Removing the top of a violin is a rare procedure typically reserved for the most serious of repairs. Any mistake in the procedure can cause irreparable harm to the instrument. Yet the process is not a difficult one. It only requires you to break the seal created with glue between the violin top and sides. Working slowly with a separation knife, there’s little chance of damage, but caution is necessary to avoid turning a finely made instrument into kindling.
Place the violin topside up onto a stable work table. Remove the strings and bridge from the instrument by twisting the tuning pegs until you can pull the strings from the pegs and remove them from the tailpiece. Reduce the tension of the strings equally until you can slip the bridge from beneath, and then remove the strings entirely. Lift the tailpiece in place, then unscrew the cord. Slip the tailpiece from the base of the violin.
Search the edge of the violin where the top meets the side for any opening in the joint. Place the corner of the separation knife into the opening, or simply chose a spot on the joint to begin. The separation knife looks like a putty knife and can be purchased from a music store.
Press the separation knife into the joint, breaking through the glue holding the top of the violin in place. Use no upwards or downwards pressure on the knife to aid in breaking the seal.
Push the knife through the glued joint, breaking the seal between the top and the rest of the violin. Work your way around the top completely, wiggling the knife right and left as you break through the glue. Avoid any pressure up or down as you go. Any pressure in those directions may cause cracking or breaking in the wood of the instrument.
Change the direction of your cuts when you come within a few inches of the corners of the violin, so that the separation knife angles outwards, breaking the glue seal from the inside of the instrument outwards.
Apply a slight downwards pressure after completely breaking through the seal around the top of the instrument to lift the top from the base. Make sure you can pull the knife through the entire instrument before attempting to lift the top.