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How to Repair an Old Violin

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Jim is a retired software/electrical engineer who enjoys the outdoors. He likes to challenge himself with creative projects at home.

Explore this amateur's repair of an old damaged violin.

Explore this amateur's repair of an old damaged violin.

First, About the Violin Maker

There exists a lot of confusing information about this violin maker. Apparently, he started making violins in Prague in the early 1900s, and later in Schönbach Germany. I read that in 1936 he was still living near Prague, in the city of Kolin. He, or his family, continued making instruments for export to New York City until the early 1960s. He was a prolific maker of various instruments with different levels of material quality and craftsmanship, from student instruments to master art copies. The label stating it is a master art copy indicates it’s a higher quality instrument. He used standard patterns of classic violin makers, including Stradivarius, Guarnerius, Nicolò Gagliano, Guadagnini, Testore, and Maggini.

I’ve read that if the label has a serial number, that indicates a higher quality instrument. Also, if the number, date, and copy name are hand written in ink, the same is true. This instrument label has those features. Not being an expert, this violin is in what I would consider fair shape. I’ve found that the prices can range from $800 to several thousands of dollars for an instrument of this quality from this maker. Luckily, I did this research after my repairs were finished. Otherwise, I would have been too intimidated to attempt a repair.

Information on Violin Label

Violin Maker: John Juzek

Made in: Prague, Czech Republic

Number: 495

Year made: 1936

Master art copy: Guadagnini

Slightly damaged John Juzek violin.

Slightly damaged John Juzek violin.

Starting the Repair

I was asked by my sister-in-law to repair this violin. Knowing nothing about violins (and admitting that fact to her), she still let me try. When I received it, I found that the neck had come apart from the body when the glue joint failed. It looked like a fairly simple repair. The tricky part would be clamping the neck with fresh glue against the body and ensuring the angle did not get skewed.

Unstringing the Violin

I first unstrung the violin and removed the neck and tail piece. The tail piece was held into the body with a press fit wooden peg. The neck was loose enough to be easily pulled away from the body. I used a rotary tool with a small sanding drum to gently remove remnants of glue from the neck tenon and body mortise. The ebony finger board had a scar that was also easily removed by rubbing with steel wool. I purchased some long, thick and wide rubber bands to use as clamping devices when I re-attached the neck. I did a trial fit to find where best to place the rubber band to securely hold the neck in place. A C-clamp was also needed to provide downward pressure on the neck joint.

I used a rotary tool with a small sanding drum to gently remove remnants of glue from the neck tenon and body mortise.

I used a rotary tool with a small sanding drum to gently remove remnants of glue from the neck tenon and body mortise.

While I was inspecting the violin I also found a small gap in one area, forming between the side and the top. The first order of business was to glue and clamp to close this cap. I used super glue and a C-clamp with padding.

Touching Up the Degraded Finish

Once this was done, I asked my sister-in-law if she wanted me to try to touch up the much degraded finish. The answer was yes. I light sanded with 320 grit sand paper followed by steel wool to scuff up the existing finish. I removed dust with a stiff paint brush and damp paper towel. Next, I applied 3 coats of Birchwood-Casey Tru-Oil gun stock finish, and thinned about 30% with mineral spirits. Each coating, except the final, was allowed to dry, then was scuffed lightly with steel wool before the next coating. I did not apply Tru-Oil to the neck or finger board, and just a tiny bit to the scroll.

The violin's degraded finish.

The violin's degraded finish.

Reattach the Neck

Once the finish was done I used Titebond 3 glue to reattach the neck. I noticed the mortise cavity had originally been scored with a knife to provide a gripping surface for the glue I supposed. I used a small drill bit to make several small divots in the tenon and mortise for the same purpose. The rubber band was first stretched around the body then glue was applied to all surfaces of the neck joint. It was then slid under the rubber band to be held horizontally against the body. A C-clamp with padding was used to apply vertical pressure to the joint. Glue was allowed to dry for 24 hours before the clamps were removed. The tailpiece was reattached and the violin restrung. It looks good, but I don’t play, so I’ll have to wait until my sister-in-law tries it to finally judge my success.

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