Hi there. I'm a newbie here but was hoping to get some good advice re: how to care for a violin I bought online. It's labeled 1936 Ralph Valpiani (perhaps made during the Depression from a Sears and Roebuck kit?). It is unvarnished and has some dirt and staining.
1. Can I clean this off somehow? A local violin shop said denatured alcohol.
2. Should I treat the wood with linseed or other oil? It's very dried out. It seems like it has been treated somehow in the past. I don't think this is a white violin.
It has a nice sound so if I can care for it without varnishing it, I'm all for that! Thanks in advance for your advice.
no oil , I can't tell what if any finish was on it or it it has all been removed.
generally there would be a ground coat , a color coat or two and maybe a top coat of varnish , either alcohol or oil based all thin coats.
if I was in a situation where I had no option , and the violin had no value , and I was sure I was not going to properly finish it, I guess I would use Zinsser® Bulls Eye Shellac, Sealcoat , but that would not be a first choice.
as far a cleaning goes, a slightly damp cloth with soap and water to start. asn see how that does . it depends if its just dirt or if its oils .
Thanks for your thoughts. It’s actually much dirtier IRL than the photo is showing. Almost 100 years of hands touching it.
Would you seal it with shellac if it were yours? I don’t know if it has value but I’m guessing it might. I can’t find anything else like it on the internet.
Edited by - simpleculture on 02/20/2020 05:55:25
I would try using 50% alcohol on it to remove dirt and grime and would be very Leary on applying any finish. I’ve seen fiddles refinished and lose their tone forever. 50% denatured alcohol and 50% water. Try a small area first. Frank
Indeed there is a reason why a violin is finished on the external and unfinished on the internal. The external ground coat fills in the poors, to essentially create a tension in the top and back plate. IOW an unfinished top would typically be overly soft. If the violin is as old as you guess, the ground, however poorly applied is dirt, dust and schmootz. Who knows how clean you could get it, if you cleanrd it? It's interesting that it sounds good. Hopefully we can get a luthier's consensus. (I am no luthier, more of an experimentor) I would either do nothing, or scuff it with fine steet wool, and then a coat of french polish or spirit varnish very thinnly applied.
After getting it as clean as you can I would seal it with thinned shellac just to keep new dirt and oils from getting in there again. Shellac is very superficial and unlikely to alter the tone. Can be stripped off again later if wanted for some reason.
Is there a kind of shellac you would recommend?
The Zinsser® Bulls Eye Shellac, Sealcoat as mentioned above is good. It is dewaxed. You can thin it down a lot, maybe 2 to 1 Shellac to alcohol, and brush it on. Give it another coat in a half hour or so.
Just use mild soap and water to clean the instrument. Please insure that you do not get any moisture inside the instrument.
DO NOT use alcohol to clean this instrument. If the finish is a spirit base, alcohol will strip the instrument. Then you will need to start over with a new ground and finish costs.
The value of the instrument is heavily affect by the finish. If you have not had the instrument appraised, you should do so before trying to clean the instrument.
Another thing that happens is rosin builds up on the instrument. If this is the case it will be difficult to remove with outt damaging the varnish. Extreme care should be taken when doing this.
Once you know what the instrument is worth then you can make the decision on what to do with it.
FYI there are many blond instruments out there. Some folks like to see the natural color of the wood.
Take it to a good Violin luthier before doing ANYTHING....:)
Ok — I will try to get an appraisal before I start messing around with the finish. Thank you all!
Take it to a luthier and explain that you want to get a finish on it to protect it. There are options that shouldn't cost an arm and a leg. I have done a little varnishing, and have had good luck using commercial products. There are some tutorials if you end up trying it yourself.
Just an idle thought..While it may look as if it is unvarnished, how do you know it doesn't have some other form of surface treatment??? Would a drop of water 'soak in' as it would on raw wood? or would it bead up?
Edited by - TuneWeaver on 02/25/2020 14:38:08
I am a luthier, and the best way, in my opinion, is to put a light coat of Spirit varnish on it after cleaning. Easy to do, doesn't take long to dry and very tone friendly.
I personally would use an Amber spirit varnish to protect it and enhance its looks.
Could we see pics of the back, sides and scroll?
Thank you. Glenn
Singing Tree Tonewood
I agree that you should take it to a luthier you trust for evaluation.
If you’re going to play the instrument, it really needs to be finished with some kind of varnish. Raw wood sucks in moisture and dirt and oil and becomes weak. Varnish actually helps to protect the instrument and will enhance tone.
There are several different ways to approach preparing the wood (e.g. mineral ground, pore filler, sealer, etc.). Your luthier can help you decide what’s best, and they might even have a couple instruments around that they’ve varnished. You might be able look at those and play them for comparison.
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