Scars on New Violin

January 20, 2017 at 10:18 PM · The hand-made violin I ordered from overseas (for $10K) arrived safely today. It is beautiful ... but unfortunately upon removing the Chinrest that came along with it, scars were exposed underneath by the feet of the Chinrest on both the top side and the bottom side.

I reported the problem to the Luthier. The answer was:

“Unfortunately such a "scars" will always arise cos' of the corkwood on the feet of the Chinrest and "relative softness" of alcohol based varnishes and natural resins that are used by most violin makers...."


Is this normal for new violins? Any suggestions or recommendations for cure? Your advice is greatly appreciated.

Replies (31)

January 20, 2017 at 10:35 PM · I wouldn't worry. I don't think it will affect anything soundwise.

January 20, 2017 at 10:38 PM · This is rather normal with certain varnish compositions. I wouldn't worry about it.

January 20, 2017 at 11:17 PM · I never saw a violin that didn't get scars from the chinrest. Even if you have the scars removed, you will get new ones when you remove the next chin rest.

January 21, 2017 at 12:37 AM · Perfectly normal. When the varnish dries (if it ever does...) you can have it touched up.

Won't change the sound, though, and if you decide to try a chinrest that clamps somewhere else, you'll be right back where you started.

January 21, 2017 at 01:11 AM · It's par for the course. Both of my violins have imprints in the varnish from the over-the-tailpiece clamped chinrests they came with. I switched them both to side mount rests that I prefer, so now there's imprints there too. I must admit that at your violin's price point, it seems like it could have been sent without a chinrest, so you could pick your own and mark the fiddle up your own way. But Guarneri chinrests are pretty near ubiquitous, and everyone seems to assume that's what everyone wants.

January 21, 2017 at 06:28 AM · Thanks folks. Your words really put my mind to ease.

The luthier suggested using cotton cloth with water to minimize the scars. I tried and that didn't help. But I am perfectly fine with the scars because the new violin comes with a great sound, is easy to play, and looks beautiful.

In search for a good practice violin, I focused on sound and tested/scored over 40 violins, mostly in the range between $10K to $600K (my budget is rather flexible). The make of this luthier was definitely not the more expensive one, but surprisingly came out ahead in the sound test and joined the forerunners group (and there were but 3 or 4 in that group). Which is why I decided to take a risk and order from that luthier overseas. And I was not disappointed.

Thanks again for all your advice, I can now relax and practice comfortably with my new violin and wait for my dream violin, a Stradivari or a Guarneri, to surface. ;-)

January 21, 2017 at 05:12 PM · Do you mind telling us who the luthier is?

I agree, foot imprints on soft varnish are unavoidable, but can be significantly reduced by polishing with a soft slightly damp polishing cloth while the varnish is still relatively soft, applying a bit of pressure with your finger, polishing in a tight circular motion. Make sure you wrap the polishing cloth around your index finger neatly without creases, and just tap the tip of your finger on a wet sponge to damp it ever so slightly.

January 21, 2017 at 05:25 PM · Yes Roger, you can, but if the varnish is still not dry, or is just a soft, tender varnish, it will just imprint again. Also consider that polishing with solvents softens varnish and may make the problem worse.

If you are suggesting using water (you don't say what you dampen the polishing cloth with) I have to completely disagree.

January 22, 2017 at 12:10 AM · Basically, violins are not varnished with "bullet-proof" varnishes, along the line of what one might find on an automobile. We could, simply by going to the auto finishing outlet, or by purchasing the highest-rated outdoor deck paint, but we don't consider that as being desirable. Stradivari varnishes have come across as being rather fragile.

January 22, 2017 at 01:03 AM · Roger, My teacher is currently working on some kind of a business deal with the luthier. I guess I had better refrain from broadcasting the name and contact until he gets his deal rectified. Thank you for your understanding.

David, Who knows. May be one day technology will bring about "bullet-proof" varnish capable of producing great sound. The challenging project then, I guess, will be how to make "bullet-proof" automobile a great sounding instrument? ;-)

January 22, 2017 at 03:18 AM · Duane, I fully agree with you. In my case I replaced the center mount CR with a side mount, hence an imprint was left on the right side and nothing to hide it. I used a Kiwi shoe polishing cloth (untreated) and a touch of saliva (the old army spit-shining way) and that worked quite well.

January 22, 2017 at 04:46 AM · Some luthiers are quite ignorant regarding those details. Just imagine a brand new Mercedes delivered with scratched paint next to the door handle? Or with a crack on a windshield?

I simply can't understand that.

One spends hours, days and weeks to create a masterpiece and then screw* the CR or installs a bridge on a non-cured varnish.

Perhaps acceptable on a cheap violin made in China, but on an instrument you appraise @ 10K ?!

January 22, 2017 at 08:21 PM · Rocky, it's not necessarily a sign of the varnish not being cured. Some varnishes will remain imprintable for decades or longer. One of Sacconi's observations about Strad varnish was that it behaved like a very viscous liquid... a mild mark could be made and it would "self-heal", this more than 200 years after the instrument was made.

As I mentioned earlier, maximum durability of the varnish is not of primary interest to makers. They tend to be more interested in whether the varnish enables good sound; behaves somewhat like varnishes of the 17th century; wears in a manner reminiscent of wear found on older instruments. We could use coatings which are almost impervious to wear and imprinting (we could spray them with automotive clear-coat, or urethane floor finish), but this isn't considered desirable in our microcosm.

Violin making (and consumption) remain heavily influenced by tradition. As long as the craft is widely considered to have reached its zenith 300 years ago, that's kind of where we're stuck. It's a different set of standards than those of the machine age and industrialization.

January 23, 2017 at 03:47 AM · In support of David Burgess post, when one of my former professors, Julius Stulberg, was in Oxford at the Ashmolean Museum in the 60s. He was present when they were changing the position of the "Messiah" Stradivarius in its display case. He had a long discussion with the curator. He said that, supposedly, they have to reposition the instrument on a regular schedule because its varnish is STILL so soft that the varnish will start to gravity "flow" to the lowest point. Changing position periodically helps prevent this. Prof. Stulberg told me that the varnish is still so soft that fingerprints will temporarily stay on the instrument until the varnish "flows" back to fill them.

January 23, 2017 at 03:13 PM · Always a good day to learn something new. Thank you David!

January 28, 2017 at 03:59 AM · Problem solved. The scars were caused by the reaction (chemical?) between the corkwood on the feet of chinrest and the varnish. Areas of residuals of corkwood stuck on the varnish were clearly visible. I tried but failed to remove the residuals. Finally I inserted a piece of plastic (cut from a sandwich bag) between the two materials and stopped the situation from getting worse. The plastic was not sticking to either material.

Also FYI - I found the underside of my center-mount Berber chinrest was touching the tail piece. So I added another thin layer of corkwood to the feet of the chinrest to lift it a bit. A space was thus created between the chinrest and the tailpiece, and the sound became more open and pure.

January 28, 2017 at 04:06 AM · David it's interesting what you said about Strad varnish being self-healing. Part of my research is in self-healing polymers. I'm told there's a new Samsung phone that has a coating on the screen that is a self-healing material.

Xi, I was just going to suggest a thin layer of flexible plastic between the cork and the varnish. Your sandwich bag cutting should work very well. That's polyethylene and it's quite chemically inert. It's not likely to fuse into either the varnish or the cork. Saran should be okay too. As for tailpiece clearance, your other option is to grind away a little on the underside of the chin rest. If you build up too much cork it can cause your mount to become less stable.

January 28, 2017 at 09:13 AM · "One of Sacconi's observations about Strad varnish was that it behaved like a very viscous liquid... a mild mark could be made and it would "self-heal", this more than 200 years after the instrument was made."

Hi David,

have you ever had personal experience of this kind?

I am always amazed by this statement, especially after reading the results of recent studies that have found a oil/resin ratio of 1:4 in Stradivari varnish, which makes hard to believe such behavior of the varnish, along with the fact that these are often described as fragile and easy to chip away.

One thing is the conspicuous and continuous pressure of the chinrest that inevitably will leave an imprint, but how long do you have to stay with your finger and with how much pressure to leave an imprint on the varnish?

It always seemed implausible, or at least attributable maybe to some soft polish build-up and not the varnish itself.

January 28, 2017 at 01:20 PM · Hi Davide. No, I have not observed this on the Strads I've worked on. It seems to have been an observation of previous generations, so maybe something about the varnish has changed since then. Perhaps the varnish finally hardened after 300 years? LOL

January 28, 2017 at 02:52 PM · I suppose that if you have a violin made for you to your specification then you are in order to require that at no stage during its making until it comes into your possession is a chin-rest to come into contact with it.

Of course, you'll be ordering up a Baroque replica :)

January 28, 2017 at 05:39 PM · Indeed I have to wonder why a bespoke violin would arrive with any accessories already mounted unless specifically requested by the client. That just seems an unnecessary risk, especially since during shipment one might expect the instrument to experience variations in ambient temperature and pressure.

January 28, 2017 at 06:22 PM · Lesson learned - For future violins I am going to order (as part of my endless pursuit for great sound), I will definitely remember to remind my dear makers not to mount chinrest or any other accessories prior to delivery.

Hi Paul,

I shaved the underside of my other (Center-Mount) Ohhreform chinrest as you suggested. It worked perfectly. Thanks a lot.

January 29, 2017 at 10:03 AM · I do not know if I understand correctly what you're talking about, but for a violin maker is necessary to set-up the violin with all the accessories in order to try it and make adjustment to figure out how it sounds.

Of course when it comes to make a shipment is best to remove everything, sounpost included, to minimize the risk of breakage which would be aggravated by the tensions of the strings and by the presence of the soundpost.

Of course then you will need a good violin maker to put on everything correctly and make the necessary setup adjustment.

Anyway, with special packaging would be possible to send it mounted, but the risk increases and the cost of shipping is at least doubled.

January 29, 2017 at 11:01 AM · Hi Davide,

In my case, the violin was delivered with a side-mount chinrest. I have to remove it and install a center-mount chinrest which I am using. I do understand that the makers will have to install accessories in order to have the violin tested. So may be the better answer is to only to ask the maker to ship the violin without any chinrest? However, I think it would be advisable for the sound post to be still installed by the original maker so the intended sound quality of the maker can be demonstrated. Am I right?

January 29, 2017 at 11:52 AM · Is it necessary to install accessories in order to have the violin tested? Note that the chin rest was invented about 1820, and the shoulder rest more than a century later. So what was the testing procedure before 1820? It is also worth pointing out that cellos don't have add-on accessories of the "rest" nature.

January 29, 2017 at 01:28 PM · If the player is going to use a chinrest, the instrument needs to be adjusted with a chinrest in order for the sound and playing properties to be optimized. Same thing if the instrument will be used without a chinrest.

In most cases, the presence or absence of a chinrest will alter the performance of an instrument substantially.

January 29, 2017 at 01:40 PM · There we have it. Thank you, David!

January 29, 2017 at 05:23 PM · Hi Xi Wang,

of course the best thing is to communicate to the violin maker what kind of chinrest you like to use on your violin, so that he can satisfy your preferences.

You might also ask to delivery without chinrest and with no scars on the varnish, the important thing is to inform him in time because it would be a pretty unusual request.

Anyway touch up the scars is not that difficult if you have a good violin maker at hand.

January 29, 2017 at 06:15 PM · Thanks for all your enlightening input. They are all very educational. Bottom line is, I personally do not mind too much about scars as long as the instrument produces great sound. That said, I will remember to thoroughly communicate with my dear makers when I order my next hand-made violin.

By the way, Davide, I plan to go to the 2017 Cremona Mondomusica toward the end of September 2017. Will you be there?

January 29, 2017 at 06:56 PM · I will not be an exhibitor at Mondomusica, it is too chaotic for my taste and my violin, but I will be in Cremona and if you want I'll be happy to meet you in my workshop or around somewhere.

If maybe I can find a place in the city center to exhibit along with some of my colleagues we can meet there.

January 29, 2017 at 10:18 PM · Hi Davide,

Great. I will be happy to visit you at your workshop or anywhere else you prefer. I will send you an email to establish contact. Thanks.

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