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Archive for September, 2012

By the time a restoration project is complete, it’s sometimes hard to remember what it looked like to begin with. I try to take lots of pictures, especially when I expect the transformation to be dramatic. Working with a camera and lighting is an ongoing adventure for me and my success rate is not as consistent as I would like it to be. I do not manipulate my photos with the exception of occasionally adjusting the tint or color saturation so as to come closer to the original.

Violins come in a million subtle shades of…well, brown. Red brown, black brown, yellow brown, orange brown and green brown. That almost covers the spectrum. Blue is probably the least used color in my retouch palette, although it’s occasionally useful to push a reddish brown toward a deeper purpler red brown. I have a 19th century Parisian instrument that may go in that direction.

Here are some sets of sequential photos that show a recent project undergoing extensive retouching of the varnish. If the color of the instrumentĀ  seems inconsistent from photo to photo, it’s because the photographer is inconsistent! If there happens to be a digital photographer out there with a busted fiddle, I’d consider trading for some lessons!

I repaired a bad break near the left f hole. The lower right corner has been rebuilt and there was extensive wear and tear to consider. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge.

Here is the finished front:

Here’s a close-up of that f hole break before, during, and after:

Here’s an area of the back:

Finished, the back looks like this:

This is a rather dramatic example of varnish retouching as part of a larger restoration project. Retouching on a small scale is also part of a regular maintenance plan. We use our instruments, and as a result, they suffer some wear, and the occasional hit. Retouching is a way to assure that they age gracefully!

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Okay, I can see where North America may have been conjoined to Eurasia. That would have been a looong time ago.

Ooops! and here’s where prodigal South America tries to patch up a bad break with Africa. Clearly, neither party was thinking straight that day:

There are times when you just have to revisit an old break up, and see what you can do. Joking and scotch tape aside, here is our intrepid fiddle again.

In previous posts about this violin, I’ve replaced a missing bit in the scroll, and described the sensation of feeling the top becoming a healthy vibrating entity. Here, my mission is to rejoin, or in the case of the second photo, reposition a chunk of top wood that was previously rejoined badly. Obviously, my posting chronology is off. This operation would have happened long before “Signs of Life.”

I don’t like to think about what this fiddle has been through in its 200+ years, to have arrived at my bench in this condition. I do know, upon examination, that the purfling channels were cut so deeply that the strength of the edges may have been compromised from the get go. That would account, in part, for the rift in photo one. I say in part, because plenty of instruments are constructed this way without serious repercussions.

If I’m “reading” this instrument properly, this fiddle has some story to tell. Someone put their left thumb through the bass side f hole. Said someone decided he was handy enough to fix it himself. Said someone ripped the top off, shredding the edges, realigned the broken piece badly (scraping it flush on the INSIDE which was the only saving grace), then glued the top back on with gobs of casein glue, assuring that fifty years later when the top has to come off again for repairs, the edge is ripped away. Thankfully, I wasn’t there for any of that.

Not to dwell on it, but here are some more before shots (click to enlarge):

Our wayward edge required a relatively simple gluing operation since most of the surfaces were free of old glue: careful positioning and something only slightly ingenious to hold the pieces in place, then an application of thin, strong hide glue followed up by an interior reinforcement and that headache was history, mostly. The f hole break was a different matter. It required serious soaking to separate the pieces and the removal of old glue and retouch varnish. Bringing the errant piece flush to the varnish side revealed how our handy man scraped wood away from the inside – a minor crime, all things considered. There were splinters missing from the varnish side too, and that was more of a problem. This repair would have structural integrity, but I would also prefer that it not visually scream through the Bach Partitas.

By inlaying some slivers of soft-grained summer wood, pilfered from the inside of the top in areas that would be otherwise sacrificed to doublings, I was able to create some visual “bridges” that would preserve the continuity of theĀ  exterior appearance where wood was missing. The rest would be taken care of by some clever varnish retouching.

The varnish work on this instrument will deserve a post of its own.

By the way, the super continent of Pangaea rifted apart 200,000,000 years ago:

Pangaea

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