Dutch violin maker Koen Padding, whose passion for classical
varnish was known to many luthiers through the products he sold
under the Magister brand name, died suddenly last week. He was in
Padding trained at the Newark School of Violin Making in the UK and then spent eight years restoring classical Italian instruments for several leading European shops. During the 1980s he joined a team of maker–restorers working under Roger Hargrave in Bremen. He returned to the Netherlands to concentrate on making new instruments, but began to devote much of his time to researching and experimenting with violin varnishes.
In the early 1990s he began selling some of his varnish, and this enterprise developed into Magister Varnish Products, which today comprises a range including primers, sealers, grounds, paints and oil varnishes.
Padding advocated a five-stage coating system (priming, sealing, grounding, painting and varnishing) that he believed classical Italian makers adopted from a method used by the Byzantines. In an interview with Roger Hargrave in the March 2005 issue of The Strad he emphasised the importance of the whole coating, rather than just the varnish on top:
'A coating is a system of layers and this system influences both the appearance and performance of an instrument. Once you begin to think of the violin's outward appearance in this way, then it becomes apparent that the similarities that make us classify all the different 'varnishes' from Amati to Guadagnini as 'classical varnish' have more to do with the first few layers of these coatings than with the actual varnish itself.'
As well as scouring historical sources for varnish recipes and examining classical instruments, Padding was very hands-on in his experiments, spending hundreds of hours testing different oil and resin combinations. He said: 'You have to smell, even taste, your materials and experience how they behave under different conditions. Just as a violin maker needs to understand his wood or a blacksmith get the feel of a particular batch of iron in order to get the best results from their work.'