violin polish?

February 12, 2020, 9:08 AM · I recently acquired an old italian violin, 1760, beautiful to play, but with tather dull varnish. Has anyone experience of using violin polish, Hill for example, or is there opinions of using or not using polish?

Replies (33)

February 12, 2020, 9:10 AM · By all means refer it to a professional, so many things can go wrong if you try to do it yourself.
Edited: February 12, 2020, 9:39 AM · I've tried Hill polish on my violin and it really doesn't do anything except remove the most obvious greasy fingerprints. It will not restore the finish of your violin. Since it doesn't do anything significant, and since there is definitely a non-zero risk of damage with any kind of DIY cleaning method, I now only have my violin cleaned by a professional and even then as seldom as I can. After I practice, I wipe away the rosin dust with a microfiber cloth, going over the whole violin.

The polishing process may involve an extremely fine abrasive. I have seen Super Nikco on the luthier's bench. The thing is that you cannot do something like this over and over to maintain a high gloss on your violin all the time because varnish is finite. By definition, abrasives remove material. And until you know what kind of varnish you have and how it responds to different types of substances, you're in grave danger if you try to DIY.

If you do have your violin polished professionally, then afterward I recommend you adopt an absolutely strict policy of only touching your violin by the neck, pegs, and button (or CR/SR hardware). If your teacher is in the habit of handing violins around by grasping the bouts, ask him or him to please never do this with your violin. When I see a violin that has fingerprints all over the bouts, I know I'm in the company of someone who doesn't have much respect for his or her violin. Fingerprints will lift off pretty well with a dry microfiber cloth, but pretty well is not good enough for me. I don't want ANY fingerprints AT ALL on the bouts or scroll of my violin.

February 12, 2020, 9:37 AM · Please please follow Lyndon’s advice and take it to a luthier.
Edited: February 12, 2020, 10:01 AM · ... and even if you should end up with a favorable DIY result, it's not preferable to take any risk beforehand. Especially with a fine old fiddle , which always is something irreplaceable.
There are many valuable old violins where either overcleaning damaged the varnish quite severely, or overpolishing (even by professionals) built up additional layers of polish. I know of a fine Italian played by a CM which had to undergo an intensive acoustic detox by removing a decade of polish two years ago, because the sound had become dampened. Since it's pretty valuable (around €400k) and always played by high end pro players, it has been very well cared for by various of the best luthiers in Germany and Austria. Always shiny and bright, that was the way they did it in the 50-80ies I guess... In cleaning and polishing a subtle balance between removing and rebuilding the superficial layers has to be kept. Nothing one can learn in theory, it needs a lot of time, devotion and experience until you feel it in your guts.

1760 fine Italian? Authentic? Then... Just don't.

February 12, 2020, 1:17 PM · Can try buffing with a soft cloth. Maybe in combination with the super-fine abrasive wax that is used for stropping the edge on knives, if you're feeling adventurous. Otherwise ask what your luthier would recommend for a fine oil varnish.
Edited: February 12, 2020, 2:53 PM · Aaron Rosand told me he used Hill polish on his Guarnerius del Gesu and recommended it to me. I use it on my Guadagnini - it’s wonderful. I like how it does not leave a residue. Before using it, test the polish on a clean white cloth in a very discreet spot - such as the rib nearest to the chinrest. If you see any varnish come off on the cloth, it’s not the right one for your instrument. I only polish the area under the string next to the bridge, where most of the rosin build up occurs. Use a very small amount of polish on a microfiber cloth and only polish with the grain of the wood (never perpendicular to it). Also make sure to avoid using polish in areas where there are repaired or open cracks.

Edit: For full disclosure, my luthier gave me a lesson on how to polish before I ever started doing it. If you haven’t tried it before, I would heed the advice of others on here and let a professional show you how to polish properly.

February 12, 2020, 2:01 PM · DO NOT FOLLOW COTTON'S ADVICE.

If you really have an old Italian, take it to the best luthier you can find.

February 12, 2020, 3:55 PM · I would recommend a damp, not wet, paper towel followed immediately by drying with a dry one. If that doesn't get it, leave it for a pro. Get adjusted to the idea that shiny = cheap and it will be better for your violin in the long run.
February 12, 2020, 4:36 PM · Yes, don't follow the advice which I received from a professional orchestra luthier.
Edited: February 12, 2020, 8:51 PM · My best teacher said to me "if you have to ask, then you're not a luthier and you should go see one". It's blunt, but it works for me and that's what I go by. And don't just see anyone, find a good one. Once I went to someone who was recommended to me, but when he saw my violin he said "wow, that's a tiny guitar!"....I said "haha, no thanks"... and drove 8 hours home to get to a real luthier.
Edited: February 13, 2020, 2:17 AM · OMG. Please do not use a damp paper towel on a violin. Even if a luthier online tells you to. He may be trained but you are not.

Old Italian violins are not for DIY-ers. You can devalue a violin pretty quickly if you mess up the varnish. If your violin really is an 18th century Italian, it had to have been insanely expensive. Even crap old Italians are outrageously expensive. Why in the world would you risk such an investment?

A good luthier is worth his or her weight in gold.

Edited: February 12, 2020, 11:19 PM · I agree that if you are holding an 18th century Italian violin in your hands, you really don't want to [screw] it up. If you want to DIY, okay, it's your funeral. But seriously ... get advice from an experienced professional who has examined YOUR violin in his or her own hands first. If they give you instructions that includes damp paper towels or stropping rouge or Super Nikco, then Bob's your uncle (or something). If you just got the violin you want to take it to someone anyway because they're going to examine it carefully for other issues that might need attention -- small cracks that you can't see, etc. While you're there you can ask about using Turtle Wax on your antique instrument and see what kind of response you get.
February 13, 2020, 2:55 AM · If you recently bought the violin from a "reputable" dealer you could always ask him, but in order to get the highest price he will already have done as much cleaning and polishing as he considers prudent. On the other hand if it came from ebay...
February 13, 2020, 8:32 AM · "Yes, don't follow the advice which I received from a professional orchestra luthier."

Yes, do NOT follow the online advice which an anonymous student of unknown qualifications states without verification as being received from an unnamed "professional orchestra luthier."

Fixed that for you.

February 13, 2020, 8:46 AM · Polish your playing, not your violin.
February 13, 2020, 8:54 AM · Allow me to thank you all for generous advice and help!I shall of course go to a good luthier, there are a number in Stockholm to whom I can entrust my violin.Thanks again. danbel
February 13, 2020, 9:03 AM · I once had a proprietary violin cleaner remove some varnish. The luthier who sold it was shocked, as it contained mostly water plus a fine abrasive. The varnish must have been very soft. He repaired the damage free of charge..
February 13, 2020, 9:15 AM · Daniel, you must have acquired that violin directly from the previous owner? Just curious (and between the lines I read the same curiosity from other reactions).
February 13, 2020, 9:17 AM · Just as well no-one mentioned boot polish, military grade :)
February 13, 2020, 9:19 AM · Do you have papers for this Old Italian violin Daniel?
February 13, 2020, 10:53 AM · Don't touch it. Good varnish is very thin, and flexible. If it really is a good, valuable, old Italian violin then just send it in once a year during your vacation to a luthier for a check-up and cleaning. A few decades ago there was a bit of a fad among my colleagues of constant DIY cleaning and polishing. I am glad that trend has passed.
February 13, 2020, 12:22 PM · If the vanish is dull, that means the previous owner didn't polish it. There must have been a reason. Listen to Mary Ellen and Gordon.
February 13, 2020, 1:08 PM · It's probably just a 19th C violin with a fake Italian label, but even then you don't 'polish' it.
February 13, 2020, 1:11 PM · The best polish is the one that you do not use. I believe that Luis Manfio was the first person I heard say it that way.

I own a violin shop. I don't sell violin polish. I could make money selling violin polish. I choose not to sell it, and some of the reasons why are mentioned in this thread.

And Cotton, what I, a luthier, suggests for "fine oil varnish" is nothing, but even if it does have oil varnish on it (which you can not tell via the interwebs-even with a picture), it most likely has some sort of polish on top of that.

February 13, 2020, 2:39 PM · There is NOTHING in Daniel's original post that would lead ANYONE to conclude that his violin is not authentically a 1760 Italian instrument. "Probably just 19th century with a fake label." Yeah I guess that's possible. Or you might just be jealous.
February 13, 2020, 3:07 PM · other than the fact that 99% of violins with 1760 Italian label are fake
February 14, 2020, 2:06 AM · Good people! The issue is not of authentication/documentation, how much I paid and how for my very nice violin. The question was of violin polish and if it was a feasible DIY project or should one consult an expert. The overwhelming advice I received from you was to consult a good luthier - which I shall do!
February 14, 2020, 5:53 AM · Just a few words to explain that my 1760 violin of charm lay under the bed or wherever for very many years and needed strings bridge, glueing etc. etc. I believe this is the reason for the dull appearance, Danbel
Edited: February 14, 2020, 6:29 AM · Lyndon that may be true but consider this. When a guy like Nate Robinson comes on here and says he uses Hill polish on his Guadagnini, nobody turns on him with, "Hey Nate, are you sure that's real? Did you buy it on ebay? Most violins that say 'Guadagnini' inside them are fakes."

I think Daniel deserves the benefit of the doubt, especially when the thread wasn't about the authenticity of his violin. Moreover, the method of polishing should depend on the type and condition of his violin's finish and not whether it was made in 1760 or 1910. Sure, the date probably matters since maybe different types of varnish were used in earlier times and it's likely to be more fragile. But again, not necessarily for his individual instrument. There are probably violins made within the last 10 years that have fragile varnish.

February 14, 2020, 10:23 AM · That Hill polish didnt bode well with my last violin , a 1798 Johannes Cuypers.I used a " smidgen" on the scroll and it took the varnish off instantly.I think turpentine is the main ingredient in that polish.Brutal stuff....
Edited: February 14, 2020, 8:40 PM · I stand by the water and damp paper towel.

Hill polish probably contains a bit of turpentine, alcohol, and mineral oil. All of these are, under the right circumstances, varnish solvents. Water is not. It's the most harmless cleaning fluid you could use, not flawless, but highly unlikely to do damage. Getting a bit on the wood won't hurt a thing because you are going to dry it right up, right?

Think before using any cloth wipe. A few months ago I had to deal with a $6 million violin with an apparent back post crack. On closer examination this turned out to be a huge 6-inch long scratch down to bare wood that the player said came from the microfiber cloth he carries in his case. Apparently it picked up something terrible in the case which he then scratched the violin with, a white line straight down the back. Making that disappear was a bit of work.

A fresh clean paper towel is cleaner, and wet it's softer than anything else. If you are going to be fussy your ONLY other option is to not wipe anything off the violin at all, as Duane said, if you can stand it getting dirtier and dirtier over time. But if you leave rosin on your instrument too long, it will fuse with the varnish over time because varnish and rosin are almost the same thing . . . that's why those old violins often have black moustaches, which are dirt mixed with rosin mixed with varnish, inseperable, there forever.

I really don't have problems with wiping a violin down every time, but with something clean and soft, not some rag from the bottom of your case.

The idea that someone, somewhere might do something stupid is not a reason for YOU to ignore your violin. Be appropriately careful in your actions, not paralyzed by irrational fear. But irrational fear does seem to be the emotion of the times, doesn't it?

Check out http://DHMO.ORG

By the way, varnish mixing with skin acids and oils will dissolve with no outside help and then it's over, and then those same acids and oils go on to attack the structure of the wood, so you can understand why keeping a clean machine is not a luxury.

February 14, 2020, 7:42 PM · I use toilet paper for cleaning and polishing, its a bit softer than paper towels, and I haven't had trouble with particles rubbing off.
February 15, 2020, 8:35 AM · Just a note that some paper products -- possibly including some paper towels and toilet paper -- may contain mineral fillers such as reprecipitated calcium carbonate. Those fillers are likely far too finely divided to have any abrasive effect, but I'm just putting it out there. That's the advantage of microfiber cloths. The paper products have the advantage of being disposable so you always start with a new one.

But Michael's story about the scratch is certainly one to be heeded. The moral of the story is to keep your case closed except when you are placing or retrieving your violin so that debris cannot fly into it, pets cannot walk in it (tracking in bits of dirt), and so on. Also vacuum out your case once in a while. Finally, please forgive me for what appears to be a troll-ish diversion, but this is why I do not use a "blanket" in my case. I see other folks (at community orchestra, etc.) whose blankets spend the entire time of the rehearsal on the floor collecting dirt and dust, and I want no part of that. Sure, I can be careful not to drape my blanket on the floor, but I can be just as careful to set my bow holders carefully so that my frog does not crash into the lower bout of my violin. (This is the only practical reason I have ever been given for having a blanket.) In fact a nice invention (Dimitri?) would be an intrinsically more secure bow spinner so that we can divorce ourselves from blankets forevermore. Some kind of locking device that goes over the top of the spinners or such.

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