasonable and real conditions, wood is something really inexpensive.

December 5, 2016 at 01:07 AM · You've never run a business, have you???

December 5, 2016 at 01:35 AM · Do you ever answer the questions people ask to you?

Why do you ask another question that has nothing to do with the topic or the questions I asked to you?

And answering your question, yes, I'm kind of running a business (self-governing), nothing to do with a luthier, neither it's my main source of income, at all. Now you could do the same and answer my questions without talking about non-sense stuff (I mean not related with the questions).

December 5, 2016 at 04:20 AM · You seem to be under the illusion that the cost of the wood is the main cost that goes into making a violin, nothing could be further from the case.

December 5, 2016 at 09:10 AM · Hahaha, ok, now that's trolling! Well done!

I've been saying that all the time, now you're the one that tries to "discover" to me that the wood is inexpensive. Good troll!

December 5, 2016 at 10:02 AM · Sorry, perhaps I'm not reading your posts clearly, because they're so full of nonsense. My point is only half the cost of making a violin is labour, and if your a production shop even less than half the cost is labour. If a production violin has $1000 in labour invested its probably going to need to sell for around $5000, if you hand make it in your garage, $1000 labour maybe you could sell it for $1500. Any business has overhead, and labour is only one factor that goes into selling cost.

December 5, 2016 at 11:36 AM · Please, explain how do you calculate those $1000, what's included there, and also how you do calculate those extra $4000. Otherwise it's useless information.

December 5, 2016 at 11:47 AM · Oh brother......

December 5, 2016 at 01:25 PM · In the US, one can obtain all the material and parts needed to make a violin for $300 to $400 dollars, retail cost. This would include...

- clear grade sitka/englemann spruce with straight, close spaced grain in two matched pieces,

- two piece flamed maple back, ribs and neck,

- poplar/maple pre-cut purfling,

- pre-carved solid ebony fingerboard, pegs, chin rest and tail piece

- average quality maple bridge,

- strings worth about $70US retail.

Cost of varnish is a free pass unless you are into some secret oil finish formula with unusual rosins and dye extractions.

That can be reduced to well under $300 if you are willing to settle for less than clear tone wood, highly figured maple and pre-carved ebony fittings, or you shop around to buy a bunch of wood wholesale.

Tools are a one-time cost and you can gather most of what you need on clearance, then make the rest (like plate clamps). All this for under $1,000.

Stick your work bench in a spare room. Use eBay as a very cheap store front. Good to go.

If you have the craft skills to actually carve out a working, good looking, decent sounding violin (a HUGE IF), it is no more expensive than a modest hobby. So do not quite your day job until you discover Strad's secret.

So Tim is correct in saying a skilled crafts person can make a decent profit and perhaps live above a mere subsistence level by making and selling violins for about $3000EU.

But to Lyndon's point, adding a "real" store front, hiring some help and dealing with payroll, taxes, health benefits, accounting, maintenance, utilities in ADDITION to your home (the list goes on and on), That $3000EU won't go very far unless you are making and selling a boat load of violins.

December 5, 2016 at 02:50 PM · For violin makers (who are "in business"), raw material expense and time is probably the least concern. The shall go through enough training to be efficient enough, also having certain level of excellency in their crafts. It is about how good they are, instead of how long, or how hard they work.

December 5, 2016 at 03:36 PM · I was surprised to recently learn that there is no minimal wage in Germany. With huge number of refugees, some of whom may be illegal or avoiding deportation, we can expect cheap labor in just any field. I would not be surprised to see on the news about underground sweatshops discovered in the middle of Europe.

December 5, 2016 at 03:54 PM · Well, that was my point, that a luthier's actual work is what you pay for, not the materials, at all. I said it several times, and suddenly Lyndon tells me that wood is not what you pay for when buying a violin. Hahaha, I can't believe it.

But as I said, this is applicable to any artisan work: they transform cheap materials into something that is very valuable: paintings, instruments, furniture, clothes/garments (handmade), pottery... it's all the same, ceramic is not expensive, neither screen, clay, wood...

What you pay for when buying an artisan object is the hours of work of the artisan. It's straight forward.

December 5, 2016 at 06:08 PM · I found it's more unfair, in fact, inappropriate, to judge a maker's work by the time they put in. I know a multi award winner can finish a white violin in average ten days (varnishing is another story though ), a renown Chicago maker always starts three violins at a time; the most expensive modern maker, Peter Greiner, building 6 violins per batch, while somebody may spend an year long finishing a fiddle but can't sell. Of course we pay for the hours of work, but it is way beyond that. It is the same idea no one will ever blame Heifetz for practicing no more than 3 hours a day and still sound like Heifetz :)

December 5, 2016 at 10:25 PM · Yeah, I completely agree with you, that's why I said in my first original post about this new topic that most violin makers make a violin in 200h or quite less, I also said some make more than one at the same time, etc...

The thing is, the violin is "expensive" because the work of the luthier, not because the materials are expensive, and this applies to all artisan jobs, or at least most of them, when normally they buy regular inexpensive materials and make a new object that is valuable due to the work they did with their bare hands. This point I said before was rejected by Lyndon, and then he told me my own point. Funny.

Anyway, that's pretty much why I said that 3000€ for a violin made in EU is fine and more than enough. Anyways, the price always is higher because us violinists are willing to pay 4000€, 8000€... (luthiers also want to do business), not because, as Lyndon pretends to make us believe, is the minimum price when making violins is viable as a job. It's not that weird, he is in this business, so it's quite obvious why he says that.

December 5, 2016 at 10:43 PM · Why don't you start making violins if you think it is so easy and profitable???

December 5, 2016 at 11:08 PM · It may be profitable, it may be not, it depends on many facts: your reputation, the luck you have with your clients (you can have clients that are not willing to pay more than $4000 for a violin of yours, or someone can love the sound of one and you can take advantage of that and sell it for $25000 "because the sound worths it"), depends of course on your skills as a luthier, the decisions you make to choose wood pieces, your precision and milage, your patience, the price tags you choose...

Nevertheless, you can "easily" have a line of good reputation violins that are sold for $3500 that people say they are worth it, and then instead of a mystery business of uncertainty (some days you sell that violin you made 6 years ago for $7000, other days no one will come to your store...), you could have a constant income... I don't know, there are a lot of strategies, just like in any other business.

I'd like to point out that only a lunatic could think that the conclusion of my messages is that violin making is easy as pie. Bugs Bunny would say that, hahaha. I've never ever said a thing about the luthier job itself, so your conclusions are a total disaster. The only thing I said related to that is that a violin is expensive due to the luthier's work, not the materials he uses, just like in any other artisan job, unless you're working with diamonds, gold, jewelry... then the price will be high because of the job of the artisan and also the price of the materials. That's not the case in violin making.

December 5, 2016 at 11:37 PM · And what I said is you are wrong, for a production violin the labour invested in actual building is not the biggest cost going into the price of the violin, overhead and marketing, and yes, materials, are greater than labour costs.

December 6, 2016 at 12:26 AM · We're not talking about costs, Lyndon. You really are lost, hahaha. We've been all the time talking about what we customers pay for in a violin, and that's mainly the luthier's job. It's an artisan product, we pay for the hours spent by the artisan doing the object.

Labour cost you say?

Hahaha, how many dollars takes you to move the hands, Lyndon?

The labour costs for a luthier are exactly zero dollars, but we customers pay exactly for that labour, cause you luthiers (I don't actually know if you are one or not) put a price for an hour of work, just like any other service job. You spend time that costs you zero dollars, and we pay you the time spent. I'm leaving this topic, hahaha, this is going nowhere, what I say is simply the truth of all the artisan jobs.

December 6, 2016 at 03:22 AM · FYI we were talking about the cost of a German marketed, presumably made in China violin, and why It couldn't be produced in Germany for 3000EU. Your contention was that almost all of that 3000EU price was labour, and I pointed out how that was wrong, labour is just one of many costs that go into running a violin factory, as we were never talking about hand made artisan by one maker violins in the first place, but production instruments.

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