Magic marker stains on soundboard

Edited: November 12, 2020, 3:10 PM · My granddaughter seems interested in the violin, and I would like to give her an old Wurlitzer 3/4 left behind by my father. Unfortunately, another child had scribbled on the soundboard with what looks like a magic marker. I would like to clean it up, and would appreciate any suggestions you might have to remove the stain without affecting the varnish.

Replies (24)

November 12, 2020, 3:18 PM · Take it to a luthier and ask their advice. It may cost more than the violin is worth, if it is even possible.
November 12, 2020, 3:23 PM · On the plus side, it clearly identifies the violin!
November 12, 2020, 3:30 PM · magic marker's solvent (the stuff that kids love to sniff to get high) probably has sunk into that varnish. If it's a worthwhile violin you should probably take it to a luthier to see what he/she says. It may be best to leave it alone.
Edited: November 12, 2020, 7:36 PM · You can try licking a soft rag and rubbing the marker away with the dampened part. If that doesn't work then you have to find some solvent that will selectively dissolve the ink and not the varnish. Or sand and polish the varnish. Both are risky business.
November 12, 2020, 7:44 PM · Please don't sand anything!
November 12, 2020, 8:15 PM · Depending on how old your granddaughter is, the 3/4 violin might be too big for her, anyway.

Any violin for a child should be sized properly for her, and inspected by a luthier to make sure it is in playable condition.

Edited: November 13, 2020, 9:12 AM · Depending on the solvent in the marker, the dye may have gone all the way through the varnish into the wood. You need to have this assessed by someone whose life's work it is to fix violins. The only thing I would try on my own is the slightly dampened rag. If the markers were of the type intended for small children, sometimes these are "washable" or water-soluble inks. But that does NOT mean they can't embed themselves in the varnish. Solubility in water does not exclude solubility in other substances. As for finding a solvent that will dissolve the ink but not the varnish, water is really your only hope, and even then it's not guaranteed that your varnish will not be damaged by water. Heifetz may have used "good old-fashioned spit" to clean the rosin off of his priceless antique violin, but one reason why Strads and Amatis still gleam is because those guys were a lot better at making and applying varnish than a lot of your modern Chinese factories. Ol' Stradivari knew where to cut corners: On corners meant to be cut.
November 13, 2020, 10:52 AM · Is it possible that some polishes may remove it?
I have a bottle of Hill Varnish Cleaner. That kind of thing may be worth a try.
November 13, 2020, 11:37 AM · Magic Marker ink is usually most soluble in polar solvents like alcohol, but so is varnish. Removing one will remove the other. Maybe, just maybe, the ink will be more soluble in a non polar solvent like mineral sprits which should not harm the varnish.
Edited: November 13, 2020, 9:15 PM · Hill polish is (as far as I can surmise) made of water, turpentine (not too different from mineral spirits, chemically), and an emulsifier (detergent). In addition there might be some wax or other material designed to leave a sheen on the varnish surface after polishing. I do not know, either, whether it contains an abrasive (such as super nikco). Hill polish is generally fairly benign but (1) that's not guaranteed to be true and (2) If you use that stuff every week you are going to damage your violin. Luthiers have reported, in this forum, that when they clean violins often they're mostly cleaning off the crap that the violinist put on there trying to do the job themselves using off-the-shelf products like Hill Polish.
November 13, 2020, 5:08 PM · I have my great grandfather's fiddle that my grandmother tried to paint 110 years ago. It's hardly noticeable today. Time works wonders.
November 13, 2020, 5:59 PM · How old is your granddaughter?
November 13, 2020, 10:17 PM · Thanks very much for responding. I had actually tried several of your suggestions before I wrote. I tried spit, water, turpentine and, being a painter, turpenoid, which I use to clean brushes. Nothing worked, so I am willing to accept that the magic marker stains will be permanent. Wurlitzer made good violins back in the day, and this one is certified "hand crafted," with a nice deep sound for its size, but my granddaughter is only 6, so I know 3/4 is a size too large, but that's all I have to offer her at the moment. If she likes it (and I think she will), I'm hoping she'll grow into it and work her way up. I handed her my full-size, and although at first she could only hold it by the body, her eyes lit up when she started bowing it (with a fairly straight bow for a first-timer). She's tall for her age, and was close to fingering mine, so I'm hoping the 3/4 might work out.
Edited: November 14, 2020, 3:26 AM · I haven't yet explicitly recommended Hill's and haven't used it yet either, but I see people get hot under the collar about it.

It mainly seems to be linseed oil, slightly thinned with turps. Some people despise it and prefer their own concoctions made from, err, linseed oil slightly thinned with turps!

Turps and white spirit (mineral turps/petroleum) are used for cleaning linseed oil-paint from brushes, not meths, which is denatured alcohol. I suspect the turps dissolves the rosin, but we use alcohol on strings, when we use anything, because turps would leave too gunky a residue.

The main complaints about Hills seem to be about not buffing it properly. Yes, it is linseed oil and will dry and it will be pretty tacky until it is dry, so the lumpier and thicker the layer, the worse the result.

I'm guessing if your varnish is soluble in turps then eventually Hill will just replace it with pure linseed oil. That may be a good thing for some violins, it may be terrible for others, depending on value. We are not recommending this treatment for a Strad, are we. Incidentally, if I were given a Strad covered with magic marker, I'd be happy to leave it as it was, although I might go as far as taking a luthier's advice. (in fact, I've emailed a luthier asking his view on Hill).

OK, realistically, if I were given a Strad, I'd probably take it to Sothebys.

November 14, 2020, 4:45 AM · If I were given a Strad I would probably take it to the police.

If the violin turns out to be not valuable and the luthier has no practical suggestions, you could finish the job, and turn the whole violin into a work of art ....?

Mark O’Connor learnt on a violin painted white, and he did alright...

November 14, 2020, 5:22 AM · Skip -- it's not age that determines what size is correct for a young violinist. You should have your granddaughter sized properly either by a competent violin teacher or someone in a music store that specializes in violins. If she tries playing on a violin which is too big for her she can injure herself which can take months or years to heal from. Don't risk it! Your 3/4 may be the right size or it may not be but only an expert can know for certain. Youngsters often don't "grow into" violins that are too large -- they often hurt themselves by trying to stretch further than their young hands and arms and wrists can manage and rather than growing into an instrument that is too large they stop playing because it hurts and they never start up again. Don't risk it!
Edited: November 15, 2020, 12:48 AM · Dried linseed oil is flexible, but you may not be aware that some pigments reduce its flexibility and others increase it, if you did want to paint a VSO/cheap violin for fun. Umbers are best in that respect, but they'd be a bit too drab. I can't remember any others. You'll have to read Ralph Mayer for that one. Otoh, if you wanted to varnish a violin with linseed oil, you could add a small amount of raw umber and it wouldn't be noticed, especially as the umbers are transparent.
November 14, 2020, 8:09 AM · I would bet money on a 3/4 violin being at least 2 sizes (if not more) too big. In my experience most 6 year olds need a 1/8th, smaller kids a 1/10th, and those on the taller side a 1/4. I have never sized a 6 year old who needed a 1/2 much less a 3/4 (my youngest students currently on 3/4 are 9 and I don’t even size quite as conservatively as many of my Suzuki teacher colleagues).
Unless your granddaughter is taller than the average 9 year old, the violin is likely to be unplayable for at least a couple of years.
I think it’s great that you are willing to offer her your violin, but be prepared for any teacher to insist on a smaller violin.
November 14, 2020, 8:33 AM · It’s lovely that your granddaughter is so excited to play the violin, but please please please get her correctly sized. And then she can grow into the 3/4 violin when she’s big enough. Start her on something small and correct, avoid injury.
November 14, 2020, 9:53 AM · Understood. I am looking into renting her the proper size, and getting online lessons for now, but will definitely hold on to the 3/4 until she's ready for that. Thanks again for all of your input. Skip
Edited: November 14, 2020, 3:35 PM · Skip,

Instead of trying to remove the scribble, why not just touch it up? You might be able to use one of those "touch-up" chalks (or something similar) that is used to touch up hardwood floors. Just try to match the color of the touch-up with the soundboard of the violin. Or, maybe touch it up with a wood varnish -- enough to cover only the part that was scribbled on.

For the record, I've actually used the Hill peg dope to touch up a nick here and there on my violins with good results. It did not necessarily match the color, but it made the "nick" look like it has been there for a long

Just my .02 cents.

Edited: November 15, 2020, 4:14 AM · My luthier thinks Hill can't do any harm, as a rule (of course that's just one person's opinion). He says it's best to get it professionally cleaned. He warns against some spirit-based products, and that's ambiguous, as synthetic turps is known as "white spirit" in the UK, whereas some people mean ethanol when they say spirit. Otoh, I can believe white spirit is hazardous and can conveniently be classed with the alcohols as substances to avoid. Safest is to use pure gum turpentine or nothing.

Often a cheap violin will have a nondescript varnish that you can maybe replace with linseed oil, but Wurlitzers look potentially a rung above that kind of thing.

Edited: November 15, 2020, 5:37 AM · I agree with Ben David, the more so since Skip says he is a painter: just touch it up! I started at 5 years old on a 3/4 but I was tall.
Edited: November 15, 2020, 5:45 AM · I assume the magic marker ink is black, so I'm not sure how it can be touched up. Must Google magic marker.

"the famous alcohol art marker" Yes, and we know not to get alcohol on the varnish.

I say leave it as it is and have a violin with character.
Take a look at Willie Nelson's guitar, Trigger, lol.

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