‘The kind of varnish used is simply a matter of taste’: From the Archive: May 1932
US violin maker Edward Hellier-Collens gives readers of The Strad the benefit of his expertise: good violin tone lies not in the varnish after all, but in the ‘filler’ (ground coat)
To the Editor of THE STRAD.
SIR,—The problem of securing the Italian tone has been discussed for years by all who are interested in the betterment of tone in violins of modern make. To this end many theories have been advanced, but thus far most of them fall short of solving the great secret.
After twenty-five years experimenting on the finishing of violins, I have come to the conclusion that the secret of the Italian tone lies not so much in the varnish as in the filler. Many circumstances have contributed to this inference, chief among which are the following:—
(1) There are infinitely better violins constructed in this age than were made in the time of Stradivarius; (2) most of the old Cremona violins have had to be reconstructed; (3) as fine a grade of wood is procurable today as in the time of the old Masters; (4) many of the old Cremona violins are almost minus the varnish with only the filler remaining, but the tone is still there, hence the varnish is for the purpose of appearance and protection.
The secret of the Italian tone, I am convinced, lies within the filler. After tireless research and experiments, it has been proven to my satisfaction that, given a correctly constructed instrument, the right filler should produce the desired quality of tone without the varnish, and the tone should not be modified by the addition of the varnish…