Spit and Animal Glue

We’ve had quite the extensive conversations about the use of hide glue in violin repair.  To the Western trained maker, it is the only glue to be used on violins because it allows us to dismantle the instrument completely with minimal damage and is the only time tested glue for the instrument, known to solidly hold the joinery for hundreds of years.  It is the safety valve of the violin, releasing a joint instead of being glued so solidly that the instrument cracks when subjected to changes in humidity.  Truly a multiple use wonder substance.  Alas, the traditional Indian repairman does not appreciate these fine attributes and has a tendency to use a white Elmer’s type glue called Fevicol, a substance that should not be found on any part of the violin whatsoever.  A good deal of our work has had to do with undoing this gummy substance and clean up the mess before proceeding with our work.  “But sir, animal glue will fall apart the second the customer walks out the front door”  is the usual refrain.  We go round and round about this.  Finally, I ask Krishna to bring his violin which I made for him 10 years back.  “All animal glue” I say, now nervous about how this violin has fared in this climate.  When we take it for inspection, (drum roll) Lo and Behold, not a single problem has it ever seen, not the tiniest joint has come open.  Sigh of relief, point made… The students now enjoy cooking up a little pot of this wonder substance and are greatly enjoying seeing how it can benefit their work.

Now, spit is another matter.  While demonstrating the cutting of a sound post, I point out that wetting the end grain makes it easier to cut.  So, for the sake of expediency, I touch it to my tongue.  A shudder ripples through the crowd and looks of horror abound.  Oops, I forgot–the breath and contact with the mouth are considered impure and to be avoided at all costs.  Probably why there’s no kissing in Bollywood films.  The entire class can share two water glasses, because nobody touches it with the lips; we pour it into the mouth with no contact with the glass.  But I shouldn’t touch my tongue to a sound post?  I remind them that I am but an impure foreigner with nasty habits and that this is the way I get the job done most efficiently.  Why, everybody in the West does it this way, I assure them.  In particular, cutting bridge feet, especially ‘cello bridges, this is most helpful.  They seem OK with my filthy ways, indeed it seems to be entertaining for them to observe my taboo practices.  “Our customers will run away if they know we were spitting on their violin while working on it,” they moan.  They’re not getting over this one so quickly as the hide glue issue, so I assure them that they can use water and a brush, but it will take much longer.  The relief is tangible throughout the entire classroom.  But old work habits die hard–I walk by Anabarush’s work station and see that he has nicked the violin with sandpaper while dressing the fingerboard, so without thinking I wet my finger with good ol’ slobber and rub it on the area to see if a coat of varnish will easily hide the scuff mark.  “Please, sir, not spit…” he moans.

Good thing I knew this at my surprise birthday party and fanned out the candles with my hand.  Otherwise, I certainly would have had a lot more cake to eat…


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