A California luthier's two-year quest to perfect his varnish formula coincided with a spiritual self-examination. David Morse, who has made instruments for players in the San Francisco Symphony, and a violin for the orchestra's conductor laureate Herbert Blomstedt, hit upon a new formula involving burnt sugar after two years of intensive experimentation. Working with a guru in the same period apparently unlocked a kind of spiritual energy that helped him make his breakthrough.

Morse had previously used propolis as an ingredient, but was frustrated with the time that his varnish took to apply and fully dry. By dissolving sugar and pigment in water, then combining it with the oil varnish base, he found that the varnish could be applied more easily and quickly.