The Best Polish for Wood and String Instruments

best polish for violins

Musicians are extremely wary of what substances they put on their wooden musical instruments such as guitars, violins, cellos and double basses etc. And rightly so. The biggest concerns always seem to relate to either affecting the resonant properties of the wood or causing long-term damage to the finish. It can be a bit of a minefield as the internet is so full of misinformation that many musicians resort to a 'do nothing at all' ethos.

This stems from a misunderstanding of the general function and purpose of a wax polish. Its purpose is to protect the 'finish', the lacquer, varnish, nitrocellulose or polyurethane protective layer that the luthier applies to the instrument to protect the wood for the long term. In polishing we seek to protect this finish from daily wear and tear with a thin layer of wax that acts as a kind of sacrificial layer that is easily replaced.

Most instrument makers use layers of lacquer, varnish or nitrocellulose to protect the wood of an instrument, and varnishes have been used to coat string instruments like violas, cellos and violins for hundreds of years. It started life as a closely guarded secret substance. Different formulae were concocted by the luthiers, a trade secret never to be revealed. Those varnishes were made of plant resins combined with oils like linseed, honeybee propolis, gums and other oils. The usage of beeswax was commonly added to the mix to decrease the brittleness of the resin and protect the resonant qualities of the wooden structure. This type of varnish had a higher proportion of resins, and a hard, shiny surface.

Antonio StradivariThe great violin Master, Antonio Stradivari knew these secret blends of resins, beeswax and propolis. He used them in a way that only he knew the correct proportion of each natural product creating the secret varnish formula for his high quality stringed instruments. [1]

The lacquer protects the wood,
but what protects the lacquer?


~ Beeswax Polish

What to look for in an instrument polish

  1. No Silicone: The reason that silicone is held in such poor esteem is that it is a colossal pain if you need to refinish a surface. A single molecule of silicone will cause a "fish-eye" in the lacquer. This is an area where the lacquer will not flow or attach. If you need to make a repair and there is silicone in an area where you want to use glue, it will act like a lubricant and give you a less than optimal joint.
  2. No Spray: Spray polishes are alcohol cleaners that contain a fair amount of water. The mist of micro-droplets get everywhere, including the unprotected fingerboard or fretboard. The alcohol will dry out the fingerboard.
  3. No Abrasives: Automotive waxes contain abrasives. You don't want to reduce the lacquer layer, you just want to add a protective layer of 100% wax. 
  4. No Oils or Petroleum Distillates: Many polishes usually contain some kind of oil. Oil can penetrate small fissures in the varnish and end up in the wood, damping the sound or making future gluing and repair more difficult. Some oil will remain on the surface and catch dirt, essentially turning your instrument into an air filter. If the oil is a vegetable base, it may harden over time, forming a new 'varnish' layer incorporating dirt from the air, perspiration and rosin (in the case of bowed instruments). This can be very difficult to remove and would require expert restoration. ‘White spirit’ or 'mineral spirit' is petroleum-based, whereas turpentine on the other hand is vegetable-based, non-hydrocarbon, most often distilled from the resin of pine trees. Naphtha is a petroleum solvent similar to mineral spirits but with a greater volatility; it is used chiefly as a paint thinner or a cleaning agent. Naphtha can also penetrate through and seep under veneer. There it will dissolve the glue, causing the veneer to loosen.
  5. Preserves Resonance Properties: Carnauba wax is very hard, being among the hardest of natural waxes. Although it creates a very deep shine, its rigidity may affect an instrument's resonance properties if not blended with softer waxes such as beeswax. Stradivari clearly understood the benefits of beeswax in preserving the flexibility of the wood.

     Why Gilboy's Pure Gold is the Perfect Instrument Polish

    Gilboy's Gold has been specifically designed to protect all types of wood finishes. It was designed by antique furniture restorers with over 25 years experience using traditional methods of restoration learned from long apprenticeships.

    1. No Silicone: Gilboy's Gold is made with the best interests of preserving antique wood. We understand very clearly the problems silicone can cause in the restoration of lacquered finishes. Gilboy's Gold is made in a silicone-free environment.
    2. No Spray: Gilboy's Gold comes in a kiln-jar with a leather seal and is applied with a cloth. At no point is any water added or required.
    3. No Abrasives: Gilboy's Gold beeswax polish contains nothing but waxes and pure pine turpentine. And definitely no abrasives.
    4. No Oils or Petroleum Distillates: Gilboy's Gold is made with nothing but 100% natural waxes and pure pine turpentine.
    5. Preserves Resonance Properties: Gilboy's Gold is a beeswax polish with the finest beeswax from Buckfast Abbey, just a little carnauba wax to provide a deep shine, UV protection and resilience and enough softer myrica wax to retain flexibility and support the inherent resonance of the instrument.
    "A hard-wearing yet flexible wax finish that
    retains the resonant properties of the instrument"
    [1] Stradivarius in the Jungle, Human Ecology, April 2008 A.M. Stearman