My new $500 violin rattles only when playing C# or D

April 13, 2016 at 09:54 PM · Hello.

I've been using a $250 violin (chinese of course, a Sielam 4/4 Divertimento) for 1 year. The violin was alright to study, there were no problems besides the sound quality (which was just good enough), so I was really happy with it.

Last week I decided I wanted to upgrade the violin, so I went to my violin dealer and he offered me the "next level" of Sielam violins, a 4/4 Cantabile, $500.

It looks way better, it's more comfortable to play, and it sounds different, I don't have really clear if it sounds better. I still have to play it more.

Well, the problem is this one:

-When I play C# or D in the second string (A), the string vibrates really weird, like if there were interferences, and it sounds horrible. The string vibrates like if there were bumps. It only happens in that string and in that note (somewhere between C# and D).

This has not happened to me never with my previous violin, never. So, 2 days ago I went to my violin dealer and he changed it for another Cantabile $500 4/4 violin.

Surprise, the very same thing happens. I'm really confused. I think I can make these statements:

1. It's not a bad bow technique or not enough finger pressure, cause this never happened to me with my previous violin. If I play other violin, it does not happen.

2. It can't be the bridge because then it wouldn't make any sense that the problem only happens in the notes C# or D in the second string.

3. For the very same reason as number two statement, it can't be the sound post or nut.

The only thing I can think of is the fingerboard, which is not scooped (concave) in my violin. It looks really straight and plain. But then it wouldn't make any sense neither that only happens in the second string and just when playing C# or D.

What can it be?

I'm really lost and confused about this, and also really sad that I spent $500 happily in a new better violin and can't play any song without hearing that horrible sound.

*Interesting data: I've discovered that both Cantabile violins vibrated exactly at C# or D, more or less. If you don't understand what I mean, do this: take your violin, put it in front of your face, with your nose or mouth pointing to the f-holes and "hum"/sing an entire chromatic scale (11 sounds: A, A#, B, C, C#, D..., ..., G#). One of those pitches is gonna make the violin vibrate, and you can sense it with your hands that are holding the violin.

Well, in my case, the pitch that made my 2 Cantabile violins vibrate was somewhere between C# and D, which is the exact note where I have the problem. Nevertheless, the weird sound and vibration does not happen when playing C# or D in the fourth string (G).

Replies (41)

April 13, 2016 at 03:14 PM · I'm gonna change it again for another Cantabile violin (the third one I'm gonna try out) and see if it happens too. But, I'm really interested in what can cause this behavior in the A string.

Meanwhile, I'd love to hear you at what pitch your violins vibrate and if any of you have experienced something like this.

April 13, 2016 at 10:07 PM · That is most likely a wolf tone, caused by the vibrational pitch of the instrument interfering with that specific pitch throughout the range of the instrument. To check, play the exact same pitch on the other strings in the same range. The wolf will "howl" and fluctuate between two pitches, and make the note more difficult to play.

You are very lucky that the possible wolf is between pitches, as you will never need to play it in Western music, which lacks microtones etc. Also, if you are playing the note in between C sharp and D, I think you might need intonation practice. :D

PS: Wolf tones are usually found high up on the G string, especially on cheaper instruments, but lack of wolf tone(s) does not always mean a better instrument. In fact, no top-tier instruments are completely wolf-free, as it is the strong body vibrations that produce a quality sound. However, the severity of the wolf can vary, from light to very severe, and can be right on a note or between notes.

Ex: My violin has a very bad G sharp wolf, and any G sharp I play will sound muted and worse in tone quality and volume than any other notes on the instrument, even though the primary wolf that causes this effect is the G sharp above the G an octave (halfway) up the G string (a commonish spot for a wolf, as it were). :)

April 13, 2016 at 10:23 PM · Does it do it when you play quieter, if not, its probably your strings too close to the fingerboard buzzing at that point, an expert luthier could raise your bridge and/or level your fingerboard to fix the problem, all told your instrument is defective and you should be getting your money back.

April 14, 2016 at 11:36 AM · YES! It's definitely a wolf tone. I've searched it on YouTube and it's exactly that. It sounds horrible.

I've played a lot of pieces in the lower end $230 Sielam violin and it never had one, it always sounded fine.


How can a violin that is twice the price sound worse due to a wolf tone? (I'm talking here about the very same company and very same series of violins)

I explained it wrong. The wolf tone is not exactly between C# and D. Whenever I'm playing a piece, and I hit D or C#, it will sound horrible. Not always, but many, many times. And I'm not necessary out of tune when that happens. I think it's kind of a range. The point is I can't play any piece without hearing it and mess up the piece.

I'm definitely gonna give it back to my dealer and look for another violin he can offer me.

May be a Yamaha V5SC?

What do you think?

April 14, 2016 at 11:56 AM · As I said in my post above yours, a violin with zero wolf tones lacks what you would call a very high caliber of sound, because strong body vibrations are what we hear as a good string instrument. ??

Also, it is possible that the wolf is there because of the strings, and a different make or gauge of the wolfy string can solve OR greatly worsen the problem, just like how a wrong string that doesn't fit an instrument make it sound rather bad, even if it usually sounds very good. ??

April 14, 2016 at 12:09 PM · Well, I've used one Cantabile with Tonicas, and the other one with stock strings, and in both violins the wolf tones were more or less equally bad.

April 14, 2016 at 01:54 PM · A maker (or company) can make construction choices that result in more of a tendency to wolf, or not. Similarly, players can develop techniques to play through the wolf zones, with bow speed, pressure, attack, and vibrato.

I recall playing a VSA tone award winner and was surprised to find that it had almost unplayable (for me) wolf notes. I asked a good player I know what he thought about it, and he said he could "play around it", and it didn't bother him.

So, and instrument can be good for a skilled player, but have wolfs that beginner/intermediate players can't deal with. Generally, lighter bowing won't be able to overpower a wolf.

April 14, 2016 at 03:06 PM · Thank you. But then... Why my previous violin, from the same manufacturer and the same series, did not have any wolf notes?

And I played a lot of different pieces, although not high in the G, D or A strings.

April 14, 2016 at 04:12 PM · One can purchase wolf eliminators that go on the string afterlengths and might work for this violin. A Krentz wolf eliminator (available on line) is almost sure to work and a refund is offered if it doesn't. None of my violins has a wolf but 3 of the 4 cellos I have owned have had wolves - it's expected!


April 14, 2016 at 10:55 PM · "But then... Why my previous violin, from the same manufacturer and the same series, did not have any wolf notes?"

It is hard to say without knowing exactly how the work is done, and how well-controlled it is. My guess is that for low-priced Chinese violins, there are a lot of low-paid workers hacking away at high speed without very tight controls on the result, other that looking somewhat like a violin. You could easily get different people doing the work. In addition, each piece of wood is different.

April 14, 2016 at 11:50 PM · i asked the question does it still make the noise when you bow quietly???

April 15, 2016 at 12:58 AM · Sorry Lyndon. I haven't tried it, but I guess it won't wolf if I play the notes quietly, noticeably quietly. What I've tried is playing with a rubber mute, and it doesn't matter how hard I play, it will sound fine, all the notes.

So I think I can safely say it sounds horrible when playing normally, which happens to be what I do all the time.

Don Noon, let me explain it again, there are several "levels" of Sielam violins. The most basic one, which is $100 I think. Then it's the Divertimento, $250, and it was the violin I played without any trouble, I was very happy with it. But of course, after a year, I wanted a better violin. So I jumped a week ago to the next Sielam level, the Cantabile series, with better varnish, materials and you know, quality. I've tried 2 Cantabiles and both had the same behavior. Tomorrow I'm gonna change my current Cantabile for another one, the third, and if it happens again, then I don't want the Cantabile series and go back to my Divertimento violin. The thing I don't get is that if the Divertimento is pretty much the same violin as the Cantabile series, but less quality woods, varnish, finish and manufacture... why it didn't have wolf tones anywhere?

April 15, 2016 at 01:41 AM · If it doesn't make the noise when you play quietly its most likely your strings are buzzing against the fingerboard because they are too close, not a wolf tone at all, its worth looking into, strings hitting the fingerboard can be fixed easily, wolf tone is much harder to get rid of.

PS why do you have so much loyalty to this cheap brand of Chinese violins, is that the only thing your local store carries??

April 15, 2016 at 02:11 AM · Well, it's not loyalty, it's just that the Divertimento $250 violin worked fine, and and it seems logical that I should go for the next level of that brand.

I asked if the Yamaha V5SC is a good violin, cause that's the other violin I can get for less than $400.

I'm pretty sure it's a wolf tone, cause I've seen a video about it and it's exactly that, the very same behavior.

String buzzing, in 2 different violins, in the same strings and same notes?

Quite impossible.

April 15, 2016 at 02:32 AM · not if they're made the same way with the same defect in the factory

Not any more unlikely than two different violins having the same wolf tone!!

A wolf note doesn't go away when you play quieter, string buzzing does, you still haven't answered my question does in make the noise when you play quietly

April 15, 2016 at 02:55 AM · OK, tomorrow I will try it and tell you. By the way, a wolf tone should disappear if you play quietly cause the vibrations of the top and bottom wouldn't be big enough to affect the string.

Anyway, as I've already told you, I'm pretty sure it's a wolf tone because the behavior is exactly the same as I've seen in videos.

April 15, 2016 at 02:57 AM · That is not true, a wolf tone should be present at any volume. String buzzing will not be.

April 15, 2016 at 03:16 AM · OK, I'll check it tomorrow. My intuition tells me it will disappear, but I will see.

April 15, 2016 at 09:29 AM · You were totally right, Lyndon, it still happens if I play it quietly, and it sounds a lot. Also, it's more like D, not between C# and D, that's why I hear it many of the times.

For me, it's impossible to play this instrument decently, I'm going to change it for another one, try it at the shop, and if it happens again, I'll get another model/brand.

April 15, 2016 at 10:28 AM · So, it was a wolf... ??

April 15, 2016 at 11:04 AM · Yeah. A wolf in the D note of the A string. I can't "work around it". So I'm gonna change the violin.

What do you guys think about a $400 Yamaha 5VSC?

April 15, 2016 at 12:12 PM · On the point of student instruments: They are all roughly the same. One brand of 400 violin isn't nessicarily going to be better then another. And just because a known brand is reputable, doesn't mean their version of a 400 violin going to be any better then a gamble on ebay.

I wouldn't be surprised if in reality there are only a couple of big warehouses of people making violins that then ship to various brands all over the world. So even though the final set-up and finish is different, the original woodwork all comes from the same place.

I can say that the main difference between some brands is perhaps the neck width. I know this to be true for Yamaha Violas and Eastman Violas as I had played 2 instruments back to back. The Eastman viola had a thick neck and the Yamaha did not.

Really, you have to just test out a bunch of violins you are interested in and see which you like better.

April 15, 2016 at 12:35 PM · On the point of your wolf: Does the note fluctuate and sound wooo-waaa-wooo-waaa? Personally, I don't think of wolf notes as notes that buzz. My current instrument has 1 big wolf spot and a couple other hotspots.

I don't know if you play with a teacher or how experinced you are so excuse me if this is old news, but let me tell you about when I first started playing 2 years ago. What you describe kind of sounds like what I went through.

I had a "buzz" problem on G (3rd on d string). It started happening more and more and I would hear this high pitched buzz and it was driving me crazy. I took it back to the rental place and asked them but they were unable to help. It was after all, a guitar shop that happened to rent out band/orchestra instruments. It was not until I had to change teachers after 4 months that I found out what it is.... the natural resonance of the instrument.

My new teacher was kind, but I know internally she was laughing at me for taking back my violin to the shop to be fixed 2 times. I thought that the buzz was from something I was doing wrong. The buzz just meant that I was perfectly in tune.

I then learned about resonant tones. She demonstrated how 3rd finger notes have a particular feeling on the violin. She showed me how the open strings vibrate when you play that note anywhere on the finger board. etc.... Higher quality instruments make it easier to identify the resonantes and overtones.

April 15, 2016 at 12:42 PM · I higly disagree on that, Kimberly. The tone is very different from one brand to another. Even in the same company, Sielam in my case, 2 models sound completely different. I've played 4 different $200 violins and they all sound different.

On topic, I've finally given back the $400 Cantabile violin and I'm gonna stay with the $250 Divertimento violin. I like it, and it does not wolf. I even dare to say I like more the sound of the cheaper violin, almost half the price. And I'm impressed and confused about that, cause I'm not talking about different brands, where that could perfectly happen. We're talking about the same brand and 2 different levels that are supposed to be quite distinguished, cause the Cantabile should sound better due to its better craftsmanship, selected materials, varnish and finish.

I don't know now if I should jump from my $250 violin to a $600 violin. I really want to improve my gear (violin).

April 15, 2016 at 02:30 PM · The tone differences are due to the varnish and set-up of the instruments.

As you are learning now, a 400 violin isn't necissarily going to sound any better then a 200 one because you are looking at "roughly" the same price point. In fact, you should ask your shop what exactly the difference is between your 200 dollar instrument and the 400 dollar one. I will not be surprised if the actual violin body is exactly the same. The only differences are the pegs, chin rest, tailpiece, or maybe the varnish looks prettier.

It has been said on various threads on this forum that in order to hear/feel the difference between violins one needs to shops in a price catagory that is 3x what you are currently playing on. Rounding up, a 800 violin to compare to your current set-up.

Unfortunetly there no standards when it comes to violin set-up and price points. You really just have to listen to instruments to pick one that sounds nice that is in the price range you are willing to pay.

April 15, 2016 at 02:30 PM · sorry my message got posted twice.

April 16, 2016 at 01:27 PM · There are probably hundreds of Chinese suppliers, they're all quite different. They are not all made by the same factory, although a small few of them might be. More likely one particular brand or supplier contains instruments from more than one factory.

April 16, 2016 at 02:17 PM · Exactly.

I have one question. The violins are made by luthiers, not machines, even if they're made cheaply in China. So, they're an artisan product, they are all different.

How is it possible that 2 violins of the same modle have the very same wolf tones in the very same string and note?

Thr cuts, varnish, hand crafting and all that stuff is different, and that will definitely affect the vibration of the body.

April 16, 2016 at 02:28 PM · The violin design is such that it is always going to have a major body vibration on the A string, somewhere between B and D depending on how stiffly it is built (there's another one a bit lower, usually G# to A#).

Whether it wolfs or not is another issue, and likely some combination of the arching, wood, and thicknesses used. To the extent that a manufacturer uses the same parameters, they could have similar wolf characteristics. They also might not, but in any case, the problem note (if there is one) will be in the same narrow area.

April 16, 2016 at 04:16 PM · @Tim Ripond

>The violins are made by luthiers, not machines, even if they're made cheaply in China. So, they're an artisan product, they are all different.

The final set up is likely done by a person, but the individual pieces - back of the violin, ribs, etc, are likely done by a machine. If different people are using the very same pieces to put a violin together, it wouldn't be particularly strange to find that both have the same wolf tone.

April 16, 2016 at 04:24 PM · And do professional violins such as Guarneri's, Stradivari's, violins of virtuosos... have wolf tones?

If it happens to a luthier's violin, do they try to solve them and remove them?

Are the wolf tones in violins a sign of bad control quality/lack of good measurements to compensate things that happen when making the violin, etc?

April 16, 2016 at 04:59 PM · Yes, pro violns often have the most obvious wolf tones, esp Guarneris, and no violin is wolf-free, as some pitch will have to correspond to the vibrating wood, otherwise you get a table, not an instrument. :)

So, wolves are not a sign of bad quality, but an inherent part of a sting instrument, though some are so slight that a bit of regular vibrato will cover them, whereas some, like the G sharp up the G atring on mine, are so bad that no amount of effort will fix it, and it just howls like crazy when played at f or louder. :)

April 16, 2016 at 07:46 PM · But then... How can you play a piece if one note sounds horribly bad?

Who wants a violin that has a note that sounds bad?

April 16, 2016 at 09:05 PM · Well, professionals can usually deal with their one or two wolves by playing around it (one temp fix is to squeeze the neck a bit to shift the wolf frequency while playing that note), or they deal with it if the wolf isn't too bad. If the wolf is really bad and cannot be played around or minimized via change of string gauge/different bow/technique, or if there are an excessive number like three or more, pros usually look for a different instrument.

Ex: Perlman playing Tzigane, esp in the first 30 seconds, the wolf pops out (very prominent at 1:30-1:31 and 1:39-1:40!). :)

April 16, 2016 at 09:17 PM · I'm barely able to hear the wolfs in the last video. I don't think I would notice them at all without listening to that particular second and knowing it's coming at that moment.

April 17, 2016 at 12:19 AM · They do stand out a bit though, even with Perlman playing and youtube's crappy audio quality. ??

Also, maybe you just need to train your ears more. ??

April 17, 2016 at 02:56 AM · Try at 6:44 for a better demonstration of a Strad wolf. The difficult note is C, the common spot for that resonance.

April 17, 2016 at 03:14 AM · sorry for going off topic. Where and how do I find scheet music for 7:18 in that youtube video?

That was a beautiful piece.

April 17, 2016 at 12:50 PM · My wolf is nothing like what you've sent. It's worse, like 0:36 in this video:

It is a horrible wabbling sound.

April 17, 2016 at 02:47 PM · I would be willing to bet that Nicola Benedetti's Strad would warble terribly at C if it was bowed lightly with no vibrato. She is a strong player and basically overpowers the effect.

April 18, 2016 at 02:02 AM · Most violinist would deal with the high register wolf on G string, but not on a position you hit it all the time.

A Stradivarius with wolf problem at the same place as Tim's violin does (worse, it's right on the D note). Watch 44:28 onwards.

Fortunately, the luthier was able to fix it. A visit to luthier starts at 47:00.

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