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“1704” Varnish Recipe

“1704” Varnish Recipe

by George Manno

Originally published in American Lutherie #12, 1987 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000

The subject of violin varnish and its making has been the topic of great debate and secrecy for the last hundred years. Many makers still spend a great deal of time chasing the elusive dream of coming up with the perfect varnish. Books and manuscripts are filled with endless recipes from the very basic to the most absurd. I have seen some formulas that call for ingredients such as goat urine, sheep bile, gold, and other even more exotic organic extracts that have to be boiled, dried, and then mixed with many different hazardous chemicals. I showed Dr. James Martin, head chemist for Bradshaw and Praeger Shellac Co., one of these more eccentric recipes. His reply to me was, “If you heat these chemicals, you will probably blow your shop to smithereens.” Needless to say, I took his advice.

The varnish recipe described on the preceding page is known throughout the world as “1704”. The recipe came out of the old Wurlitzer shop in the early ’50s. As you can see, the varnish is a simple mixture of seedlac, gum, resin, and oil mixed with alcohol.

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