Not everyone has an old violin or two just lying around, so I consider myself lucky in that respect! In this article I’ll tell you how I restored one to working condition.
When I was about nine or ten years old, my dad Theo worked as a piano tuner. He was well-known for that in Port Elizabeth, and even today some people still remember him and his name, which is a kindness. My parents being divorced, he one day asked to leave a parcel of three old violins with us for safekeeping. He said he would restore them one day – but unfortunately he never did. He died in August of 1985, and the three violins lay in the back of a cupboard for the next 30 years or so, gathering more dust.
How old are they? I have no idea – but suffice to say, I can easily believe they’re very old, probably turn of the 20th century old – given the materials used to make their parts, which was nearly all wood. By the time I got around to dealing with the problem of what to do with these items, it was 2012. Two of the violins had come in cases – the one was shabby and obviously old, but the hinges and locks still worked, and it was still sturdy and strong and full of character. The other had all but completely disintegrated and I was forced to throw that out – even I couldn’t fix it!
I decided I would try to fix at least one of the violins themselves, and if possible, restore it to playable condition – which is where I began evaluating what I had available.
The violins were bare – they had no strings, no bows, almost no fittings at all. One had a broken neck – that is, the neck had become detached from the body and would need to be very securely glued together again if it was to be used. Unfortunately, there was a hole at the base big enough to insert a finger through! I decided against that one altogether for the time being, and examined the other two.
Of the remaining two, the one that looked nicest of the three was physically sound, but had been varnished with a brush at some point in its life – and while it looked shiny and dark as a result, up close it looked messy and rough. It would take serious sanding to strip that lacquer off the wood – and there was a risk of damage… I didn’t really want to risk that as yet, so I looked at the last violin – which seemed mostly fine and original, except for a crack running right through one side of the front panel, which was also partly loose! I sighed. Which one was I to work on?
In the end, I decided that number 3 was the winner. I put the other two on display in a shelf in the hallway for another day, and set to work on the violin. After a thorough clean with violin oil (procured at a local musical shop), I glued and GENTLY clamped the cracked part of the violin body with cable ties until it was set. When dry, there was almost no sign it had ever been cracked or loose! Satisfied with the state of the violin body, I moved on to the refurbishing phase.
Seeing as all the other bits I needed were absent altogether, I visited the local musical shop again and proudly presented my naked violin to the feller behind the counter.
“Niiiice!” He said, turning it over in his hands and stroking it. He the proceeded to draw up a parts list for me.
Naturally, things had moved on a bit since the time these violins were new – and today most of these parts aren’t made of wood anymore, everything is molded and crafted from nylon or plastic. “Not to worry” the guy said, reassuring me that the parts were still crafted to the same standard and should easily fit and work on any violin.
All I needed to complete my violin was four modern tuning pegs (plastic/nylon), a bridge (wood), tailpiece (plastic/nylon), a bow – strings of course, and rosin for the bow. I fitted everything myself, which was simple enough. Including the parts, and the bottle of violin oil for the wood, the whole job cost me just on R700 ronts!
As for the case, I gave it a good clean and despite its obvious wear, it adds to the character and charm of the set – and it again holds a working violin instead of just a few bags of loose violin parts!
As far as learning to play the violin is concerned however, I haven’t made terribly much progress in that department unfortunately – but at least I can brag about being able to carry a clear note and play scales without the instrument sounding like I’m torturing a cat!
Have a DIY day!
Pictures included – enjoy!
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