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EJKiszenia: Violin Custom Scenter project
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (1 votes) 

June 21, 2012 - 7:05 am
Member Since: May 4, 2012
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Taking some of the ideas discussed in the other thread about violins having  smell that is not always a pleasant or wanted one that can be there all the time or seems to appear as certain notes are played, I decided to put together one of the "custom scenters" we were talking about.

My acoustic violin isn't too bad, it just has a bit of factory and warehouse smell.  It also has a bit of the tung oil smell left from refinishing he fingerboard and neck.  Nothing I would consider actually bad (though I am betting it spent some time in a warehouse near a waterfront at some point), but I felt there definitely could be nicer scent options.

I decided to stick with natural materials that aren't uncommon around musical instruments to make it from.  So if someone saw it in an instrument case or on the instrument when it is in the case, it wouldn't look too out of place. 

I found a small cork that was just a tiny bit too large to fit in the larger eyes of the soundholes.  Definitely big enough that it couldn't fall in.  Then I drilled out the center of the cork to a diameter of maybe a little over 2 mm.  I packed a little bit of cotton (from a cottonball) into the drilled hole, making sure it was well enough inside that no stray strands of fiber could wick oil or cologne out onto the instrument itself.  Then I trimmed down the sides of the cork a little with a razor so it would just fit snugly enough in the eye of the soundhole to not fall out of place, but was not wedged in so tight as to put pressure on the wood.  Lastly, I wrapped a small rubber band around the top of the cork a couple of times to make a sort of grip for putting it in place and taking it back out and so the item looked a little more like some small piece of gear rather than just a little cork.

Ok, so then I tested it.  I used one single drop of an aromatherapy oil, sandalwood in a jojoba carrier.  Sandalwood is usually a fairly mild and neutral scent, but I thought it best to avoid a strong concentration of it until I knew how much it would scent the violin and case.  Good thought, there.  Even the mild smelling sandalwood oil has given a definite scent to the violin and case over the past 48 hours.  I left the "scenter"
 in the case while the violin was out, which may be why so far the case has a stronger scent than the instrument itself.  But that isn't a bad thing either, since it has pretty much wiped out the "new synthetic lining smell", which isn't such an unpleasant smell but the sandalwood is a bit nicer.

So there you go.  Simple enough to make, and with a bit of care it can be made and used so that it is very unlikely to harm the instrument or case.

People can laugh if they like, but scent is one of the aesthetic qualities of any instrument.  Wanting it to smell nice is no sillier than people wanting the varnish shiny or a certain color.  In some cases, like springer mentioning cigarette smoke smell, a used violin could have scents that one doesn't want and would prefer to replace with something else.  You may find a fiddle that is nice quality going used, but would one want to give it to their school age child to learn on if it smells like tobacco (or other) smoke or alcoholic beverages or whatever?  Or the other way around, you could get a really good deal on a used student violin and not care for it smelling of teenage perfume or whatever.

Anyway, not hard to do, and this simple design seems to work.  I would suggest going very light/dilute with scents though, since they will be a lot easier to get in than get out with instruments and cases.  Too much of even a nice thing can get obnoxious real fast.

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"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

Plano, Texas
Honorary tenured advisor

June 21, 2012 - 7:56 am
Member Since: September 17, 2011
Forum Posts: 517
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Although I have absolutely no reason to do so, as my viola has no unpleasant odors, this is just too cool and simple not to try.

I'm thinking some of my wife's Frankincense and Myrhh essential oil would make for a nice addition to the pleasure of opening my instrument case.

Very clever!



June 21, 2012 - 8:51 am
Member Since: May 4, 2012
Forum Posts: 2379
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Barry: Not saying it is the music that stinks, but some places one plays music can definitely have an "air" to them, as you may have noticed over the years.    Or if a case gets even slightly musty, the smell can take a lot of airing out to get rid of.


HC: A frankincense and myrrh blend sounds like a great choice.  And I agree, it can help "set the mood" when one opens the case.


I have scented my instrument *cases* since my first year or two of playing, back in the 70s.  The first time was by accident.  My mother was going through a phase of making cinnamon rolls every few days, and since I often skipped lunch to spend time in the music room's rehearsal rooms, I would stash a couple cinnamon rolls in the accessory compartment of my acoustic guitar case.  Even through a sandwich bag, within a couple weeks the case and guitar had a hint of fresh baked cinnamon to it even for years after that. 

Usually I just put a drop of some essential oil or whatever on a cottonball, fold it so the oil is at the center and then wrap a little piece of cloth around it (that's to make sure the oil doesn't get on the instrument or case lining) and toss it in the case.  Inside of a week or two, it is quite noticeably scented.  Within a month or two, the instrument also picks up enough of it that even when it is out of the case for hours there is a very slight hint of a scent.  It does not need refreshed often.  I used one drop of essential oil of spikenard (jatamansi) on  cottonball in my oud case when I first got it.  I still haven't needed to add another drop.  Spikenard is a scent that is sort of earthy like patchouli, but much more complex and subtle and.. incensy (is that a real word?).   It adds a slight exotic touch and I feel that when I open the case and take out the instrument, it sort of subconciously cues the mood to play it.

Cinnamon rolls, though, they just made everybody (including me) hungry.  LOL

It did result in that guitar being nicknamed Cinnamon by other players, though. 

But this little project was thinking on a way to cover/replace a scent that was unwanted that had gotten into a violin or fiddle.  Not as much air flow because of the size and shape of the soundholes compared to something like a guitar, so I thought it might work better to use something to get the scent into the instrument hopefully a bit quicker.

On a more serious thought though, if someone was trying to quit smoking or drinking and their instrument had those scents in it from long exposure, re-scenting it might help keep it from repeatedly reminding them of those activities. 

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman


June 26, 2012 - 11:29 am
Member Since: May 4, 2012
Forum Posts: 2379
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Progress report on this:  After not quite a week, the "factory smell" is pretty much gone, and the tung oil smell is also gone.  Or at least they are covered enough by the sandalwood that they aren't particularly noticeable any more.  However, they could just be temporarily masked, and so I refreshed the "scenter" with another drop of the sandalwood and will give it another week or so.  And yes, about one drop a week is all it should take in such a small area.

I used an Australian sandalwood, which is much lighter in scent than a Mysore sandalwood (for example).  So mostly it just has a light wood smell, but different from the "wood shop" part of the factory smell.

I am considering taking the project a bit further into "weird" and trying composing a perfume by using different scents over time.  Don't think of something like "Avon" perfumes or colognes, I mean more along the lines of classic scent before perfume and colognes were just some synthetic "stinkum" diluted in denatured wood alcohol.   It would be a kind of unusual idea, since perfumes were usually composed to react with skin temp and body chemistry over a few hours of time to "play out" their "notes" as the person wore them.  The first scent was usually fairly sweet or bright and is the first thing one notices, and might be something like a flower or herbal scent and was called the top note.  Interestingly, perfumes were/are thought of a bit like music, with three basic notes, the top, middle and bottom note.  The three notes together are called a "chord", and are the basic structure of any particular perfume.  The top note will be more noticeable at first, then it fades and gives way to the middle note which is usually warmer, and then the bottom note which is often some sort of wood or an animal smell like musk or ambergris.  The bottom note can last for many hours and fades out very slowly until (theoretically) you are just left with the smell of the person's skin again.  

That reaction wouldn't happen in a musical instrument, since they don't have the same sort of body chemistry and etc to react to.  But what got me to thinking in this rather odd direction was the mention that some of the smells people have noticed in violins (ones where they were not the first owner in particular) being noticeable at different times or maybe when certain notes were played.  I have a theory on how that could happen, since different parts of the violin vibrate more strongly with different notes.  It might be a different way of using the perfuming "chord".  More likely, it would end up just settle into a single blended scent though.  So I am considering what scents might be cool to use on a violin, since the Australian sandalwood is light and neutral enough to think of as a sort of like the scent of a person's skin.  Basically a mild and plain enough scent to build on.

Yeah, this is probably kind of "lunatic fringe" violin talk.  An odd fine point, since apparently most people don't actually notice that their violin smells like anything (judging from assorted comments mostly in the original thread).  LOL

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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