Touch up varnish or let it be?

April 25, 2019, 2:00 AM · Just wondering what the general consensus is on small nicks and scratches on an instrument's varnish. Is it worth touching up, or should one leave it as a part of instrument's character? Asking because I recently noticed a couple of small nicks and scratches on my violin - some of which appear to expose the white of the wood - and was wondering what the best course of action would be. While they are relatively small and probably unnoticeable to most, they've begun to bug my nerves whenever I see them.

Replies (11)

April 25, 2019, 2:26 AM · Any good luthier can touch those up. It isn't a big deal. Just don't try to do it yourself.
Edited: April 25, 2019, 6:19 AM · However, the question was: is it even necessary? And I think any good luthier can tell you that if they are allowed to have a look at the "problem".

I have made it a habit to trust my luthiers and follow their advice and have done well over the years. I don't think I ever got a dishonest recommendation (the way dentists recommend unnecessary procedures, which seems to be almost routine).

April 25, 2019, 6:35 AM · A good luthier can touch-it-up while also preserving the character and age in the appearance of the violin.

Personally, I think any damage that exposes bare wood should be addressed.

April 25, 2019, 6:42 AM · I wouldn't bother. Some members on the forum remember what happened when my dad wanted to "touch up" a small nick on my second violin. Mere seconds to destroy, but two weeks to fix.
Foreshadowing for the Notre Dame.

Alternatively, you could take it to a luthier, but the cost would hardly be justified.
Just wait a while and you won't even notice them anymore.

April 25, 2019, 8:42 AM · It doesn't cost much to have a luthier touch up the varnish, and it's protective for the instrument if bare wood is exposed.

Cotton's comment is why you should never try to do this yourself or allow an amateur to touch your instrument.

Edited: April 25, 2019, 8:46 AM · Even an experienced luthier can have trouble touching up scratches, at least that's what I've heard.

Depends on whether the scratch goes into the wood or not.

April 25, 2019, 9:45 AM · I have the same problem with my violin(various nicks and small scratches).The marks usually disappear when a luthier professionally cleans the instrument.He uses a strong cleaner which slightly softens the varnish thus blending in the blemishes.Im going early next week...
April 25, 2019, 10:00 AM · The problem is if the scratches go into the wood, the scratched area will turn dark when you try to touch it up, at least that's what a top luthier told me.
April 25, 2019, 10:23 AM · Ill ask my luthier today how he would address that particular problem...
Edited: April 25, 2019, 11:00 AM · If there is bare wood, it should at least be sealed with a clear varnish. Otherwise, I tend to take the minimalist approach when it comes to surface interventions. Over time, less it more.
There are also some makers who used varnishes that are very difficult to safely clean, polish, and retouch. Those are best left as is unless there is bare wood.
Edited: April 25, 2019, 12:33 PM · I think it depends on how much your instrument is worth in your currency. It also depends on how much having your instrument appear pristine is worth to you emotionally (for whatever reason).

Cellos and basses often look like they have been to the wars after half a (human) lifetime of use. Violins and violas much less so.

I have touched up a few nicks on some of my instruments with "touch-up pens." There are also some clear liquids that refract light in such a way that the stain color on both sides of a tiny nick will be seen to disguise the defect.

To my mind there is an instrument dollar value beyond which I would not do this sort of coverup, but I don't think I have instruments in that category.

One of my violins, an antiqued Strad copy, was apparently varnished in such a way by the maker that the varnish wore so that by the time I'd been playing it for about 20 years it looked pretty much over 100 years old. All the physical wear areas of a real Strad were apparent and real; that was 45 years ago, so by now it probably looks a lot like the instrument that was copied - maybe even older.

Should I have some coverup done? I don't think so.

(The photo I have of the copied 1715 Strad is about as old as my violin so I have no idea what IT looks like now.)

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