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 Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 5:43
  • Interesting - is 'linen oil' lanolin?
    – dumbledad
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 8:07
  • 1
    Hum, linen was quite a literary translation, I rather think it is linseed, or flaxseed, oil Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 11:23

3 Answers 3


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 cloth damp 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
    Commented Sep 29, 2014 at 15:24
  • 1
    @dumbledad, in that case you could go for something like this: gostrings.com/wcl.html
    – Sergio
    Commented Sep 29, 2014 at 15:29
  • I assume you @Sergio are aware of this, but its worth noting so there is no confusion by readers: if you put water in the cloth, it should only be slightly damp—you do not want water on your instrument. As a friendly observation, generally the word "humid" describes gas with water vapor in it, and the world "damp" would be used for a cloth or other solid! I'll edit the answer to reflect this. Commented Mar 7, 2021 at 1:13
  • OP says tailpiece broke. First sentence should read "If the strings are all fully loosened" or "If you take the tailpiece off" or "Since your tailpiece broke" ... go to a luthier.
    – user121330
    Commented Jan 23 at 20:12

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.


For that particular case - of a player's instrument, without (very) much financial value but perfectly playable, if you rather would try something on your own, without risks: identify the nature of the polish if you can, usually shellac and alcohool are not compatible; then obtain non-alcoholic furniture wipes- there are some without (too much) perfume or wax added in, and gently rub the exterior- it should not mess up any stable finish, except french polish -if so, a proffessional can help re-apply it if/where needed . If in doubt try whereveer least visible on the instrument- places like underneath the chin rest are ideal. You can try a gentle "dusting off" with such a wet furniture wipe (once again, non-alcoholic ones only!) and then a final rub with a microfiber cloth (clean!).

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