Violin Varnish

June 2, 2004 at 05:17 AM · What kinds of violin varnish do you all like? How long does it take for varnish to dry and is it possible to restore damaged ones?

Replies (8)

June 2, 2004 at 07:16 AM · Spirit varnish dries quickly, oil can take a long, long time to fully cure (even a year in some cases).Varnish damage can be remedied, treated and touched up as the case may be.

June 2, 2004 at 05:38 PM · Buri tells me that prune varnish combines the best of both worlds, giving a both beautiful-sounding violin and quick-drying varnish. He warns me that it can give the violin a black tint, though ;)

He adds that with prune varnish the sound simply flows out of the violin without constraint :P

June 2, 2004 at 10:45 PM · Spirit varnishes, I feel, have two great advantages over linseed oil. It allows for high concentration of color and is quick-drying. Many argue that it is much easier to manipulate in the application than oil.

This, of course, is not the base for the classical recipe as used by Stradivari and other Baroque Cremonese luthiers. Theirs was derived from linseed oil.

Both recipes have been used in luthiere for centuries, I believe, with satisfactory results.

Varnish certainly affects sound and playability, but it has been my experience that whatever the substance used, one can achieve a great instrument if applied well.


June 2, 2004 at 10:54 PM · About the restoration of damaged varnish, a good luthier will be able to touch up chips to a degree... but a word of warning: never revarnish your violin as it can devalue the instrument substantially. A decent luthier will know this anyway - this is for any DIY enthusiasts out there.

June 3, 2004 at 01:31 AM · So based on whether the varnish is alcohol or oil,does it make resulting varnish "harder" or "softer"? Came across an incident where a violin that was warped in cloth had left "impressions" on the varnish. Can it be touch up then?

June 3, 2004 at 02:32 AM · Alcohol and oil can both be prepared and applied in a manner which will result in a "hard" or "soft" varnish. In general, oils tend to be softer in their application. However, "hardness" and "chippiness" is often the result of the madder or coloring agent disolved in linseed.

Many old Cremonese instruments have a "chippy" nature to their varnishes (especially those of 'del Gesu'). The base recipes are usually impregnated with bright colors, which became popular in the later Baroque period (especially with the deep Stradivari reds and oranges, hues appealing to the upper social strata at the time).

It sounds, though, that the varnish on the violin you refer to was damaged in some other way. I don't believe this necessarily has to do with the initial varnish or varnish technique of the instrument. It may be, also, the the instrument never fully dried or stabalized, and the result was a varnish which is very vulnerable to the elements or to potential damage. Have a luthier you know and respect (preferably one known for his varnishing technique) look it over. Something may be done to even it out.


November 18, 2010 at 12:52 PM ·

Don't wear a coat. Play in the nude!!

November 21, 2010 at 01:49 AM ·

 I prefer spar varnish myself, because I'm Popeye the Sailor Man (toot toot)!

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