It's pretty much a given in any field of endeavour... maintenance and upkeep of tools is a necessary but somewhat boring job that constantly gets put off until it is a disaster. Companies and Politicians put off maintenance as it makes the finances look pretty, until the moment of disaster... which hopefully occurs on someone else's watch. Like many things that offer easy budget balances, it is a false saving...
Anyway, in my case, I have put this repair work to my viola for quite some time now... almost four years. It's pretty much procrastination... I would tell myself that the viola was still in perfect playing condition, that I didn't have the time or any number of other excuses.
However, the cancellation of concerts with Coronavirus has taken away most of the excuses. I have the time, and I can miss the Baroque Viola for a few weeks while it is at the luthier. Of course, there is the cost... but as I said, false savings! Some things just NEED to be done... sooner rather than later... and better sometime rather than NEVER!
About four or five years ago, I had toured to China and Japan with this Baroque Viola in the middle of summer. In the places that we were playing in, it was really quite hot and humid... even indoors and under air-conditioning. Anyway, that combined with the fact that we were still wearing full tails in heavy heat meant that the instruments were subjected to quite a bit of humid sweat from the playing in concerts and rehearsals. This combination of heat and humidity can really affect the varnish over a couple of weeks... and especially where it touches the body/clothing.
It was made even worse by a second trip through the warmer parts of Europe that worsened the problem.
On the back of the viola, you can see where it was touching my left shoulder (well, the jacket, and the leather that I use to separate it from me...) the varnish had worn away. In fact, the outer layer was completely gone, and the primer was also worn away in a good part of it. So, the wood was completely bare which could lead to some series long term damage... It also meant that sweat and grime got mixed in with the soft varnish... leading to quite an unsightly stain.
The patch on the front side of the viola was smaller but much more noticeable. It is the spot where the instrument touches my chin, and this part gets quite humid in hot weather as it is also right up against my neck... and in hot weather with too many layers of formal clothes on... well, it is a tropical nightmare!
Unfortunately, the damage was also done to the artwork that the original maker had placed around the instrument between the two purflings. I don't think that can be easily repaired without a great deal of effort.
So, finally, I took the Viola to a luthier a few weeks ago... and she promised that she would try to the best she could. Replacing the varnish wouldn't be a problem... but she wasn't sure how much she would be able to clean... and how noticeable the repair would be!
I picked up the Viola yesterday.. it's weird being away from it for so long... but these days, I'm not using it on a daily basis anyway. Plus, I had my violins to keep me company!
The varnish is nicely renewed on the back... it is really quite good work. She said it was a bit tricky to clean... she said it could have been better, but it would have taken much longer and cost much more, so I said that it was more than good enough! You can still see a little bit of the stain, and she did her best to keep the grain pattern underneath. You can only really see the repair work under the right angle of light... so I'm pretty happy! Also, more happy that there was no lasting damage to the wood underneath.
On the front, she said that she wasn't able to do much with the design... but that was expected. However, the main part of the discolouration and thin varnish was completely repaired. It will look a little bit strange, but given the damage that I had caused to the design... I don't think it was possible to do better without a huge investment in time and money.
Whilst the instrument was in her hands, I asked her to do a couple of other minor repair work as well... the most pressing of the jobs was the re-planing of the fingerboard. Over time, you get grooves from the strings and the fingers of the player and these can cause buzzes and alter the placement of the pitches when you put a finger down. So, it was nice to finally have that done... it's been about a decade since I last did it... and there were noticeable dints in the wood!
Finally, when she took the strings off the instrument... the soundpost inside had fallen down. It happens, but when she went to replace it, she found that it was a touch too short for a good placement with the bridge. This meant that the sound wouldn't be optimally transferred and amplified between the strings and the sounding plates of the body. I asked her to replace the soundpost in that case... and now that I have the instrument back and had a little play, it is like a new instrument again!
There were a couple of bits that had a funny response in the past... and these are now fixed with the new soundpost and placement. Plus, the instrument is sounding deeper and fuller than before! She is a great luthier!
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