Viola Wolf Tone

August 14, 2013 at 02:54 PM · I have a bad wolf tone on my viola. It is on an F on the G-string. I fixed it by adding a wolf-tone eliminator (the one with the rubber, wrapped in metal, with a screw holding it in place). Everything was fine again until I had to play F octaves on the C, and G strings. It only seems to effect that now, but it is painfully obvious. I've moved the wolf-tine eliminator everywhere with no luck.

Any suggestions.

Replies (26)

August 14, 2013 at 07:27 PM · I am using a master level viola with a resonance spike @ f# on C string (first position) and a wolf sound an octave higher, on C, G and even on A strings. When the chin rest is removed, the wolf is gone. Go figure.

Similar things happens on one of my violins, one fifth higher, with resonance peak @ c or c#, which is, if I am not mistaken, the Helmholtz' s resonance.

Another contributing factor are new, high tension, "space-age" strings, such as Evah Paparazzi - it appears that some instruments (sound box) respond strongly to the initial powerful string's stimulation, and then the string itself can't respond to the returning sound wave generated by the box and can't continue to co-vibrate at the same frequency - typical 2 wave clash pattern for a wolf.

In other words, one can try to minimize the 1st (strong stimulation, such as wolf-eliminator, different strings), or improve the 2nd (remove all obstacles to the produced sound, such as heavy tail piece, chin rest or shoulder rest)

August 15, 2013 at 09:09 AM · ...quite so, and the air resonance is partly linked to wood resonance; try blowing across an f-hole, and you will hear the air ("Helmholtz") resonance - and the strings will ring gently beacause the plates have been put into vibration.

According to Carleen Hutchins, the air resonance found by singing a glissando "ooh" into an f-hole is a little lower than the "blow" tone because of a greater participation of the plates.

On my 16" viola, the main wood resonance is F# on the D-string (B on my violin).

The air resonance is around Bb on the G-string. it is a very well balanced instrument.

The original Tertis-Model (16 3/4") has an air resonance around F# on the C- string, (thanks to its wide lower bout and very high arching); if the main wood resonance stays around F# there could be a problem...

August 16, 2013 at 08:58 AM · ....quite so, again! Covering, even partially, the F-hole lowers the air resonance. To raise it, we could enlarge the holes (Hutchins tried round holes in the ribs, with wine corks to close them; however if we don't have spare disposable instruments,(!) we can reduce the volume from inside: I am trying various quantities of (uncooked!) rice, which can be shifted to different parts of the fiddle, as some secondary air resonances seem to depend more on the length of the air space (organ-pipe mode) rather than air volume (Helmholtz mode). Conclusions to follow...

I shall folow up the chinrest business, though, (center-mounted, side mounted, cork vs rubber mounting etac.)

August 16, 2013 at 02:33 PM · ...quite so, but it seems that the air and wood resonances interact to some extent, and can perhaps be out of phase?

I have spent (wasted?) some time adding a pea-sized blob of blue-tack on various places on and around the bridge,(violin, this time, as my viola is wolf-less..) particularly on the edges of the f-holes.

In particular, on the upper "wing" of the right f-hole, my blob reduces a wolf-cub on the E-string (around the note B). However, on this violin, this creates other resonances further up the string. If I find the ideal weight or position(s) I could stick my blob(s) on the inside, with no permanent damage.

The worst wolf-tone (often around high B on the g-string come mainly from the bottom-left zone of the belly; 'cellists can buy magnetic weights (one outside, the other inside) to damp their worst wolf tone. Zukerman describes jamming a cork under the tailpiece (of his Guarnerius!!)

As wolf tones depend to some extent on the weather (the British equivalent of climate..) one can suppose that they come essentially from the plate vibrations (absorption of humidity). However, since my rice experiment on air volume, or partially covering an f-hole, have noticable effects on wolves, there may be a matter of several resonances coinciding.

All this guess-work is based on actual tests, plus much reading of C.Hutchins, W.Fry and others.

I am not as raving mad as I seem...

August 16, 2013 at 07:14 PM · My old violin is slightly oversize (17/16 - if that is possible?) and tends to wolf on the octave B/C on the G string. But I've found it apparently depends on the G string, in particular its tension. An Evah G is next to impossible above the octave G, but the Pirastro Chorda G(wound gut) at a significantly lower tension is virtually clear of wolves. The best compromise I've found is the Vision Solo G - the tension isn't too high, it is stable, has the right sort of projection, and the one wolf is manageable.

August 16, 2013 at 09:25 PM · Some visiting kid snuck into my work/play room and dropped my violin on the floor, opening a seam, a couple of weeks ago. While it was at the luthier's I took out my other violin and to my horror it had an awful wobbling wolf tone at G4 on the D string. One of the most needed notes! A couple of days later I rapped around the edges like the luthier had done with my wounded axe, and discovered that this violin too had the characteristic clack of an open seam. I took that one along, and when I got it back, voila! (not viola) the wolf was barely noticeable. In fact, I'm not even sure it's still there. So that's one check you could do.

I hear a lot of people talking about blu tack. My dear mum loved blu tack, but there is some oily stuff that slowly creeps out of it and made a blotch on the corners of every poster she stuck up with it. After 10 years, an irreplaceable photo of her with her dad, as a toddler, acquired a several-inch square oily blotch. So don't leave blu tack on your strad for more than a few days...

August 17, 2013 at 02:03 PM · Well, John, I could

- half fill the violin with water, as in playing tunes by blowing across beer fact several testers write about filling it with helium (less dense) to see if ot acquires a Pinky & Perky quality;

- marbles would be noisy too;

- a "ship in a bottle"? Wouldn't go through the f- holes, unless the ship was made of foam..

Got it! A foam ship-in-a bottle, or perhaps a nice thin foam raft-in-a-bottle, with some thin string attached to remove it.

Perhaps I shouldn't have suggested such a thing in public; I now listen for the men-in-white-coats to arrive.....

August 17, 2013 at 04:05 PM · After Casals died his cello was looked at by a luthier who discovered quantities of burnt match-sticks littering the inside. Casals was a great one for smoking a pipe when he was playing - even sometimes in rehearsals - and evidently disposed of his dead matches in his cello.

So there you have it - the secret revealed at last, and here!

August 17, 2013 at 04:23 PM · A double-bassist I knew actually flicked his cigarette ash inside his bass. Some very naughty colleagues then rolled a slice of ham and slipped it through an f-hole while he wasn't looking.

No return on the tonal effects, though.

August 18, 2013 at 02:29 PM · One important aspect of getting to grips with a wolf note on the lowest string of the violin/viola that isn't mentioned too often is bow control.

It's not unknown in an orchestra for a section leader, who is aware of possible wolf problems in the desks behind him, to pass the message back to play passage X on the D and not high on the G; but that advice won't generally apply if you're playing solo or in a small ensemble where a particular high-position tone colour on the G is required. The last three measures of the Cantabile in Rode's Caprice No 1 are a case in point - the high C is right on a wolf on my old violin.

What I have had work for me when sorting out a wolf is, in a practice session, to sit the violin on my lap and play it a la cello. This first thing you'll notice is that high position left hand work on the G becomes much easier, so you can concentrate on tone production without the distraction of left hand problems. I suggest playing a slow ascending chromatic scale starting on the C. When I find a wolf (for me it is usually the high B or C-nat) I stop on that note and experiment with the position of the bow on the string, its pressure and speed until the wolf is significantly reduced - sometimes it does indeed completely disappear, but that can't be guaranteed. I then have a good idea of what type of bow control is needed in the normal playing position to control the wolf and more attention can therefore be given to high position left hand technique without the distraction of wolf notes.

If you have more than one bow then try them all - you may find a particular one that is best for dealing with wolf notes.

August 20, 2013 at 03:29 PM · John, Carleen Hutchins and William Fry, amongst others, did their many "desructive" experiments on VSO's, and were anything but silly!

My rice grains cause no damage, and when pouring them out, (after my spell of silliness) they bring out balls of somewhat historic dust.

My idea of filling the violin with water was supposed to raise a smile, but never mind..

Seriously though, I have "calmed" (not cured) a wolfy VSO by putting a longer soundpost further from the F-hole, and another wailing-banshee-VSO by putting the post directly under the right foot of the bridge.

I was thinking of patenting a rubber bridge for VSO's, but on another thread, someone suggested chamois leather "sole" for the bridge feet, so maybe I am not as mad as that?

August 20, 2013 at 09:00 PM · Shawn, do you have pretty good experience with how various instruments react to things like you have tried?

All good instruments have wolves, to some degree, and players learn how to "play around them". I can't tell from here how bad your wolf is, but I'll guess that if it only acts up when playing the wolf note, combined with an octave above the wolf note, you're in better territory than most people.

August 24, 2013 at 04:14 PM · "It's not unknown in an orchestra for a section leader, who is aware of possible wolf problems in the desks behind him, to pass the message back to play passage X on the D and not high on the G"

I'm not saying I don't believe you, but it is hard to swallow the concept that, at least in a professional orchestra, the overall tonal color required by playing on the G string could be skipped just because someone has a wolf and can't play around it. If it were a professional orchestra and the wolf were that bad, then the person should be encourage to get another fiddle or fix what he/she has.

August 24, 2013 at 06:16 PM · John, I was, of course, only pretending. I like your pendulum video; the constantly changing result could well be an illustration of a warbling wolf tone: order lurking behind apparent anarchy.

To illustrate the vibrations of a bad fiddle, the pedulums could have different weights, and some of them could be linked together, messig up the symmetry.

August 25, 2013 at 12:08 PM · Scott, I take your point, but I was referring to non-professional orchestras (which considerably outnumber the professionals). The orchestras I play in have section leaders and deputies who are conservatory-level trained, the others varying from the occasional retired pro down to grade 8. The advice I've heard sometimes not to play a particular passage high on the G (as indicated in the score) is therefore pertinent.

August 25, 2013 at 12:42 PM · Rumbled!

August 25, 2013 at 01:54 PM · John, I think Adrian does have a point. If we consider the simple rigid pendulum of elementary mechanics a mathematical analysis will tell us that if the oscillations are small (i.e. sinA=A to a first order of approximation, where A is the angle of oscillation in radians) then the resultant behavior is called simple harmonic motion, in which the amplitude is independent of frequency, and the mass factors out. If the angle of oscillation gets larger so that sinA is no longer approximately equal to A, then we no longer have simple harmonic motion but an oscillation in which the amplitude is a function of frequency. If we have uniform vibrating solids where elasticity of the material is the restoring force, and this is proportional to displacement rather than mass, then natural mode frequencies do depend on mass or mass density.

When many components interact, if the vibrations are behaving linearly and can be understood separately then it is a matter of of understanding how waves transmit and reflect at boundaries. However, if the interacting components are different materials then the wavelengths of vibration will also differ (the speed of sound in a material varies according to the material). If we now introduce the non-linearity of large amplitude oscillations then the vibration complexity of the vibrations of the system, and its mathematical description, increases further.

The practical solution in the case of musical instruments such as the violin lies mainly in matching the components.

[Edit Aug 30, 2013: I have since substantially amended my original post in the light of helpful comments in a private communication from a Member]

August 25, 2013 at 05:01 PM · David,

"All good instruments have wolves, to some degree..."

I have heard similar statements from a few great violin makers. Can you please elaborate on this?

Why is that so?

Is that an inherited flaw in violin family's original design, or a result or "less-than-perfect" instrument build?

August 26, 2013 at 11:30 PM · EDIT: Comment now superfluous.

August 26, 2013 at 11:50 PM · You might try one of the Resonation chinrests ( ).

Another possible solution, if the air resonance is at fault, is to make the f-holes effectively "thicker." If you apply 3/8" thick magic tape around the interior of the f-holes (perpendicular to the top surface - you can ignore the circular hole area) you will effectively change the air resonance of many violas (it is an effect similar to enlarging the f-hole area). Doing this can improve the quality of the lowest notes on some violas, and it just might help this problem.

I have found similar problems on some cellos helped by

1. using different strings

2. using a different bow

3. using a different rosin - especially "Magic Rosin Ultra."


August 27, 2013 at 09:32 AM · Rocky wrote:

"I have heard similar statements from a few great violin makers. Can you please elaborate on this?

Why is that so?

Is that an inherited flaw in violin family's original design, or a result or "less-than-perfect" instrument build?"


Hmmm, I'm not sure whether it could be called a flaw in the violin family's original design or not. These instruments can be made without the wolf, but then they don't have what we have come to consider to be "ideal" sound. It's hard to know whether design followed 16th century taste in sound, or taste followed the instruments which were available.

What we know from experimenting is that when we reduce the size (too much) of that major top resonance which causes the wolf, the impression most people have is that the tone quality has suffered.

To give an example of how changing the strength of resonances can change the sound:

All of our vowel sounds incorporate the same set of multiple frequencies (when sung at the same pitch). The only thing which has changed with a different vowel is the relative strength amongst those same frequencies.

August 28, 2013 at 10:34 AM · Wolves or rasped notes are more "tolerable" in high positions of the C and G strings. I don't like when they are in lower positions.

I make my bars on the strong side, and I leave the lower part of the f holes rather thick, I believe it helps preventing wolves.

August 28, 2013 at 01:20 PM · Thank you David.

August 29, 2013 at 01:10 AM · Adrian, ever thought of using confetti instead of rice? I believe this substitution has been made for certain other purposes ...

August 31, 2013 at 06:30 PM · Confetti might just conceivably work for the proposed purpose, but I shouldn't like to get the stuff out of the violin afterwards, especially if there's moisture in the air - all those little interior corners and crevices.

September 3, 2013 at 01:12 AM · Re: wolf notes on a viola, the F or F# on the G string should be "playable" with adjustment of the bow pressure, etc. If not or if you have a wolf note at F or F# on the D string, first position, you have a real problem. (If you have moved the bridge position, from one side or the other, or closer to the diapson, or further away, simply place the bridge where it was meant to be, by the maker, or person who sold it to you). Replacing the sound post and touch up of the bridge feet is something best entrusted to the maker or dealer who sold you the viola. I do not guarantee the sound of my violas if adjusted by someone else. Charles

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