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Unvarnish a Student Violin
Just to share how I do it, what kind of tool I use, and why I decided to unvarnish my violin.
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August 9, 2016 - 3:32 pm
Member Since: June 26, 2016
Forum Posts: 310
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The day when I bought her, the luthier in the store was like, "You know, those varnished violins don't sound very bright, the varnish gives them a darker sound." That's why I decided to unvarnish it. Here on YouTube I watched a violin maker who compared violins. And he said, expensive violins have finer varnish, whereas student violins have very thick layers of cheap varnish. It looks like sugar coating and I hate that sight.

 My luthier suggested to use the blade of a box cutter, but I found something gentler. It was easy to remove the varnish with my fingernails on the top, except under the fingerboard, where my fingers couldn't get. Guess what I used? I use the same now on the bottom, where the wood is not so soft and the varnish tougher to get off.

A box cutter blade would easily damage the wood. Finally I'd have to sand it down. The luthiers idea was to afterwards varnish with better varnish. But I want to leave it as it is now. My violin now looks like an old instrument and I like it. I don't like that candied violin look, I want to see natural wood. But above all, I wanted the clearer sound I have now.

Fort Lauderdale
August 11, 2016 - 6:00 pm
Member Since: September 26, 2010
Forum Posts: 12722

I would rather recommend that you apply grain alcohol, denatured alcohol, lacquer thinner, or turpentine depending on the type of varnish you have (experiment in that order) with a paint brush, rag, or paper towels, and scrape off the softened varnish with a clothe, paper towels, or fine steel wool in order to maintain a nice surface.

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."


August 12, 2016 - 7:22 pm
Member Since: June 26, 2016
Forum Posts: 310
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Thanks, very interesting, this will be easier for for peg box and more even for the scroll. top and bottom are already done. I do like the look of old and shabby though.


August 13, 2016 - 3:11 am
Member Since: June 26, 2016
Forum Posts: 310
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This morning the thoughts came back to me, which were on my mind, when I started the unvarnishing in February.

Usually, I finish wooden things I craft with dark oak stain and finally almond oil. That's how I finished my "stage furniture", my violin stand and my 3-recorder-stand. If there weren't so many warnings on the internet, oil would drawn a violin's sound, I would have ruined her with that oil procedure.

Concerning alcohol and other fluid removers I concluded, this also might have an at least slight effect on the sound. I have warmed my violin up since October and any fluid, which partly might penetrate, could possibly change structures in the wood by dissolving remedies, the violin maker had brought in. My concern was, this might have an effect on the warmed-up sound. That's why I decided: sound first, look secondary. When I accidentally scratched the varnish with my fingernails and little blank wood surfaced, I decided to do it that way.

Interesting was comparing unvarnished areas to those still varnished, by knocking: The varnished areas simply sounded darker and somehow muffled, whereas knocking on unvarnished areas sounded simply nicer. I'm very curious about what other violin players will say about her sound when I perform. I think she sounds great, but it would be interesting to hear spontaneous judgments of experienced players. I think, the warming up goes still on and in the coming months there will show more of that quality and I will learn how to optimally make that quality ring out. Information about Opera violins are very rare on the web. I found just a remark, they were handmade by experienced Chinese violin makers, who also craft expensive violins, also carefully put together cheaper instruments now and then and finish them quick and cheaply. All I knew the day I bought her was, she had beaten more expensive violins, including a Yamaha for over 600 €. She was way better than all the Stentors, she was simply the loudest, fullest and warmest. And the luthier of the store fully agreed to me in this matter.

It was very awkward to start scratching off the varnish, knowing all these things and feeling lucky with her. But I'm happy I did it because it already has improved the sound a lot.

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