Checking for Wolf Tones

December 30, 2015 at 04:54 PM · If you took your instrument to a luthier and asked her to check it for "wolf tones", what would you expect this person to do?

My experience involved the luthier just playing the open strings, trying a harmonic on the D string, and declaring it to be OK.

I expected, at the very least, to see some exploration of the B-C-C# notes in the higher registers on each string. For some reason, I have the "insight" (or lack of it) that this is where the wolf tones are most likely to be, on any violin.

Replies (40)

December 30, 2015 at 05:04 PM · Simply checking a harmonic on the D string doesn't seem right to me. Wolfs are generally found somewhere up on the G string, starting at about A# and going up to about C#. All you do is play half steps up the G. Sometimes the wolf will be found right on a pitch, and sometimes in between. If it's prominent, it can still be a nuisance because we generally use wider vibrato up there to help the tone, so the wolf will appear even if between pitches. I've never found a violin without a wolf--it's there to one degree or another. The question is how bad. I've rejected at least one nice violin with wolf tones that were prominent on the D and A, where it's especially problematic because it will appear in 1st position. Wolf tones can also be found very high on the E string, though, and can be very disruptive to a high, singing tone.

Sorry luthiers, but it's true: not all luthiers, even really good ones, can play the violin (I've known many bowmakers who can't play either and would never know if their bow had a good bounce unless a good player showed them...). I think the best strategy for assessing wolf tones is actually to find a good, experienced player to explore the high G and the very highest positions on the E. Some violins will have several wolf tones, differing in pitch from the G to the E strings.

December 30, 2015 at 05:47 PM · I've found that a wolf high on the G on one of my violins (18th c German) can be minimized, almost to inaudibility, by changing the G to covered gut. Why this works I don't really know, but it must be something to do with the lower tension of gut producing a lower pressure on the bridge.

My second violin, a modern advanced student model, doesn't have a wolf, no matter what strings are used. I use covered gut G on it anyway because I like those strings.

I have also heard it said that the better the violin the more susceptible it may be to wolves. I've no idea how true that is, but one of Britain's best young soloists has a violin with an annoying wolf high on the G in an important position that cannot always be avoided. Apparently, that wolf is intractable, presumably despite the luthier's best efforts. The violin is a Strad on loan, so there you go ...

December 30, 2015 at 09:57 PM · To illustrate what Scott wrote: my violin has a wolf on the high D on the E-string. By bowing really perfectly and a tiny little bit more pressure I can still make it sing, but it is hard work.

December 31, 2015 at 09:57 AM · Graeme;

Just curious.. why did you ask the luthier to check for wolf tones?

As others have said, almost all good-sounding instruments have them to one extent or another, and the luthier alone doesn't have a good way of knowing a player's tolerance, or their skill in playing around them. More typically, it's the player who presents with a problem, demonstrates it, and the luthier who tries to do something about it.

That said, I don't see how a luthier could learn much about a wolf by playing only the open strings, and a harmonic on the D string. Rarely, a wolf will show up on the open A, but that's not a common spot.

December 31, 2015 at 05:58 PM · That's something I've always heard, that all violins have a wolf.

However as far as I can tell neither of mine have wolves (or if they do, they must be hiding away from any useful note). Did I win the violin lottery (twice!) with those or is that common?

Let's do a headcount! Does your violin have a wolf?

December 31, 2015 at 06:43 PM · Mine does. C#, 3rd position on the D string.

December 31, 2015 at 07:16 PM · None of my three violins has a wolf note that I can't play through at any dynamic range. It doesn't mean they don't have wolf notes if someone really tries to bring them out.

December 31, 2015 at 11:05 PM · "However as far as I can tell neither of mine have wolves (or if they do, they must be hiding away from any useful note). Did I win the violin lottery (twice!) with those or is that common?"

_______

I'll bet that I can make either of your violins wolf (if reasonably good sounding), and also produce a strong whistle on the E string. So much of this comes down to the player.

I still get frustrated by novice cello players, whose first agenda is to check for a wolf, maybe because of something they heard from someone one desk ahead in their youth orchestra, or read off the internet.

Well hell yeah, any good sounding cello will have a wolf. Most good-sounding fiddles too.

Sure, we can adjust it out most of the time, but usually at the detriment to the overall sound quality.

January 1, 2016 at 01:03 AM · "I'll bet that I can make either of your violins wolf"

Considering your years of experience working with these things, I don't doubt you could make them do things I had no idea they could do! ;)

You say if the violins are reasonably good sounding, most of them have wolves. Why is that? Is there a correlation between good sound and having a weird note somewhere? Are the $50 eBay violins therefore free of wolves?

January 1, 2016 at 02:29 AM · I have a thought about this ... but first I wonder if anyone here can provide a concise definition of a wolf note.

January 1, 2016 at 03:30 AM · How's this:

A wolf tone is a a particular frequency that, due to extra resonance in the violin that is out of phase, is almost, but not quite cancelled out. Sometimes this excess out-of-phase resonance can be pinpointed on the top and muted with something, such as a metal or wood patch. A piece of silly putty can sometimes be used to find the exact spot of resonance.

January 1, 2016 at 12:45 PM · Paul, my understanding is that a wolf comes from a high-amplitude vibration of the instrument in the bridge region, which feeds back through the bridge to the string, destabilizing the strings normal vibration. It's as if the player is trying to vibrate the string at one frequency, and the instrument/bridge (and occasionally other parts) are trying to vibrate the string at another.

Mr. String gets all confused! LOL

We can do things to lessen the severity of these extra-strong body vibrations, but many of these are considered to be "signature modes", which have a lot to do with character of the instrument's sound, so reducing them too much has tonal consequences, often perceived as a reduction in depth, openness and power.

Fox, violins which are very stiff or thick are less susceptible to wolfs. To some extent, this extra stiffness can be targeted to certain areas. Unfortunately, most people don't find the overall sound or playing qualities as enjoyable, when the wildest of the vibrations are tamed down too far. These extreme vibrations (within reason) seem to be part of the recipe of what is considered to be good sound.

If one has a graphic equalizer, one can fool around with the effect a bit. Play a recording of some unaccompanied violin music, and then play it back again with the 430 to 560 hz region substantially reduced, (that's the region where the wildest vibrations are usually found) and see what you think of the tonal change.

January 1, 2016 at 01:57 PM · I've never noticed a wolf on any of my violins in the 15 - 65 years I've had them. My cellos, on the other hand, 3/4 of them have had wolves. All these were Strad models that had F# wolves on the D string and upper C string. I fought these wolves with all kinds of devices until a couple of years ago when I discovered the Krentz Wolf Modulator that effectively eliminated them without destroying tone

( http://krentzstringworks.com/product/modulator/ ). Krentz now also makes this device for viola and violin as well (and bass).

Andy

January 1, 2016 at 02:56 PM · David, would this explain why when I changed my G to a lower tension gut version doing so reduced the wolf? Can it be deduced that violins in their original Baroque form with gut low tension gut strings would have been less susceptible to wolfing, and would this apply also to modern baroque replicas?

January 1, 2016 at 03:09 PM · The reason I asked is because of the experience that I commonly have when practicing with my daughter. She plays her violin, and when she plays certain notes my violin vibrates in my hand, sometimes fairly strongly.

Okay, that's just resonance, no big deal, we all expect that and we understand how it works and we can all guess which notes it happens on.

But my question is whether wolf tones can be detected by analyzing the frequency response of a violin. So you play a frequency generator through a speaker next to the violin, measure the response using something as simple as a Fishman pickup, and analyze the response somehow. Possible or not? Perhaps the responses of the same violin before and after "fixing" an obvious wolf tone would be useful preliminary data?

January 1, 2016 at 03:25 PM · Hi David, I asked the luthier about wolf tone on my specific instrument because I couldn't find any, and I thought his approach to answering my question might further my education. But, I just came out of that conversation more curious than educated.

January 1, 2016 at 06:53 PM · "But my question is whether wolf tones can be detected by analyzing the frequency response of a violin. So you play a frequency generator through a speaker next to the violin, measure the response using something as simple as a Fishman pickup, and analyze the response somehow."

Isn't that a bit like checking to the weather outside by looking at the voltage produced by your solar cells...instead of looking out the window?

January 1, 2016 at 10:53 PM · When two or more vibrating parts of a violin are coupled together and do not lock onto a single frequency and vibrate in phase, then you can get "enharmonic" tones. These are tones that are not an integer multiple of the basic note you are trying to play.

The "wolf" is one of these tones where the violin emits a horrible sounding "warble" as it rapidly shifts between two different notes. As David described, it could be due to vibrational feedback into the bridge and changing the note on the string itself.

Another I have frequently noticed is a dull, unfocused sound caused when a part of the violin that does not project sound, like the fingerboard or a chin rest, is stimulated by a strong body resonance and "sucks" energy out of the violin in an unstable manner.

Sometimes removing and carefully reattaching a chin rest so that it does not touch the body beyond the purfling fixes the problem. Or adding some mass underneath the fingerboard to reduce or move its resonance.

High tension strings do not have to move much to generate power. So small feedback into the bridge can disturb the vibration. A lower tension string tends to move a lot more, so has more tolerance to bridge feedback. I've noticed this can be helpful with troublesome G strings where multiple body modes and the primary air mode all converge in the vicinity of C4/C4#.

You may not have a full howling wolf in your violin, but if you slide up a string, you can usually find multiple notes that seem to go dead and unfocused with a very obvious timbre change.

January 1, 2016 at 11:14 PM · Scott I see your point, but (a) it might be useful to have a more objective type of test, (b) one might find - and correct - more subtle imperfections, and (c) it might be faster. Together these advantages might lead to *better* methods of correcting wolf tones.

February 29, 2016 at 09:10 PM · For those that have experience with wolf tones, what does it feel like to your ear when you play the wolf tones both severe ones and less so?

Is there a sense of pressure change?

Does it hurt your ear a bit?

Do you wince slightly when playing the note, say in a scale at an allegro pace?

Does it sound kind of harsh and whiny?

March 1, 2016 at 05:15 AM · about 3 years ago, on another wolf tone thread here at V.com, I declared that my violin had no wolf notes. I remember someone replying "I bet I can find some".

@ Graeme: I'm inclined to believe you when you say you can't find any wolf tones. Are you talking about that good sounding China violin? The one you say you've played against 5 to 10k fiddles and came away contented with your own?

.... imo, for blues/swing players, finding a wolf waaaay up on the G string, just doesn't count.

some thoughts on David Burgess post re: "a reduction in depth openess & power.... one mans depth, openess and power can be another mans boxy, fuzzy, unfocused, and just too darn loud. I realize this is taking the difference to the extreme, but just trying to make the point that for many of us a 'concert' violin is not wanted or needed, and could in fact be counter productive for what we are playing. yes? no?

March 1, 2016 at 10:37 AM · has anyone ever heard their Luthier use the term 'hot spots'? this would be notes that stand out louder than other notes, to the point where it is undesirable, although not as bad as wolf tones. I was talking with him about a fiddle, he was saying he had to try and take these hot spots out. I don't have any hot spots either.

It's just that I kinda get the impression here, that you can't have a really good violin without having wolf tones. Maybe that's true for a high powered concert violin. but I challenge the idea that you can't have a decent instrument that doesn't have wolves or hot spots, but does have good volume, tone, focus, projection.

March 1, 2016 at 02:25 PM · Question. Are wolf tones possibly an artefact of the modern design of violins, taken in conjunction with its modern strings, chin-rests and shoulder-rests? In other words, would a violin as made in Cremona in 1720, with its baroque set-up of shorter, lower-angled neck, shorter fingerboard and bass bar, flatter bridge, and plain gut strings, necessarily be as susceptible to the the wolf and its cousin, the "dead note", as some otherwise good modern violins are?

March 1, 2016 at 10:32 PM · Hi Dave. Yes, the DXKY DV-850 instrument from Beijing seems to be a little gem. I can't find any notes that are "out of character" anywhere. The only failing of this very decent instrument is the owner/player it has chosen.

I am so lucky to have a 1926 Roth to use as a benchmark, and that has an over-anxious B note (or several of them), to boot.

My conclusion about the luthier's check for wolf tones is that he had already done this during a service, of his own accord, and didn't need to do anything when I asked for his view.

March 2, 2016 at 04:32 AM · I wouldn't consider this to be normal procedure. While there are many standard checks a luthier makes, upon examining an instrument for a client, checking a violin for wolf notes of their own accord pretty much falls off the bottom of the scale.

March 2, 2016 at 05:20 PM · I'm inquiring about the sounds of the wolf tones because I had a sudden realization about the tone of my violin that makes me think I have a lemon of an instrument.

I tried 8 different string sets to reduce the volume as I thought the high volume is what caused my ears to bother me when I play. (I've resorted to playing with Noise Cancelling ear muffs). I also wanted to smooth out the tone. My violin sounds kind of harsh and gritty. A few weeks ago I realized that Its not the level of sound that bothers my ears.

I decided to map out the finger board and note the areas that produce a tone that bothers my ears. I am wondering if these are all small wolf tones that I'm hearing and its the wolf fluxuation in frequencies that is whats bothering my ears.

ps. I would include a picture of my map, but I'm not sure how to add it to a post.

March 2, 2016 at 07:21 PM · A wolf tone sounds as if something is rapidly beating or flapping.

March 3, 2016 at 06:25 AM · Kimberly: To my mind, harsh and gritty sounds like it may be out of focus, and the first place to look to correct that may be a sound post adjustment.

have you had a luthier look at it? What sort of violin is it? Has it always been like this? How long have you had it? Was it sold to you as 'good student violin' a 'fine instrument' or a 'buyer beware' situation?

...just trying to ascertain if you might have a lemon, or something that can be worked on? From your description, unfortunately, sounds like fix it or trade it.

March 3, 2016 at 05:15 PM · My instrument is a 7/8 Eastman 305 purchased new 1.5yrs ago. I'm a returner adult playing now for 2 years. I had a luthier set the instrument up originally. I would have to say that I've never liked the tone of the instrument but assumed it was due to my lack of skills.

When the instrument was a year old, I brought it to the luthier for a check since the instrument became very shrilly and whiny. The bridge needed to be lowered as well as a sound post adjustment. The tone was greatly improved after this. I also asked him about a spot on my violin that bothers my ear and makes a wo-wa-wo-wa sound. He told me about wolf notes. He changed out the e string and made some other adjustment to minimize wolf. It got moved to a 1/4 step so it was no longer a real issue.

In Janurary I switched out my Pirastro Violino strings that went bad for Daddario Kaplan-Amo strings. The Kaplan strings resonate extremely well on my violin. When my intonation is perfect you can really hear the notes lift off the violin and fill a room. Its quiet ethereal, as a violin should be.

Some time ago while practicing, I noticed that I was wincing while playing. (I happen to not be using my ear muffs that day.) It really bothered my ear during a few specific spots in the music. When I started investigating it, I realized that while there wasn't a clear wo-wa-wo-wa-wo sound, the pressure I felt in my ear was the same feeling as when I learned about wolf notes the previous year.

With this thought in mind I went through the music and realized it was many areas and not just one measure. Then I began to listen and discovered other notes which brought me to identifying all the places on the fingerboard that I can feel 'that-pressure-in-my-ear' sensation.

I'll list them with a *

E| * F# G * A * B C C# D * Eb E * F# G Ab A Bb B C C# D Eb E

A| * Bb B C * D Eb E * F# G Ab A Bb B C C# D Eb E * F# G Ab A

D| * E * F# G Ab A * Bb B C * D Eb E * F# G Ab A Bb B C C# D

G| Ab A Bb B * C C# D Eb E * F# * Ab A Bb B C * D Eb E F F# G

A day later I went over my Eastman VL200 15" viola and only found 1 spot on the G string.

I also switched my strings from the Amo (medium tension) to a set of Helicore light tension to see what happens to the hot spots. The areas in 1/4 steps have mostly disappeared, some of the 1/2 step spots have been reduced, and some were not.

Sorry for my long winded response (I've been somewhat angry and depressed over this issue).

March 3, 2016 at 05:45 PM · Interesting. I had to google wolf tones but this makes pretty interesting reading... http://www.schleske.de/en/our-research/handbook-violinacoustics/wolf-tone.html

In short, yes you can use a spectral analyser (something I know a bit more about) and a few basic gadgets to find the wolf tone/s and make adjustments. Apparently, the trick is to shuffle things about a fraction to ensure the wolf tone/s then lie between two semitones.

March 3, 2016 at 08:00 PM · Jon, what Schleske is doing is using a vibration dampener to reduce the excess motion of the top on the wolf note (which feeds back through the bridge and destabilizes the vibration of the string). The spectrum analyzer illustrates this large peak being split into two smaller peaks. It's basically the same thing as is accomplished by a cello wolf eliminator, and can be done by ear. In fact, I think it is more easily done by ear.

March 3, 2016 at 10:31 PM · I think I've found a way to find the wolfnote when I was playing with earplugs.

Regardless of which string is being played, with earplugs on, I can hear the natural sound of the violin, mine happens to be a very deep note in between C and C#, so even if I were playing Bflat on E string, I'll still hear this C~C# with the earplugs.

In fact, I find it much clearer to hear how I'm playing with the earplugs. Without them, the sound is very rich and loud. It may or may not be focused, but it's too loud to the extent the sound is distorted.

March 3, 2016 at 10:45 PM · I think with earplugs we are more aware of sound conductde through the bone.

March 4, 2016 at 12:38 AM · "I wouldn't consider this to be normal procedure. While there are many standard checks a luthier makes, upon examining an instrument for a client, checking a violin for wolf notes of their own accord pretty much falls off the bottom of the scale."

Yes, no luthier wants to point out a weakness in something they've made or are selling. Funny how they always seem to find it in violins from the other shop, though...

March 4, 2016 at 03:33 AM · Kimberly:I don't mind your thorough reply, as I've been there and sympathize with your anger and depression. What do you use the fiddle for? Are you playing with anyone, or just for yourself? I've had fiddles that were 'loud' too loud for comfort. and I just won't wear ear protection. Perhaps a quieter fiddle with nice sound and no, or very few hot spots or wolf problems.

Imo... you are not going to be happy with this fiddle. are there a few shops in your area? I would consider a trade if you can afford it.

IME... you can't focus on practicing or playing properly, when you are focusing on problems with the fiddle. The instrument should be a joy to pick up, rather than a burden.

I know it's not necessarily easy to find a violin you like, or that you can afford. In 40 years I must have gone thru close to 20 fiddles (lots of trades) I am fortunate to be able to say, that in the past couple of years I have found 2 that I'm completely satisfied with.

Good luck. I hope you can sort this out.

March 4, 2016 at 07:18 AM · David, thanks for your reply (above).

Incidentally, I have read that if you use low tension strings the violin is not as loud, but no idea if that is true or not tbh. I would expect the choice and tension of strings to make a big difference though!

March 4, 2016 at 09:51 AM · jon: Yes, I think lower tension would reduce volume, but Kimberly says She's gone thru 8 sets.

I use ViolinO's on my china. I believe they are lower than average tension. they are purportedly one of the warmest stings out there, and quieter than most also. but they sound pretty sweet on my China, with good volume, and the fiddle is still nicely focused.

Kimberly didn't list the 8 sets, but from what she's saying...well, I've already voiced my opinion on that.

March 4, 2016 at 12:25 PM · I should mention that Heavier bows often dampened my wolf, and light carbon fibre exaggerated wolf

March 4, 2016 at 01:19 PM · Scott wrote:

"Yes, no luthier wants to point out a weakness in something they've made or are selling. Funny how they always seem to find it in violins from the other shop, though..."

________________________

Scott, what I was getting at is that checking for wolfs isn't something a luthier normally does for a client, unless the client indicates that they are having a problem with a wolf. Since tolerance varies (there is no "standard"), and since a problem might show up only on certain repertoire (which the player may not even use), it's more common to investigate this upon the request of the musician.

March 5, 2016 at 01:00 AM · "I should mention that Heavier bows often dampened my wolf, and light carbon fibre exaggerated wolf"

I found the opposite, if you don't mind offering this insight. On a violin with a lot of "harsh overtones", my three strategies were 1) have a luthier check out the sound post and bridge;, 2) switch to Obligato strings; and, 3) use a carbon fibre bow.

This combination seems to be quiet effective (but not wholly so) at taking the grit out of the sound. And, of course, it is easy to switch bows and observe the difference between the two.

Two other comments: First, buying a new instrument is still a lottery -- I've bought three new instruments over the years, and they take up to a year to really settle down; Second, on times when my fingering is a bit sloppy, and my intonation is worse than usual, the harsh tone is more noticeable.

Thank goodness I can switch off the beast, and play on a more forgiving instrument for a short while,

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