Sunday, September 14, 2014

Spirit Varnish Repairs for a Double Bass

Repair of Spirit Varnish Blemishes; Upon Turning a Simple Scratch Into a Major Disaster

Last week, when  I picked up my carved bass to practice, metal on my belt bit into the upper bout of my bass, leaving a visible scratch.  What I should have done, was use my "Cherry" furniture repair pen to hide the scratch.  Instead, I painted on some red/brown spirit varnish, tried to wipe it off, which marred the surrounding area.  Before I knew it, I had changed a very simple repair into a major disaster.  Now the small scratch had grown to a big ugly blotch.  I had violated an important principle of bass repair:  be patient, be careful.

I slopped on more red/brown spirit varnish, painting with the grain, then against the grain.  After several coats, the blemish was mostly covered satisfactorily, but had developed a very dark border of accumulated varnish.  It didn't look too bad, to a guy riding by on horseback at midnight. Since I don't own a horse, changes would have to be made.

First off, the color was also too red, and I realized that, though Calin Wultur Panormo basses are supposed to be finished with red/brown varnish, the upper bouts had been finished with golden brown varnish.  The golden brown segues into red/brown further down the bass.  It became clear that I needed some golden brown spirit varnish.  I ordered some immediately.

I carefully (for a change) removed my application of red/brown spirit varnish, using an alcohol-dampened rag (spirit varnish dissolves in alcohol).  I got it down to the bare wood, carefully removing the ugly thick borders.  I will wet sand it smooth with fine sandpaper, and when I get my golden brown varnish, I'll try again.

I'm fairly confident that I will be able to repair the varnish satisfactorily.  I will use this as a learning experience.  I am beginning to realize that double bass players almost have to be luthiers in their own right.  These basses are fragile and complicated.  I ordered a copy of  Chuck Traeger's book, Setup And Repair of the Double Bass for Optimum Sound: A Manual for Players, Makers, And Repairers.  I also ordered the "Coda," a smaller followup volume offering additional setup and repair tips.

My Big Band class begins again next week.  Fortunately, I have another double bass I can use until I repair the Calin Wultur Panormo.

UPDATE:  I applied the Golden Brown spirit varnish and greatly improved the appearance of the damaged area.  Does it look as good as it did originally?  No, but it isn't half bad.  I may try and improve it sometime later, with more coats of varnish.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much. Keep doing what you love.