Rosin residuals

Edited: March 30, 2019, 4:01 PM · This one goes to the luthiers and the brave DIYers amongst us...

I was gifted with a violin, literally an attic discovery. My luthier did what was necessary to bring it back into playing condition without any cosmetics, and even in the very first hour of playing it the first time after maybe two decades (if not more) it turned out to behave surprisingly well as a music making tool. It plays good, sounds good, has a relatively wide modulation range (let's see how this will develop) and really beautiful rich overtones. Warm sound, not too big, but with a very sweet golden ringing E, exactly what I'd like for chamber music - I have to remind myself how long it must have slept, since the owner passed away in 1999.The varnish has some aches, but the wood isn't bad either, and I really would like to free it from these nasty layers of rosin accumulated by decades of obviously heavy use. (There were grooves in the fingerboard to plane out at least 0.5mm in depth up to 4th/5th position...)
Since the market value for this violin doesn't seem to be very high, I don't want to spend a fortune and would like to try it myself. In the www there are plenty of warnings about using liquid cleaners, and a polish will not remove enough. Several recommendations were given for the "Miracle Cloth", which is said to be effective in removing the dirt and rosin without harming the varnish even in unexperienced hands. Anybody here with experience, or better ideas?

Edited for the correct product name...

Replies (33)

Edited: March 30, 2019, 11:16 AM · Rosin is soluble in things that the varnish is also soluble in. If a liquid polish/cleaner can remove accumulated rosin then it is dangerous to both you and the varnish.
You might try making a paste of baking soda and water, if there is no bare wood or open cracks, to "scrub" some of the rosin off, but be careful not to remove varnish and also be aware that water is a powerful solvent in it's own right and can remove varnish/color from certain instruments. Mittenwalders, for example.
I won't tell you what I would use because it would be dangerous and what you pay your luthier for is judgement and skill. Yes, it can be mostly removed. Sometimes you can not remove all of the rosin acumulation without removing varnish. At some point, the rosin and the varnish become one.
March 30, 2019, 3:39 PM · If you wash out your mouth really well, you can use your spit on a cloth and then use that to rub the rosin off.
If the cloth starts going varnish coloured, it's time to stop.

There are also various commercial rosin removers. I've never tried them, but if you're worried they might strip your violin, you can test them under the chinrest.

March 30, 2019, 3:56 PM · I did not have any luck using violin varnish cleaning liquids to remove accumulated rosin from a used violin I bought in 1974 - I tried many cleaners over the years between then and 1996 when I had moved close-ish to a good violin shop (Ifshin Violins, then in Berkeley, CA). Over the next few years I had all my instruments in for once-overs* and all they could find to do to that violin was remove the rosin - which they did for $75 - they did not change the bridge or soundpost that had been installed by the maker. I've kept it clean since - with a microfiber cloth.

* "once-overs" - mostly bridge adjustments and/or soundpost replacements.

March 30, 2019, 4:14 PM · Uups, messed up the product name. Now it's correct. To be clear, the full name is "Miracle all purpose polishing cloth", obviously some 1950ies invention and design... Coconut oil... As long as there aren't any open cracks or seams it should be fine, shouldn't it?
Well, it's not rocket science. I'll just give it a try and let you know about the results. It seems to be a dry smooth spirit varnish, no craquele, I bet the amount of rosins within the varnish shouldn't be too high. Will take some days to arrive via postal service anyways, so there's enough time to convince me of this being a stupid idea..
March 31, 2019, 9:22 AM · If this instrument is as nice as you describe it my opinion is that it would be worth the money to have a professional remove the rosin regardless of market value. You are not going to sell it I perceive so why bring the market value into it? Could you buy such an instrument for the price of a cleaning?
March 31, 2019, 10:19 AM · Nope. And I couldn't have bought it for what I paid for new bridge + soundpost and fingerboard planing. But it's pretty beaten up and not a beauty.
March 31, 2019, 10:26 AM · Meanwhiles I couldn't resist to go for Duane's baking soda challenge. While I wasn't able to make a "paste", it worked pretty well with a wet cloth dipped into baking soda. 99% of the rosin went off, and no harm was done to the varnish. With some polishing I'm quite happy with the result and will have to use the "miracle" on something else when it will finally arrive. On a few spots it could need some varnish, but this was already before cleaning.
March 31, 2019, 10:27 AM · Next thing I'm gonna do is order some fine tuning pegs...
*duck and away*
April 1, 2019, 10:55 AM · I am installing 2 sets of Wittners on my day off...they are just another tool, and unlike removing orig. varnish, they are easily reversible.
April 1, 2019, 11:29 AM · Timothy,

You can purchase artificial saliva at a pharmacy that can be useful for cleaning a violin, but probably not lawn mowers! Saliva does contain enzymes that can break down dirt and other natural substances found on yor varnsih, but please mind my suggestion that water IS a powerful solvent and can do damage.

Edited: April 1, 2019, 1:45 PM · I use a touch of W.E. Hill & Sons varnish cleaner twice a year under the string where rosin builds up. Aaron Rosand told me he used a little bit of Hill cleaner from time to time on his Guarneri del Gesu. I don't polish other parts of my instrument (other than under the string) because there are some repaired cracks - I leave that to my luthier.

I recommend using a few different microfiber cloths throughout the week if you practice several hours a day, and make sure to wash them regularly. If you use the same cloth for a couple of weeks, you'll just be mixing rosin around your instrument instead of cleaning it.

Edited: April 1, 2019, 2:35 PM · Does anyone know what is in Hill Polish/Cleaner? I've used it also in the past and I find that it does a good job, does not appear to have negative effects on my varnish (I do not have repaired cracks to worry about) and it does not leave a noticeable residue either. Having said that, I'm not wild about using it because the long-term effects of continuous use are hard to evaluate, and I only have my eyes to know whether there is any residue and such. So I try to keep my violin clean just by wiping it down nicely after I practice. And as far as fingerprints, I solve that problem by simply not touching my violin anywhere except the neck, pegs, chin rest, and end-button.

Nevertheless, I do have some experience in formulation chemistry, and if I were to formulate that kind of a cleaner, I might start with some combination of water, linseed oil, turpentine, and an emulsifier (perhaps as simple as Dawn dish detergent). But I would want a fleet of VSOs to experiment with before going public with it.

April 1, 2019, 4:11 PM · Paul, at one time, the Hill polish contained linseed oil. I suspect that it still does. Smearing oil on a surface can work great for making it look smooth and shiny.

But linseed oil is a "drying oil". Initially, it will remain liquid, entrapping dust and dirt from the surrounding air. Then the oil and entrapped dirt will dry into something which is hard to separate and remove from the original varnish.

April 1, 2019, 4:33 PM · So what would be your alternative, David? And which oil BTW is the base for the benzoe oil I've seen used for polishing? (And I do like that smell! Hmmm...)
Edited: April 1, 2019, 6:28 PM · There is a serious fire hazard when dealing with raw linseed oil, if for instance someone is making their own polishing concoction. Mop up a linseed oil spillage with a cloth, and that cloth will burst into flames as the oil in it dries.

The answer is to thoroughly wash the residual linseed oil out from the cloth with water.

April 1, 2019, 10:05 PM · No doubt about it - a major hazard - SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION!
April 1, 2019, 10:29 PM · Why not clean with mineral spirits? It will dissolve rosin but should not affect the varnish.
April 1, 2019, 10:49 PM · it will not dissolve rosin
April 2, 2019, 1:24 AM · As long as you don't let the linseed oil cloth lie curled up it will be fine. Spread it out so the heat from the oxidation reaction can dissipate and there will be no problem with spontaneous combustion.
April 2, 2019, 1:24 AM · As long as you don't let the linseed oil cloth lie curled up it will be fine. Spread it out so the heat from the oxidation reaction can dissipate and there will be no problem with spontaneous combustion.
April 2, 2019, 7:06 AM · Nuuska, my general recommendation is to not use any polishing product at all.
April 2, 2019, 10:59 AM · @ David Burgess and Paul Deck

Some information about the ingredients of the "Hill Varnish Cleaner" can be found here:

In this data sheet are listed:
- Water 70%
- Heat treated vegetabel oil
- Pure gum turpentine
- Lanolin wax/Cetostearyl alcohol

April 2, 2019, 10:59 AM · David, you wouldn't happen to have a nano-abrading device for attachment to the Sawzall, for mechanically removing rosin residuals without damaging underlying layers or structures, would you? Obviously for use only by the most skilled hands.
Edited: April 2, 2019, 3:25 PM · David, I can only guess by your reputation, but you're totally into commissions, and not doing much servicing and restauration anymore? Suppose you'd just cleaned off a heavy layer of dirt from and instrument, no matter the technique - how would you get it back to a nice smooth surface without polishing?!
I don't need polishing products on any of the instruments I bought from my luthier, because I wipe them with a high end microfiber cloth after every contact, and avoid skin contact with the body as possible. But not all instruments were treated that well by their previous owners...
April 2, 2019, 2:40 PM · Many experienced knowledgeable people will tell you to let the pros do the cleaning... yet none are willing to tell you what the pros do! It seems like a well guarded secret passed down from luthier to luthier. It can't be that difficult!
April 2, 2019, 3:17 PM · Roger, we use various solvents, usually starting with water, and working our way up to stronger solvents as needed, testing at every stage, with some of the solvents needing to be used with a fume hood or the right chemical canister mask, a little like a gas mask.

When we are not forthcoming with some of the more hardcore cleaning techniques, it's mostly because we don't want people to harm themselves or their instruments with things like acetone, toluene or nitromethane, any of which will remove original varnish in a heartbeat, if not used skillfully and judiciously.

Edited: April 2, 2019, 3:21 PM · Actually I do know pretty well what my luthier does, maybe not in every detail but in general, from cleaning to polishing - but as I said I wouldn't dare to do the cleaning as he does, even on a relatively cheap instrument like this one, simply out of lack of experience, and because I couldn't do a proper revarnishing if I messed it up. He's a fine and well occupied restorer who is occasionally working on instruments in the $10^6 league, he's a good friend and I've watched him several times. And this is why I'm bewildered to read polish should be avoided at all. I'm totally aware of all the fine instruments that were almost polished to death over the decades and centuries (even by luthiers), and removing a thick polish layer is more challenging than just removing rosin. But finally, polishing still isn't neurosurgery...
April 2, 2019, 3:27 PM · And still I'm amazed how well and easily Duane's baking soda move worked... Thanks a lot.
April 2, 2019, 3:37 PM · We use different things on different varnishes. Before you start, you need to figure out what type of varnish you are dealing with. Any commercial cleaners/polishes are pretty much worthless and in the long run create more issues. I believe that Luis Manfio once said-even on this forum-that the best polish is the one that you do not use.

As for the Nerosurgery comment, I used to be a Nurse dealing with head injuries and head tumors in the pediatric population. Even got to participate in the care of a pair of conjoined twins that were separated. No, it isn't like Neurosurgery. No one dies and you can, depending on your skill level, fix all of your mistakes.

April 2, 2019, 3:39 PM · Nuuska wrote:
"But finally, polishing still isn't neurosurgery..."

There is a retired NASA engineer, now a fiddle maker, who occasionally posts here. He has said more than once,
"Fiddle making isn't rocket science. It's much more difficult". ;-)

April 2, 2019, 4:13 PM · Well. I wasn't trying to make a fiddle, and as a fan of high end contemporary violins (and violas) I regard luthierie as an art by its own and I'm the last one to estimate it low. I'm not a collector at all, but actually a big part of my "extra" money is invested in such kind of instruments, and there will be at least two or three more in the next years.
But allas, it's only about bringing back to life a heavily beaten up instrument worth no more than 2,5k (if at all) if brought back into perfect condition, which it isn't by far and will never be. I've let a pro do the necessary technical things to make it playable for what it's worth, and did what was necessary so that it doesn't look like a piece of junk, fresh from the landfill. Good enough for traveling, "outdoor gigs", or leaving at my parents in law's summer cottage or at the office.
Doing a proper refurb on an instrument like that would cost more than what I could ever ask for it on the private market. And if my luthier would do it, he would do it properly. It still wouldn't be a gem, and it would be unwise to do so. This way it lives again, and is even decent looking.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Violin Finder
Yamaha Violin Finder

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases


Los Angeles Philharmonic

Vsound: Electric Violin Pedal

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Potter Violins

Pro-Am Strings

Violin Lab

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop