Violin Oil Varnish: Maintenance Tips
I own a 5 year old violin that has an oil based varnish. I was told I had to treat the instrument differently as this is a more delicate type of varnish but details were not given for what to do. I live in Georgia(USA), it gets very hot and humid here, and my violin has suffered at times. I've found the cloth cover or shoulder sponge leaves imprints on the varnish after 73F degrees and it starts to crack, but now I am curious how can I best take care of this particularly sensitive violin? How do I clean it, how do I prevent damage like this? How do I prevent the marks? Any advice is much appreciated!
Less is more. Polish lightly with a soft cloth as needed, and keep away from environmental hazards. Real damage happens when people start to obsess over every imperfection and dedicate themselves to "fixing" it.
My violin has a similarly soft varnish. Since my parents bought it directly from the heirs of the previous owner (who presumably knew--unlike his heirs) I did not get any instructions as to maintenance. So I cleaned it the way my teacher had instructed me to clean my previous instrument..
All of the above, including not to touch the varnish with bear hands.
Yes, a bear's claws would do serious damage. Don't let lions or tigers play your violin either !
When I was a kid I wanted my violin shiny so decided to put a coat of Turtle car wax on it which didn't seem to hurt it and did make it shine. Back then I had never knew what a luthier was and information on care was not so easy to find.
I have a violin with soft oil varnish, which I did buy directly from its maker, and he told me to just wipe it with a soft, clean cotton cloth, and otherwise bring it to him for cleaning.
Obviously Jeff was not "recommending" Turtle Wax. A humorous memory.
Soft oil varnish will harden with UV light, eventually. Could be years, especially if the instrument is stored in its case. I wouldn't recommend leaving it in bright sunshine overheating, but during the day mine is usually hung in a window on the shady side of the house for a slow gentle exposure to natural light. I had to return mine originally to the maker because the varnish was way too soft, and it got a good bathe in the UV box that helped things considerably, and improved tone. Maestronet is a good source for advice where lots of luthiers hangout.
I agree with Roger; I have a modern Italian violin where the varnish was still a bit soft when I received it (there was actually a small mark on the side from the packaging). Based on my luthier's advice, I put it on a stand on my desk for a couple of months and it was fine. But as many have said, it's best to ask a luthier about your specific instrument.
I can't see the turtle wax hurting, though... makers and repairers french polish instruments all the time, which is basically the same thing: coating the whole instrument in a thin layer of shellac.
Viol cleaning an polishing fluid twice every year or as needed to remove grime and rosin accumulation.
Oil varnishes can be made from so many different formulas, and vary so much in properties, that you'll really need to take the instrument to an expert to know the best path forward.
In 1963 I had the opportunity to touch, hold and play the first of the two Stradivarius violins I have ever met. It was at an ACS lecture (I was still a member). The owner was a visiting PhD chemist doing the ACS lecture tour. He was a "finishes' chemist at Dow, an amateur violinist and collector. He had spent his violinist life buying and selling and trading up until he acquired this ex-Olé Bull Strad (well-insured at $150,000 at the time). After I played it (absolutely incredible fiddle - you could tell that it would soar to "heaven" on vibrato if I could only get just a little more, but I only had a minute or 2 with it) the lecturer especially wanted me to fingerprint the surface varnish and then watch it slowly fade.
I have a violin-maker friend for whom (when I lived near him - almost 30 years ago) I used to test/play his newly made violins "in the white" - as they call it - before any ground or finish is applied - then I also got to play them after they had been finished and dried in the desert sun, before they went to their new owners.