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My violin is an old(ish) violin, an early 1900s copy of an 1818 German one. On Sunday as my wife and I were watching TV a loud noise came from my violin and I rushed over to find the tailpiece had spontaneously snapped in two. I am fitting another tailpiece this afternoon but I now have to opportunity to give the violin a good clean as the strings, bridge, and tailpiece are all away from the front of the violin.

What should I use? I've done some searching on the internet and have found

  1. Don't do anything, let a professional give it a french polish.
  2. Never let anyone give it a french polish.
  3. Use car wax, but not if it is old.
  4. Use white spirit.
  5. Do not use anything beyond a dry cloth.
  6. Make your own clean-and-polish compound from mineral oil, raw linseed oil, ethanol, and water.
  7. Just use a cloth and spit.
  8. Polish brought from a violin shop.

That set of conflicting advice has left me confused. Is there a definitive answer to how best to clean and polish an old violin?

========== EDIT ==========

Just in case this is not clear, I need the violin to be playable as a violin. I am uninterested in cleaning and polishing techniques that turn it into an unplayable ornament.

  • the confusing advices I got from different teachers were n.8 (ask a luthier to have some "violin cleaner liquid") and afterwards apply a layer of linen oil over it. never tried the linen oil because I'm way too scared of breaking something in the vernish or in the way my violin sounds – Félix Gagnon-Grenier Oct 22 '15 at 5:43
  • Interesting - is 'linen oil' lanolin? – dumbledad Oct 22 '15 at 8:07
  • Hum, linen was quite a literary translation, I rather think it is linseed, or flaxseed, oil – Félix Gagnon-Grenier Oct 22 '15 at 11:23
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If your tailpiece is loose my advice is: go to a luthier. Because in this case is important to check if the sound-pole is in its place, as it can move away or fall and endanger the violin.

Since you have to do that ask there for a cleaning product. Violins have a special polish that is most often made/produced by the luthier himself. On your own I would only recommend a dry cloth or at most a humid cloth with just water.

You could also buy a cleaner, made for string instruments like this one. But I would still advise a visit to a luthier.

Good luck.

  • The sound post is firmly in place and appears not to have moved. – dumbledad Sep 29 '14 at 15:24
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    @dumbledad, in that case you could go for something like this: gostrings.com/wcl.html – Sergio Sep 29 '14 at 15:29
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It depends on whether you ever want to use it as a violin again or whether it is supposed to be a decoration piece.

Early 1900 copies of good instruments may well be mass-manufactured (Markneukirchen and other German cities near the Czech border were notable for cranking out mislabeled or at least misleadingly labeled "old master" instruments in drones). "Mass-manufactured" still implies hand-made from a set of workers who are trying to keep their job. Since the basic material is wood which one can work more delicately when one feels what one is doing, and since wood was generally available in better quality at those times (better aged), those violins can actually be valuable when in good shape, beating the CNC-milled "beginner violins" available these days which have given an entirely new meaning to "crappy instrument".

When in bad shape, the repair of those old knockoff violins might well cost more than they'll be worth afterwards.

So it might make sense to ask a violin maker whether this particular violin is likely to make any sense to treat and maintain as a violin, and then decide what to do and worry about afterwards.

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