Instruments: Can violin have wolf tones, and if yes, what's the solution?
From Bernardo B
Posted April 10, 2007 at 09:28 PM
Hello everyone. I just got a new violin. It sounds and looks great...except for one oddity I never experienced before. I'm almost positive it has a wolf tone. The "thing" appears when I'm playing a simple D octave in first position (low: open D string/high: 3rd finger on the A string). Each time I play this "note" it sounds terrible, out of control and buzzing - exactly like a cello's wolf tone. I didn't know it could even happen on violins. Is there a way to fix the problem?
My violin does that if I play a concert A on my G string. A friend of mine who works at a music shop said that indeed there can be wolftones with a violin. That's the extent of my knowledge though. I'm interested to hear others responses.
most violins have a wold tone somewhere. One of the most common places is around c or csharp up the top of the g string. There, it is annoying but maneagable. Whree you are describing renders the isntrument useless. That is assuming it is a wolf tone. Before deciding that take the isntrument back to the luthier and check for all manne rof small problems. Could be as simple as an adjuster or even lining or bass bar slightly unglued.
From Jim Tsai
Posted on April 10, 2007 at 10:47 PM
wolf tones can be present on violin, viola, or cello.
Having a wolf on a low D is pretty significant since it's nearly impossible to avoid playing this note in any standard repertoire. there are simple solutions like adjusting the soundpost or trying different brand strings. More drastic solutions include altering the thickness of plates. i would seriously consider changing violins if i intend to use it for performance purposes -i consider this a significant flaw.
uh, get a new violin?
wolf tones mean unwanted resonance. based on my readings, such resonance may never be eliminated, even if the violin is taken apart and the various pieces re-graduated. I should consider this an impossible task for even the very best luthiers.
When I first got my violin the E string would squeak every time I played an open E. Even when tuning. Was driving me nuts, but after changing strings and having the nut filed down a little (the string was touching it a bit at the nut) the problem went away.
But yeah, if the low D on the A string has a wolf tone, that's serious!
One thing to remember is a business can't get by with selling you something that doesn't work, when there's an implied warranty as there is here. If you have to, let him know that a judge will give you your money back, and hopefully he won't want to be out the expense of that. Be careful who you have work on it in the meantime. It's accurate to say it doesn't work, because like Buri said, it's useless:)
This may or may not be a true wolf tone. The frequencies are unusual.
It might be the open G vibrating sympathetically with the two Ds. Try damping the G while playing these notes and see what happens.
In my experience a wolf tone is not at all uncommon on the G string anywhere between the G and the C# above middle C. Some of the greatest violins may have one. If you only have one, and it's more of a wimper than a full-blown howl - that's OK. If you have 2 or more, that's a problem. And if you have one on any other string, that's more of a problem, as hitting those notes is more unavoidable.
A luthier's adjustment will hopefully help. Sometimes, even changing the string string, as someone has suggested. The physics behind wolf tones never stays with me. Maybe an acoustician out there can remind us! But it seems that a true wolf tone is endemic to the instrument. An adjustment may lessen it in one place, only to have a new one emerge in another place. There are 'wolf eliminators' that you might try. What I've found works just as well - especially when the wolf is on an open string like the A, is to slide a mute closer to, but not on, the bridge (still keeping the mute between the bridge and the tailpiece). This extra loading seems to help.
Re a new violin. I'm going to see for the 1st time today a brand new violin that I commissioned from Edward Maday! One thing I always do in testing out a new violin is to play slow 2 octave chromatic scales, poco forte, up each string. Any wolves should quickly reveal themselves. This is also a good thing to do as part of the breaking-in process of a new violin.
Thinner strings can help a lot. I find many violins are wolfy on the D string about an octave above the open D. In this case, a silver D instead of an aluminum D can help.
From Eric Meyer
Posted on April 14, 2007 at 10:33 PM
Get some lead tape that they use for golf club weighting and put four grams worth on the underside of your tailpiece in such a way that it doesn't buzz. I've made short but heavy tailpieces for violins with wolfs, (or is it wolves) upon request. Reports that came back said the heavier tailpieces did the trick although I didn't hear the change personally. Are you chuckling David?
From Eric Meyer;
"Are you chuckling David?"
No, Eric. Accessories do strange, remarkable and sometimes unpredictable things to violins. I've tried stranger things! ;-)
Some say afterlength adjustments can tame some wolf notes, but that would be a trade-off, unless your afterlength is incorrect and adjusting it properly cured the wolf.
I had a very slight wolf on one violin cured by a luthier who glued a small patch of spruce to the underside of the top. He found where the top was vibrating the most, while the wold note was played, and added the weight there. It seems to have worked in this one case, but I have no idea if this will work all the time, nor if it's a recommended proceedure.
Stop complaining about wolves. Not to brag about it but my wolf...er violin has a wolf on just about every C. Low C on G string, C one octave up on G, C on D string, and even the C on A string is bad. But I still manage. It's funny when people comment about how much they like the sound, then they try to play my violin and they can't. Low-tech anti-theft device. ;) What was Gustave Bernardel thinking. I will try to get it adjusted in Baltimore, but I had the violin making teacher here at IU (Tom Sparks) adjust my violin on 5 different ocassions and adjust the after length (supposedly was 5mm too long)and still no dice.
More about wolfs:
First off, almost any open sounding violin will have a wolf around the second C sharp on the G sting, around 540 hz. Ironically, some of the biggest and best sounding violins are the worst, just like cellos. It may be almost impossible to play that note, or could be mild enough that you can only get it to wolf by making a special effort. If the wolf is particularly bad, it may also show up on the same note on the D or A strings, or an octave below.
This note is almost always the loudest on a violin because there are some major parts of the violin which vibrate at that frequency.
Wolf eliminators (violin, viola or cello) work by absorbing energy on that note. Since they absorb some of the energy, they will always change the sound. A casual lister might not notice the difference, but it's always there.
On a violin like Emmanuels, there may be some extra parts vibrating on that note (or on a note which reinforces it).
It could be the tailpiece as Eric Meyer mentioned, or it could be something as odd as the free end of the fingerboard flopping around.
A good sleuth can often find the offending part and do something to move it to a different pitch.
I'm no expert here, but I have a situation that sounds like the descriptions I've read here of what a wolf tone would be. However, it's in quite a different place - on the very high D on the E string. This is not the D you can reach in 3rd position, but the D you can reach in 10th position. When I play it I seem to get two slightly different pitches at the same time. Can there be a wolf tone in that position? Would one try the same solutions to eliminate it?
From Ken MCKAY
Posted on July 31, 2007 at 05:56 AM
Jerry, that is a tough one. I would personally start with E string. Make sure the string is not digging into the bridge. Make sure the parchment or whatever it has is glued on well. Next change the string to a different type. If those don't get it, you will need a good luthier.
From Adam Dawdy
Posted on July 31, 2007 at 07:10 AM
I have a wolf high on the e, as well. It's between a c and c#. I've changed strings, and it's still there, though it seems to be on a quarter tone. I guess it lets me know when I'm out of tune in the lost octave of those 3-octave scales...
Thanks for the advice. My bridge does not have any protective material on the area where the E string makes contact, so I use the little plastic tube supplied with the string. I tried removing that, but no noticeable change. I normally use a wound E string, so I tried a plain wire string, but no change. I put on a string-mounted mute and indeed when the mute is close enough to the bridge it does eliminate the wolf - but not until the mute is so close that it is definitely beginning to mute the sound of the violin. So that's a solution, but I say it's not an acceptable solution. So I reckon a trip to the friendly violinmaker is next.
I own a fine 1805 violin that I bought in 1980. It had a wolf note on F above middle C on the D string. Generally it showed up when humidity was low. The note would be EXTREMELY magnified and pulsate, too. Aargh. A new bridge eliminated it. Gone for good. Haven't heard the wolf since 1980! The moral is that some wolfs are easy to eliminate. : - )
I agree with Frederick. I recently had bought a violin and it had a wolf note on the A string (C/C sharp). Sounded really terrible. A solution I found is readjusting the bridge by sanding it down a bit. It worked!
From Scott Cole
Posted on February 11, 2009 at 05:15 AM
I recently talked to two people about wolf tones on one of my violins, which has a nasty C wolf. The first was Steven Staryk, who recommended trying to lower tension. He also mentioned that he had to get rid of a Del Gesu because of a bad wolf.
The second person is an excellent maker, John Harrison, whom I'm schedule to see in a couple of days. He said we could, among other things, look at the mass of the tail piece.
The comments by some contributors that a mute being brought up to near the bridge, or lightening the bridge by sanding it, can reduce the wolf, suggest to me that the bridge may be a contributory factor. The bridge apparently does have its own vibration modes and if one of the modes is a slightly different frequency to the note being played then there could be an audible conflict (the "wolf"), and if the bridge vibration mode depends on where the note is being played - high C# on the G, perhaps you have a wolf - the same note on the D, no wolf. This is guess-work on my part; the physics is difficult, and I've forgotten most of it.
This thread is so old that Bernardo long ago shot his wolf-dog.