Wolf notes....please leave.

February 20, 2007 at 10:50 PM · I have a big wolf note on c on both my D and G strings. Will they ever go away!!! How does a wolf eliminator effect the sound?

How does one play best on these notes?

Replies (35)

February 21, 2007 at 12:50 PM · It can be very tricky, if not impossible to remove wolf notes in a violin. Wolf damping works better on cellos, while on the violin, it is possible to minimize them as much as possible through adjustments and tunings in your set up. Some times the archings in the top plate of your violin might be successfully stiffened from the inside, but that doesn't always work very well either, and it is rather expensive.

In your playing, try not to be "playing in" the wolf by activating it too much as it often gets worse by playing it. A big vibrato helps, but that's not always appropriate of course :)

February 21, 2007 at 03:31 PM · Magnus, thanks for that. That's exactly what I was doing, playing it as much as I could! I will think about vibrato.

It's very frustrating. I might take it back to the luthier and ask him about what you said. It's such a great instrument except for this!

Thanks again.

February 21, 2007 at 07:44 PM · Fiona,

A colleague of mine told me a story once about trying out violas. He had one with a pretty bad wolf and showed it to another violist. He picked up the instrument, played it, and said 'what wolf'? The wolf was gone! My colleague took the viola and the wolf was back.

You can change a lot by experimenting with bow speed and weight on the note. What happens when you approach with a slow bow? A sharp attack? Sometimes you can find the sound that works if you look for it.

On the other hand, what you've got sounds pretty extreme. I'd be cautious about a violin where you notice the wolf on the D string. Get it adjusted - see if anything's better.

p.s. While we're talking about it, does anyone have any experience with different strings influencing the problem. Infeld reds seem to make my fiddle more 'wolfy' i.e. less clear up in that range (about 7th position, lower strings). Not sure if it's the strings or my last tonal adjustment...

February 21, 2007 at 08:52 PM · Way back when I was in school, studying acoustical physics, we were told that most wolf tones are created by the internal resonances of the instrument. When they are strong in one frequency, and that frequency corresponds to a note, you have a big problem.

From what I've read, adding a spruce patch to the top typically doesn't help. That is more often used to tame a loud note which is due to an uneven top, but it won't cure a wolf.

To see if this is indeed your problem, try tuning the violin slightly sharp, say 1/4 of a tone high (half way to G-sharp) If the wolf goes away, or changes to a different note, then you know the problem is internal resonance.

I am not a luthier, so I don't know what the solution would be. It seems to me that any kind of string or bridge muting would be a last resort, since that would kill a wider range of frequencies than you need to, making the violin less beautiful & less responsive. I would be loking for a solution that is additive, not subtractive.

If I were a luthier, and wanted to experiment on a really troublesome instrument, I might try changing the size of the violin's internal cavity. Perhaps a small amount of the neck block could be removed, without losing any structural integrity?

Or, perhaps, a piece of wood could be added, somewhere, inside, to change / breakup the resonances.

-just a thought.

February 21, 2007 at 09:20 PM · Someone told me they spent oh, about 12-15 hundred dollars on this alone over a period of two years. I don't really know what kind of results they got for that much investment.

February 21, 2007 at 09:25 PM · like many violins, mine has a wolf on the 2nd D on my G string. It's annoying... I just increase bow speed so that the note will speak.

February 21, 2007 at 10:22 PM · On the D, Pieter? Mine is between C and C# - although it's not much of an issue.

You can find the note your instrument's tuned to by singing a glissando in it - your voice will seem amplified at a certain pitch - usually around C, C#, D - find that note high on the G string and you'll see where you're most likely to have a wolf.

February 22, 2007 at 01:25 AM · I have a wicked wolf on 'c' - it is most apparent on the second octave of the G string, but when it is really going I can hear on every 'c' on every string but E. I've found it is at its worst when the violin is badly out of adjustment. Old strings and brand new strings also make it worse. Bow speed helps. Not laying into it helps.

One great trick if you've got one on the D or A string is to stop the same note in a different octave on another string - i.e. if my wolf is barking on the 'c' in third position on the D I'll put my first finger on 'c' on the G string. This pretty much removes the wolf, but it makes for some awkward fingerings sometimes.

I've also discovered that a different bow can help tremendously. Some bows amplify the wolf - others may eliminate it entirely.

One strange thing with my violin - when I put a mute on the wolf moves to 'g#'.

I was on tour last month in the Midwest - my violin didn't take kindly to the freezing cold outdoors and the dry overheated indoors and my wolf was out in full force. There is nothing more frustrating than being in the middle of the concert knowing that your wolf is getting worse and worse, and knowing that you have a big solo passage coming up that starts on that dreaded note! (Bartok 6th quartet, Burletta - big solo high on the G string starting on C - ACK!) I ended up playing it down on the D string - just couldn't live with the barking.

Sometimes avoiding it is the best solution!

Good luck & happy hunting!


February 22, 2007 at 01:50 AM · Life ain't easy, but it's fair--last name's Justice.

February 22, 2007 at 02:51 AM · Fiona,

One dirt-cheap (free) thing you can try, though chances of success are small, is to move your bridge slightly out of "ideal" position. Try up & down AND slightly side-to-side. I have seen that work on some cellos, but it might have more to do with hotspots on the top than wolf notes.

Give it a try, it's quick, free, and un-doable.

February 22, 2007 at 04:51 PM · You've all been so helpful. Thanks! I'm playing the shostakovich sonata in a couple of weeks. This will be the first concert on the new violin so I will no doubt be trying all of these suggestions:)

I put on a new string and will see how that helps(or not!). This will really put my patience to the test...... What fun!

Thanks again.

February 22, 2007 at 05:36 PM · I've been pretty lucky, I guess, fixing wolfs with reinforcements on the top, but the penalty is that often this just spreads the diminished wolf out over a range of notes, so all of them sound more blurry, but none have wolves.

February 22, 2007 at 06:04 PM · My wolf note is incredibly weird: C# on the E string. New strings help, as do bow speed and uber-consistent, wide-ish vibrato.

The piece I dread playing because of this note: Shostakovich Symphony #5, 3rd movement, top part... begins with three slow (hooked = slow bow), ethereal (= not much vibrato... uh oh...) C#s. I've resigned to playing this on the A-string... :-/ hate the timbre of the high-A string for that passage, but it sure is better than the screeching, warbling, gutteral wolf sound I get when I do it on the E string.

February 22, 2007 at 11:39 PM · Megan writes:

"p.s. While we're talking about it, does anyone have any experience with different strings influencing the problem. Infeld reds seem to make my fiddle more 'wolfy' i.e. less clear up in that range (about 7th position, lower strings). Not sure if it's the strings or my last tonal adjustment..."

Funny you should bring this up... I got new strings two days ago after becoming extremely frustrated with my old ones. I am friends with someone who runs the local music shop, and he gave me some strings to try out (they're a new brand) for free. Supposedly the retail for about $70 so I thought they must be pretty decent. Long story short, they were terrible, and I had wolfs everywhere on the D and G strings. My previous set of strings (D'Addario Zyex) were pretty decent and I noticed that on my violin I had no wolfs whatsoever.

Anyways, I hated the strings and purchased some Pirastro Evah Pirazzis (which so far I love). I'm back to no wolfs anywhere.

February 23, 2007 at 04:31 AM · Wolf tones are hard to get rid of. Sometimes moving the soundpost helps (see a luthier for this!). Yes, you can try different strings, but the reality is that usually wolf tones just have to be dealt with. You can't press them too hard (with the bow) and playing closer to the fingerboard often helps.



February 23, 2007 at 06:21 AM · there was a guitar luthier that experimented with this a lot...if you can find his book it'd be really interesting to read, as his study of wolf notes on the guitar was guided by research and knowledge of wolf notes on the violin.

the last name is Ramirez...and he's a famous maker from the 1800s (i think) from Madrid, Spain.

February 23, 2007 at 08:58 AM · You mention your "new" violin. If it is brand new, that is new to the world, sometimes a wolf will disappear as the vln settles, joints become accustomed to vibrating and wood acclimates to a new environ. I've had several instances where an instrument from Europe or Asia has had prominent wolf tones change intensity and position; one viola was purchased in the winter...horrid wolf on low b-flat, and in the early summer when the furnace was no longer on and humidity level of the house rose, the pack of wolves fled leaving a really great sounding instrument.

I'd wait it out and see how a different humidity, some break-in to your style of tone production and all the previous advice result.

February 23, 2007 at 09:04 AM · As for strings; try lighter strings. Often you have to compromise your favourite sound a bit to get the wolf manageable. With a pretty tight sound post, a rather beefy bridge and light strings you usually reduce the wolf as much as possible, but your sound could be pretty crappy too! And a wolf on the high C# on the E-string is actually not unusual, but many doesn't notice it much. Sometimes the afterlength of your G-string can be tuned to the same frequency as the wolf, and that may help in some cases. (This is adjusted with the length of the tailgut or the length of the tailpiece itself). Often it is a D, a slightly longer afterlength gives C#, wich is a common wolf.

February 23, 2007 at 02:05 PM · is wolf an indication of a mechanical flaw during the making? or simply a spirit from the forest?

February 23, 2007 at 04:02 PM · I once had a violinmaker from the school in Utah trying to get a wolf out of a violin I had. He said the kind of wolf I had actually was an indication of a good instrument. Ahem. That the idea was to bring everything else up to that level, not get rid of it. That didn't happen of course...and the instrument drove me nuts until I got rid of the instrument. When I bought it the wolf wasn't there, but it had just been through extensive restoration. It started when I got a new setup, and after that, no setup change would fix it. Although I never let the guy who set it up originally have a look at it, now that I think about it.

February 26, 2007 at 05:07 PM ·

February 26, 2007 at 05:45 PM · I guess there are a lot of Strads you won't be buying, then, good ones, by other people's measure.

February 26, 2007 at 05:54 PM · Hi Scott. It was a long time ago, but in his defense I think he actually phrased it along the lines of "Some people say a wolf note is a sign of a good instrument." I should have been more careful. Like you, I'm not inclined to agree but I'm not an expert. Maybe that was the wisdom of 20 years ago, or he thought it was an interesting thing to ponder, or maybe it's true, or who knows.

February 27, 2007 at 09:28 AM · Maybe he used the term "fine instrument" to actually mean "high maintenance".

February 27, 2007 at 02:32 PM · RE: Michael Darnton

Michael, yes, there are lots of Strads I won't be buying, but not for that reason. The wolf is the first, but not only thing I look at. At the lower end of the market, there are so many fiddles and so many good modern makers for, say, $14,000, that it shouldn't be too hard to find a really excellent one without a bad wolf.


February 28, 2007 at 10:03 AM · Theoretical question for the luthiers on this forum-

Can a wolf note ever be tamed by modifying the bass bar?

If so, what is typically the trade-off?

February 28, 2007 at 10:03 AM · Theoretical question for the luthiers on this forum-

Can a wolf note ever be tamed by modifying the bass bar?

If so, what might be the trade-off?

February 28, 2007 at 11:26 AM · In my opinion, the bass bar hasn't got much to do with it. Neither is the wolf an indication of a bad instrument, There are pretty bad wolfs on some of the finest sounding instruments there is, and I think there is a hint of a wolf on virtually all instruments. The question is how well it integrates with your playing or how much it stands out as an annoying thing. Some people can live with same wolf that others feel is unbearable. The wolf is actually an integrated part of the way a violin works, so it can hardly ever be eliminated, but players must take care to choose an instrument that has one that is acceptable to them, Flattish table arching makes the resonance that creates the wolf more sensitive, and so does overly thin tables, or both in a combination. The bass bar, is not in position where that resonance is influenced much, so I would not work on that in order to reduce the wolf, unless there is something else wrong with it.

February 28, 2007 at 12:45 PM · There are a million different types of players, and regarding this aspect of tone and testing instruments, I've seen ones who would just pick up an instrument and start making music with it, and at the far opposite end, ones who won't do anything until they're played each note individually and determined that every note sounds like every other one. The first group usually considers texture desirable; the second the opposite, and they usually end up with very different instruments. Fortunately there's an instrument for everyone.

February 28, 2007 at 05:09 PM · Yes! I can actually sort quite a few players I can think of into the two types described, but what is the "oposite of texture" ? An instrument without texture? Doesen't sound too attractive to me. :^)

March 1, 2007 at 01:24 AM · Well, it doesn't to me, either, but there are a lot of them. The first thing they do is play half-step scales the full length of the instrument, slowly, listening for notes that don't sound exactly like the others. They're equating the lack of problems with quality, which is certainly not true, but it's all they know at that point.

March 1, 2007 at 04:55 PM · Just a quick up-date. I changed all my strings and have really noticed a difference in the wolf notes. They are still a little more sensitive than the other pitches and need a little more care but they are a lot less 'out there' than on the older strings.

It's worth a try using new strings. I use evah pirazzi and I like them.

March 1, 2007 at 09:49 PM · I agree with Michael. I have a violin that everyone else passed up because it has a wolf note. But it is the most responsive and emotional violin I have. One famous violin teacher said you have to learn to control the wolf note, and that a lot of fine violins have them.

March 6, 2007 at 05:15 PM · Fiona,

I was just reading Damian Dlugolecki's website (maker of fine, pure-gut strings) and he has this to say about wolf notes:

"Proper (after-length) gives the optimum resonance from your violin, ... assuring consonant resonance with the playing length. Dis-intonation of these lengths is often the cause of "wolf tones."

If this is true, then it's interesting that most luthiers are not aware of it. I have never seen this mentioned in threads concerning either wolf-note or after-length. Hmmm. It may well be true, though. It sounds similar to the trick I posted earlier about moving the bridge sideways (which would actually change the after-length a tiny amount.)

You could also try simply change the longitutinal position of the bridge: Either move the feet, or just change the angle slightly. this will have a small effect on scale-length, hence intonation, but if it cures a bad wolf it would probably be a worthwhile trade-off. I find on my violin that purposely goeing 1 mm long improves the overal tone & response of the instrument significantly. I keep it there, as the change in required finger position is basically un-noticeable.

March 9, 2007 at 09:10 AM · My experience: reduse tension everywhere: soundpost looser, bridge lower, thinner strings (specially A & E). An other bow can have a surprising effect!


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