How Do I Remove Scratches From My Cello?

cello cleaning

The cello is a big instrument that is hard to carry around. However, despite the large size, it is a delicate stringed instrument meaning it needs special care. Even with being careful, things happen and at some point you’ll get scratches on your cello.

To remove small scratches from a cello, apply a coat of  cello varnish cleaner, gently rubbing it in with a clean cloth. For a deeper scratch, you should take your cello to an experienced luthier who can fill the scratch and match the wood and varnish.

Nobody wants to listen to your great music on an old beat-up looking cello with scratches that can be seen from a mile away. Not forgetting the rosin and finger smudges that come as they please. Yuck!

So, what’s the good news?

There is a fix for everything, and you don’t even have to go pro to get these repairs done. In this article, we will discuss how to deal with scratches and smudges with easy to find products.

If that sounds interesting, let’s dive in.

remove cello scratchesScratches: Every Cellist’s Worst Nightmare

Over the years some scratching is inevitable. So don’t get too upset when you experience one or two. Small scratches can be ignored but what happens when you have a 2-inch scratch visible from across the room?

The answer is simple.

Just finish the performance and hope nobody else sees it.

However, when you get home, there are many DIY ways of getting rid of those annoying scratches.

About Cello Scratches

The cello, though robust compared to a violin, is very vulnerable and delicate and should be treated as such. Any piece of metal or hard surface it touches will surely leave a mark. Your own nails might even scratch up the body, so remember to keep them short.

In most cases, scratches are a purely cosmetic issue, and will not affect the sound of your cello. Leaving a scratch alone won’t hurt but they are annoying to look at and feel.

The best part about scratches is that most can be fixed from home with a few simple steps. However, if you have a nasty looking deep scratch or your cello is an expensive antique, it is best to leave it to the experts. An experienced luthier will know how to fill in the scratch to match the wood color and varnish.

The following steps will help you deal with minor scratches.

Retouching the Varnish

Varnish is the clear transparent hard finish that gives your cello that shine. If you are lucky enough, the varnish might be the only layer scratched by the hard object. And this has an easy fix.

You can hide these minor scratches by reviving your varnish with a quality varnish cleaner like the Hill & Sons Varnish Cleaner which will take care of the small scratches while overall protecting your varnish.

Every time you touch your varnish a little comes off and dirt is deposited. The same happens when you experience a scratch. By applying a coat of varnish cleaner, it will fill up the small scratches and have your cello back to its former glory.

To do this, you’ll need two clean microfiber cloths. One to wipe off dirt and rosin to clean the area first. Then, with the second cloth, apply a little varnish cleaner on a microfiber cloth and gently rub into the area. While you’re at it, you should apply to the rest of your cello for an even protection.

Polishing Out the Scratch

Some cellists say that you can also use a cello or violin polish to remove small scratches.

Before you apply the polish, you’ll want to clean your cello first. Then with a product like Dunlop’s Orchestral 65 Polish, apply a few drops to a clean cloth and apply to the surface, using gentle circular rubs. Make sure to not spend too much time in any area as the polish can start softening the finish.

Filling the Scratch

Deep scratches are best left to an experienced luthier to fill. For the DIY approach though, read on!

If using varnish cleaner or polish do not work, you can always fill in the scratch.

The most popular filler is the walnut. You read that right.

Why a walnut?

Rubbing the meat of a walnut along the scratch will work since the oil from the nut darkens the wood making the scratch disappear. Once you have rubbed the nut several times, run your finger through to feel if the scratch is still there.

Other things you can use to fill out the scratches include:

  • Petroleum jelly
  • Crayon wax
  • And mayonnaise

Then, after the scratch is filled, you can apply a clear varnish to seal in the filler.

Matching the Color

With the type of wood, how it was treated, and the varnish solution that was used when making the cello, it may be difficult to match the color of the original varnish when filling a scratch. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you may even discolor the exposed wood in the scratch, making the situation worse. So if you’re unsure, contact a luthier.

Keeping Away from Scratches

Prevention is always the best. You can keep your cello scratch-free by :

  • Keeping your cello away from sharp objects.
  • Always keeping your cello in a protective cello case or cello gig bag when not in use.
  • Using proper playing, handling, and storing techniques.
  • Apply varnish cleaner after cleaning your cello.

Goodbye Smudges

Let’s also talk about getting rid of smudges!

All cellos need to be cleaned regularly. Not just when you are going out to perform.

The most dangerous kind of grime exists by the name of rosin dust. The one that accumulates on the face each time a cello is played. The one known to wreak havoc on the varnish if not wiped away after each session. Yes, that very one.

What Do You Need?

cleaning celloRosin dust should always be wiped off the strings, so always make sure to carry a soft microfiber cloth. In fact, an experienced cellist should carry two cloths: one for the strings, and one for the rest of the cello.


Using one cloth for all parts of the cello might result in rough flakes sticking on the cloth which leads to scratching the varnish. Additionally, using one cloth could lead to a very fine layer of rosin dust from the cloth being distributed evenly across the body, dulling the varnish.

Pure alcohol can be used to remove stubborn grime on the strings. However, extreme caution needs to be taken. You can put a few drops of alcohol on a clean cloth and rub the strings clean. Avoid spraying your cello with silicone or wax as they may damage the material.

When cleaning your cello with a soft damp cloth, use gentle circular motions to clean the delicate surface. Pressing too hard will also lead to scratches. And we don’t want scratches!

Cleaning the strings once a month ensures optimal sound vibration and the best tonal qualities.

Keep note that alcohol damages the varnish, so use a bare minimum such that nothing drips onto the cello. Alcohol is also good for removing smudges from the fingerboard which is not varnished.

For the extreme cases of stubborn marks, try using cello cleaning products like a quality varnish cleaner which you can find on Amazon or your local music store.

Maintaining Long Term Cleanliness

Smudges although gruesome, are easily preventable if you:

  1. Limit the places you touch with your hands. The oil and sweat from your skin attacks the varnish of your cello and leaves smudges. Minimal skin contact ensures good sound and a great appearance.
  2. Clean your case. This is a no brainer. A clean case means an even cleaner cello. Make sure to clean your case once a week if you see dust, dirt, or rosin accumulating.

In conclusion

As a cellist, you’ll get scratches. However, you wouldn’t want to make repairs resulting from improper handling of your instrument. But when bad comes to worse and you experience the inevitable scratches and smudges, you can use the tips above to get your cello back in shape.

If the damage is bad enough, you can always refer to an expert luthier or take your piece to the local music shop.

For more information on cello care, check out our other articles on cleaning and taking care of cellos.

Josh Olswanger

I've been playing and writing music since the age of 13. My father is a piano tuner/technician of 40 years, and I've been musically involved in all aspects from composing, to recording, producing and playing live for most of my life. I've always had a fascination and appreciation for all types of music and musical instruments, so creating this site is a perfect outlet to share my knowledge.

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